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Literature / The Talisman

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12-year-old Jack Sawyer's mother is sick. Very sick. Worse, they're both on the run from friendly old uncle Morgan in New York, former business partner of Jack's late father. But an old black wino lets him in on a little secret: That there is something he can do about it.

Jack's going to have to go on a little trip, though. All the way from Maine back to California, though not quite 'his' California. And he's going to have to go on foot, looking for something called The Talisman. Only a lot more seems to be at stake than just his mother, and some parties are very interested in Jack as well as the Talisman itself.

Cowritten by Stephen King and Peter Straub, The Talisman (1984) touches on elements of King's Dark Tower series. It also has a sequel called Black House.

A live action series adaptation of the book is in development for Netflix. It will be showrun by Stranger Things writer Curtis Gwinn, and executive produced by ST creators Matt and Ross Duffer through their newly formed Upside Down Productions company. Amblin Television and Paramount Television will also produce.

Tropes found here include:

  • Admiring the Poster: Downplayed. Speedy's office is decorated with old nudie cutouts and pinups, but they were already there when he started his maintenance job. He leaves them up because they remind him of his days as a traveling blues musician.
  • Agent Scully: Richard Sloat goes through elaborate lengths to explain away the increasingly supernatural events that Jack brings into his life, ultimately concluding that the blatant magic he encounters is hallucinations caused by dementia. This is broken when he sees an absurdly simple Territories clock (a giant hourglass), and realized that he was incapable of imagining something that simple -if he were to imagine a primitive clock, it would be full of giant gears and extremely complex- that he accepts what happened. This extended, for his entire life up to that point, to an extreme disdain for all forms of fiction (he was a voracious reader, but exclusively in non-fiction), and an ambition to become a research chemist.
  • A God I Am Not: The Talisman offers Jack godhood when he first touches it. Terrified, he immediately rejects the opportunity— he'd only wanted to use the Talisman to save his mother's life.
  • Alternate Dimension: We only see our world and the world Jack flips to, but there are a lot more than that.
  • Alternate Self: Our world has a lot more people than the Territories do, so you can't quite say 'everyone' has one (except maybe for a third world) but quite a lot do. Alternate selves do not necessarily look the same and can in fact be very different. Personalities may not be the same either, such as Morgan of Orris being much more ruthless than Morgan Sloat. However, fundamentally they are you. In general, when one self dies, so does the other. There exceptions to this, such as Jack, whose "twinner" died as a small child when Jack managed to survive a near drowning.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Morgan Sloat. Though he wasn't as bad as Morgan of Orris.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Most of them are either evil or cowed into submission.
  • Bad Boss: Smokey casually beats on his employees, physically and mentally, and effectively holds Jack in slavery with threats to call the sheriff if he should be so uppity as to quit the job. He also cheats Jack on his pay, but that's a minor issue by the time a few days pass compared to everything else.
  • Berserk Button: You do not hurt Wolf's herd. Since Jack has essentially been adopted as Wolf's new herd, that means Jack's enemies had better be very cautious.
  • Big Bad: Morgan Sloat/Morgan of Orris.
  • Blind Without Them: Subverted; in order to no longer having to see all the weirdness around him, Richard breaks his glasses and claims this trope applies to him. Jack however knows he's bluffing, and his eyesight isn't that bad.
  • Boring Return Journey: The bulk of the novel chronicles Jack's difficult journey west, but the journey back east takes up only a single chapter since Jack and Richard get a ride from Wolf's brother, and Morgan is no longer around to cause them trouble.
  • Bury Your Gays: Played with. Jack's Uncle Tommy wasn't killed simply because he was gay, but because he had been entrusted to take care of Jack and his mother, and that threw a wrench in Morgan's plans. That didn't stop Morgan from using Tommy's homosexuality as a convenient way to explain away his murder, though.
  • Canon Welding: Later made part of the Dark Tower continuity.
