by Stephen King & Peter Straub
Discussed March 2006
Jack flips (time travels) between the Territories and the Americas. He is in the same relative geographic location in the Americas as he is in the Territories but the distance is shorter in the Territories. The Territories are similar to the dark ages in that there is no technology. Travel is done by horse or walking. Protection is with a sword or knife. The Territories was a very dangerous place to travel but greater ground could be covered in a shorter amount of time. Jack found people in the Territories that were twins to people who existed in the Americas. Jack's Father was a traveler between the Americas and the Territories but he never wanted to benefit from his special gift. His partner Richard Sloat had a different take on the matter and Richard Sloat wanted power and riches from Jack's Father and the Territories. Some people's twin existed in the Territories and others did not. Jack's twin had died at birth and his twin's Mother was Jack's Mother's twin the Queen. Both Jack's Mother and the Queen were dying. If Jack could retrieve the Talisman Jack might be able to make things better.
Travel in the Americas was not all that safe either.
Jack's first flip into the Territories on his trip across the United
States was very dangerous. As soon as he could he flipped back to the
Americans and his first major stop was in Oatley in the Americas where
the whole town was corrupt. Jack hauled kegs of beer and was abused
and beaten by the owner. He finally got up the nerve to flip back into
the Territories where he met Wolf. Wolf always guarded the herd of sheep
for the local Kingdom and became Jack’s best friend. Wolf looked
half human and half wolf but as things turn out he is more human than
most others. Jack and Wolf were captured and sent to The Sunlight Home
where they were abused and Wolf gave his life to save Jack. When Jack
had to leave Wolf behind, it was the breakup of a great buddy-trip.
Jack made it to the Thayer School and found Richard (Sloat's son). Richard
was Jack's best friend. Once Thayer School literally goes to hell, Richard
and Jack flip inside or near the RR Depot. Richard had a difficult time
with the reality of the flipping aspect. Richard's mind and body continues
to sicken but we discover that it is a result of a disease that his
own Father had set upon him. This flip placed them at the eastern edge
of the Blasted Lands. Anders was a human posted at the Depot and told
Jack about Morgan's plan to take the train to Point Venuti where the
Black Hotel was located. Jack decided he would take the train days earlier
to beat Morgan to the West Coast and the Black Hotel where the Talisman
was being held. With the ammunition on the train, Jack stayed the wolves
and monsters along the way through the Blasted Lands and when they were
close to the ocean they rammed through a fort that held the bad wolf
reinforcements - Jack killed them. Richard was very ill with the disease
caused by his father and Jack had to carry Richard (don't call me chum)
to the town of Point Venuti. Piggyback, walking and crawling, Jack made
it down to the beach and found Speedy Parker also sick from Sloat's
disease. With help from Speedy, Jack & Richard drifted across the
water on a small boat into the back of the Black Hotel. Jack battled
monsters with the guitar pick that Speedy Parker had given him. After
a capital battle Jack acquired the Talisman, an orb of brilliant light.
Jack went out the front door and fought Sunlight Gardner and killed
him with the Talisman. Jack used the Talisman to reflect Morgan's lightening
strike and killed Morgan. Jack cured Speedy Parker and Richard and Speedy
flipped them to the Territories and gave directions to Jack on how to
get home. Jack & Richard met Wolf's brother at the Mobile station
and Wolf's brother drove them back to the Alhambra Hotel to Jack's Mother.
