"Never harm the herd": Social Criticism and Environmental Consciousness in Stephen King and Peter Straub's The Talisman
You're reaching up to hold a universe of worlds, a cosmos of good, Jack? . . . Don't drop it, son. For Jason's sake, don't drop it~~Philip Sawyer
The only way Stephen King and Peter Straub could have prevented The Talisman
from becoming a bestseller would have been to publish under pseudonyms. George Beahm says that by 1984, King was considered "the premier writer of contemporary horror," and that of King's "perceived heirs," Straub "enjoyed perhaps the highest standing" (The Stephen King Companion
248). The authors' popularity, along with Viking's $550,000 publicity campaign, certainly helped propel The Talisman
to the top of the bestseller lists (Publishers Weekly
). Thus, with such admiration and anticipation from their fans, King and Straub's collaboration could not help but be an instant bestseller. But were popularity and money the only things that kept the novel on the lists for seven months? Are they what has kept The Talisman
in print for the past twenty-two years? King and Straub gave their readers more than standard horror fare. They wrote a novel that contains fantastic imagery, homages to both contemporary and past authors, and important contemporary thematic concerns. The Talisman
is a quest story; it is a bildungsroman,
written in the tradition of Huckleberry Finn
and The Wizard of Oz;
it is a fantasy tale; it is a Gothic horror story; it is an epic in the purest literary definition of the word. But most especially, it is a novel of ferocious social criticism that is as timely today as it was when it was written over twenty years ago.
During his undergraduate years at the University of Maine, King's "conservative upbringing fell away with a sudden rage," and he has been active in politics, civil rights, and environmental issues ever since (Winter 22?23). Of his college activism, King has said that, for him, the issues "boiled down to three or four strong points?protest the war, protest poverty, protest discrimination against women" (qtd. in Smith). According to Beahm, King "passionately" opposed Ronald Reagan (Stephen King from A to Z
163), and campaigned for Gary Hart in 1988 (94). In 2004, King supported John Edwards for president, and described the Bush administration as the " ?most dangerous and unpleasant bunch' to occupy the White House since the Nixon years" ("Edwards speaks at UMaine rally, criticizes Cheney"). Peter Straub is less vocal about his political leanings, but he seems to agree with those of King, at least with respect to the environment:
What Steve describes as ?Reagan's America' is almost implicit in elements we assembled for the book. The book does seem to be about the death of the land, the terrible poisoning of the land. (qtd. in Bosky 70)
Moreover, Straub continued to write "[r]adical horror" that "expose[s] the nasty side of American society" long after The Talisman
was published. In 1997, Straub published The Hellfire Club,
a book that Paula Guran calls "a vivid view of the festering corruption of present day American society," replete with "the evil greed of capitalist misogynist power-mongering fascists." Guran applauds Straub for stripping away the "facade" of the "Republican world of reactionary politics and morality."
Whether King and Straub originally intended their novel to be "an investigation of the American Dream and the nightmare that it sometimes becomes" is not readily apparent (Bosky 69); however, that they wrote exactly this is unmistakable. King and Straub began plotting The Talisman
in 1980, the year Ronald Reagan was elected President (Magistrale, "Science, Politics, and the Epic Imagination" 114). The Talisman
's "grim" account of "American society and values" takes place during Autumn in 1981, the first year of Reagan's presidency (Bosky 70). And by the time the novel was published in November 1984, Reagan had been elected for a second term.
A demonstrable example of 80s American culture in The Talisman
is the character of Reverend Sunlight Gardener, a frighteningly insane Christian fundamentalist, who is modeled on the likes of Jimmy Swaggart, Oral Roberts, Jerry Falwell, and Jim Bakker?four prominent television evangelists in the 1980s. Additionally, Swaggart, Roberts, and Falwell (who took control of Jim Bakker's The PTL Club
and Heritage USA theme park after accusations of sexual affairs, embezzlement, and fraud were charged against Bakker) had all founded institutes of education, on which Gardener's Sunlight Home is probably based. And only Jerry Falwell has avoided the various scandals that Swaggart, Roberts, Bakker, and Sunlight Gardener have faced. Sunlight's closeness with Morgan is a possible literary representation of Jerry Falwell's conservative political lobbying group Moral Majority, and the hazy line between Church and State in America. King has written that, though he believes in God, he has "no use for organized religion" (On Writing
61). Considering his unfavorable treatment of fundamentalism in his late-70s and early-80s novels, such as Carrie, The Dead Zone,
and The Gunslinger,
it seems likely that Sunlight Gardener may have been King's creation.
