Title: The Talisman
Author: Stephen King and Peter Straub
Genre: Fantasy with a few elements of horror.
Stand Alone/ Series: Stand Alone but there is a sequel of sorts with an adult Jack Sawyer titled Black House
Summary: Jack Sawyer, twelve years old, is about to begin a most fantastic journey – an exalting, terrifying quest for the Talisman. Only the Talisman can save his dying mother and defeat the enemy who is out to destroy them. But to reach his goal, Jack must make his way not only across the breadth of the United States, but through the wondrous and menacing Territories as well.
The Territories lie as firmly in the imagination as Atlantis or Oz; they are as real as every reader’s own vision of that parallel world which can only be evoked in the mind’s mysterious eye. In the Territories Jack finds a world little removed from the Earth’s own Dark Ages: though the air is so sweet and clear a man can smell a radish being pulled from the ground a mile away, a life can be snuffed out instantly in the continual struggle between good and evil. Jack discovers ‘twinners’, odd reflections of the people he knows on Earth – most notably the dying Queen Laura, the ‘twinner’ of Jack’s own imperilled mother. But only a few can flip from one world to the other like Jack’s late father, his malevolent uncle Morgan Sloat, and Jack himself.
As Jack makes his way westward towards the redemptive Talisman, a dual array of heart-stopping encounters challenges him every step of the way – from a terrifying period of captivity in an orphanage run by a sadistic religious fanatic, to the sudden and murderous attack on the Territories by the enemies of the Queen.
Why did I read the book: I recently read It and after that debacle, I vowed never to read another Stephen King novel. Thea then proceeded to dare me and it became a Feat of Strength as in true Marty Mcfly fashion, I never back away from a challenge.
On September 15th, 1981, a boy named Jack Sawyer stood where the water and land come together, hands in the pockets of his jeans, looking out at the steady Atlantic. He was twelve years old and tall for his age.
In this manner, Jack Sawyer’s story opens. A young boy, standing by the ocean trying to figure out how come his life has changed so much in the past months not expecting how much it would change even more from that point on. 3 months ago his mother had closed their home in Los Angeles and they moved to New Hampshire’s coast. Living at the Alhambra Inn hotel, where the days would pass with Jack asking himself what was going on, why isn’t he at school, why is his mother doing this, to the point where it became clear to him that the only explanation was that: his mother was running and his mother was dying. Not that she would tell him anything – and with his father being dead and his father’s business partner “uncle” Morgan Sloat clearly being the reason why his mother is running, Jack is all alone do deal.
Then Speedy Parker, an old, mysterious man who befriends Jack tells him that he must go on a journey to the other side of the country to get a Talisman that would cure his mother. This journey would take place between this world and a parallel world called the Territories to which Jack would flip with the help of a magical juice. The Territories are a smaller version of our own world with a time frame that resembles the medieval age.
In a series of short flashbacks we learn that the Territories are not a surprise to Jack – when he was younger, he had ventured into the parallel world, which he called Daydreams, a couple of times. He also knew that his father had visited it and as the story progresses he comes to know how important his father was to the Territories and that he was the one to introduce his partner Morgan to the place which is what ultimately seals Jack’s fate.
Jack also learns that most people in this world have a Twinner in the Territories – with the same date of birth and death and with pretty much the same personality. Jack’s Twinner, a boy named Jason was murdered when he was a child (a parallel attempt occurred in this universe as well, but with a different outcome) and that Jason was the son of the Territories’ Queen, a woman who is also dying. By saving his mother, her twinner, the Queen, will also be saved. All of a sudden, Jack’s search becomes Important with the capital I as not only his own mother’s life is at stake but the whole future of the Territories.
This is a typical Quest plot- in which the young heroe undergoes a perilous journey in search of an object , overcoming many obstacles and going back home.. Jack’s quest is one full of danger, violence, horror and despair. He is for the most part, utterly alone and has to defeat demons – both internal (he is after all, only a boy and shouldn’t a boy be at home, going to school and having his mother tending to HIM?) and external. He is pursued by both Morgan Sloat and his twinner, Morgan of Orris who seek to thwart Jack’s plan in order to seize control of the Territories once the Queen is dead. But Jack also makes friends – there is Wolf (Wolf! Wolf!) , a werewolf from the Territories who Jack brings back to this reality and who helps him in many ways and there is Richard, Morgan’s son and Jack’s best friend. Both add something to Jack’s Quest but this is truly a story of the lonely hero who has to ultimately, fulfil his destiny on his own. And boy, does he. A true hero in the making, self-sacrificing, relentless in his pursuit of what is going to save his mother, strong and vulnerable, Jack Sawyer is an amazing protagonist.
