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The Talisman By Stephen King

I recently read Stephen King’s late book Under The Dome. I really enjoyed about 80% of it. It was a little long, as always, but I read it all, as always. It had been quite a while since I had read any of King’s books. This realization sent me scurrying to my book shelves to see what I had by him.

The Talisman, by King and Peter Straub (author, most recently, of A Dark Matter), is a book I had not thought of for a long, long time. When I saw the cover, I was immediately taken back to my grandma’s living room in Spring Creek, Nevada. My grandma collected horror fiction and true crime like it was money. Or crack. Her shelves were bursting with the penny dreadfuls that would make Harold Bloom wet his pants.

Smashed in between all of the Dean Koontz and Anne Rule books was The Talisman. The hero of the book is a twelve year old boy named Jack Sawyer. Jack is on that most noble of quests: saving his mother, who is dying of cancer. For reasons I can’t even begin to explain here, Jack’s journey takes him to a weird parallel world called The Territories. In The Territories, everything is different that the real world. Sometimes a little bit off, sometimes terrifyingly, bizarrely so.

There are monsters, chases, and a bunch of references that fans of King’s Dark Tower series will enjoy if they can spot them.

The Talisman has gotten a bad rap from a lot of critics, and even King fans that I know. This surprises me. I can’t really say why, but this is one of my very favorite novels of his. Even as a kid I was really impressed by the fact that two people wrote such a big book, made it seem relatively seamless, and told a great adventure story.

Or maybe part of me just misses my grandma and all of the rainy afternoons we spent together, each of us lost in our own little terrors.

I’m also a huge fan of Peter Straub and recommend everything he has written if you also like King. My favorite Straub novel is Koko.

Who has read The Talisman? Thoughts?


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  • Jon Bergqvist August 18, 2010, 4:25 am

    I read it as a teenager while reading EVERYTHING by King. I think it stood out quite a bit from his usual stories. Not as bombastic but greyer and more grinding. Like his version of Cormac MacArthys “The Road”. Today I really don’t remember much of the storyline but it do remember its “feel”.

    • Josh Hanagarne August 19, 2010, 12:15 pm

      That’s a great description. The Talisman definitely has a mood that a lot of books do not. Sadly, I did not enjoy the sequel, Black House, very much.

  • Tim August 18, 2010, 10:19 am

    Hi Josh:

    Talisman was the first Stephen King book that I read back when I was a teenager. I loved it…yes, it’s bizarre with the parallel world plot thrown in there. I went on to read more Stephen King books during my teen years and I’ve always associated Stephen King books with summertime reading. Back then (and still to some extent today) I used to listen to heavy metal music, which provided a good soundtrack to what I was reading. But I’ll always have a fondness for the Talisman because it was the first SK book I read. By the way, I’m reading SK’s Duma Key right now and I’m really enjoying every page of it. Great post today!

    • Josh Hanagarne August 19, 2010, 12:14 pm

      Thanks Tim. I really enjoyed Duma Key as well.

  • jean sampson August 18, 2010, 1:39 pm

    I read the Talisman back when I had time to read big, thick books and I loved it, hated to see it end, in fact. It did keep me interested because I found the idea fascinating and very well-handled. I think I had even more time to read because I was sick with something that kept me in for awhile. I also read a huge book of Shirley Jackson’s stories, called The Lottery, I believe, when I was sick and had to stay home. That was a great book and I would like to read it again! Strange and creepy and wonderful!

    • Jen H August 19, 2010, 8:50 am

      For a great deal of my young adult life I selected books based largely on how long they were: I think at one point a book had to be at least 500 pages long for me to even pick it up! The Talisman fit my criteria very nicely.

      • Josh Hanagarne August 19, 2010, 12:13 pm

        I’ve been there too, Jen. For a while it seemed like anything big was worth reading.

    • Josh Hanagarne August 19, 2010, 12:13 pm

      Jean, have you read The Summer People by Jackson? It was probably in that book. That’s my favorite short story of hers.

  • Mary August 18, 2010, 4:38 pm

    I read The Tailsman as a teenager and loved it. I love Stephen King. The Stand is another one of my favorites by King.

  • Rob August 18, 2010, 4:59 pm

    To this day I can not eat theater popcorn thanks to this book. Other than that is was a great read.

    • Josh Hanagarne August 19, 2010, 12:13 pm

      wow, I had forgotten all about that. I know exactly what you’re talking about.

  • Logan Christopher August 19, 2010, 10:14 pm

    Josh are you planning on doing a review of the Dark Tower series or any of the books in it? I got on a King kick awhile back and that series enveloped my life until I was finished with it.

    • Josh Hanagarne August 20, 2010, 10:27 am

      Logan, to quote the Joker, “Do I look like a guy with a plan?” But now that you mention it, I love the Dark Tower series and would happily review it. Stay tuned.

  • Robin Pay January 15, 2012, 10:25 am

    One of my favorites ever. I agree that The Dark House was disapointing. Loved The Shining, Carry, Cujo, Cats Eye & one of his latest, Cell is totally bizar.
    The Talisman is an easy readable book for non-english native speakers & a great great adventure. I wonders if they ever make the long promised film…
    Reading the other comments I think I should read The Dark Tower saga.

  • Cenk July 29, 2012, 1:31 am

    Great book, great author. I am so glad grew up by reading SK books; otherwise life would be more depressing. The Talisman is probably in my top ten King books. I am yet to find a more sadistic and horrific than Sunlight Gardener. And what happened in his school…still haunts me with Wolf dying and all that.

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