Fundamentalism of all beliefs and ideologies did not end with Reagan's presidency, and is alive and well in twenty-first-century America. When we read The Talisman
today, it is not Jimmy Swaggart who comes to mind, but Pat Robertson; not Oral Roberts, but Tim LaHaye. Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition is one of the most influential political lobbying groups today. Ralph Reed, leader of the Christian Coalition until 1997, worked for the Bush/Cheney campaign in 2004. And Jerry Falwell is as powerful and as politically connected today as he was during the 80s.
Another issue that influenced The Talisman
?though only symbolically?was the AIDS epidemic. By the end of 1981, the Center for Disease Control had already reported the deaths of 234 "young men, all active homosexuals," that were linked to diseases caused from complications of what would later be known as AIDS ("So little time . . ."). By July 27, 1982, the term "AIDS" was being used for the first time, and the CDC had linked the disease to blood ("So little time . . ."). It was also in 1982 that White House Press Secretary Larry Speakes made jokes about AIDS and gay men, while claiming not to "know anything about it":
Q: Larry, does the President have any reaction to the announcement the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, that AIDS is now an epidemic and have over 600 cases? [sic]
MR. SPEAKES: What's AIDS?
Q: Over a third of them have died. It's known as "gay plague." [Laughter.] No, it is. I mean it's a pretty serious thing that one in every three people that get this have died. And I wondered if the President is aware of it?
MR. SPEAKES: I don't have it. Do you? [Laughter.]
Q: No, I don't. . . . Well, I just wondered, does the President . . .
MR. SPEAKES: How do you know? [Laughter.]
Q: In other words, the White House looks on this as a great joke?
MR. SPEAKES: No, I don't know anything about it, Lester.
Q: Does the President, does anyone in the White House know about this epidemic, Larry?
MR. SPEAKES: I don't think so. (James).
At the time of Speakes' press briefing, 200 Americans had already died of AIDS (James). By the year's end, that number rose to 853. And by the end of 1983, 2,304 more had died of AIDS ("So little time . . ."). In May 31, 1984, "the number of Americans killed in the AIDS epidemic surpassed 2,000, . . . [not including a] diagnosis of 2,615 others who now awaited death," including Rock Hudson (Shilts 456). By December 31, "the Center for Disease Control reported that 7,699 Americans were dead or dying of [AIDS]" (502?503), and yet President Reagan had still not seen a need to mention the disease in public ("So little time . . .").
The AIDS crisis does not appear in The Talisman,
but there seems little doubt that King and Straub were aware of this epidemic, if only as a "gay plague." The Talisman,
however, does contain two gay characters, and both are sympathetically portrayed. These characters appear in the story so fleetingly, that to call them "minor" is generous. But when we read about them, we realize how important they are, simply because King and Straub treat them with empathy and dignity. Homosexuality itself
is treated in such an adult, matter-of-fact way by twelve-year-old Jack Sawyer, that when homophobia does appear, it is even more starkly highlighted. In fact, the only characters who use bigoted slurs against homosexuals are the cruel people that Jack encounters: Morgan Sloat, Smokey Updike, Sunlight Gardener and his thugs. Tommy Woodbine is the first gay character we encounter, and his story is told by Morgan, after Morgan has had him killed:
Sloat understood almost at once, and knew that Phil Sawyer would never see it unless he were told, that Tommy Woodbine lived with an enormous secret: . . . Tommy was now a homosexual. Probably he'd call himself gay. And that made everything easier?in the end, it even made it easier to get rid of Tommy. Because queers are always getting killed, aren't they? (74)
King and Straub make it very clear that Tommy was a good man, a trusted friend, possessing humility, "seriousness and straightforwardness"?attributes that only feed Morgan's hatred (72?73). Phil and Lily make Tommy the executor of their estate, and legal guardian of Jack (72). We only see Tommy through Morgan's eyes, but because Phil, Lily, and, especially, Jack trust him, we do too. As far was we know, none of them are aware that Tommy is gay (though how this got past the cynical, street-smart Lily is anyone's guess), but what is also very clear is that?gay or straight?Tommy is a much
better guardian for Jack than Morgan Sloat. That King and Straub were writing this during a decade in which homosexuals had to fight in the courts to adopt, or even keep custody of their biological children, makes this brief episode incredibly brave and subversive.
