The Talisman by Stephen King

The Talisman by Stephen King

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  88,267 Ratings  ·  2,413 Reviews
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The Talisman by Stephen King
On a brisk autumn day, a twelve-year-old boy stands on the shores of the gray Atlantic, near a silent amusement park and a fading ocean resort called the Alhambra. The past has driven Jack Sawyer here: his father is gone, his mother is dying, and the world no longer makes sense. But for Jack everything is about to change. For he has been chosen to make a journey back across America--and into another realm.

One of the most influential and heralded works of fantasy ever written, The Talisman is an extraordinary novel of loyalty, awakening, terror, and mystery. Jack Sawyer, on a desperate quest to save his mother's life, must search for a prize across an epic landscape of innocents and monsters, of incredible dangers and even more incredible truths. The prize is essential, but the journey means even more. Let the quest begin. . . .


My favorite book of all time! To me, it is just the perfect epic hero's journey story. I love that it takes place in the early 80s; I love the grittiness and ugliness of what happens to Jack as he travels back and forth between this world and The Territories, and I LOVE the character of Wolf.

The first few chapters are a little slow and not very exciting, but they are important and hold crucial story points that will come into play later, so to anyone reading this for the first time, I recommend sticking it out and reading on...because it quickly turns to great once the story gets going! I could not put it down the first time I read it, which was in 6th grade.

This is the only book, besides Catcher in the Rye, that I can pick up and just read a few chapters here and there when I feel like it. I don't need to read the whole book front to back anymore, but I do love just getting that taste every so often.

I know I am paid to be a writer for my day job, but here's the thing: It's hard for me to write reviews, since I don't always know how to describe what makes a book "good" in a way that is eloquent and persuasive. Despite that, I do just want to make it known that this is, indeed, a VERY GOOD book. Read it. I'm open to discussing it with anyone.
Twelve year old Jack Sawyer's mother is dying of cancer and the only thing that can save her is The Talisman. Can Jack cross America and The Territories to claim it and save his mother?

I first read The Talisman while waiting for the last three Dark Tower books to be published. Thanks to the magic of getting older, I forgot 95% of what happened. When the ebook fell into my lap, I was ready for a reread.

Brief Side Bar: This book fell into my lap because Goodreads offered me an ebook of my choice in order to share my notes and highlights. At first, this seemed like a pain in the ass but it wound up being pretty useful when formulating my review. Also, it beat carrying the massive hard cover around like a cave man.

The Talisman is a coming of age tale and also a quest story. Jack Sawyer's mom has cancer and the only thing that can save her is The Talisman, a mysterious McGuffin housed in a haunted hotel all the way over on the opposite side of the country. Fortunately, Jack can cross over into The Territories, a fantasy/pseudo-western that exists alongside earth. Still with me?

Co-written with Peter Straub at the beginning of the 1980s, The Talisman simultaneously feels like a dry-run for the Dark Tower and a collection of Stephen King's greatest hits up to that point. Jack's trek across the country is not that unlike the ka-tet's journey to the Dark Tower and the Talisman is referred to as "the axle of all worlds" on several occasions, just like a certain Tower. King flirted with the concept of twinners in other books, though not by name. I have to believe Jack Sawyer is linked to Jake Chambers in some way. Maybe King didn't think he'd ever finish the Dark Tower so he worked as many ideas from it into The Talisman as he could.

The "greatest hits" notion I mentioned? Specific scenes seemed like they were almost lifted from other king books. The talk Speedy gives Jack is a lot like the talk Danny Torrance gets from Scatman Cruthers (I know that's not his name but I can't think of it at the moment) in The Shining. You also get King staples like the spooky tunnel. There were echoes of other, earlier King books in the mix that I've already forgotten. Not only that, there were some future echoes as well. The Alhambra hotel, anyone? Also, there were numerous things that would be revisited during various points of The Dark Tower.

So where is Peter Straub in all this? Honestly, I can't say since I've never read any Straub solo books. However, there are a few times in the text where the writing lacks a certain Kingliness. I'll chalk those up to Straub. There was some backtracking I didn't care for that I'll also blame on Straub.

For a kitten squisher of this size, there wasn't a whole lot in The Talisman that felt like it could be pruned. It takes a long time to hoof and thumb across America and The Territories and Jack Sawyer goes through several hells on the way. Oatley and Sunlight Gardener's boys home were the worst, in my opinion. Give me a railroad trip over a radioactive wasteland over those two places any day.

A co-worker of mine said King is at his best when writing about kids. I didn't agree with him at the time but I saw where he was coming from some ways into this book. While I thought Jack, and later Richie, talked more like seventeen year olds than twelve year olds, what twelve year old doesn't want to go on an adventure? I'd visit the Territories now, as a 40 year old kid.

