January 2010's SK Flavor of the Month - The Talisman

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January 2010's SK Flavor of the Month - The Talisman

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gen. 1, 2010, 7:02pm

Happy 2010 all.

Our first book of the year is the Stephen King/Peter Straub collaboration The Talisman.

I've put off reading this book for years. I LOVE both guys solo work and am afraid that the two together will disappoint. Though I do think they have complimentary styles. Both are at their best when they are writing about a large cast of characters and both excel at detailing their characters hum-drum domestic issues in order to make the more fantastic elements believable.

At any rate, I have to enjoy it more than the godawful last book I read: L. Ron Hubbard's (yes, that L. Ron Hubbard) Fear. What a stinker that was.

gen. 2, 2010, 7:00pm

I have The Talisman ready for me to dig in. I think I read it years and years ago but I don't remember it.

gen. 2, 2010, 7:05pm

Same here. I think I'm up for reading it, but I may bail at the last minute. I'm fickle that way.

gen. 2, 2010, 9:32pm

I read the first chapter last night. I liked the writing a lot. I'm not yet clear on why the Sawyers are dodging dad's old business partner. Does mom just not want to deal with all the paperwork or is he after something?

gen. 2, 2010, 9:39pm

Is that Richard Sloat??? If memory serves, you won't have to wait long to find out.

gen. 3, 2010, 2:50pm

Morgan Sloat, yeah. I had to wait till I read more of the book because so far he'd only been referred to as Uncle Morgan.

Editat: gen. 3, 2010, 6:01pm

I just started The Talisman, and on the very first page was struck by the sheer, simple beauty of a sentence describing the after-season roller coaster, "It stood empty and still now, a heart between beats." I thought to myself, "Jeez, that's one of the most elegant sentences I've ever seen Uncle Stevie write." And then it occurred to me--how the hell do you know what he wrote and what Peter Straub wrote?

Does anybody know about what their methodology was, if there's any way besides sheer deduction to know which belongs to whom? Have either or both of them ever written or talked about this subject?

And another question I want to toss out there: Is the place known as "The Territories" in this book related to/the same as the alternative/parallel/other place in the Dark Tower series (of which I've read only the first, and found that to be quite confusing)?

Just asking.

ETA: my second, hopefully not too terribly uneducated, question.

Editat: gen. 3, 2010, 7:02pm

I don't know what their methodology was, but I can usually tell who's writing what. Straub's sentence structure is denser and generally longer and more particular when it comes to following proper grammar. King's tends to be more colloquial and visual and less prone to proper grammar construction.

gen. 3, 2010, 9:16pm

7> Peter Straub discusses collaborating w/Stephen King on The Talisman, second MP3 file down. Honestly, I haven't taken the time to listen to it, but it's the closest thing I could find from the sources themselves, that might answer your question: which lines belongs to whom in The Talisman?

gen. 3, 2010, 9:29pm

#7 - I just started The Talisman, and on the very first page was struck by the sheer, simple beauty of a sentence... is there any way besides sheer deduction to know which belongs to whom?

I was gonna mention that in my earlier post. For the most part, the whole first chapter reads like Peter Straub to me. I've always thought Straub is, technically at least, a better writer than Stephen King. I say he's more literary, but then I may not be using 'literary' properly.

Subconsciously I'll probably read the entire book thinking 'King wrote that bit', 'Straub did that', but I'm going to try and just pretend they sat side-by-side in front of a typewriter and banged the whole thing out together.

I also wanted to say that the name 'Jack Sawyer' is such a perfect one. It's not a quirky name that will distract the reader, but 'Jack' is a name so heavily wrapped up in fairy stories (I'm blanking on it now, but I remember a science fiction writer wrote book linking the various 'Jacks' together). Sawyer of course makes me think of Tom Sawyer, America and 'lighting out for the territories' (which is also sort of the name of the first section of The Talisman).

gen. 6, 2010, 6:38pm

>10 jseger9000: Whenever I see 'Jack Sawyer' I think of LOST (the tv show). I've been rewatching the DVDs to get ready for the final season and that's the first thing that came to mind. Of course, there are a lot of King connections to that show which were already mentioned in this group and referenced here.