's other prominent gay character is Donny Keegan, a mentally handicapped boy who lives in the Sunlight Home with Jack and Wolf. We first meet Donny as the boys are outdoors working the fields, and another boy, Ferd Janklow, starts teasing Jack that Donny is "in love" with him, which embarrasses Jack terribly (321). This scene, one probably enacted in every park and playground everywhere, is a realistic portrayal of boys' interactions, and it is clear that poor, retarded Donny?though teased often?is safe enough around Ferd, Jack, and Wolf. But when we next see Donny, circumstances are very different. Jack has found the Talisman, and everywhere, those close to Jack experience their own personal revelations:
Donny looked up suddenly, his muddy eyes widening. Outside, clouds . . . pulled open in the west, letting out a single broad ray of sunshine that was terrible and exalting in its isolated beauty. "You're right, I DO love him!" . . . He's beautiful and I DO love him!" Donny honked his idiot laugh, only now even his laugh was nearly beautiful. . . . His face was bathed in the sunlight from that one clear, ephemeral ray, and one of the boys would whisper to a close friend that night that for a moment Donny Keegan had looked like Jesus. (584)
Our last sight of Donny Keegan is this revelation, this knowing, experiencing
of "love and triumph, . . . of grace for once fulfilled and delivered," of "clarity" and "ecstasy" (584). And we are told that he would never forget this moment. Why King and Straub chose Donny for this particular gift is important. He is one of the few real orphans at the Sunlight Home. He is one of the few Americans whom Jack meets who intuits something "special" about Jack. And he is one of the few true innocents that Jack encounters on his journey. The fact that Donny is gay removes nothing from his innocence, no matter what Sunlight (or the preachers on which he is based) believe.
It is necessary to note that homoerotic interpretation of Donny's feelings toward Jack is not indisputable. It could convincingly be argued that Donny's feelings for Jack are more Agape than Eros. However, when we compare Jack's friendships with Richard and Wolf, the difference becomes more apparent:
Wolf smiled so openly?and yet so wistfully?that Jack was moved to take his hand. It was something he never could have done in his old life, no matter what the circumstances, but that now seemed like his loss. He was glad to take Wolf's warm, strong hand (234). . . . ?I love you, Jacky.' ?I love you, too, Wolf,' Jack said, ?Right here and now.' (371)
[Jack] reached for Richard. Richard tried to push him away. Jack was having none of that. He held Richard. The two of them stood that way in the middle of the deserted railroad bed for awhile. Richard's head on Jack's shoulder (507?508). . . .Then Richard fell on his knees with his hair in his tired face, and Jack got down there with him, and I can bear to tell you no more?only that they comforted each other as well as they could. (510)
Jack's affection for his friends is, indeed, Agape. He loves them openly, without reservation. Comparing these friendships with Jack's reaction to Donny's adoration?"Donny grinned at him worshipfully, baring those amazing buck teeth. Spit dribbled from the end of his lolling tongue. Jack looked away quickly"?highlights the difference dramatically (321). The imagery is not subtle and it starkly elucidates Agape vs. Eros. During a time when not even our President would acknowledge an epidemic that was killing literally thousands of gay citizens, King and Straub were writing about gay characters who were intelligent, loyal, moral. Perhaps even more meaningful, during a time when the so-called "gay plague" was further ostracizing homosexuals, further designating them as "Other," and encouraging more people to feel justified in their homophobia, King and Straub were writing a novel that contains not only open, affectionate, loving friendships between male characters, but gay characters (however minor) who possessed both innocence and dignity.
