The Talisman (Stephen King & Peter Straub 1984)

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The Talisman is another book by Stephen King, a collaboration with fellow author Peter Straub. I picked it up out of impulse like a lot of Stephen King books. The book itself is unusual in that it isn’t a straight up horror but rather a work of fantasy with occasional horror elements in it. This is unusual fare for both King and Straub since both are horror writers. As a reader of fantasy novels this intrigued me a lot. The novel follows Jack Sawyer, a twelve year old boy who sets off on a quest to find the titular talisman, which has the power to save his mother from dying. The quest takes him in and out of a land known as the Territories, a land set in a universe parallel to America where everyone has a “twinner” a duplicate who is a parallel for somebody in our world. Throughout his journey his must deal with the villainous Morgan Sloat, a former business partner of his father’s, and his twinner Morgan of Orris.

The book was very interesting. The world of the Territories was interesting especially with its parallels to the real world. The concept of people having twinners in the Territories was interesting and one that never failed to impress. Everyone in the real world has these little things about them which connect them to their Twinner’s identity and role in the Territories. The most clever examples are between Jack’s mother and the Queen of the territories, her Twinner and Morgan and his Twinner. Jack’s mother is an actress and one of her roles bring to light the connection between her Twinner’s identity as the Queen. In addition to this both are dying. Interestingly both Morgan and his Twinner are trying to steal something from Jack’s Mother/ The Queen. In the case of the former, Morgan wants her dead husband’s business while Morgan of Orris seeks to steal control of the Territories from the Queen.

In terms of characters Jack himself is kind of boring. His travelling companion Wolf was interesting in part because of his status as a werewolf and his unique way of speaking, which made him an instant hit in my opinion. ack’s friend Richard, who joins him later into the novel is quite annoying in comparison in part because he is next to useless and if anything his presence creates more conflict for Jack. In terms of villains Morgan Sloat is interesting but falls into the overly monstrous villain archetype that so many Stephen King villains fall into. The standout villain in the piece is Robert “Sunlight” Gardener, an extreme evangelical Christian who runs an evil orphanage where the kids are either horribly oppressed and brainwashed by Gardener. Although by no means a major character, he had a standout charisma about him which made him a charismatic and strangely threatening villain throughout Jack’s stay in Gardener’s school. Although Gardener plays second fiddle to Morgan Sloat towards the end of the book I still admire the characters due to how he was portrayed back in the school even if his appearance in the climax was a bit disappointing.

Prose wise I was impressed by how well the two authors worked together. Although I have not read any Peter Straub books, and thus am not familiar with his style, I am familiar enough with the style of Stephen King. I could not tell which parts had been written by whom and the whole novel flowed perfectly, as though it had been by one person almost. Thus I was impressed by how well the two authors had worked together to create such a narrative. There were a few bits towards the end where the plot got a bit confusing, with the introduction of various other realities but they didn’t affect things too much overall.

The novel works well as a work of fantasy and despite it’s status as such there are elements of horror within the setting, with elements of the daylight horror that King is so well known for creeping into parts such as Jack’s stay in Gardener’s school. Thus I’d say that the novel can be classified under the Dark Fantasy banner. I thoroughly enjoyed the novel and I particularly enjoyed the way the fantasy world of the Territories blended together with the real world. It wasn’t my favourite of Stephen King’s works but it is a strong book and one that will no doubt influence my own writing. I will likely read this again at some point. I will recommend this not only to fans of King and Straub but also to any fantasy fan who wants to read something a bit different.

SCORE: 4/5

IN A WORD: CLEVER

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