61 pages 2 hours read

Stephen King

'Salem's Lot

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1975

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Summary and Study Guide


’Salem’s Lot (1975) is the second published novel by Stephen King, his first being Carrie (1974). The book won the Locus Award for best fantasy and was adapted as a television miniseries in 1979 and 2004. It also inspired a movie sequel, A Return to Salem’s Lot.

King wrote ’Salem’s Lot after being inspired when teaching the novel Dracula in a college course. Originally titled Second Coming, ’Salem’s Lot places a similar tale in a rural Maine town. He later explored related themes in the short stories “Jerusalem’s Lot” and “One for the Road” in his collection Night Shift, published in 1979.

Content Warning: The novel contains scenes of child abuse and references to sexual assault.

Page numbers correspond to the trade paperback edition of the novel.

Plot Summary

Successful author Ben Mears is returning to the town of Jerusalem’s Lot, where he spent a memorable four years of his childhood. His wife recently died, and, feeling set adrift, Ben returns to the only place he ever really thought of as home, hoping to grapple with his sense of grief and mortality. On his way into town, he stops at the Marsten House, the haunted house that looms over ’salem’s Lot. Ben had a terrifying experience in the house as a child, one that he has never fully resolved. The house is exactly as he remembers it, and he considers trying to rent it despite the fact that it is a filthy ruin. He wants to resolve his unfinished business and clear the house of evil spirits—or at least write a really scary story.

He learns that the house has already been sold, so he takes a room at the local boardinghouse and gets to work on his new book about ’salem’s Lot and the Marsten House. Ben meets Susan Norton, a pretty woman 10 years younger than himself, and they feel an instant connection, although Susan’s mother is unhappy about Susan’s involvement with an “outsider.”

The house has been sold to the master vampire Kurt Barlow and his servant/business partner Richard Straker, a lesser vampire. Danny Glick and his younger brother Ralphie are taking a shortcut through the woods on their way to visit their friend Mark Petrie. They are waylaid by Straker. Straker takes Ralphie and sacrifices him to the evil entity that haunts ’salem’s Lot. Once that is done, Barlow arrives to begin his takeover of the town. A few days later, Danny dies of “pernicious anemia.”

Ben finds a kindred spirit in Matt Burke, an English teacher at the high school. A few days after Danny Glick’s funeral, Matt runs into the cemetery groundskeeper, Mike Ryerson, and notices that Mike is in bad shape—jittery and pale. Mike complains that he keeps dreaming about Danny Glick. Matt invites Mike to sleep in his spare room. While Mike is supposed to be asleep upstairs, Matt hears him speaking to someone, then the evil laughter of a child. When he goes to investigate, he finds Mike dead and the window open. He calls Ben.

Though they know it is farfetched, both Ben and Matt begin to believe that there is a vampire or vampires at work. Ben intends to tell Susan what he and Matt suspect, but he is attacked by Susan’s ex-boyfriend, who has been partially vaporized by Barlow, and Ben winds up in the hospital. Matt tries to convince Susan that vampires have invaded the town, but Susan stolidly rejects the idea. Matt hears a noise upstairs and finds Mike Ryerson in the spare room. Matt uses a crucifix to drive Mike out, but the shock causes him to have a heart attack. Susan hears Mike’s voice upstairs and begins to believe there is something unnatural going on.

Mark Petrie wakes in the middle of the night and sees his dead friend, Danny, at his second-floor window. Instantly deducing that Danny is a vampire, Mark grabs a plastic cross from a model monster display and drives him off.

Ben and Susan visit Matt in the hospital. Matt and Ben continue to try to persuade her that there really are vampires in ’salem’s Lot. Matt suggests that Ben try to recruit Doctor Cody. Cody is persuaded by seeing Mike Ryerson’s body and Danny Glick’s inexplicable anemia. He and Ben make plans to examine the body of one of the recently dead—Danny Glick’s mother. They send Susan to speak to the village priest, Father Callahan.

Impatient with all their nonsense, Susan decides to do the reasonable thing and go to the Marsten House and confront its occupants directly, proving that they aren’t vampires. Approaching the house, she meets Mark Petrie, who has worked out who and where the vampire must be who made Danny. Together, they break into the house. They are ambushed by Barlow’s servant, Straker. Mark is trussed up in an upstairs room but gets loose. Unfortunately, he is too late to save Susan, who is vampirized by Barlow while Mark escapes.

Father Callahan answers a request to visit Matt in the hospital. He and Matt chat about vampires, and Father Callahan gradually comes to believe that Matt isn’t delusional. He is persuaded to help them.

The next morning, Mark tells Ben what happened to Susan. They go together to the hospital and find Doctor Cody in Matt’s room. They meet Father Callahan at the church and go from there to the Marsten House. They find Straker dead, killed by Barlow for allowing Mark to escape. In the cellar, Barlow is already gone, but he has left Susan and a letter taunting all of them and threatening Mark’s family.

Ben stakes Susan; then he and Cody go back to the hospital to report to Matt while Mark and Father Callahan go to warn Mark’s parents they are in danger. Barlow arrives at the Petrie house before Mark and Callahan can persuade his parents to leave. Barlow kills Mark’s parents. Barlow captures Mark but offers to let him go if Father Callahan will put down his cross and arm himself only with his faith. Callahan hesitates, and his failure of faith allows Barlow to overpower him and force him to drink the vampire’s blood. Contaminated and defeated, Callahan flees ’salem’s Lot.

Mark finds Cody and Ben with Matt at the hospital, and they try to regroup. Mark remembers seeing a spot of blue chalk on Barlow’s sleeve, and they decide that Barlow must have gone to ground at the old elementary school. When daylight returns, Mark, Cody, and Ben go to Mark’s house where Ben starts making stakes with Mark’s father’s wood lathe. Mark and Cody search the town for vampire lairs. Seeing a child’s toy pool table, Cody realizes the blue chalk on Barlow’s sleeve was pool chalk, and there is a pool table in the basement at the boardinghouse. He and Mark go there, but Cody falls into a trap set by the vampires and dies.

Matt also dies of a second heart attack, leaving Ben and Mark on their own. They go back to the boardinghouse and find the root cellar where Barlow is hiding. They drag his coffin out and open it just as the sun is going down. Barlow sits up, but Ben stakes him just in time. The next day, Ben and Mark head for Mexico.

A year later, Ben and Mark return and set fire to the Marsten House.