Today, AIDS is still a prominent health issue, now for people of both gay and straight orientations. But it is just one of many, many issues that are relevant to gays in the twenty-first century. Today the LGBT community (with help from its allies) is fighting for the right to adopt, the right to marry, domestic partner benefits, and anti-discrimination laws based on sexual orientation. The hate crimes to which Morgan so flippantly alluded still occur, and civil rights for gay people are at the forefront of the so-called "culture wars" in America. The reactions of Sunlight Gardener and his minions upon catching Jack and Wolf in the bathroom stall?"I don't even want to touch him. He's a sinner. And he's a queer" (366)?the torture and murder that follow, happen every year, every month, every week in America. On his website, Straub, whose novel In the Night Room
has a gay protagonist (a novelist and combat veteran), reflects on the very real danger that often comes with being gay in America, saying, "Thinking back to what elementary school and high school were like, I think that it probably takes a great deal of courage to grow up gay in this country. This reflection always contributes a degree of admiration to my relationships with gay men and women."
During the 80s, though the American government did not seem to be concerned with the troubles of our most desperate citizens, it was extremely concerned with peoples in other countries, especially those whose leaders happened to be leftist or socialist. Robert Parry reports that during his years in the White House, "Reagan found virtually every anticommunist action justified, no matter how brutal." Reagan interfered with every leftist or socialist government he could in Central America, funding "hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid" to conservative forces and dictatorial governments (Parry): "The death toll was staggering? . . . possibly 20,000 slain from the contra war in Nicaragua, about 200 political ?disappearances' in Honduras and some 100,000 people eliminated during a resurgence of political violence in Guatemala." A "CIA-inspired torture manual surfaced from El Salvador," and Reagan backed the Mozambique National Resistance, which "perpetrated ghastly massacres" that were ignored by the U.S. Government (Cockburn). The reports of what happened in Guatemala under Reagan's watch (and with his funding) are biblical in scale:
. . . cruelty of the most extreme forms carried out by agents of the State; genocide committed by the State against the Mayan peoples; a National Security Doctrine based on racism which targeted Mayans and all political opposition for elimination; . . . large number[s] of girls and boys who were victims of violent cruelty and murder, . . . special brutality directed against women, especially against Mayan women, who were tortured, raped and murdered. ("Guatemala's Memory of Silence")
Mayan communities were "exterminated"; livestock and crops were destroyed (Parry). Father Miguel D'Escoto, Nicaragua's Foreign Minister in the 1980s, calls Ronald Reagan "the Butcher of [his] people," and says that in Guatemala "about 200,000 civilians were massacred [by] death squads," and 70,000 more were killed in El Salvador.
Given Stephen King's history of anti-war activism, it is not surprising that he would co-author a book that would contain analogies to America's many atrocities in foreign lands during Reagan's presidency. "[B]oth the Territories and America itself are governed by some version of the Morgan business ethic," says Tony Magistrale, "The American capitalist has been setting the tone for society since the start of this country, and in exporting the doctrine of oppressed labor to the Territories, Morgan Sloat represents the most contemporary illustration of capitalist imperialism" ("Science, Politics, and the Epic Imagination" 117). Though Morgan's plans for the Territories are hazy, we can guess at what they are. He has already brought weaponry to the land, and has begun using slave labor in the mines. His "taking" of Wolf's sister brings to mind the raping of the Guatemalan women (or any spoils of war). That Sunlight's Twinner, Osmond, has a mutant, half-breed son only further solidifies this image. Morgan has "made himself a place" in the Territories, and he means to get rich off of its resources after he overthrows the Queen (The Talisman
231?234). The primitive agricultural society of the Territories seems to represent smaller, weaker nations in which America was involved during the entire decade of the 80s. Magistrale, who calls The Talisman
"a specific indictment of the Reagan legacy," writes that King and Straub "shaped Morgan in Ronald Reagan's image" ("Science, Politics, and the Epic Imagination" 120). And Morgan's willingness to allow his own son to die in order to "profit the world" (The Talisman
552) shows the fury that King and Straub must have held for their country's leaders.