I felt for Jack's companions at times but I would also be frustrated trying to travel with Wolf. More than once, I would have left Richie behind, though. When Jack finally reached the Agincourt, I had the put the book down so I could finish it at home rather than sneak read the rest in my cube. The big showdown at the end reminded me a lot of something that happened in The Wastelands. I was also really glad of how the ending turned out, the ending of Cujo still fresh in my mind.

The second time through The Talisman was just as enjoyable as the first time thanks to the magic of forgetting. Trial run of the Dark Tower or no, The Talisman is an enjoyable epic and a taste of things yet to come from Stephen King. Four out of five stars.
4.5 Stars. Can't classify this one as horror, but THE TALISMAN is one wild and woolly action-packed fantasy ride!

"Traveling" Jack Sawyer is a good kid and 12 years old when he and his mother flee Los Angeles for New York ultimately ending up in an empty, creepy hotel in New Hampshire; and while Jack questions the moves, he knows deep down his mother is not well.

As the days pass and his mother's rest periods become more frequent, a worrisome Jack explores a closed amusement park nearby and is soon befriended by a gnarly old black janitor...Lester Speedy Parker who tells him incredible stories of a parallel world and a magic juice that can transport him to a place where he can acquire the secrets of THE TALISMAN and hopefully save his mother.

His danger infested quest from east coast to west with flips from a world of evil doings and enslavement to one with bizarre creatures beyond your imagination has an unlikely friendship for Jack with a 6'5" Wolf that will break your did mine.

For me, THE TALISMAN brought back memories of King's Dark Towers series, and while a chunkster at 700+ pages, entices me to re-read it in the form of a graphic novel so I can see the creeping tree roots, the evil abusive bar owner, the camp-school from hell, and visually experience the train ride through the "blasted land" as a scared, but brave young Jack Sawyer grows up fast to save his friends and mother and complete his mission.

Entertaining and fun read with a young-adult feel to it.
Recently, a good GR friend agreed that the word 'magical' is a great way of describing The Talisman. In turn, she shared a quote by Markus Zusak:

“Sometimes you read a book so special that you want to carry it around with you for months after you've finished just to stay near it.”

Only now can I not only fully agree, but appreciate the sentiment behind Zusak's words.. although it's uncertain if he was referring to this particular novel. It's incredibly profound, and they describe my feelings toward The Talisman perfectly. (Thank you, once again, Michelle.)

Yet there's more to it than mere magical elements. Much more. At the heart of the story is 12-year-old Jack Sawyer, whose sold purpose seems to be his ailing mother's salvation. In order to acquire that, however, he must venture east.. and beyond.
In the days leading to his departure, Jack meets the truly invaluable "Speedy" Parker. Insodoing, King & Straub expertly introduces the Constant Reader to him, as well. The duo transports you there, right alongside them. They are long-lost friends, indeed!

This being my 3rd reading, they took me on a roller-coaster of a journey which surpassed my considerably high expectations. With that admission, I have another valid confession: I tend to be a very analytical reader, especially compared to my previous experiences with the book.
One scene, in particular, stands out as slightly unrealistic: our protagonist's leave-taking. I seriously do not recall having this reaction. Perhaps with age and maturity, we perceive things differently, thus reacting in various ways, I really don't know...

Part II: The Road of Trials, is easily a favorite section of mine. As the title suggests, it chronicles the genesis of Jack's epic journey. It's life-altering, as his adventures help form the man he is to become. This is precisely why I love the section so very much.

"..Another light perhaps eight blocks down changed to green before a high dingy many-windowed building that looked a mental hospital, and so was probably the high school.."

The words conveyed to describe the bleak beauty of Oatley are utterly amazing and awe inspiring I believe is evident in the previous passage.

The character of Wolf is very memorable (I haven't forgotten him since my first reading, in 1999.) He's beloved, and so masterfully crafted that you can't help the urge to run toward him with a warm embrace. In times of sorrow, joy, or imminent danger, your heart goes out to him. it breaks your heart, really. Well, it did mine, anyway.

As the journey continues, the reader is treated with an attribute rarely given by the so-called "latest and greatest" writers of today. In Jack, for instance, we learn much about his personal character (as opposed to the superficial,) to the point that it almost feels like an invasion of his privacy. King & Straub delve deep, exposing cherished memories, childhood fears, and the like. Most interestingly, the mind-set of the characters.

The juxtaposition between Jack and Richard Sloat still astonishes me. One thought plagued me, relentlessly, and that is, How is it possible for two individuals-who are polar opposite of one another- to be so incredibly close? It hardly seems plausible, even now, yet it's true. Brilliant work, King and Straub!

