'Salem's Lot is a 1975 horror novel written by Stephen King, and was the author's second published novel. The title King originally chose for his book was Second Coming, but he later decided on Jerusalem's Lot. The publishers, Doubleday, shortened it to the current title, thinking the author's choice sounded too religious.
Ben Mears, a successful writer who grew up in the (fictional) town of Jerusalem's Lot, Cumberland County, Maine (or “The Lot”, as the locals call it), has returned home following the death of his wife. Once in town he meets local high school teacher Matt Burke and strikes up a romantic relationship with Susan Norton, a young college graduate.
Ben plans to write a book about the “Marsten House”, an abandoned mansion that gave him nightmares after a bad experience with it as a child. The Marsten House was the home of '30s Gangster Hubert Marsten. Hubert, or "Hubie" was a hitman who specialized in rather unsavory hits. Hubie's profession intersected with his personal life and after his suicide, it was discovered he was responsible for the deaths of several children. Unbeknownst to Ben and his new friends, the Marsten House is about to be inhabited by the vampire Kurt Barlow. It is later revealed that Hubie Marsten had in fact communicated with the erstwhile Barlow, and that in the course of their correspondence Marsten may have extended to Barlow the necessary invitation to come to 'Salems Lot.
Mears discovers that the Marsten House has been bought by a Mr. Straker and a Mr. Barlow, appearing as a pair of businessmen who are opening an antique store in town, although only the tall, bald Mr Straker has yet been seen in public. Their arrival coincides with the disappearance of a young boy, Ralphie Glick, and the suspicious death of his brother Danny. Over the course of the book, the town is slowly taken over by vampires, reducing it to a ghost town by day as they sleep.
Ben and Susan are joined by Matt Burke and his doctor Jimmy Cody, along with a young boy named Mark Petrie and the local priest, Father Callahan, in an effort to stop the vampires from dominating the town. When Mark Petrie and Susan break and enter into the Marsten House, they are found and taken prisoner by Mr. Straker. Mark is able to wound Straker (who is eventually killed by the master vampire Barlow for failing his duties), but Susan is captured by Barlow before Mark has a chance to rescue her. When Mark returns to the others, the characters begin to run into several unfortunate tragedies. Susan, while held hostage by Barlow, becomes a vampire herself, and is sent (unsuccesfully) after Mark Petrie, before being left by Barlow in the cellar of the Marsden House with a note daring his adversaries to kill her. Father Callahan is caught by Barlow at the Petrie house, and after killing Mark's parents, forces Callahan to throw away his cross in return for Mark's life. Barlow forces Callahan to drink blood from his own neck, corrupting his soul so that he can no longer even approach a church, and driving the ex-priest to flee the town. Finally, Jimmy Cody is killed when he falls into a dark basement and is impaled by knife traps set by Barlow, while Matt Burke dies from a heart attack in the nearby hospital.
In the end Ben and young Mark Petrie succeed in destroying the master vampire Barlow, but, lucky to escape with their lives, are forced to leave the town to the crop of newly-created vampires. The novel's prologue, which is set shortly after the end of the story proper, describes Ben and Mark's flight across the country to a seaside town in Mexico, where they stop to recover from their ordeal.
An epilogue has the two returning to the town a year later, intending to renew the battle. Ben, knowing that there are too many hiding places for the town's vampires, sets some underbrush on fire in an attempt to destroy as many homes as possible thus making the vampires easier to hunt. The Marsten House serves as an eventual pyre when it is burned down by Mark Petrie and Ben Mears.
King expands on this thought in his essay for Adeline Magazine "On Becoming a Brand Name" (Feb 1980): "I began to turn the idea over in my mind, and it began to coalesce into a possible novel. I thought it would make a good one, if I could create a fictional town with enough prosaic reality about it to offset the comic-book menace of a bunch of vampires."
Political influences of the time were very heavy on King's writing of the tale. Corruption in the government was a significant factor in the inspiration of the story. "I wrote 'Salem's Lot during the period when the Ervin committee was sitting. That was also the period when we first learned of the Ellsberg break-in, the White House tapes, the shadowy, ominous connection between the CIA and Gordon Liddy, the news of enemies' lists, of tax audits on antiwar protestors and other fearful intelligence. During the spring, summer and fall of 1973, it seemed that the Federal Government had been involved in so much subterfuge and so many covert operations that, like the bodies of the faceless wetbacks that Juan Corona was convicted of slaughtering in California, the horror would never end . . . Every novel is to some extent an indavertant psychological portrait of the novelist, and I think that the unspeakable obscenity in 'Salem's Lot has to do with my own disillusionment and consequent fear for the future. The secret room in 'Salem's Lot is paranoia, the prevailing spirit of those years. It is a book about vampires, it is also a book about all those silent houses, all those drawn shades, all the people who are no longer what they seem. In a way, it is more closely related to Invasion of the Body Snatchers than it is to Dracula. The fear behind 'Salem's Lot seems to be that the Government has invaded everybody.
In his non-fiction book, Danse Macabre, King recalls a dream he had when he was eight years old. In the dream, he saw the body of a hanged man dangling from the arm of a scaffold on a hill. "The corpse bore a sign: ROBERT BURNS. But when the wind caused the corpse to turn in the air, I saw that it was my face - rotted and picked by birds, but obviously mine. And then the corpse opened its eyes and looked at me. I woke up screaming, sure that a dead face would be leaning over me in the dark. Sixteen years later, I was able to use the dream as one of the central images in my novel 'Salem's Lot. I just changed the name of the corpse to Hubie Marsten."
In a 1969 installment of "The Garbage Truck", a column King wrote for the University of Maine at Orono's campus newspaper, King foreshadowed the coming of 'Salem's Lot by writing: "In the early 1800s a whole sect of Shakers, a rather strange, religious persuasion at best, disappeared from their village (Jeremiah's Lot) in Vermont. The town remains uninhabited to this day."
In addition to Dracula, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House (the opening passage of which King employed as an epigraph for his novel) and Grace Metalious' Peyton Place are often cited as inspirations for 'Salem's Lot.
Pet Sematary, 1983
The Dark Tower, 2003
In 2005, Centipede Press released a deluxe limited edition of 'Salem's Lot with black and white photographs, the two short stories "Jerusalem's Lot" and "One for the Road", and over fifty pages of deleted material. It weighed over 13 pounds, was 9 x 13 inches and over 4 1/4" thick. A trade hardcover edition with a preface by King was later released.
King revisited the character Father Callahan, the local priest whose faith falters in the dreadful presence of Barlow, in his The Dark Tower series. He appears in Wolves of the Calla, Song of Susannah, and The Dark Tower, and provides insights into his experiences after being exiled from 'Salem's Lot. In addition, the central characters of the Dark Tower books acquire an actual copy of 'Salem's Lot at the end of Wolves of the Calla, which leads them to seek out King himself in one of the many alternate realities featured in the series.
'Salem's Lot was also the first novel by King in which the main character is a writer, a device he would use again in a number of novels and short stories.