Stephen Kinzer's recent book, Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq,
tells us that American Imperialism is nothing new:
What do these 14 governments have in common?
You got it.
The United States overthrew them.
And in almost in every case, the overthrow can be traced to corporate interests. (Mokhiber and Weissman)
Today, charges of "American Imperialism" resound throughout the world. In the U.S. territory of Saipan, factories "forc[ed] women to have abortions and treated workers like indentured servants" (Ross). Nike's reputation for unethical labor practices is well-known, and Philips-Van Heusen, the Gap, Wal-Mart, Reebok, and Disney all "contract out their production to overseas manufacturers whose labor rights violations have been exposed by U.S. and international human rights groups" (Given). America's occupation in Iraq is becoming increasingly unpopular, and the recent press conferences regarding Iran are only worsening America's already bad reputation. King and Straub's message in The Talisman
is as relevant today as it was twenty-two years ago.
In "Science, Politics, and the Epic Imagination: The Talisman,
" Magistrale says that one of the hard lessons that Jack learns on his journey is the "economic and psychological bondage" that Reagan's America placed on the less fortunate (117), those whom King describes as "the ebb and flow of an underclass, the dregs of society, the roadies who are put upon by other people, the unhomed and homeless drifting just below everybody's sight" (qtd. in Winter 145). King and Straub's description of Oatley, New York, with its "shabby" buildings, its factories with "dingy" or broken windows, businesses with boarded over windows, and houses with "sagging porches" and "neglected" yards highlights the desolation and poverty that some American towns began experiencing in the 1980s: "The fields were brown and bare, and the houses were not farmhouses. . . . No cows lowed, no horses whinnied?there were no animals, and no farm equipment" (The Talisman
123?126). Towns like Oatley still exist in our own twenty-first-century, especially in America's "heartland." What Thomas Frank calls "brutal economic processes" have created "trailer park cities, dilapidated and unpaved and rubbish-strewn," and his description of Garden City, Kansas?an "industrialized agriculture" town since 1984?is eerily similar to Oatley, New York: "Take a drive through the countryside here, and you will see no trees, no picturesque old windmills or bridges or farm buildings, and almost no people" (53). Urban Anthropology
reports that Garden City is in danger of a " ?permanent breakdown' in middle-class life" (qtd. in Frank 54). Blaming Garden City's desperate situation on Ronald Reagan's presidency may be too simplistic (and some would say erroneous). However, King and Straub were certainly pointing to Reagan's trickle-down economic policies, corporate monopolies, and rampant free market deregulation as correlatives of Oatley's economic squalor. As Magistrale points out:
[I]t is no coincidence that the dark evils of both Morgan Sloat and Morgan [of] Orris emerge from the west coast and head east, roughly paralleling Ronald Reagan's political ascendancy in California and eventual consolidation of power in Washington D.C. ("Science, Politics, and the Epic Imagination" 120)
In 1984, when readers compared the Territories to Oatley, they were reminded of "the world America once was before it was spoiled by the business ethics of modern capitalism" (Magistrale, Landscape of Fear
104). And today, when we compare the Territories to Garden City, we are reminded of the same.
In a panel discussion in 2002, Stephen King said that the "three or four strong points" regarding his activism were: "protest the war, protest poverty, protest discrimination against women" (qtd. in Smith). King only listed three of his four points; however, his graduation announcement in his college newspaper column "King's Garbage Truck," says that his future prospects are "Hazy, although nuclear annihilation or environmental strangulation seems to be a distinct possibility" (Beahm, The Stephen King Companion
20). This statement makes it pretty clear that King would have listed nuclear energy/waste and other anti-environmental polices as his fourth concern. Straub, too, worries about America's negative impact on the environment. The "infection" that American culture inflicts on the Territories reflects Straub's view of the American frontier as not a land of "promising potential," but rather a landscape of "frightening vastness with an unaccountable history and disposition all its own" (Bosky 70?71). Bosky writes that "most of Straub's novels" reflect "shame and guilt from the land," and lists If You Could See Me Now, Floating Dragon,
and Ghost Story
as examples of this (71).
