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Title & Author: The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy
Reading Challenge: a book with more than 500 pages
The Talisman, one of two collaborations between Stephen King and Peter Straub, was the book I chose to kick-start my reading challenge in the new year. Weighing in at over 900 pages, completing this easily took care of the “read a book with more than 500 pages” task in the Popsugar 2015 Reading Challenge. It’s been a while since I’ve read a real book (not on my Kindle), and certainly a 900-pager, so keeping this thing open was somewhat of a strain on my poor, delicate hands. I somehow muddled through the pain.
I’ve never read a book by Straub so I can’t speak to his writer’s voice coming through or not, but the book felt derivative of some of King’s works to me. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but something that came to mind time and time again while reading The Talisman. The young, gifted boy living in a hotel and the wise older black man who helped him was reminiscent of The Shining. (Although Jack Sawyer is probably five years or so older than Danny Torrance.) And there are numerous thematic similarities between The Talisman and The Dark Tower series; it actually felt like an abbreviated version of The Dark Tower books in many ways to me.
At its core, The Talisman is an epic quest/adventure story. Jack Sawyer, our protagonist, has moved across the country to New Hampshire with his mother, former B-movie star Lily Cavanaugh Sawyer. They had resided in California before Jack’s father – Phil – was killed in a hunting accident but have since moved away from Phil’s business partner and friend, “Uncle” Morgan Sloat. While it may not be readily apparent to Jack at the outset, the reader can tell by the way Lily talks to and about “Uncle” Morgan that her relationship with the man is strained.
In New Hampshire, Jack meets Speedy Parker, a wise older man and former blues musician who maintains rides at Arcadia Funworld (an amusement park near the hotel where Jack is staying with his mother). Speedy reveals to Jack a quest to find an object that will save his cancer-ridden mother’s life. [His mother actually allowing 12-year-old Jack to leave by himself on this journey seemed like the most far-fetched thing in this whole book to me – and the book has werewolves and alternate universes! I guess it just depends on your upbringing, but I can’t imagine my mom being alright with me walking/hitchhiking across the country to retrieve some object even if it would save her life. Especially if I didn’t know what that object was, where it was located, or have a plan to get it. I can’t say that I’d really blame her for that and Jack probably would have left on his quest even without her permission because otherwise the book would end.] Speedy also teaches Jack how to “flip” between alternate universes, which is helpful for travel (150 feet in the “Territories” world is equal to half a mile in our word), evading enemies and finding the people who will help him on the journey.
Every person in our world has a “twinner”, or parallel existence, in the other worlds. The lives of these twinners are closely related and major life events are often replicated in the other worlds. There are rare instances where a person can die in one world and live in another. Jack is one of those “single-natured”; his Territories twinner died as a young boy. While anyone could flip between worlds, they generally flip into the body of their twinner wherever the twinner happens to be. Since he has no living twinner, Jack remains himself in all worlds and can move about as he pleases, which is helpful to the story and moving the journey along.
On his quest, Jack meets new friends – Wolf, a werewolf from the Territories world – and enlists the help of old – Richard Sloat, son of “Uncle” Morgan. The fact that he still enlists Richard’s help after all he discovers about Morgan – both Morgan Sloat in our world and “Morgan of Orris” in the Territories – is really a testament to their friendship and Jack’s faith in people, or maybe Jack somehow knew that he needed Richard to help him finish the quest. Jack often refers to Richard as “Rational Richard” because he doesn’t believe in the Territories, or alternate universes, werewolves and other things that Jack has encountered on his journey. When Richard sees evidence of these things, he begins to think he’s got a very bad case of the flu and that he’s hallucinating. He eventually comes to believe and it reminds me of nonbelievers who have moment where everything just clicks. Jack is shown as somewhat of a deity, Richard his disciple, and Morgan is the demon trying to trip them up to gain power over the worlds by any mean necessary.
Verdict: I enjoyed The Talisman but it did feel derivative of many of King’s other works, particularly The Dark Tower and The Shining. That said, it’s a really good read all on its own. It’s an epic story of good and evil, a young boy on a quest to save someone he loves and the world(s) at the same time. I don’t normally consider myself a fan of fantasy stories but I’m looking forward to reading The Talisman‘s sequel, Black House.
Recommended for: fans of King and/or Straub, those who enjoyed King’s “The Dark Tower” series or Phillip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” series, or anyone who enjoys epic adventure stories.
Price: $9.49 (Kindle) – $9.99 (paperback) on Amazon