I'd never experienced this before, but at a certain point, I had a genuine Eureka! moment, which commenced with the realization that this duo were clearly influenced by C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia and, to an extent, Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.

P.491: "..The coats and suits are gone, the floor is gone, but it isn't crisp white snow underfoot; it's stinking black dirt which is apparently the birthing ground for these unpleasant black jumping insects; this place is by no stretch of the imagination Narnia..."

492: ".. And later that day, he takes all of his storybooks--The Little Golden Books, the pop-up books, the I-Can-Read books, the Dr. Seuss books, the Green Fairy Book for Young Folks, and he puts them in a carton, and he puts the carton down in the basement, and he thinks: "I would not care if an earthquake came now and opened a crack in the floor and swallowed up every one of those books. In fact, it would be such a relief that I would probably laugh all day and most of the weekend.." "

By the fourth and final section, aptly entitled The Talisman, I absolutely loved every word. I though that it couldn't possibly get any better, but I was mistaken... by far.
From the Blasted Lands to the very end of their adventures, and virtually everything in between, this one has it all. Excluding the spectacular conclusion, I really enjoyed and have much respect for the chapter centered around Richard's past, and-ultimately- how he deals with it.

On a side note, Jack's mother, Lily Cavanaugh, felt very distant throughout most of the novel. I had the impression that she was, in a way, detached from reality. And aside from her debilitating illness, I barely felt anything for her at all. That is, until the end. This development impacted me greatly!

If I had a critique to give, I'd comment on the novels' wordiness. And it can be a bit long-winded in places, but its innate visual enhancements make them almost necessary. Hardly a critique at all, eh?

Up next, Black House. I haven't read it since the initial HC publication, circa 2001. I remember practically nothing of the text, so as you can probably imagine, I am very much looking forward to this one!
One of the things that I love the absolute best about Stephen King's books (most of them) is that they are immensely re-readable, and depending on where is in one's life, or how many of King's other books one has read, the experience could be completely different each time.

I have loved this book for a long time. It's a quest, it's a great story with great characters, but more than that, it's almost like a prototype of where The Dark Tower series would eventually go... An alt universe mini microcosm of Roland's quest for the Tower.

There's so much to love in this book - except Peter Straub's involvement anyway, which is something that I usually try to forget. It is no secret that I'm not a fan of Straub's writing. I've tried, and failed miserably, at reading two of his books now, and I've decided that his writing is just not for me. Whatever his involvement was in these books, Stephen King made it palatable to me. He blurred the lines and blended the edges so that it seems seamless and painless for me to read.

Anyway. This read through I loved it just as much as the last time I read it, but I also felt like I had a better understanding of some of the characters. Jack has always been one of my favorite characters, but this time through, I felt much more empathy toward Richard. This poor kid has gotten the shit end of the stick from life. His father is a dick, he has no mother (took off? dead? Nobody knows. She's not even mentioned.), and his only protection from the insanity of the life his father imagines for him is to delude himself into complete, 10000000%, no exceptions Reality with a capital R. The poor kid doesn't even like fantasy books.

Yet, he and Jack had very similar experiences. Both have fathers who could travel to the Territories, and both boys watched their fathers disappear and reappear in very different areas than where they left. The only difference is that while Jack's father left him and went to experience and learn from The Territories, Richard's father went to exploit it. And so their kids' individual experiences of the Territories they couldn't understand were miles apart in terms of experience, and it's all down to their fathers' ideas of what the Territories should be.

He had fantasy related PTSD before he could even read. That's got to be traumatizing.

I loved Richard's growth though. Even though he refuted and rejected every possibility of what was happening for 90% of his time in the story, the way that he eventually came to terms and acceptance was impressive. I don't know many 12 year olds who could create those kinds of life-changing coping mechanisms, and then break them down in a matter of days. So the fact that he started to forget what happened is either massively unfair to him, to work through everything for nothing, or incredibly just and compassionate. If you were to ask Richard, I think he'd choose the latter.

I also felt slightly that Jack was a bit cruel and selfish this time through. His treatment of Wolf and Richard at times was thoughtless for their needs, and it really broke my heart at times. I get that in the greater scheme of the quest and its goals, sometimes one must do things that are cruel, and make hard decisions... But it was the little things, like Jack thinking that Wolf would enjoy a double-feature in a movie theater when he knows that loud noises scare him, and he's never even heard of a movie in his life. Can you imagine how terrifying that would be? Poor Wolf. It's just a small example of how twelve year olds just haven't developed their full sense of empathy yet.

Speaking of Wolf... I really hated how he was read for the audio of this book. I loved, LOVED Frank Muller's reading for the first three Dark Tower books, but this one was just all wrong. Everything was so gruff and growly, and Wolf was even more so. It just had the complete wrong feel for me. I'm glad that I only listened to a little bit of the book on audio.

