You may also know Peter Straub from his other highly successful horror and fantasy novels, including Ghost Story, Floating Dragon and Shadowland.
Peter Straub first came to the public’s attention in a big way with the publication of his highly acclaimed 1979 novel Ghost Story, which was adapted into the 1981 film of the same name, which starred, amongst others, Fred Astaire and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
Prior to that, Straub had gained only limited success with two mainstream novels, Marriages and Under Venus, and two supernatural / horror novels that fared much better, Julia, which was Straub’s first supernatural novel, and If You Could See Me Now, which is a gothic horror novel.
Ghost story was followed by Shadowland, a fantastic fantasy novel about sorcery and magic, and Floating Dragon, a horror novel about an evil force that plagues a town every thirty years.
Floating Dragon was followed by Peter Straub’s first collaboration with Stephen King, The Talisman, which was published in 1984.
Peter Straub’s Collaboration with Stephen King
Peter Straub, Benjamin Straub and Stephen King, London, 1977,
by Susan Straub
The two authors met after Stephen King had written positive feedback about Peter Straub’s work.
Straub wrote to King thanking him for his kind words. King wrote back saying that he’d like to visit Straub. The two met, became friends, and they started discussing the possibility of a collaboration the second time they met.
Peter Straub’s and Stephen King’s first collaboration was The Talisman. The decision to write the book together was taken when Stephen King visited Peter Straub in England. However, because of prior commitments, they didn’t start work on The Talisman until two years later.
From the outset of the collaboration, both authors tried to emulate the other’s style of writing so that no one would be able to tell who wrote which passages. They began, not with the story itself, but with a “bible” of the book. They then started work on writing the quest that was to be the backbone of the whole novel, passing their work back and forth, often competing with each other to write the best passages.
When they wrote their second book together, Black House, a sequel to The Talisman, Straub says that they were both much more relaxed about the partnership. There was not the same element of competition that there had been when they wrote The Talisman.
Below, you will find a video of an open forum event that was held in 2015 where Stephen King, Owen King, Peter Straub and Emma Straub discuss, amongst other things, collaborations.
The video is approximately one hour long, but if you have the time, it is fascinating viewing. If you want to skip to the part where the authors discuss their collaboration on The Talisman, that discussion begins approximately ten minutes into the video.
Five Books by Peter Straub
To date, Peter Straub has written 17 novels, 5 short story collections, 11 novellas, and he has also written poetry. Straub has won numerous literary awards, including the International Horror Guild Award, the World Fantasy Award, and the Bram Stoker Award. Here are five of Peter Straub’s most popular novels:
You can see all the books of Peter Straub here, on his Amazon Author's Page.
Published in 1984, The Talisman is a fantasy novel written by Stephen King and Peter Straub. The Talisman tells the story of a 12 year old boy named Jack Sawyer, who sets out on a quest to find a crystal called The Talisman, which he believes can save his mother who is dying of cancer.
Jack’s story begins in earnest when he meets the mysterious local handyman Lester "Speedy" Parker, who says that he knows of a cure for Jack’s mother’s illness. He reveals to Jack that there is another world that exists alongside our own world called The Territories, which Jack must visit if he is to find the cure.
The Territories are a parallel world to our own, where distance and time have different meanings to that which they have in this world. The two worlds run in parallel. Everyone in The Territories has their “twinner” in this world and the major events in those “twin’s” lives are mirrored in both worlds.
Speedy Parker’s twinner in The Territories is a gunslinger named Parkus. Jack's mother’s twinner is Queen Laura DeLoessian, who like Jack’s own mother is dying. The only person who does not appear to have a twinner is Jack.
Jack’s quest to find The Talisman takes him across The Territories where he encounters some friendly werewolves who help him, and some not so friendly werewolves who try to hinder him. He also encounters the evil Morgan of Orris, who is the twiner of Jack’s dead father’s old business partner, Morgan Sloat. In this world, Sloat wants to seize control of Jack’s father’s business from Jack’s mother. In the Territories, Morgan of Orris wants to gain control of the land as soon as Queen Laura has died.
The Talisman is a hero’s quest, but is also a journey in which Jack Sawyer has to face is deepest fears and learns the true meaning of friendship. The Talisman is a very cleverly written book that will have you sharing jack’s adventure and cheering him on as he goes.
Stephen King called Peter Straub’s Ghost Story one of the finest horror novels of the late 20th century. The book was published in 1979.
Ghost story is set in the fictional town of Milburn, New York. The story is told from the perspective of five elderly men, who call themselves the Chowder Society; a group of lifelong friends who periodically get together to tell each other ghost stories.
The book begins with a man who has kidnapped a young girl. The man asks the girl questions, quizzing her about the names Wanderley, Hawthorne and James.
He demands to know the girl’s name too. The girl simply appears to be taunting the man and, when they make a stopover, he hovers menacingly over her, thinking about killing her.
The story then switches to Milburn, New York, where we are introduced to the four old men; Sears James, Frederick Hawthorne, Lewis Benedickt and John Jaffrey. We learn that a fifth member of the group, Edward Wanderley, died about a year ago under mysterious circumstances.
Despite the death of their friend, the remaining members of the Chowder Society continue with their regular ghost story telling sessions. Since the death of Edward Wanderley, however, all of the men have been experiencing horrifying dreams.
