The Talisman, by Stephen King and Peter Straub
Paperback: 768 pages
First published: November 1st 1984
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… (Back of book)
The Talisman is an unexpectedly good coming of age story of adventure and self discovery that really took me by surprise. The story follows one Jack Sawyer, a 12 year old boy on a quest to save his dying mother. The interesting twist on this age-old recipe is that Jack’s journey takes place both in current-day USA and in a parallel world called The Territories, a land of magic, queens, castles, and fantastic monsters. A LOT of things happen as Jack travels from coast to coast, and once the story grabs you, it doesn’t let go. Jack’s arduous journey across America and The Territories reminded me of Frodo’s epic journey to Mount Doom, in his quest to destroy the One Ring, which is saying quite a lot about how good The Talisman is.
Character-wise, The Talisman really shines. Jack himself may not be much by himself, but the supporting cast is quite impressive. Morgan Sloat, the big baddy, feels very much like a predecessor to Stephen King’s Jim Rennie. Osmond/Sunlight Gardener is a cruel, psychotic madman prone to uncontrolled fits of violence, while Wolf and Richard are the loyal, endearing companions that dedicate themselves to helping Jack complete his quest, even when faced with great, personal danger.
The Talisman is concrete proof that you can get away with using as many clichéed elements as you like, as long as you give them a unique spin and weave them in an interesting story. The Talisman makes use of pretty much every fantasy trope out there, including, but not limited to The Chosen One, The Kid Hero, the MacGuffin and many more. It is a testament to the authors’s writing skills that The Talisman ended up being such a great book, even today, when each element I mentioned has been done to death since then.
Now, call me dumb, but I keep asking myself, how do multiple authors collaborate in writing a book? I mean, what is the exact process? Do they take turns writing alternating chapters? Does one of them type while the other looks over his shoulder? In this particular example, was the action that took place in the real world written by King, while everything that happens in The Territories is Straub’s creation? I find it very interesting that the end result is a book where I, for one, wasn’t able to observe two distinct writing styles. There were a few phrases that I could definitely attribute to King, but other than that, the seams (if any) don’t show at all.