Friday, January 29, 2010

The Talisman Book Review

Stephen King & Peter Straub - The Talisman

Published: 1984      Genre: Fantasy, Horror
Expect: A 6-part mini-series in 2012, A series of Graphic Novels

I picked up this book because it supposedly has tie-ins to the Dark Tower series of King's and what I found was, that is the absolute wrong reason to read this book.

Synopsis and Positives

This is essentially the story of the young boy, Jack Sawyer, that sets out on an adventure of hardships and trials and moments of incredible beauty to save his mother's life and so much more. It is a story of magic and moral allegory. It has a clear undertone of the sort of evil modern lifestyle message that King so often represents but does it primarily through his contrasts between two very different and yet very similar worlds. Some of the events, characters, and concepts are worth reading, especially for a novel from 1984. I can see how this book may have been influential and inspiring in it's time. It is a sometimes painful litany of the trials and horrors survived by a 12-year old boy on a seemingly hopeless, yet predestined, quest.

Negatives and Discussion

Stephen King has the unholy knack to keep you riveted to the pages to find out what happens next and that did not waiver here, even though at times, I didn't particularily find myself liking the book! Some of the things about the book I disliked were 1) some elements of the particular writing style I didn't vibe with and these may have been Peter Straub's contributions or things King was trying out, but I fear I wasn't expecting them 2) I felt at times that the story was too unbelievable, too childlike, too incongruous, or too darn heavy!

In all fariness, a lot of my dislike in 2) was my preconception that this was The Dark Tower Appendix A when at most this book is The Dark Tower's feeble ancestor, or to put it another way: The Talisman is to the Dark Tower (DT) as The Hobbit is to the Silmarillion. The Talisman is in the spirit of the Dark Tower but in miniature and infancy, it is a childs tale of adventure in it's form but with some jarringly unchildlike imagery along the way. In regards to DT this makes perfect sense since only The Gunslinger (DT Book 1) had yet been published when this story hit the shelves but the problem is that so very much of this story feels and sounds like The Dark Tower that you can't help continuing to make the comparisons.

While I'm being fair, some of the frustration and incongruency the story wrought with me was somewhat convieniently explained or justified towards the end of the book, while some other of it is just left as is. I think most of the reason these hanging bits frustrated me was my need to tie them into the Dark Tower, whereas in a standalone tale (which this is) they could be accepted as simply being part of the magic. Although, for the life of me, I never understood why a 12-year old boy in 1981 would describe someone's looks in terms of a 1950's movie actor. Heck, maybe this is accurate as I was 2 years old in the year this story took place and the fact the book was published when I was only 5 should mean I cut it some slack if I found a lot of the metaphors and references were sending me to wikipedia. I guess the lesson there is that if you make too many pop culture references in your timeless classic, you end up needing some publishers Shakespearean footnote armada to explain them 30 years later.


This story is a fine and novel tale for it's time, and if you can avoid comparing it point-to-pont to the Dark Tower - either because you haven't read it, or are not that type of compulsive person - you will probably enjoy it if you can get through the considerable grim parts that comprise it's bulk. And for a mere pittance used or a few bucks more new, it's a pretty safe investment for 700+ pages.

Now, I start the sequel.


  1. I had started to read this book years ago;however someone borrowed it before I had finished, and did not return it. Up to the point before it was borrowed, I had enjoyed it.
    Plan to finish,just wonder if I remember where I left off (It was in 2000 when I started to read this book)

  2. Kevin I hate to see someone left adrift part way through a good story and the more I think on this one the more I like it. And the farther I get into Black House, the more I like both books. I have the book at my desk here at work if you want to borrow it, I'll send you a note over IM.