Chased 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 odd man sending him on the trip. But Jack is just desperate enough to try it…to try anything to save his mother. It’s the McGuffin that powers the plot along.
And, it seems, not just his mother is in trouble. 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.
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 subset 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, 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.
The Talisman is, in two words, bloody brilliant.