This is the part of a series of short essays written by a fellow traveler of Richard Chizmar, who in October 2014 resolved to read and blog about every single Stephen King book...
August 16, 2006
Re-reading for the first time since I was a teenager… I’m struck by similarities to IT, which I also re-read recently. In both novels, a writer returns to his hometown (Jerusalem’s Lot as Durham / Derry as Bangor) to face ghosts from his childhood. Today, I visited Durham and Shiloh Chapel and tried to imagine what it must have been like for King to visit those places as a teenager, how he must have seen "Sticksville" and the house on haunted hill… how did they first become part of his own personal mythology, which later became part of my own coming-of-age?
I stood on the stage in King’s high school gym – which smelled just like my own high school gym – and thought about the husky, carbuncular outcast with coke-bottle glasses who left Durham after his high school graduation and, once his mother died, never looked back… except in fiction. It’s hard to go back. The place is still there, but the perspective that colored the place is long gone… This “passing” is true not of the place, but of the person. The place is, more or less, the same. The person has changed.
There is no mention of Stephen King at the school – no memorial library or honorary writing contest. The halls that he walked, also walked by the real-life inspiration for Carrie White, belong to today’s students. The gym where Carrie’s prom was held (in King’s imagination) is just like my high school gym… and my high school gym isn’t mine anymore. The building is the same, but my perspective has changed. My perspective of it is entirely memory – not of a specific day, but of a time period that I spent there. The perspectives of students at the school today do not relate in any way to my nostalgia, though I can imagine that they do. I can imagine that they see that place the same way I did… and that, in ten years, they’ll see it the same way I do now.
I was a latecomer to Stephen King’s work, so I actually read IT before I read ‘Salem’s Lot. As a result, this one has always seemed to me like a test run for the author’s greatest monster story. What I love about both novels is the sense of place… They make me curious and nostalgic for towns I’ve never been to…. towns that don’t even exist! That’s the power of Stephen King’s writing. He has a remarkable gift for creating a universe that feels absolutely real. Exploring Maine with his work in mind, it’s not hard to believe that one of the back roads could actually lead to the places he has written about. In one way or another, I *know* that the author has been there and back. I’m grateful to have his travelogues.