The horror of Vulnerability

The Talisman - Peter Straub, Stephen King


Well, this is my last night in Phuket and even though I wrote this review a couple of years ago I still need to go over it again just to iron out all of the little spelling and grammatical mistakes that I may have made. Okay, you are probably asking me why, since it is my last night and it is a Saturday, why I am not off having fun. Well, I just spent the day cruising around Phang Na Bay looking at all of the awesome islands, including the island that was made famous in Man with the Golden Gun.


James Bond Island


Like some of the islands that I visited (Khai Island in particular – which was made famous in that Leonardo Di Caprio film The Beach) there was absolutely nothing there prior to those films, and all of a sudden a heap of bars and souvenir stands popped up after everybody who had seen the film wanted to go and check the places out. Anyway, enough of that because this has absolutely nothing to do with the book.


This is the first Stephen King book that I ever read and it was the book that made me realise that he was not a bad author at all. This story is not a traditional horror story but rather a blend of horror and fantasy. As is typical with a lot of King's writings, the horror does not evolve around powerful monsters ripping and tearing their way through middle America, but rather it deals with the horror of life and how we face it. The catch is that, once again, like many of Kings other stories he still uses the supernatural to supplement the horror.


The Talisman is a story about a young boy that must go on a quest to find a talisman to save his dying mother, who happens to be an actress. While the story starts off in our modern world, it switches between a parallel magical world which mimics our world in a sense. In this world his mother is a famous actress, and in the parallel world his mother is akin to a faerie queen, however in both worlds his mother is dying.


Thus the boy must make a trek across the country, from the East to the West Coast, a journey that not many boys of his age could easily make. It is made easier in that the parallel world is smaller than our world, so when he is travelling in the parallel world he is crossing distances much quicker, however he still must walk, at least, because he is a boy and he cannot drive (though I do believe he does hitch). On the way he has numerous adventures, one that comes to mind is when he is trapped in a bar and forced to work as a slave.


Along the journey he meets a werewolf, however unlike what we expect werewolves to be this werewolf is a friend and an ally. We do see the power of friendship, and friendship with that which is not like us. Normally the werewolf is the monster that seeks to destroy us, however here the werewolf takes on a vastly different role, a role where his power is used to protect the boy, and remember that the boy is alone and vulnerable and has a quest to attempt to save his mother.


In many stories that involve children as the main character the story tends to be written for children. It is done in this way as children tend to relate much better to characters their own age rather than characters that are older. However, this story is far from being a children's story because there are a lot of adult themes involved, and much of the horror that revolves around the story is the vulnerability that the child represents. I guess the horror of this story is the horror of not just having an impossible quest to complete that is far in excess of your own ability, but also the fact that one is vulnerable and one must complete the quest despite the vulnerability.


Some have suggested that many of Kings characters tend to be quite twisted and mean, but I once again believe that this is the essence of the horror that King is trying to create. It is easy to write schlock horror when the main antagonist is a nasty monster, but it is much harder to write good horror with no supernatural elements beyond the evil and barbarity of humanity. Then there is Stephen King, whose horror is focused on the evil and barbarity of humanity, thrown in a dark setting with supernatural beings that only work to empathise the horror of humanity. Good book and well worth the read.


Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/323036195