The sophomore jinx leers over any writer of a successful debut novel. Consider Stephen King, full-time teacher and laundry worker and only part-time writer suddenly thrust onto the national stage with the raring success of “Carrie” (Doubleday; 1974). Perhaps unconsciously afraid of the jinx, King’s second novel was originally entitled “Second Coming.” Eventually, the title was changed until the result was “‘Salem’s Lot” (Doubleday; 1976.)
Not many book titles begin with an apostrophe. But ‘Salem’s Lot was short for Jerusalem’s Lot (a town apparently being the name of a rather charismatic pig instead the city in the Middle East.) King was letting his readers know that they were not in for the expected. ‘Salem’s Lot is a typical hick New England town … well, typical for King, anyway.
The Juicy Details
“‘Salem’s Lot” was a long time coming. King not only was affected by Bella Lagosi like everyone else, but also collected bits and pieces of American folklore. King wrote pretend newspapers for fun and included these little stories. But the earliest mention of ‘Salem’s Lot was probably a column he wrote while part of the newspaper staff at the University of Maine. The town of Jerusalem’s Lot was mentioned as a Shaker town where the inhabitants suddenly and mysteriously disappeared.
King returned to The Lot in an unpublished short story also written during his time at University of Maine. But faced with a new novel to write, King thought of The Lot and decided to expand on it. After numerous editions and two television mini-series later, it probably was the right place to go to.
It’s A Vampire Book
One of the biggest complaints levelled against “‘Salem’s Lot” is that the baddies are vampires and not a new type of monster or alien. Back in 1976, vampires were not the hit-making sex idols that they are today. Back then, vampires were actually scary or they were camp. The 1970s mostly saw vampires as sources for comedy and satire. Although some movies like the Hammer Horror series made some big bucks, the audience was mostly rolling on the floor with laughter than hiding under the seats.
But King managed to take a tired old monster everyone knew and give it a new twist – a touch of pure evil. There are some melodramatic bits that are borderline silly (a father jumps into the grave of his dead son, for example), but at least the pages will keep on turning.
This is a book that not only suspends disbelief, but you’ll be shopping for crucifixes and cancelling that vacation in the back woods of Maine. You may even genuinely wonder if vampires do exist by the book’s end.