As with other Quest’s stories this one is epic in scope and dispassionately speaking, there is no fault with the premise or with the mechanics of the journey. The Territories is an interesting parallel universe where things are seemingly safer and better. In fact some of the worst things that happen to Jack happen in our world and they are stuff for nightmares. Examples of that are his short stay at the Oatley Tap where he worked basically as a slave for the bar owner or his longer stay at the Sunlight Gardener’s School, a place for “troubled youths” where he learns the true meaning of evil and madness. These passages were heart-wrenching and heart-racing and were a drop of brilliance in a sea of … meh.
My problem with the Talisman lies with the telling. This is something I noticed when I read It and which became clear as day with The Talisman: Stephen King is a word-waster. This book is way overlong. The first chapters failed miserably to capture my attention and the information that was relayed them could have been relayed with less pages. When I finally got into the story –mostly by connection with Jack Sawyer – I kept being pulled back by boring passages. But his word-wasterness is even worse when you realise that even with all the chapters and passages essential things were left OUT. It wasn’t until the very end, that it became clear to the reader the WHY and the HOW of the Jason-Jack dynamic and that was by telling and not by showing.
And at the heart of my disappointment with the novel is the fact that part of me (the emotional part) could not understand at all Jack’s devotion to his mother which is at the core of the story. The first 150 pages of the book, where the story is being set and we get to learn about the Territories, and where we are introduced to characters here and there, very little is spent with Jack’s mother. And this should have been the most important relationship in this whole book. Instead all we see is her complete disregard about her son’s life – keeping him out of school or refusing to discuss his part on his father’s company and therefore his inheritance or even telling him what the hell is going on. She comes across as a most selfish person which contrasts greatly with Jack’s unselfishness. All I wanted was for Jack to get away from harm’s way because in all honesty, his mother was undeserving.
But that other part of me (the objective mind), understands that this is not the point of the Quest – the Quest is for the HERO regardless of any plot devices: Talismans or Mothers. The same part also realises that archetypes will be archetypes and it doesn’t matter that his mother is undeserving, that his mother is selfish. She is after all, HIS MOTHER. And this young man will go to hell and back for his.
Notable Quotes/ Parts: a very poignant, emotional passage.
While searching for socks, his hand encountered something slim and hard. Jack pulled it out and saw it was his toothbrush. At once, images of home and safety and rationality – all the things a toothbrush could represent – rose up and overwhelmed him. There was no way he could beat these emotions down or turn them aside this time. A toothbrush was thing meant to be seen in a well-lighted bathroom, a thing to be used with cotton pajamas on the body and warm slippers on the feet. It was nothing to come upon in the bottom of your knapsack in a cold, dark tool-shed on the edge of a gravel-pit in a deserted rural town whose name you did not even know.
Loneliness raged through him; his realisation of his outcast status was now complete. Jack began to cry. He did not weep hysterically or shriek as people do when they mask rage with tears; he cried in the steady sobs of one who has discovered just how alone he is, and is apt to remain for a long time yet. He cried because all safety and reason seemed to have departed from the world. Loneliness was here, a reality; but in this situation, insanity was also too much of a possibility.
Additional Thoughts: this is way random but somewhat related to The Talisman. A couple of years ago, I was in Egypt. In Aswan , on the West Bank and we hired camels to climb to the ruins of a monastery. On the way back, we were calmly going down the path when a group was coming up, also in camels. Now, when you are riding (?) a camel somehow it entitles you to smile at strangers. Because you are in the same perilous and yet ridiculous position and as the group when by me, I was smiling at them and they were smiling at me and OH MYGOD it was STEVEN SPIELBERG.. Smiling at me. I nearly fell off the camel at that point and I looked back at Dear Partner and I was like, “did you see him, did you see him” and he says: who? He didn’t notice Steve (yes, first name basis ok, riding camels and smiling at each other do that to people). And to this day he won’t believe me. But I swear it was him. As we returned to the hotel, I went online and googled him. It said on IMDB that he was currently producing the Talisman by Stephen King for a tv series if memory serves me right. And I thought: maybe he is here searching for location? Now that I actually read the book, I see no reason why he must be in Egypt for that particular story but still. It WAS Steven Spielberg. Of that I am sure.
Verdict: A good story,not an Excellent story. And who wouldn’t love Jack Sawyer?
Rating: 6. Good
Reading Next: Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier – another Feat of Strength dare!