Pollution in America has been a problem since the dawn of the Industrial Age, but it has steadily risen at an increasingly accelerated rate since the 1950s, when the worldwide growth of automobile ownership rose at a "dizzying" pace: "from less than a million in 1910 to 100 million by 1955 and half a billion by 1995," and which, in turn, burned 700 billion barrels of oil (Hunter 51). Cars have become America's primary source of transportation, and this "heavy reliance . . . accounts for a large proportion of the CO2 emitted into the atmosphere" (Gore 326). As carbon-dioxide emissions grow, so does the Earth's temperature, and Greenpeace's Robert Hunter says that in 1983, the U.S. National Academy of the Sciences (NAS) reported that "a doubling of CO2 would raise the world's temperature by between 1.4 and 4.5 degrees Celsius" (76). Sadly, the Reagan administration ignored warnings of a global environmental crisis, and even removed the solar panels that Jimmy Carter had installed on the roof of the White House (Conlan). Reagan also appointed James Watt as Secretary of Interior from 1981?1983. As Secretary of Interior, Watt oversaw the "management of nearly 500 million acres of public land" (St. Clair). Watt is reported to have "proposed the sale of 30 million acres of public lands to private companies"; he ignored the strip mine laws, held up our coal resources, our national parks, and Outer Continental Shelf oil reserves for the highest bidder, and disregarded the Endangered Species Act. And he "purged the Interior Department of any employees who objected to his agenda" (St. Clair). Watt is a millennialist Christian, and he truly believed that "conservation of resources for future generations amounted to a waste of ?God's gift to mankind' " (St. Clair). Watt "gave away billions in public timber, coal and oil to favored corporations, leaving behind toxic scars where there used to be wild forests, trout streams and deserts," and Reagan once said to the Sierra Club Foundation's David Brower that "Once you've seen one redwood, you've seen them all" (qtd. in St. Clair). Reagan's blatantly dismissive statement regarding a national treasure?said in 1980 during his election campaign?brings to mind Jack and Richard's walk through the California redwoods, "conspicuously smaller" than their Territories counterparts, and containing tunnels, cut into their trunks, large enough for cars to drive through (The Talisman
Magistrale writes that "by the conclusion of the novel Jack is as radical a twelve-year-old environmentalist" as has been written since Huck Finn ("Science, Politics, and the Epic Imagination" 121-122). Perhaps Jack's dawning awareness of America's predicament is modeled on King's own experience of changing from a "conservative who voted for Nixon in 1968 to becoming what he termed a ?scummy radical bastard' " (Beahm, A Stephen King Companion
21). It is with Jack Sawyer's first swallow of Speedy Parker's foul-tasting wine, his first "flip" into the Territories, that we first read King and Straub's lament for the Earth's environmental destruction. Jack tastes "amazingly sweet, amazingly good" blackberries (The Talisman
48), sleeps in "sweetly fragrant Territories haystacks," and enjoys the "clear" Territories air (174). It isn't long before Jack realizes the atmosphere of the planet is thoroughly polluted:
The world, this world, stank. . . . Gasoline, other nameless poisons floated in the air; and the air itself stank of exhaustion, fatigue?even the noises roaring up from the highway punished this dying air. (197)
Jack also experiences the Territories' Blasted Lands, what Magistrale calls "both a reflection of the nuclear tests conducted by the army in Arizona and Nevada, as well as a dark prognosis for America's larger future" ("Science, Politics, and the Epic Imagination" 121). Indeed, it is understood before he is killed that Wolf, who we've seen weep and retch in response to the stench and filth of America, has been weakened and will die from his prolonged stay in the Sunlight Home (The Talisman
332). Even Morgan of Orris is incapable of staying in America for too long, lest he suffer serious allergic reactions (428). And Queen Laura DeLoessian, the "visible symbol of her world's slow collapse" (Magistrale, "Science, Politics, and the Epic Imagination" 121), is one of The Talisman
's several allusions to Arthurian Legend. Queen Laura's name suggests her ties to the earth; the German löss
means "of the earth" (Winter 147), and the English "loess," etymologically derived from the German, means "an earthy substance deposited by the wind." The Queen's symbolic name distinguishes her as more than just a means to save Jack's mother; she is also a warning that we are
the land we are polluting.
