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The Talisman  
First edition cover
Author Stephen King,
Peter Straub
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Fantasy,
Horror novel
Publisher Viking
Publication date November 8, 1984
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Pages 672
ISBN 0670691992
Preceded by Cycle of the Werewolf
Followed by It

The Talisman is a 1984 fantasy novel by Stephen King and Peter Straub. The plot is not a reworking of the earlier Walter Scott book also titled The Talisman, although there is one oblique reference to "a Sir Walter Scott novel." The Talisman was nominated for both the Locus and World Fantasy Awards in 1985.[1] King and Straub followed up in 2001 with a sequel, Black House, that picks up with a now-adult Jack as a retired Los Angeles homicide detective trying to solve a series of murders in the small town of French Landing, Wisconsin. As Peter Straub stated in December 2009, he and King should begin work on a third novel in the series sometime in late 2010.[2]

The book is dedicated to the authors' mothers: "This book is for Ruth King, Elvena Straub."


Plot summary

This book charts the adventure of a twelve year old boy named Jack Sawyer. The adolescent hero sets out from Arcadia Beach, New Hampshire in a bid to save his mother, who is dying from cancer, by finding an enchanted crystal called "the Talisman."

The premise of the novel involves the existence of a parallel world to Earth, called "the Territories", a strange fantasy world with ties (though these ties did not exist at the time of publication) to King's The Dark Tower. Individuals in the Territories have "twinners," or parallel individuals, in our world. Twinners' births, deaths, and (it is intimated) other major life events are usually paralleled. Twinners can also flip, but only share the body of their alternate universe's analogue.

In rare instances (such as Jack Sawyer's), a person may die in one world but not the other, making them "single-natured" and giving them the ability to switch back and forth between the two worlds if taught how. Jack is taught how to "flip" by a mysterious figure known as Speedy Parker, who may be a gunslinger named Parkus in the Territories. In his world the beloved Queen Laura DeLoessian, the twinner of Jack's mother (a movie actress known as the "Queen of the B Movies") is also dying.

Various people help or hinder Jack in his quest. Of particular importance are the Werewolves, known simply as Wolfs, who inhabit the Territories. These are not the savage killers of tradition. They serve as royal herdsmen or bodyguards, and can sometimes under stress voluntarily change to wolf form. A sixteen-year-old Wolf, simply named Wolf, is accidentally pulled into America by Jack Sawyer and adopts Jack as his herd, serving as his companion. Wolf is extremely likeable, kind, loyal and friendly, much like a dog, though his wolf nature shows through on occasion. On the other hand, some have joined the antagonists who are trying to stop Jack.

As the story goes back and forth between the Territories and the familiar United States, or "American Territories" as Jack comes to call them, Jack escapes from one life-threatening situation after another. Accompanied by Wolf and later by his childhood friend Richard, Jack must retrieve the Talisman before it falls into the hands of evil schemer Morgan Sloat, Richard's father, who, we later learn, was Jack's father's business partner before arranging to have the latter murdered. He wants to seize their business from Jack's mother. Morgan Sloats's twinner, Morgan of Orris, also plans to seize the Territories in the event of Queen Laura's death.

Publishing history

The idea of writing The Talisman first took form when Stephen King moved with his family to London in early 1977. It was there he met Peter and Susan Straub, along with their children, and the two writers became friends, both being fans of each other's work. After a short friendship, King and his family left after only three months back to the United States. Straub and King had talked multiple times before about collaborating to write a book, but nothing ever surfaced until years after King moved back, when the Straubs moved to the United States as well. According to King, after Straub moved, "the talk got serious," and they began writing. Their literary friendship did not end after the publication of The Talisman. In 1999 they began working on a sequel to The Talisman, dealing with Jack Sawyer as an adult. It was published in 2001, entitled Black House.



The Territories

When Jack "flips", he finds himself in a parallel world, which is physically smaller than the world from which he comes. Throughout the course of the novel, Jack uses the size differential as a method to travel quickly across the country. The central regions, roughly corresponding the American Midwest are a grain growing area known as "the Outposts." Beyond them the western region of the Territories is a destroyed area known as "the Blasted Lands." It apparently was wrecked by radioactivity and has dangerous mutants and occasional fireballs.

Alhambra Hotel

Where Jack begins his quest and meets Speedy Parker. It is a decaying building on the New Hampshire coast, at the end of the novel deserted except for Jack's mother. In the Territories it parallels the royal palace of the dying queen.

