Smythe Returns To The Forgotten Wolrd Of The Talisman

I was excited to see a review of The Talisman appear as part of James Smythe's "Rereading Stephen King" series at The Guardian.  This is because I've never read The Talisman.  I promised a friend a while back  I'd get right to it, as he really encouraged me, saying it was quite good.  However, I can't seem to get very far into it!

Smythe says that this is a novel that completely "slipped" through his memory!  He couldn't remember a word of it.  Still, Smythe  comes away with a fresh love for the book, declaring, "The themes are strong; the world is strong; the characters are strong. It's well written. It's long, and maybe a little over-egged in places – some of the novel's mid-section sags – but the things that they were paying tribute to come through, and the story is a good one."

Smythe offers the best summery of the boo that I've read -- and I've read several.  Smythe notes the influence of Lord of the Rings, The Wizard of Oz and Huck Finn streaming throughout the novel.

As always, Smythe does a nice job spotting the connections to King's other works.

The full article is at

On a final note -- I offer this strange comment: I think one reason I have been  unable to read The Talisman has to do with bad book cover.  Don't throw stones!  Seriously.  And, the original paperback  I tried to read was strangely bound.  The type face was unusual.  Everything about the edition I first tried to read seemed unusual and uber-boring!


  1. A lot of King fans adore it, but I'm not a fan of "The Talisman," personally. It wants to be a fantasy-quest novel, but it's too episodic, the tone is all over the place, and King's style doesn't mesh terribly well with Straub's. (Although evidently, the two were frequently doing "impersonations" of each others' styles, so figuring out which writer wrote each section is impossible.)

  2. The real problem, Bryant, is that the cover is nuts. I'm sureall those other, real, concerns you brought up would fade if they had done a super cover.

    1. Possibly, although this begs a question: have you also been unable to force yourself to read Insomnia and Just After Sunset? Because hoo-boy, those had lousy covers, too!

  3. I gave it about 200 pages and then punted. There's a bit in Beahm's SK Companion that describes it as "that King rarity on my shelf: an unread book." Same goes for me. I gave Black House less time to hook me (something around 50 pages,) but when and if that third volume ever appears, I'll force myself to start on pg. 1 of The Talisman and make my way through.

    I gotta say, though... I don't mind that cover (or even the white-on-red/ red-on-white covers for Insomnia, or even Just After Sunset.) I'm easy, I guess. (or design-blind, which is probably closer to the truth.)

  4. Strangely, Bryant. . . I have not read Insomnia. See, bad cover = no read! (I listened to just after sunset.) Tommyknockers also had a stupid cover.

    bmcmolo, I remember that same line in the Bahm book!

  5. Like Bryan, I also gave up after I don't know how many pages in, it was some point after the Lord of the Rings encounter I think and at the point where the hero is outside a mall watching Speedy get arrested.

    I couldn't call any of what I read bad, strangely enough. It's just more a matter of, gosh, is anything going to happen that will get my interested "vested" in the novel?

    I can't put it any better than that. Part of my lack of interest might stem from a continued lack of interest I've had from the beginning of all King's Tower related works (despite the fact I've finished most of the Tower books, including the final seventh volume) and even after acknowledgeing the strengths of all those works, they still feel like minor King to me, I guess.


  6. I rank The Talisman as an average work in Kings published works. It has its charm -- especially Wolf who represents an entirely new riff on the werewolf. Black House, however, really hurt the character of Jack Sawyer.

    When I try to explain my trepidation of a sequel to The Shining, I point to Black House.

  7. Well, if Doctor Sleep is junk. . . just pretend it never happened. There were sequels to Tom Sawyer (and not just Huck Finn).

    1. Ermmm....Oh great, I was going to post about something else and then read that line about "Sleep" and got totally thrown off and sidetracked (D'oh!). Oh well.

      If you mean aborted efforts like Tom Sawyer Abroad, then all I can say is "gaaaaagghhh!"

      I also think there was a line in King that goes something like "Once seen, can't be unseen" or something like it.

      However, I do derive comfort from the idea that it "isn't official canon" based on what Tolkien might call the "unspoken rules" King has laid down in his other books (plus "inspiration vs. invention) that make it easy to discount "Sleep" as "canon" (it's also the same set of rules I use on Under the Dome).

      Oh well, here's a link to an author endorsed by D.A. Carson, Reverend, a man named G.K. Beale, for what it's worth:

      Happy Passover/Easter

    2. I'm not a huge fan of "Black House," but I do think it's an improvement on "The Talisman" in some ways. I don't mind the way it changed Jack's character, because to me, I didn't see it as change; I just saw it as a case of that being how he grew up.

      But I can see how someone else would feel completely differently about it. This is how I know almost beyond a shadow of a doubt that I'm going to love "Doctor Sleep," and others are going to hate it.

    3. "I don't mind the way it changed Jack's character, because to me, I didn't see it as change; I just saw it as a case of that being how he grew up".

      To be fair, that was one idea that struck me as a possible hurdle to whether or not I was being fair at all with King's book.