    • Considering the climax happens in a black skyscraper that contains the axis of all possible worlds, “later” is debatable.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture / Cool and Unusual Punishment: Sunlight Gardener is very fond of this, especially when it comes to Jack and Wolf.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Jack and Richard arrive at Morgan's base a day early, catching the Wolfs off guard so that most of them are cut down with ease by the Uzis the train was carrying.
  • Dark World: The Territories. They are not quite bad and in fact often very beautiful, but it tends to be a lot more savage and things that happened in our world tend to be much nastier on that side.
  • Dead Alternate Counterpart: If you have an Alternate Self in "The Territories", you can flip into their mind when you travel between worlds. But if you don't, like Jacky, whose Twinner was murdered as a child, you remain yourself.
    • In the case of Jack, it's implied that all of his alternate counterparts are dead, which is the reason that he's the only one who can use the Talisman.
  • Departure Means Death: Wolf gets sick and listless the longer he spends in our world. Eventually he's killed by Jack's enemies, though it's not clear if just living in our world would have killed him by itself.
  • The Dreaded: Morgan of Orris. Even his followers are terrified of him.
  • Driven to Suicide: Judge Fairchild, who send Jack and Wolf (and before them, many other boys) to Sunlight Gardener's Home. When Jack finds the talisman, Fairchild has already been fired as a judge, and is facing jailtime for his part in the abuse (and even deaths of several boys) that happened at the home. So, pushed by the Talisman, he decides to end his life by driving a knife up his nose, into his brain.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The psychotic Osmond gets one in his first appearance— he whips Jack's back to shreds when Jack doesn't answer his questions, and then moments later does the same thing to an unfortunate carriage driver who has displeased him. Jack notes with horror that Osmond is actually laughing as he whips the man to death.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Sunlight Gardener and Morgan Sloat genuinely love their sons. For Morgan, Richard acted as something of a restraining bolt. However, Morgan of Orris' son had already died and does not give a shit about Richard and thus takes over in the end.
  • Even the Guys Want Him: Debatable. After he visited the Territories, practically every male Jack has met was stricken by his beauty. However, this is attributed to the inhabitants of Earth just being drawn by the power of the Territories they felt in him. The use of this trope also crosses over into Stupid Sexy Flanders several times.
  • Evil Is Petty: Morgan Sloat. Some of the more dickish moves he does in the story is reducing a parking lot attendant to a nervous wreck simply because he was having a bad day, and telling Jack he had sex with Jack's mother during the final battle to enrage the boy and catch him off-guard.
  • Fighting Across Time and Space: When he breaches the black hotel to find the Talisman, Jack Sawyer finds himself flipping through multiple alternate versions of it while fighting a knight in black armor. Later, in a confrontation with Sloat on the beach where Sloat is hiding in a snowstorm, Jack realizes his voice keeps fading in and out because Sloat is flipping back and forth from our world to the Territories, and is able to flip and catch him.
  • The Fundamentalist: Sunlight Gardener.
  • Gang of Bullies: Several of the Sunlight Home residents are this to Jack and Wolf. Which leads to them becoming Asshole Victims later on.
  • Hell Hotel: The Agincourt Hotel, a.k.a. the Black Hotel, where the Talisman resides.
  • Here There Were Dragons: Our world. Wolf notes that the magic isn't entirely gone, but it's very, very weak.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Oh god, poor Wolf...
  • Hot Drink Cure: When Jack catches a cold, he becomes feverish. Wolf offers him a hot drink containing herbs he found, and while Jack is reluctant to drink it and hates the taste, it works.
  • Involuntary Shapeshifting: If Wolfs become too upset, they will turn into their werewolf forms even if it is not the full moon. It's painful to do it like this. Wolf eventually transforms, saves Jack and dies.
  • Jerkass: A very, very charitable description of Smokey.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Practically everyone who has ever hurt Jack gets their comeuppance in some way after Jack finds the Talisman. Yes, that extends to minor characters as well.
  • Magical Negro: Speedy Parker. Only he's really basically just acting. Parker is really Parkus, a gunslinger and faithful retainer to the queen and all around badass. Morgan of Orris' side appears to be quite scared of him, but he doesn't do anything directly.