Oatley Tap

A bar in the fictional western New York State town of the same name. The owner, Smokey, holds Jack as a virtual slave.

Sunlight Gardener's School

When Jack and Wolf are accused of mischievous "hitchhiking" and "trouble-making" by a highway police officer, they are sent by the court to a camp/school for troubled youths run by evangelist Robert "Sunlight" Gardner/Osmond. It is located in eastern Indiana and parallels a terrible open pit mine where slaves are used to gather iron for Morgan.

Thayer School

A boarding school for wealthy boys in Springfield, Illinois. Jack meets up with his friend Richard here. Wolves and gargoyle-like creatures try to stop Jack.

Agincourt Hotel

In the ruined town of Point Venuti on the northern California coast. It is a mysterious abandoned black structure similar to the Alhambra. It holds the Talisman and has many different incarnations depending on the alternate universe. In The Territories it appears as a black castle. It is through this building's shifting forms as Jack nears the Talisman that the reader learns of a multitude of other worlds of which the Territories and America are only two.


Because Straub and King were both immensely successful and popular horror and suspense writers in their own rights, anticipation of this book was extremely strong. The publisher financed a USD$550,000 promotion budget and several articles ran which hailed the collaboration of the two writers and speculated what would result would be “the greatest horror novel ever written”.[3]

Actual popular and critical reception, however, were mixed and ran the spectrum from "worst" (People: "Worst of Pages" list) and "best" (Twilight Zone: Year's Best Novel).[3] Many reviews were mixed, praising the characters and plot, but criticizing a "long-winded" "predictable" ending[citation needed]. However, with the exception of People, no critics recommended against it.[3]

According to Publishers Weekly, the final sales figure for The Talisman in 1984 was 880,287 copies. The original hardbound edition spent 12 weeks as #1 on New York Times Best Seller List with a total of 23 weeks in total on the list. Publishers Weekly listed it as #1 for 11 weeks, with a total of 26 weeks on the list.[3]

The subsequent Berkley paperback edition spent 2 weeks as #1 on the New York Times best paperback list with a total of 14 weeks on the list. Publishers Weekly listed it as #1 for 3 weeks, with 13 weeks in total on the list.[3]

Connection to The Dark Tower

When first released King and Straub did not intend a connection between The Talisman and Stephen King's The Dark Tower series. However the book's sequel Black House presents a soft-retcon that the Territories are a part of All-World. This is most clear by King's introduction to The Little Sisters of Eluria where he states the pavilion where Jack Sawyer meets Sophie is the same one in The Little Sisters.[4] Likewise, in Black House characters such as Crimson King and Patricia the Mono, from the Dark Tower novels, appear.

Also, some common elements and themes of The Dark Tower novels were first presented in The Talisman. Twinners, while never expressly referred to by that name in The Dark Tower, appear in the course of Roland and his ka-tet's travel through different times and worlds. Morgan Sloat uses a magical key that tears open a hole between worlds, which has a physical description identical to that of a thinny.[5] References are also made to places, such as Thayer School, where the separation between worlds grows "thin." In Black House, Parkus tells Jack that "The job of protecting the Tower and the Beams has always belonged to the ancient war guild of Gilead, called Gunslingers in this world and many others."

Also the titular Talisman has some power similar to the Dark Tower itself, as Jack discovers that it is a center between many different universes and times.

Mini-series and Graphic Novel

The television network TNT recently announced it would be adapting The Talisman into a six-part mini-series, which is expected to air in 2012. Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy will be collaborating on the miniseries project.[6][7]

The Talisman is being adapted into a graphic novel much like The Stand and The Dark Tower. Del Rey has planned to run "at least 24 issues".[8] The first issue was published in October 2009. [9]

See also


  1. ^ "1985 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-22. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c d e The Talisman from 20th-Century American Bestsellers database
  4. ^ King, Stephen (2002). Everything's Eventual. New York, New York: Scribner. pp. 145. ISBN 0-7432-3704-8. 
  5. ^ King, Stephen; Straub, Peter. The Talisman. New York, New York: Viking Adult. pp. 184. ISBN 0670691992. 
  6. ^ TNT and Steven Spielberg to Adapt Stephen King's The Talisman from
  7. ^ TNT, DreamWorks and Steven Spielberg to make "The Talisman" from
  8. ^ Straub and King's novel to be made into Graphic Novel from
  9. ^

External links


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