But anyway, back on topic, I just started the book yesterday (it's a hefty one) and although I've read it once before I've forgotten most of it. Except of course for the Sunlight Home chapter. Can't wait to get to that part to see if it's as bad as I remember it being...

gen. 6, 2010, 6:50pm

I've never seen Lost. I keep swearing I'm going to rent the DVDs, but I'm wondering if it has just been on a couple of years too long.

Jack has traveled to the Territories, peeked in on the queen and phonied up some tears.

The book is fantastically written, but so far is a pretty straight up fantasy. Not really my thing (which is also why I don't love The Dark Tower or Clive Barker's novels). Not that I would quit reading it, but I don't think I will be anxiously awaiting Black House to pop up as a flavor of the month.

gen. 7, 2010, 12:36am

I'm utterly engrossed and enchanted. The story is the classic hero's journey, in which the hero--Jack Sawyer--is torn from the ordinary world that he knows and thrust into one of strange happenings and increasingly serious challenges. That King can write a kid character like nobody's business makes it all the more delicious.

A couple of devices I've noticed, for the first time, that he seems to like a lot:

The simple but deep companion/guide (Tom Cullen, Wolf) and the wise, other-worldly, elderly African American guide (Dick Halloran, Mother Abagail, Speedy Parker).

For whatever it's worth.

gen. 13, 2010, 10:05am

I'm only on chapter 3. Jack is worried about his mother, debates confiding in Speedy.

I'm not a big fantasy fan either, maybe that's why this book stirs no memories at all.

Editat: gen. 13, 2010, 6:49pm

I'm further in and liking it more. Jack escaped the Oatley Tap and just saw the Men in the Sky.

I'm noticing I much prefer Jack in our world to the Territories.

The Territories is just too straight-up fantasy. I have to give credit, it is very good fantasy. I appreciate all the little details like how their money works or their religious views (God pounds his nails), but I still enjoy it more when Jack is dodging monsters in the good old US of A.

gen. 13, 2010, 8:59pm

I've read a little of it, but haven't decided if I'm going to read the rest. I'll try a bit more & see. When I read it as an older adolescent I really liked it, but as a 40-something I don't know if I can connect as well.

Editat: gen. 18, 2010, 7:42pm

I'm surprised there isn't more discussion on this one. I thought The Talisman was a seminal King work.

Jack and Wolf were just arrested in Indiana and are being sent to the Sunlight Garden Home.

I do like the book, but I keep wondering why fabulously wealthy Jack didn't just buy himself a bus ticket to California? I know he had to leave quickly and all, but the extra two hours spent on arranging a bus or plane ticket would have shaved weeks off of his trip. I wish they'd had Speedy whip-up some reason that he had to make the journey by the sweat of his brow or something.

gen. 19, 2010, 8:36am

Waiting for a copy, which I've ordered online. Should be here by next week, and I'll be joining in then.

gen. 19, 2010, 8:56am

Eh, I started reading it, but just can't get interested in the story. I had a feeling this would happen. It's not one of my favorites. Sorry.

gen. 19, 2010, 12:18pm

>17 jseger9000: I keep wondering why fabulously wealthy Jack didn't just buy himself a bus ticket to California?

I believe that making the journey under arduous conditions, with only the clothes on his back and the contents of his small pack, is part of what makes it a quest, a hero's journey. Presumably, Odysseus could have hightailed it back in a much more straightforward manner to Ithaca, but then there wouldn't have been an odyssey...

gen. 19, 2010, 2:53pm

#17 - Presumably, Odysseus could have hightailed it back in a much more straightforward manner to Ithaca, but then there wouldn't have been an odyssey...

Right, right. I understand thematically why the book happens the way it does. I'm just surprised that King and Straub didn't offer any in story rationalization of why Jack is behaving that way.

Like I said, they could have just had Speedy spout some Mother Abigale mumbo-jumbo about Jack "needin' to head out with jus' the clothe on yo' back" and there would be no problem.

