Review: The Talisman

5/5

Chased east by the ambitious and power-hungry partner of his dead father, Jack Sawyer and his dying mother find themselves in New Hampshire, exiled from California. Jack is sent on a road trip back to the west coast to retrieve something called “The Talisman”.

Its description is vague to the point of non-existence by the man sending him on the trip. It’s the McGuffin that powers the plot along. But Jack is just desperate enough to try it…to try anything to save his mother.

And, it seems, not just his mother needs saving. Jack discovers he can travel to a parallel world called “The Territories”, a place which has “magic instead of physics.” (A world King would later expand into his Dark Tower series). Ruler of this place is a woman who bears more than a passing resemblance to Jack’s mother, a dying queen who also needs saving from the Territories equivalent of his father’s partner.

There wasn’t a moment when I wanted to leave the book alone.

The Talisman is not a short book by any means…but the best part? I didn’t even notice, because the pages flip by so easily. From Jack’s first trips into the Territories to the horrors and good friends he finds in this world and the other, nothing lags or drops. There wasn’t a moment when I wanted to leave the book alone, even though I’ve read it before and knew where it was all going.

At the time of publication (around 1984), this was touted as an adult horror story, I believe. But horror forms such a small part of the story that it seems like a mis-identification: This is odyssey, this is Frodo and Sam growing as characters as they travel the road to Mordor.

This is all about the journey. This is about finding strength you didn’t know you had, discovering who your friends are, finding friends willing to die for you as you would for them.

This is as much about a twelve year old boy discovering what it takes to turn into a man, and what sort of man he wants to turn in to.

In 1984, this was classed as adult fiction, but there’s nothing here that a teenager couldn’t read. I would class it as young-adult, actually, both in terms of protagonist and the themes that run through it. And like the best of YA, there’s something there for all of us, no matter how old we are.

I like to call it “The best book by Stephen King you’ve probably never heard of.” But in two words instead of eleven: It’s bloody brilliant.

Drop everything else and go read it. Right now.

(This slightly modified review first appeared on Goodreads in 2012)

3 thoughts on “Review: The Talisman”

  1. Hey Tony, great review! I’ve never seen anyone talk about this one although I do recognise the name. I’m kind of interested to see how King manages a more fantasy style book, especially as that is my preferred genre. I love a good quest story, so this sounds right up my alley!

    1. Thank you. Becky! Give it a whirl one day…you’ll love it! It seems like a good introduction to his “Dark Tower” series as well.

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