The members of The Chowder Society decide to seek the help of the nephew of Edward, Don Wanderley, who is a horror writer, but it transpires that the author is having his own problems coping with his own ghost story; a story that is closely connected to each and every one of The Chowder Society.
When a woman who seems to have no past comes to the town, it soon becomes apparent that she is not going to be happy until the whole town has been decimated.
A Dark Matter
A Dark Matter is Peter Straub’s most recently published full length novel and a winner of the Bram Stoker Award in 2010.
This is another of Straub’s novels that won high praise from Stephen King, who said of A Dark Matter that the book is "Terrifying...impossible to put down".
A Dark Matter is not a gore-fest of a horror novel. It’s far too sophisticated to be given that kind of simplistic label. It’s a physiological horror, it’s a mystery, and it’s a thriller, and it will keep you guessing, right through to the end.
The story revolves around a character called Lee Harwell, who is a writer who is struggling to find the inspiration for his next novel following the huge success of his last book. He decides to investigate an awful event that occurred when he was in his teens.
When Lee Harwell was in his final year at high school in the sixties, some of his friends met a guru named Spencer Mallon, who was a man who had a devastating effect on all of their lives. Lee did not get drawn in by the stories and theories of the guru like his friends did, he had the good sense to stay well away. His closest friends, however, including a girl who is his now his wife, got totally drawn in by the charismatic guru Spencer Mallon.
The full details of what this adoration ultimately led to are unknown. What we do know is that Spencer Mallon took his followers with him one evening in 1969 to carry out some kind of ritual. After the ritual had been completed, all that was found was a dismembered body and the lost souls that were once the followers of Spencer Mallon.
Searching for inspiration for his new book, Lee Harwell sets out to uncover the truth about what happened that night, and to do that, he will have to make the survivors face the unspeakable horror that has haunted their lives ever since.
The way that Peter Straub gives you tantalising hints about what happened on that fateful night in the meadow and how he introduces the various ways in which the characters dealt with the horror, makes A Dark Matter a real page turner. This is a book that will keep you guessing all the way through and the final reveal won’t disappoint you at all.
Lost Boy Lost Girl
Peter Straub’s Lost Boy Lost Girl was published in 2013 and it is best described as a murder mystery, a ghost story and a horror novel, all rolled into one, with a little bit of added family drama for good measure.
Lost Boy Lost Girl, which won the 2003 Bram Stoker Best Novel Award, follows Tim Underhill, a character who has appeared in other Peter Straub novels.
Tim Underhill’s brother, Philip, is trying to deal with a series of tragic events in his life. First, there was the unexplained suicide of his wife Nancy, and then, Phillip’s teenaged son, Mark, becomes obsessed with a house across the way.
The boy later vanishes, leaving no clues behind as to what has become of him.
Tim Underhill decides to search for answers as to what has happened, and he soon learns that there is a paedophile murderer on the loose that Mark believed might have been hiding in the house. The house also holds dark secrets from the past as well.
Tim becomes convinced that in investigating that dark history of the house, Mark may have unearthed its darkest secret of all; a ghostly girl who has now lured Mark into her own domain.
Peter Straub’s Lost Boy Lost Girl is a cleverly written book that leaves just enough gaps in the narrative so that you begin to create your own answers to the riddles. The book does frequently switch between first and third person narration, though, which some readers might find annoying.
Overall, Lost Boy Lost Girl is a superb ghost story, and more. The way that it is written, and the brilliant way Straub captures the family dynamics, makes Peter Straub’s Lost Boy Lost Girl far more than just another horror story.
When Peter Straub’s Shadowland was published in 1980, readers of his Ghost Story must have got quite a big surprise, because Shadowland is an entirely different type of book to Ghost Story.
Shadowland is a fantasy novel, the premise of which is not too dissimilar from Harry Potter.
The main difference between the two being that in Shadowland the teenage wizards are taken under the wing of a Voldemort type of character, rather than a Professor Dumbledore.
Peter Straub’s Shadowland is a well-written and complex novel that will go down well with any fan of fantasy fiction. It tells the story of two boys, Del and Tom, who dabble in magic tracks while they are at boarding school together.
Del and Tom spend the summer holidays in Del’s uncle’s house. The uncle is a retried, and slightly mad, magician. The uncle begins to tutor the boys in magic, but it begins to become apparent that Uncle Collins’ magic might be much more than mere tricks.
Over time, Uncle Collins’ sorcery becomes more sinister and it is clear that there are dark forces at work. Tom comes to the conclusion that he and his friend must escape Shadowland if they are to survive, but Uncle Collins has other plans for Tom.
With Shadowland, Peter Straub steps outside the norms of a horror novel and strays into the realms of fantasy, which is why some people who had read Ghost Story and had expected the same from Straub’s next novel were a little bit disappointed.
It would be a bit like reading Stephen King’s It and then picking up The Eyes of the Dragon expecting more of the same.
That genre jump aside, though, as a standalone fantasy novel with a touch of horror, Shadowland works extremely well. It’s a wonderful book full of interwoven subplots. Anyway, why shouldn’t an author of the class of Peter Straub, or Stephen King for that matter, step outside of the genre they are best known for once in a while?