It's like when you are watching a scary movie and the heroine decides to walk up the unlit stairs to investigate that noise. Now, as a veiwer you know that it has to happen to set up a scary situation, but you still ask yourself 'What is she, stupid?' and if the movie makes characters act in unbelievable ways enough times you will decide it is a bad movie.

Editat: gen. 26, 2010, 4:55pm

Anyone still out there? I have been SIIIICK and haven't read the book in a week.

I picked it up again and have read up to Jack and Richard discovering the train.

You know, I've already stated that fantasy isn't my preferred genre, but in general The Talisman is kind of bugging me. I feel like the authors are letting themselves get away with stuff they never would have in one of their solo books.

I already mentioned that it just seemed a little sloppy not to explain why Jack didn't just fly back to California.

But I was also irritated that Sunlight Gardner wound up being a twinner and in cahoots with the bad guy. It just seemed hugely coincidental that Jack wound up at that home.

I remember Stephen King talking about his irritation with the T.V. series Kolchak: The Night Stalker, because Kolchak wouldn't be able to go on a cruise without coincidentally stumbling across a group of Satanists.

To me, Jack's stumbling across the Sunlight Gardner Home was just as wildly coincidental as anything Kolchak stumbled across. This could have been alleviated if it were implied that Jack's actions were being directed (or if it turned out that Sunlight Gardner was just a real prick, but not linked to the Territories), but as it is it feels like this one 12 year old boy is crossing two different countries and repeatedly bumping into the same couple of power players from the Territories.

Lastly, both of these authors are experts at creating believable characters, but aside from Jack the characters here feel pretty flat. And don't even get me started on Richard Sloat. I hate when a character in a horror story repeatedly refuses to accept the facts around him, regardless of the amount of proof provided.

Ah, maybe I'm being too harsh on the book. Anyone have any differing opinions?

gen. 26, 2010, 12:26pm

Sorry jseger9k, I'm sitting this one out. I've only read this one once I think and it was over 20 years ago so I have very few memories of it. I read the first couple of chapters and just couldn't get into it. actually, I'm hardly reading at all this month.

gen. 26, 2010, 4:56pm

actually, I'm hardly reading at all this month.

Ha! At the rate I'm going right now, I guess you could say I'm hardly reading at all this month either.

gen. 27, 2010, 10:14pm

I'm slowly picking at it. I also read it years ago and it didn't stick with me at all. I hope that it will interest me more but so far....

gen. 28, 2010, 12:12am

Wow. I thought it was gorgeous. I was sucked into it from the first paragraph, and barely put it down between that and the end.

The cheese stands alone...

gen. 28, 2010, 6:14pm

I'm here too, ever so slowly working my way through it. My problem isn't illness (hope you feel better soon jseger!) but work, which is sucking up all my free time. I'm currently at the part where Wolf has Jack locked up in the shed because of the full moon.

But I'm with BeckyJG on this one, I'm enjoying it very much--I like the journeying along with Jack and finding out what new horrors are just around the corner. I just need to find the time to sit down and finish it!

gen. 29, 2010, 2:36pm

Only a few chapters in and finding it very hard to get in to. I've got an awful head cold at the moment and nursing a sick cat (he had a mild stroke) which isn't putting me off - far from it, it's usually ideal reading time for me, but I'm struggling.

BeckyJG - completely agree with the descriptions of the empty funfair, just beautiful. Something about the rollercoaster looking like charcoal strokes silhouetted against the sky. I just have no interest in Jack, his mother, Uncle Morgan or Speedy at the moment. I haven't read anything by Straub and haven't got far enough into the book to say, but I'm wondering if the different styles are working against each other. For instance, as beautiful as the funfair description is, it seems indulgent considering the introduction of the characters' stories is so muddled and clumsy. Uncle Stevie's digressions are going to seem less than cute if I'm still feeling like I can't see where this is going and couldn't care less by the time I'm halfway through....

gen. 30, 2010, 1:13am

Just got my nook and this was the first purchase. I'll actually start reading it once I finish Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

gen. 30, 2010, 11:00am

#29 - oh, the nook. I'm not looking to buy an e-book reader, but if I were, I like the look of the nook more than the Kindle.

feb. 1, 2010, 10:11am

Well, I finished it last night. (It took me literally the entire month.)