      What decided me to maintain that "Sleep" just wouldn't work were a variety of several factors.

      The first was the realization that absolute realism, as it's found in real life, can never truly be fit into a novel, except maybe as minor bits and pieces, because to keep to absolute realism has the effect of destroying all artifice, which is what all great fiction goes for, and the destruction of which would topple the audiences "suspension of disbelief".

      In other words, while parental abuse is an unfortunate fact of life, to say that there ever has or will exist a parent like Jack Torrance is patent nonsense when real life is stacked against a fictional character.

      Another reason that decided me was the imaginative extrapolation of the"fictional" implications of what Tolkien might call the "Magic" of King's "Secondary World"

      The terms "Magic" and "Secondary World" are all borrowed from a brilliant essay by Tolkien called "On Fairy Stories" which sets out his basic theory of fantastic, as well as most normal fiction, as well as explains LOTR.

      Fictional "Magic" in a story was apparently important to Tolkien, as it's proper presentation could either make or break a story and what made it work.

      Tolkien's criteria for Fantastic Stories, according to very helpful essay by Amy H. Sturgis, was:

      1. "They touch on...a sober "Magic" of a particular mood and power".

      2. "They take the "Magic" seriously, and do not satirize it even if the larger work is satirical in tone".

      3. "They involve human beings as characters and at some level speak to one or more of humanity's primal desires".

      4. "They offer the reader four valuable gifts: Fantasy, Recovery, Escape, Consolation".

      The full Sturgis text can be found here for those who'd care for this sort of thing:

      To be concluded


    4. Does this mean I think King is writing "in the vein" of Tolkien? I'd actually argue more or less, yes, allowing for the obvious differences of chosen genre, i.e. Sword and Sorcery vs. Horror, but otherwise, yes.

      I always said I was reminded of Tolkien when reading King, and a closer examination of his books brought to light (for me at least) a great deal many of the same thematic concerns as Tolkien.

      It's this (personal) recognition hat also make "Sleep" (for me) a "bitter pill" with few prospects to swallow.

      It also explains how I'm able to dismiss it as non-canon and talk about the "implications" of the "Magic" in King's stories.

      To sum up (and get bloody well back to the point) another reason why I thought it was out of character was because the "Magic" both reader and character encounter in "The Shining" was the kind of "Fantasy" that offered "Recover" as well as "Escape" and "Consolation".

      To me it always seems the Danny, like Jack (Sawyer) was supposed to grow and not "shrink" because of his experiences like a Lovecraft protagonist, and in that sense I agree Bri Schwartz

      Though to be fair I'm not going to mind if such ideas aren't everyone's cup of ta, to each their own minds to make up.


    5. That's an interesting point about the divide between realism and artifice. And I totally get what you're saying about Danny being (seemingly) destined to grow as a character rather than shrink.

      My only thing is, I'm more than willing to give King -- who created Danny, and therefore deserves at least some latitude -- a chance to make his argument for why Danny shrunk instead. And who knows, maybe he succeeds, maybe he fails; or maybe that's not even what the novel ends up being about.

      What a marvelously complicated topic this is!

  8. I am very familiar with Carson and Beale. Listened to all of Carson's seminary classes on Revelation. And read Beale's commentary (over 1k pages) on Revelation. In the end, I'm a Carson fan when it comes to End Times and interpreting Revelation. Beale wants to turn absolutely everything into symbolism.

  9. Ah, David, were it that I could "unread" a book. Once the toothpaste is out of the tube, it's impossible to get back in.

  10. I only recently bought the The Talisman, on a whim in fact since I saw a new paperback edition in an airport bookstore, and DO plan to read it - when, I can't say. I've been aware of its infamous nature and am intrigued as to how so many love it or hate it. The main complaint is that it's way too long, but you could say that about many King books. Perhaps if it had been a King-only novel and not a collaboration with Peter Straub, The Talisman would have better standing in King's oeuvre.

  11. Brian, that is so funny! IF only I could unwatch Sleepwalkers. Okay, but I watched Pet Sem.2 and it did not destroy the original. Is the difference that it was not done by the original artist?

    1. You know, for a long time, I found it impossible to view a movie -- or a book, or whatever -- the same way after seeing an unsatisfactory sequel.

      But at some point, that changed. I don't know how or why, but it did. I think that it has something to do with gaining a better understanding of the artistic process, and realizing that there is such a thing as internal consistency. Which can, in turn, be violated. That's why sequels from different creative teams (such as Pet Sematary Two) almost never "feel right."

      But sometimes, even when it's the same creator, it can happen. For me, the last season of "Lost" was a near-complete failure in terms of the story. I saw it as failing to fulfill certain promises -- by which I mean failing to completely tell the story -- that had been made in the course of the first few seasons.

      But the creators apparently saw no problem with it at all. And some fans didn't, either.

      Perception, obviously, comes into play in a major way. It's a fascinating topic!

  12. I love The talisman and i´m not into fantasy genre(except Game of Thrones). I´m also fond of this book because it´s the only one which my girlfriend agreed to read it (and she loved it :D)