  • Magic Feather: The 'juice' that Parker gives to Jack doesn't do anything but make it easier for him to think he can flip into the other world. Also, while facing the knights that guard the talisman in the Agincourt Hotel, Jack discovers he doesn't need the guitar pick Speedy gave him to defeat the knights, and takes out the final one entirely on his own.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Happens to Jack and Wolf in the Sunlight Home. It doesn't go well for either of them.
  • Offing the Offspring: At the end of the book, Morgan of Orris takes over the less evil but still ruthless Morgan Sloat and 'they' decide that if Richard stands in their way, then they will kill him as well.
  • No Body Left Behind: Upon dying, Wolf's body is send back to the Territories and thus vanishes before Jack's eyes.
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: Wolfs are basically the royal shepherds and are actually very nice except at the full moon itself. They don't seem to be terribly bright.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Osmond/Gardener frequently refers to Speedy as "the nigger".
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: The queen would if she wasn't, you know, dying. The former king was apparently an awesome guy and very popular. He traveled a lot around his kingdom doing kingly stuff.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Ferd Janklow.
  • Schizo Tech: The land of the Territories, which has knotted sticks for currency, swords as the favored weapon, horse-drawn carriages... and a large steam train. Justified in that it's established during a flashback of a conversation between Jack's father and Morgan Sloat that schematics for technology in their world can be easily brought over to the Territories. Jack's father even warns Morgan about the possible repercussions of advancing Territories civilization too quickly through their influence. Considering the train is Morgan's, it's obvious he didn't listen.
  • Silver Bullet: Sunlight Gardener's horrible, monstrous son is dealt with through use of a silver coin shoved in his forehead. Subverted with Wolf, who is killed by conventional bullets.
  • Sue Donym:
    Jack: "Jack Saw — ah — Sawtelle."
    Updike: "Jack Saw-ah-Sawtelle — must be the longest f***ing name in the phonebook, huh, kid?"
  • Tempting Fate: A boy proudly proclaims, "When you're strong in the Lord, there's no reason to ever be afraid!" just before being decapitated by Wolf.
  • Textual Celebrity Resemblance: A sinister Oatley Tap patron is described as looking like Western movie actor Randolph Scott.
  • Trauma-Induced Amnesia: Richard Sloat followed his father to The Territories one night on vacation. It didn't end well...
  • Verbal Tic: Wolf: "Wolf! Wolf! Right here and now!"
  • Victory-Guided Amnesia: Richard begins to lose all memories of his time in the Territories soon after their quest is over. Considering his best friend killed his father, he'd been forced to accept that his father deserved it and that the Territories do exist in reality (almost going insane in the process), this could be seen as a more merciful example.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Gardener and Sonny have this during Wolf's rampage.
    • Gardener/Osmond have an even bigger one when their sons are killed by Jack. They don't recover.
  • Villainous Crush: Heck Bast is implied to have one for Jack. Jack surmises that Heck is attracted to whatever Territories influence is present in him, and suspects that to be one of the reasons why Heck hates him so much. He definitely gets a little too excited by Jack's torture at the hands of Sunlight Gardener.
    • Sonny Singer may also have one for Jack. He seems a little too excited to accuse Jack and Wolf of being gay lovers.
  • Werewolf Theme Naming: Jack's werewolf companion is named Wolf.
  • When Trees Attack: Type 1. The reason why Morgan of Orris doesn't bother to search the forest for Jack. (OUR boy? YESSSSSS!)
  • Wham Line: "Dat Poiple Jesus you drinkin', boy?"
  • The Wise Prince: Jack is the twinner of the dead prince who 'helps' as the story goes on. As someone identical to the dead prince, Jack himself qualifies.
  • Whip of Dominance: Osmond, Morgan of Orris's right-hand man, carries a very nasty whip similar to a cat o' nine tails, and demonstrates his sadistic side by whipping a wagon driver to death for the crime of spilling a load of ale.
  • You Called Me "X"; It Must Be Serious: Speedy Parker calls Jack "Traveling Jack" when they first meet, which is a nickname Jack's father gave to him and clues Jack into the fact that Speedy was closely affiliated with his father. Later, his mother calls him the same thing out of pure happenstance, which strengthens his resolve to travel to the Territories to save her life.