Anyway - overall... love this book. Totally recommend it. It's awesome. Go read it. :D
This has always been one of my favorite Stephen King books, as well as one of my favorite books in general. It's one that I've read numerous times, so I was thrilled when the sequel Black House was chosen for the June 2010 group read in the Stephen King group here, because it gave me an excuse to reread this one. Again.

I love Jack. Love. He's so good and pure and honest and brave and willing to do what is needed to do the right thing. I love the way that he starts out scared and unsure and needing a hand-hold, and in the course of three months grows into a strong and confident and heroic force to be reckoned with. But the thing that I love the absolute most about Jack, is that he's still human and still vulnerable. He's willing to give everything up to save his friend - this friend who is the son of the man who has caused all of Jack's misery and suffering. He knows the value of friendship and loyalty and virtue, and he lets nothing sway him from that. I ♥ Jack Sawyer. I'm gonna have a T-shirt made. ;)

There's a lot of realistic darkness and grittiness in this book, but a lot of magic and light as well. Oatley and the Sunshine Home for Wayward Boys are two of the most awful places I've read about in a YA book (which I do consider this to be), but they could both, magic aside, really exist, which makes it even worse. Especially with the Sunshine Home, as my area just had a huge scandal with a Cash-For-Kids program, where a local judge was taking bribes to send kids to correctional facilities to pad their numbers for more state funding, etc. Pretty crappy stuff, but it happens every day. I love that feeling of realism, even though it's clearly fantasy. I sometimes wish that I had a version of the Territories that I could flip off to myself from time to time.

I've always considered this book to be a Stephen King book, not a Stephen King collaboration with Peter Straub. I'd read lots of King, but nothing of Straub's before... until recently when I tried to read a short story collection of his. I say "tried" because I didn't care for it and didn't finish it. But I bring this up because this time, whether it's simply because I have been on GR talking to friends from the UK and have noticed some of their wording and phraseology, or because I read a couple of Straub's short stories, or a combination of both, I feel like I could see some of the contributions that Straub made here. Simple things like using "outsize" instead of "oversized", etc. I also felt that some of the more quirky-weird things were probably Straub's -- not that King has any shortage there, but it was just the feeling that I got, and one only has to read the first story in "Magic Terror" to see why. The Territories trees for one (A BOY! OUR BOY??), but there were a few things that I felt had the Straub stamp on them.

Yet King's hand is clearly ALL OVER THIS, mainly in the characterizations, as usual. I still, to this day, marvel at his ability to make me know and understand a character in just a few lines. For instance, when Richard is describing Reuel Gardener (whose name is a mere typo away from "cruel"), he mentions that he "Sometimes heard really peculiar noises coming from out of Reuel's room, and once saw a dead cat on the garbage thing out in back that didn't have any eyes or ears. When you saw him, you'd think he was the kind of person who might torture a cat." (Pg. 443) You can take this line or leave it as is, but as the human pet of two beautiful cats myself, I shudder to think of the kind of person who could torture a cat like that. My imagination gets going (unfortunately) and I think of the way it would be done, and the cruelty that would be needed, and I get sick to my stomach. All from a throwaway passage about a throwaway character. But that's what makes King my favorite. He makes it real, effortlessly.

This book does require more than a bit of belief suspension. The main point that this sticks on for me is that Speedy mentions to Jack in the beginning that there are far fewer people in the Territories than there are in our world, so not everyone has a Twinner. Yet almost EVERYONE in the book has or had a Twinner - even the thugs from Richard's school. The odds of that are just too high, and so you really just have to accept it and move on. And then there's the case of Morgan's train, which exists dually in the Territories and America. If Jack boards the train in the Territories in the Outposts (corellating to the midwest), and exits the train in America in California, did the American version of the train start running its course all on its own? Just something to think about...

And finally, here are some odd little tidbits I noticed.
- The Black Hotel has a kind of consciousness or life, and uses it in a manner similar to the Overlook from The Shining (which was only written a few years before this was published). The two hotels are not alike in any other way, but I thought it was interesting.
- George Hatfield, another reference to The Shining, crops up here as a student at Thayer School (where Richard attends), who is in the process of being expelled for cheating. You'll remember him as the stuttering debater who ended Jack Torrance's teaching career in Vermont from The Shining.
- The Quonset hut next to the train tracks outside of the Blasted Lands is reminiscent of the Quonset hut in Thunderclap from Wolves of the Calla...
- Time zones are mentioned backwards here (there's a mention of Morgan being woken up at 2am California time, which is midnight Springfield, IL time), which could indicate a link to the Dark Tower series, as directions shift... Either that or someone just got really confused. :P

Anyway... I really love this story, and I think it will remain a favorite for years to come. :)

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