It just wasn't my kind of thing, but I did like the intermingling of their writing styles. I would like to see them work together on a mammoth It-style horror novel.

feb. 2, 2010, 5:16pm

I'm further in and getting along with it better, but I didn't anticipate it being so hard to get into. I stalled completely when Speedy offers Jack his first taste of Jesus juice. I'm finding it easier to read as I go along so I'm hoping to finish it soon. I know it's fantasy but I'm finding some of it too unlikely and too convenient. I don't know if I'm getting too old to suspend my disbelief and enjoy fantasy, although it's never been my favourite genre - some has grabbed me over the years, some I don't take to at all, and I've never read enough to get a handle on what it is about a fantasy work that does it for me.

For example, I absolutely love Clive Barker's Weaveworld and The Great and Secret Show, but didn't like Imajica at all, and never read anything by him after that. I don't know if that's because I read the first two as a teen.

One thing I will say about The Talisman - it seemed so bloody cliched that The Territories had a ye olde medieval England feel. It's possible that I'm only annoyed by it because of a bad break up years ago with a bloke who turned into a complete tosser after getting into 14th century re-enactment ;)

feb. 2, 2010, 8:40pm

I agree that The Talisman was too unlikely and convenient. I don't think it really had anything to do with it being a fantasy.

I kind of got the feeling that King and Straub were chugging along and what editor is going to question those guys?

feb. 3, 2010, 8:52am

Also bear in mind this was pretty much when King was using coke and other substances pretty heavily. Sometimes it resulted in loony fun (Tommyknockers) and sometimes it just brought out the mean and sarcastic in him (Misery and The Dark Half). But this one just was unfocused and unoriginal to me...I don't think his brain was operating at it's best, you know what I mean. And even if Straub wasn't in the same boat, King's personality probably just pulled him along.

feb. 3, 2010, 11:11pm

I am now halfway through and I as well am having a hard time getting into it.

Did anyone else think Wolf was the most uninspired name for a character ever? If he were the only one of his kind I could understand it but he says he has a whole family. Are his sisters named Wolfette and She-Wolf?

I really like the character and it just bugs the crap out of me that they couldn't even bother to think up a better name than Wolf.

feb. 4, 2010, 7:48am

Maybe they're like the Sherpas who almost all have the same last name of Sherpa and often name their children after the day of the week on which they were born. Talk about confusing!

feb. 4, 2010, 8:31am

Well, it sound like that I have not missed anything by skipping this one?...

feb. 4, 2010, 8:34am

If you haven't read it, you can't really judge. I think it's best read by younger people who have a more narrow reading scope and higher tolerance for unoriginality.

feb. 4, 2010, 8:07pm

Pardon me, but are all of you fine folks snorting coke and using other substances pretty heavily yourselves in your denigration of The Talisman?! The Talisman is a high quality, macabre/fantasy/hero quest of a book if there ever was one. Don't skip it, Locke. Listen to another viewpoint and give it a chance. If you skip the book you're skipping a unique King experience.

Sometimes drugs are good for writers (The Talisman); sometimes they're not (The Tommyknockers).

feb. 4, 2010, 10:48pm

If you prefer the Dark Tower (and related) books to King's 'regular' horror novels, then you will probably groove on The Talisman.

I don't like those books myself and didn't especially like The Talisman. But I did like the combination of King and Straub's writing. the book wasn't terrible, just not my thing.

i appreciated that the Territories were a fantasy world with no elves or dwarfs. At least their fantasy world didn't feel like a Tolkien clone.

