Book Impressions: The Talisman by Stephen King & Peter Straub

May 20, 2009

talismanUpon hearing of upcoming adaptations of The Talisman by Stephen King & Peter Straub, I decided that it might be a good time to read the novel, before those adaptations hit.  The Talisman was published in 1984 and is the story of 12-year-old Jack Sawyer, and his cross-country journey to find an object that might cure his ailing mother of the cancer she is dying of.  But of course, this is King and Straub we’re talking about, so you have to throw in a good mix of parallel worlds you can “flip” to where your “twinner” might exist, and werewolves and maniacal preachers and … well, all manner of things you might expect from those two authors. 



The writing style.  I’ve never read any Peter Straub novels before, but I’ve read a lot of Stephen King.  The foreshadowing of events, giving you a teaser of what’s to come to whet the appetite without ruining the suspense, is way above par compared to other authors I’ve read lately.  The tying together of plot elements in satisfying ways is masterful.  Can you say Hallelujah!

The audiobook.  Frank Muller’s reading was once again superb.  When deciding whether to read the book on my Kindle or listen to the unabridged audio, I went for the audio immediately when I learned that Frank Muller did it, and I was not disappointed.  His character voices, his inflections, his pauses at just the right moments… I almost felt like I could not have read it in my mind as good as he read it aloud.


The talisman.  Why does it exist?  How did it get trapped in the Agincourt Hotel and by whom?  How do people not know of it?  It seems to be an immense power that spans endless worlds, yet it’s ultimate use is for one rather mundane task (by comparison) in one world, that only affects two worlds, as described.  I almost feel as though it would have been better to call it a “magic thingy” and leave it at that.  Instead I feel like King & Straub only went halfway with it.  Sure, there’s plenty of fodder for a sequel, but it left me feeling a bit unsatisfied with this story.

The long journey.  The pacing felt very odd.  Way to much time is spent in the Oatley Tap for its significance to the story.  The same is true for Sunlight Gardner’s School, although the people there hold more significance.  The time spent with Wolf… the same.  His transformation felt like it played out just because he was a werewolf and that’s what you were supposed to do in a story that has a werewolf.  After going from New Hampshire to Illinois at an agonizingly slow pace, Jack travels basically from Illinois to California in 2 days by “train.”  The journey back was even quicker, but you would expect that, much the same way that Bilbo’s journey There and Back Again was much more about “there” and very little about “back again.”  But the pacing of Jack’s journey there just seemed a little wordy in parts and forced in other parts.


I found The Talisman to be a strange book.  Maybe just not what I expected, although I really knew nothing about it when I started.  I haven’t really read anything about the book since I finished it, such as how King and Straub divided the writing and so forth.  As a King fan, it might be interesting to know what the Straub bits were, if that is easily discerned, to see if Straub’s influence is what threw me off in this story.

While it was engaging enough to finish, and I’m going to start reading the sequel Black House right away, I’m not sure I’d pick it over other King novels were I to recommend just one.  So I guess I’d recommend it with reservations.  If you’re going to delve in, though, get the Frank Muller audiobook.

As a side note, the success of the comic adaptations of The Dark Tower and The Stand have lead Del Rey to announce an upcoming version of The Talisman in comic form, reportedly to start in a few months and span at least 24 issues.  It remains to be seen how that will play out, but given the past comic series quality, I might even recommend just reading the comic over the book (something I would rarely do).

Also, there has been a reported 6-hour miniseries of The Talisman in the works by Stephen Spielberg for several years now.  I think it’s been on hold due to budget issues, so I’m skeptical that it’ll ever see the light of day.  There is also a fun demo video made by up-and-coming filmmaker Matthieu Ratthe that gives you some sense of how good a movie of The Talisman could be.



  1. Nice review. I miss Frank!

  2. […] Impressions: Black House by Stephen King and Peter Straub July 23, 2009 Hot on the heels of finishing The Talisman on audio, I started up the sequel, Black House by Stephen King and Peter Straub, as my next […]

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