With warnings of peak oil and melting icebergs in the news, environmental problems seem even more dire now than they were in the 1980s. The chemical waste dumped in our landfills is another profoundly troubling issue: "[A]nnual production of organic chemicals soured from 1 million tons in 1930 to 7 million tons in 1950, 63 million in 1970, and half a billion in 1990" (Gore 147-148). Al Gore?a U.S. Senator in 1984?writes:
Global warming, ozone depletion, the loss of living species, deforestation?they all have a common cause: the new relationship between human civilization and the earth's natural balance. (31)
reflects Gore's position. The Blasted Lands are as recognizable today as they were twenty-two years ago. Wolf's outraged reaction to the stink of our pollution, and Jack's eventual recognition of it are everyday reality to many people in cities and town around the world. One wonders, if King and Straub were writing The Talisman
today, if the money in Speedy's suitcase would be sufficient for Jack and Richard to buy enough gas for the Cadillac to drive them back to Arcadia Beach.
The contemporary cultural issues that Stephen King and Peter Straub included in The Talisman
are still relevant, important issues that Americans are grappling with today. They echo the four "strong points" that King fought for in college; they echo the concerns and social criticism of other novels that Straub has published. This was not what fans of King and Straub had expected. They had anticipated "straightforward horror," but received instead "critiques of contemporary politicians and writers, of social and economic conditions" (Beahm, The Stephen King Companion
249). But this surprise did not harm sales. The Talisman
sold 880,287 copies by the end of 1984 (Publishers Weekly
). Moreover, though the contemporary reviews from critics were mixed, in "the decade that has followed its first appearance, The Talisman
has emerged to be ranked as one of King's (and Straub's) stronger novels" (Beahm, The Stephen King Companion
249?250). And in 2001, when King and Straub published The Talisman
's sequel, Black House,
readers who perhaps had not read The Talisman
were treated with a story that was still surprisingly relevant to today's cultural and political climate. To me, this is what is special about The Talisman
. It is not dated; its themes are as meaningful today as they were when it was first published. The irony is, if this was (or has been) ever brought to their attention, I doubt that King and Straub would be happy. In 2002, King reflected on his generation's social and political apathy:
Sometimes I'm not a big fan of my generation. I think the impact of the activism can be overrated. To my mind, a lot of people?even the people involved in the anti-war movement?moved to the center in politics later on. I think an awful lot of people got involved with, ?How much money can I make?' and, ?God, I know that Reagan's politics are a little bit Neanderthal, but Jesus, he is good for the economy. My portfolio is getting so big. Not only can I afford to put my kids through school, but I can afford some blow.' (qtd. in Smith)
is a mirror held up to this value system. It is biting social criticism, and I would venture to guess that, if given the choice, King and Straub would rather it lose its impressive timelessness.
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Parry, Robert. "Reagan & Guatemala's Death Files." May/June 1999. Third World Traveler.
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Ross, Brian. Interview. "Forced Abortions & Sweatshops: A Look at Jack Abramoff's Ties to the South Pacific Island of Saipan & How Tom DeLay Became An Advocate for Sweatshop Factory Owners." DemocracyNow! The War and Peace Report.
4 Jan 2006. Pacifica Radio Foundation. DemocracyNow.org
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"So little time . . . An AIDS History." AEGiS: HIV Today.
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9 May 2006. PeterStraub.net
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New York: New American Library, 1984.