As far as Wolf goes, I think all of the werewolves go by the name Wolf.

feb. 5, 2010, 2:06am

#39: Well, I don't think drugs do any real good for writers and other professionals in any circumstances. However, I might give The Talisman a try someday... :-)

#40: I couldn't get into the Dark Tower myself. Fantasy is a genre I have yet to submit to...

feb. 5, 2010, 2:38pm

>39 absurdeist::
Nope, no substance abuse going on here Enrique, although I wondered if it would help ;)

feb. 9, 2010, 11:54am

Although I've started Thinner, I'm still plodding along with The Talisman. I'm about half-way through and starting to enjoy it (just a little), I think I was thrown off by the early part which was a bit of a mess. Opened with a beautiful description of a fairground, introduced some characters in a very rough way which made it hard for me to care about them, jumped into cliched medieval fantasy (Jack's first trip to the Territories was quite cartoony in my head), jumped back to a bullying bar owner and the threat of sexual abuse - I couldn't get the hang of it at all.

Jack didn't grab me in anyway, Speedy talked gibberish, and Lily came across as a cynical, chain-smoking old lush. Not a good start either.

I'm not sure how King and Straub worked together on this but it's more miss than hit so far. I'm getting on better with it, but more because I've lowered any expectations I had and because I'm now just going along for the ride.

feb. 10, 2010, 12:18am

I finished last night and rather enjoyed the ending. It's funny because usually I think King's final protagonist vs. antagonist showdowns are rather underwhelming when compared to the rest of the book but I felt Jack vs. Morgan(s) was one of the better parts of the book. In fact, from the point when they raided the Wolf camp in the train I was pretty engrossed.

I still think they should of gave Wolf a name besides Wolf.

feb. 20, 2010, 9:12am

Still picking away at it. Determined to finish it but it will be a while at this rate. I can't help compare it to Weaveworld by Clive Barker, which has a protagonist from this world who finds himself going back and forth to a fantasy world which is also threatened by an evil adversary. It's much better and I recommend it to anyone who liked the idea of The Talisman more than the execution.

feb. 22, 2010, 3:55pm

I'm picking at it too. Well I'm picking at everything because I'm stuck in a slump.

març 19, 2010, 4:37pm

#26- you do not stand alone! I loved the book. I loved both books actually, The Talisman and Black House. You should read that one too, if you get a chance to, in-between the other flavors!

març 20, 2010, 7:17pm

I'm still picking at it but it is getting very exciting. Jack and Wolf are in the boys detention center and he just figured out how to flip without the juice.

març 28, 2010, 6:10pm

I'm enjoying this book much more this time around than when I read it 20 odd years ago.

I find myself agreeing with a lot of the views already shown.
The book started very slow and flat. Speedy was....Hmm...odd? Something, I didn't care for him.
Wolf definetely needed another name but in some ways it suited him, maybe if it was a simple nickname instead of his given name.
There were a lot of coincedences...The Sunlight Home being the most glaring. It bugged me that all the evil kids had evil twinners and they all found each other.

abr. 13, 2010, 12:34pm

Well I FINALLY got through it. What a long, hard slog! It was such a mess...

For a start, every time I got into it, something ridiculous and too concidental or convenient occurred, and threw me right back out of the story. For that reason it took a long time to read - it didn't flow very well and I kept stopping and starting as a result.

A lot of the problem with the convenience of events was that often, something wasn't explained until it HAD happened - something would come out of nowhere, followed by a bit of background information. There often wasn't anything leading up to it or hinting at it. One example - the scars on the inside of Morgan's thighs (what scars?), and the reason behind them quickly explained to rationalise Morgan's grudge against Speedy (what grudge?). Eh? The plot went along in this fashion all the way through the book. Jarring to say the least. All of these instances COULD have made a great build up and a fantastic, rich history of the Territories.

All of the events seemed random and over-the-top, and as a result came across as separate from each other (giving no sense of coherence or of the quest element of the story) and chaotic (therefore giving no hints as to what exactly Jack was learning along the way, except when he knew just what to do and when to do it, just as he needed to do it, when the authors required that to be the case). Everything seemed very arbitrary.

