Study Guide

'Salem's Lot

By Stephen King

'Salem's Lot Introduction

'Salem's Lot is about monsters eating you.

That may sound familiar. But this isn't just any book about monsters eating you: it's a book by Stephen King about monsters eating you. And the great state of Maine's very own Stephen King is the most popular creator of stories about monsters eating you in all of explored space. When a Stephen King monster eats you, you stay eaten.

Okay, when King published 'Salem's Lot back in 1975, he wasn't quite as well known for monsters eating you as he was to become. This was only his second novel. His first, Carrie (1974), did well, but still, it was early days. King was popular and going places, but you couldn't yet bury a fleet of overweight whales under copies of the novels he'd sold.

'Salem's Lot is a landmark on King's path to take up his crown as the king of the monstrous, and he does it in high style. His monsters don't just eat one person, or two, or three. They eat a whole freaking town.

The monsters here are vampires, and King's vampires have all the characteristics you'd expect from vampires: they don't like garlic, they hate crosses, and they need permission to enter a house. They're from Europe, and their hair is slicked back.

That's tradition, folks.

But even though King loves the oldies and goodies, he still wants to be up to date. So he hits on the scary idea that pretty much anybody around you could be a vampire. Seriously: vampires in 'Salem's Lot are everyone, which means everyone is a vampire. The monsters eat you because you were a monster to begin with. It's almost like we're in Night of the Living Dead land here, where the monsters eat you and you eat other folks and soon everybody's a monster and you can't tell the cheerful townsfolk from the children of the night.

King has said that 'Salem's Lot is one of his favorites, and he's expanded on it several times. Other folks have liked it, as well: it was nominated for a World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1976 and for a Locus Award for All-Time Best Fantasy Novel in 1987. It's been adapted as a TV miniseries twice, in 1979 and in 2004, and as a BBC radio play in 1995.

Scared yet? Fear not: Shmoop is here to give you some Vampire 101.

What is 'Salem's Lot About and Why Should I Care?

Vampires are one of the all-time great creepy horror villains. They're all sex and death and sexy death, turning everything innocent and good to eternal evil with fangs and buckets of blood.

But vampires in recent years have gotten sadly defanged. On Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the vampires are little more than super-villains, strong and fast with wicked martial arts skills, but not that scary otherwise. Buffy stakes five or ten an episode and barely works up a sweat. In Twilight, the other massive vampire phenom, the vampires aren't even evil. They're sparkly romantic elves who fight for right, superheroes rather than supervillains.

And then there's 'Salem's Lot. Yeah, Stephen King's vampires aren't supervillains you can take out by casually tossing a stake through them. They're not superheroes you can rely on to sparkle and save you. They're virtually unkillable—as Reggie Sawyer discovers when he shoots a vampire with a shotgun and doesn't even slow it down. They're seductive—as Jimmy Cody discovers when one bites him and he disgustedly reports, "I liked it." (11.354) They are evil, and they are everywhere, and they will take you.

Don't get us wrong: we love us some Buffy and Twilight. But still, we can't help feeling that you lose something when your vampires stop being creepy, when all the dark, ugly things are pulled into the light and given a new coat of paint and a Dr. Who T-shirt so you can show them off at the latest sci-fi convention. A world in which even nightmares are cheerful starts to look a little drab, a little washed-out, a little one-dimensional. If life is going to feel like life, you need some undead without any shilly-shallying.

'Salem's Lot Resources

Website

StephenKing.com
King's official website, which includes news, FAQs, info on upcoming releases, and extensive discussions of all his works, including 'Salem's Lot.

Movie or TV Productions

1979 'Salem's Lot TV Mini-Series
A 3-hour plus adaptation by director Tobe Hopper (of Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame). This is generally thought of as the best adaptation, though it can be hard to find.

1989 Return to 'Salem's Lot
This film doesn't have anything to do with 'Salem's Lot the novel, except that it has vampires in it.

2004 'Salem's Lot TV Movie
Rob Lowe plays Ben Mears. If you love Rob Lowe, you should watch it; otherwise… we're gonna go with not so much.

Articles and Interviews

Attack of the Boring Literary Vampires
Grady Hendrix says 'Salem's Lot isn't very good, but at least it was trying to be literature.

Those Vampires Aren't So Boring!
James Smythe has a more positive assessment of the book.

Where Stephen King's Horrors Come From
A difficult childhood, a ton of phobias, and a battle with drug and alcohol addiction—it's all here.

Biting In With the First Line
Stephen King talks about how he writes the first lines of his novels.

Why Stephen King Is Better Than All Those Other Writers
King slams Twilight and The Hunger Games, and talks about his alcoholism and his novels.

Video

Stephen King on "Under the Dome"
King discusses one of his most recent projects.

Danny Glick Comes In
Don't open your window to a vampire kid. Seriously, just don't.

Biography of Stephen King
A brief video biography of King.

Audio

Do You Dare Listen to…'Salem's Lot?!
The BBC Created a Radio drama based on King's novel; all seven 30-minute episodes are available for download at the link.

Stephen King on Growing Up, Believing in God, and Getting Scared
An NPR interview with the big guy himself.

Images

The Marsten House, Take 1
An image of the house from the 1979 TV series.

The Marsten House, Take 2
A spooky old house by artist Jerry Uelsmann from the deluxe illustrated edition of 'Salem's Lot.