Whew. This one took me awhile. I’m not sure why. I’m often a little wary of collaborations — I find that just because I like one author in the collaboration doesn’t mean that I’ll like the other, or the mixture of the two. I avoided The Talisman and Black House for years because of this wariness, but I did finally read them before this re-read, and I remember liking them, so I don’t know why I couldn’t get into The Talisman this time. Most of the time, I find King work strong even on re-read, but maybe this one just wasn’t? It’s a perfectly good story.
A few things did stand out to me. Complaint-wise, it annoyed me that so many people Jack met on his journey across the US wanted to screw him. Do we need that? And is that actually so common? The way he describes some of these encounters, it’s “normal” — at least in CA — for Jack to get hit on by men but turn them down. But is that normal, or was it ever? Jack is like 12. Being a gay man absolutely does not make a person a pedophile, or undiscriminating about who they proposition. I find it kind of hard to believe that Jack is either constantly being hit on by pedos (who take a polite “thanks, but no thanks” as an answer most of the time) or that he constantly gets mistaken as old enough to hit on in the first place by gay men. There’s also a weird thing where his time in the Territories is actually making him more attractive to whoever — I could let that go because it’s magic, it doesn’t really have to make sense or rely on what people would ordinarily do — but it also seems to not fit into the story very well and I don’t understand why that was necessary either. Anyway, too much focus on people wanting to give a 12 year old a blowjob.
I also don’t care much for the repeated use of the N-word and other slurs. Yes, I am aware that this is a thing that King and other authors (including apparently Peter Straub) do sometimes to indicate a bad guy, or clarify that the bad guy has bad traits. I’m aware that this is not an endorsement of the N-word. However, I just don’t think it was necessary for it to be spelled out repeatedly in a book that was, let’s face it, written by two white men. It’s still really them saying it, not the fictional character. I don’t think they needed to do that, or at least didn’t need to do so much of it. No, I’m not a snowflake or offended — it felt deliberately “edgy” and took me out of the story, and I just don’t care for it. I think these authors in particular are skilled enough to have gotten their point across in a way that felt less jarring to read.
Now what’s good about the book: for a book written by more than just King, it has a lot of tie-ins to King’s other work. I am not familiar enough with Peter Straub’s work to know if the same is true for him — will have to check that out at some point. It definitely shares themes and ideas with the Dark Tower series — the Talisman being the axle of all the worlds certainly has a familiar feel, as does moving back and forth between worlds that have some similar characters and also some differences. I notice that when people travel between worlds in King’s multiverse, there’s usually a portal of some type. Roland has doors. There are thinnies — not just in the Dark Tower, thin spots are in other places too. Crouch End comes to mind. In 11/22/63, Jake Epping time travels through a door. Specific spots have power and may transport people. But Jack Sawyer, he just flips. Wonder if that was a Straub thing, because King seems to like to give his characters that portal of sorts. Of course, it could be argued that most people who flip do have a portal — their Twinner — and that Jack simply doesn’t need one because he’s single-natured.
Oatley also shows up again in the King-verse, so I’m pretty sure that either that town was an invention of his, or he liked it so much he adopted it. I guess it’s possible that it’s not even the same Oatley that appears in dream form in “The Sun Dog”, but how many Oatleys can there be? I’m inclined to think they’re the same. Later on, one character calls another character a “fushing feef” (fucking thief), and I know that I’ve seen this toothless epitaph used in another King work at another time — maybe also “The Sun Dog”? Not sure. I don’t actually think that’s a connection to anything, just a Kingism.
I also saw some potential outside influences on this work that were rather prominent. When Jack gets the Talisman and hands it over for Richard to see (after some internal struggle) I saw shades of Tolkien’s One Ring. It was difficult for the bearer to hand over the ring and he didn’t want to. But if that Bearer could hand it over of his own volition — as Bilbo finally did, as Sam did, as Frodo did too, I guess, with Bombadil if not at the end — then things would go better for that character than for the ones who allowed the Ring to completely control them and couldn’t give it up (every Bearer who was not a hobbit, basically).
I also noticed a joke – I think – that I wasn’t totally certain how to take. At one point, Jack is thinking about Jason, and how people react to him thinking he’s Jason, and in his thoughts, there’s the line “But guys like Jason have a way of coming back, didn’t they?” My first thought was that this was a Jesus/resurrection reference. I’m thinking of Jason/Jack as at least a loose Jesus character — Jason’s sacrifice allows for Jack’s single-naturedness which is what puts him in a position to become a savior, plus, to the people of the Territories, he may as well be Jason resurrected. But then I thought, wait, am I overthinking this? Is it a Friday the 13th joke? Because that Jason definitely keeps coming back — I looked it up, and by the time this book was published we were at least three movies into that franchise with more coming. If that’s the reference, it’s a good joke, and here I am trying to be overly literary and find a Jesus reference. But it does also work as a Jesus reference, I think. Maybe the authors just decided that the line worked both ways.
Anyway, I think The Talisman is a fun fantasy, even if I had trouble getting through it the second time. It’s overall solid. It feels more dated than most of King’s work in this period feels to me — maybe because the characters spend so much time on the road seeing various sights and landmarks. I don’t really remember Black House, so maybe that was the one I liked better back when I read them the first time. I’ll be interested to see when I get there. Hopefully my reading speed picks back up with the next novel, though, so I don’t burn through all of my pre-scheduled posts.