It took 5 days and Jack had been gone 6 months and now Jack was 13 years
old. He found his mother near death and the Talisman brought her back
to health. Jack quickly began to loose the memory of the events of the
last six months. The Queen (Jack's Mother's Twinner) also opened her
Reviewer: Stephen B. O'Blenis (Nova Scotia, Canada)
It's about a lot of things, including the existance of paralell realities overlaying one another and what happens in one of them also affecting what happens in the other (or others?) but perhaps the best way to describe the slice in space and time in this stunningly realized Universe (Multiverse?) we're taken to in "The Talisman" is to say that it's about a young boy named Jack who's mother is dying, and to save her he has to go on a journey to obtain a mystical artifact (the title 'Talisman'), and his mother's counterpart is also dying. And she's the Queen of one of Earth's parralell selves. This may sound like the basis for a 'Y.A.' novel a la "Harry Potter" or "Abarat" but it's not, this novel is graphic and brutal through much of its run. It also contains some of the very best of the worlds of charm and whimsey and wonder at other times. Jack is possessed of the ability to 'flip' from one world to the other, and the novel spends time in each. Items from one world, as well as people, have their counterparts in the other world as well, but in different forms. What is a house in one world could well be a hut or a castle or a tent in another. Magic is far stronger on the 'other' world, technology more prevelant in 'ours', but each exist in both. One of the characters encountered by Jack during his time in the other world (aka The Territories) is Wolf, a member of a race of non-evil werewolves, and this is one of the most instantly engaging and lovable characters the world of storytelling has ever brought to us.
Sometimes, in between the time when I first read a book and the time I may eventually re-read it again years later, I like to refamilirize myself with old favorites as I rearrange them on their shelves, flipping through the pages here and there, occasionally reading a couple of paragraphs, and bringing the memories coming back. This is a book that it's hard to do just that with, because perusing just a few lines can compel you to go on for pages and pages. It reminds me of when I was first getting into novels bigtime, and this book defined 'Impossible To Put Down', keeping me going for hours past midnight, by far the longest I'd ever read in one sitting at that point. For several chapters straight the suspense was just so unbelievable it was unthinkable to stop, all leading up to a climax (in the middle of the book; this tale has not one but several climaxes) that still stands as one of the most earthshaking in history.
Complete in itself but tying into other tales (and directly sequelized
in the equally awesome "Black House"), this is just incredible,
one of the very best for either author certainly. As a gratuitous plug,
I'd also just like to say this: probably many times more readers came
to this book through their familiarity with Stephen King than Peter
Straub (I was one of them). If you've read lots of King but your only
Straubs are these colloborations deny yourself no longer: his best solo
books are every bit as good as King's best solos, and the very best
stand of either stand up with "Talisman" and "Black House".
Reviewer: Brian Seiler (Kingwood, TX USA)
Okay, now, I'm giving this book five stars, but lets not rush to consider that Seiler's Official Mark of Flawlessness, because this book is far from flawless. I'm a pretty wide reader of Stephen King (I own every piece of fiction he ever sold bound, and I'm working through them chronologically right now), and I can tell you that you won't recognize a lot of the voice that you're familiar with in this piece. That's a result of the collaboration, I suppose, but Stephen King's storytelling style--his literary voice--is diluted and mixed with Straub's. That's not a bad thing, but just be prepared to read something that sounds a little more like Eyes of the Dragon than The Stand.
Of greater concern is the fact that the plot of this book has alredy been done by King--this book is the short version of the Dark Tower, a quality which make's the upcoming Black House's address of the Crimson King and the Breakers all the more amusing. There are a LOT of parallels between the two works--more than I could really list here--but suffice it to say that I was impressed as I read with how little this felt like an original work for King, but only a reinterpretation of something he already had swimming around.
That's not to say the book is bad--I am, after all, giving it five stars. The imagery is excellent and the story is interesting. The story does have a tendency to get bogged down in negative imagery, however--a crime that a novel this long should try to avoid. At points, I felt a little like I was reading Less Than Zero instead of a King/Straub book, a fact which was made all the more remarkable by the low attrition rate among major characters. All the same, be prepared for some heavy, bad atmosphere to hang around the book. This is a pretty good device, considering that one of the themes of the book is the desecration of the pristine or beautiful, but it is, perhaps, a little overused.
The only other major complaint I could see anybody voicing would be regarding the characters themselves. Jack Sawyer and Richard Sloat aren't really very believable. For a twelve year old boy, Sawyer's psychology seems a little out of whack, and Sloat's own psychological profile seems a little charicatured. All the same, I didn't find it to be too much of a problem, myself, and I thoroughly enjoyed the read. This isn't King's best ever, and I can only assume that it isn't Straub's either, since collaborative works tend to have that effect, but as a book on its own, it's still good enough to go in any collection, and should certainly be in any King enthusiast's library.