The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub

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I think I’m done with Stephen King for a while. There are recurring themes that make his books feel distasteful and in some parts, appalling (and not in the good horror sense).

The Talisman seemed very promising. Epic fantasy is my favorite genre, and this seemed to have it all: A quest! A journey! A boy with a destiny! A beautiful princess who desperately needed his help. An evil overlord with a superhuman army! A mysterious magical object that can make all wrongs right. How could it possibly fail?

Well, besides the fact that Jack never actually stopped to think and map out his journey instead of just walking in a direction, which resulted in the fact that he was not in any way closer to his goal than when he started until page 700 out of my 1200 page ebook, pretty much everyone he met across America was someone he would meet as a Twinner and either wanted to kill him or screw him, the bad guys showed up everywhere out of nowhere and had powers of curses that never made sense, and then it all wraps up nicely in the last 100 pages.

There were good things. The ideas of the Territories, Twinners, Wolfs, and all other kinds of creatures? Very cool. Once I hit the last quarter of the book I was hooked and gobbled it up like blueberry pie. I can’t say I’m sad it’s over though.

Let me tell you, I have read many a gruesome tale. Ever cracked open Prince of Thorns? If something wasn’t killing, raping, burning, bleeding, or dying it was about to be. And yet, King and Straub made The Talisman so sickening, so nauseating, not just in a horror sense but in an everyone in the world is a horrible person sense, that by the end of the book I just wanted to get out of that place they dreamed up and forget it ever existed.

And still, that wasn’t the main reason why I didn’t enjoy the book.

The book was written in 1984. I wasn’t born yet, let alone known what “America” was like back then. Like The Shining, the constant flippant use of offensive terms for blacks and gays because “that’s how (bad) people thought back then”, I could set aside my personal disgust on.

However, with very clear lines between the ‘protagonists’ and ‘antagonists’ (mostly concreted by ‘that look in their eyes’) there are these constant themes that I cannot look away from.

The main one in The Talisman was the amount of pedophiles Jack encounters on his journey, where gay (or “DC”) = can’t control yourself around an “exceptionally beautiful” 12 year old boy. Where all gay men = sexual deviants who just have these needs for little boys.

I can’t help but cringe when thinking about the correlation that I’ve seen over and over in every King novel I’ve read. I get it, raping kids is horror. I get it, gays are sinners and are a great scapegoat for evil. But the abuse that the concept gets from King is unmistakeably repetitive and makes me  not want to read his work anymore.

Would I recommend this novel? I don’t know. For a horror fantasy piece, it definitely delivered in many aspects. Any King fan would agree. However, I cannot consider myself one, especially not after this, so you are welcome to put my bias aside and make your own choice.

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2 thoughts on “The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub

  1. I never noticed homosexual bigotry in The Talisman, but I haven’t read it since it first came out. My perspective has obviously changed since then. I’d like to reread it now. I remember reading it originally and thinking it one of my favorites. I notice a lot of child molestation in Straub’s books; almost everything I’ve read by him has child abuse as a theme

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    • I have never read Straub before, so maybe he capitalized on the opportunity. I also realize that I’m more attentive to the subject than most people, so my discomfort with it might not translate the same with others. I would definitely be interested in your opinion if you decide to re-read the book.

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