I couldn't really sympathise with the characters. Jack was a bit flat, Speedy was odd, Wolf was a liability, Richard a whinge, and as for the baddies - caricatures, the lot of them. I couldn't understand the relevance of the gull and the little sand whirlpool at the beginning either.

I haven't read any of the Dark Tower novels, or any Peter Straub, so I have nothing to compare this to, but I'm inclined to think that it wasn't the fault of either author; instead I think it struggled because fantasy, which is unrealistic by nature, works when it is carried along by a clear, single vision. This was always going to be problem with two authors and in this case they didn't manage it. Will be interesting to see if their approach improved in Black House.

abr. 13, 2010, 4:09pm

I absolutely loved this book and still do, perhaps it's because I first read it when I was younger and didn't get hung up it critiquing it but just simply delved in and enjoyed it? I must say though the sequel stunk horribly in my opinion. I seem to remember slogging through about 100+ pages of descriptions before even really getting a story thread. Jack, Wolf & Speedy are some of my favorite characters in King's fiction.

abr. 13, 2010, 5:21pm

Jacey, I might well have thought differently had I been younger when I read it. That's a possibility, but I wasn't exactly critiquing it as I went, I was really trying to delve in and enjoy. It's just that for the reasons stated, whenever I found myself getting into it a little, something came along that jarred me right back out of it. I was determined to finish it in the hope it would slowly grow on me.

I always try and give a book my best shot, and go along as open-minded as I can - I had my reservations with Thinner at the start but had a lot of fun with that one. Sometimes you can't help what you like or dislike :)

Editat: abr. 14, 2010, 4:06pm

Hi Moomin, I hope I didn't sound disagreeable :(
I understand how things can just take you out of your reading because they are so jarring, I'm sorry it didn't work for you. I will have to try Thinner, always been skeptical and never picked that one up.

abr. 14, 2010, 5:24pm

Oh no, Jacey, not at all, but you did have me worried that I came across like I was picking the book to pieces for the sake of being 'clever'. I know a few people who read books in that way and nothing is more annoying!

abr. 15, 2010, 10:13am

No, you didn't come across that way at all, to be honest you have some valid points about the book. I am curious to see what you think of the Dark Tower series it's another of his works that I'm fairly crazy about but can also admit some issues exist that I'm willfully blind to. :)

Editat: abr. 15, 2010, 12:51pm

I will have to try Thinner, always been skeptical and never picked that one up.

Jacey, do yourself a favor. Go pick that up - and read it. I agree with Moomin_Mama; Thinner is a lot of fun! One of the best Stephen King novels I have read myself...

Edit: tried to fix touchstone...

abr. 15, 2010, 4:26pm

>55 Jacey25::
I'm really looking forward to The Dark Tower series - the only Stephen King fantasy I've read before The Talisman is The Eye of the Dragon, and I adore it.

abr. 18, 2010, 12:16pm


I think you should take post #50 and turn it into a review. I like it better than my own long and rambling review of The Talisman and agree with all your points.

I do recommend you give Peter Straub's solo works a try. At least Ghost Story for something supernatural or Koko for a suspenseful non-supernatural story.

Don't judge him by The Talisman. He really is much better.

abr. 18, 2010, 2:10pm

Straub's The Hellfire Club is excellent. He has a unique voice in fiction.

abr. 18, 2010, 4:12pm

Jseger, that's twice now you've suggested I turn my thoughts into a review, and each time they've been negative - seems like I'm better at expressing what I don't like :)

I feel like such a critic...

I won't let The Talisman put me off, in fact I'm more keen to try out some of Straub's work than I was before (I've heard such good things about Ghost Story, and I'd like to see what he's usually like). Thanks Jseger and Bookmarque for the recommendations.

abr. 18, 2010, 7:08pm

I like Ghost Story as well. It's a slow moving, atmospheric tale that tries the patience of many a modern horror reader, but I like it.

abr. 19, 2010, 8:38am

Ghost Story was the first horror book that I can remember reading. BBRR, It still gives me the creeps. I tend to compare all horror books to this one.