Thursday Reviews: Clapton, The Talisman


Eric Clapton

“Clapton is God!” one enthusiastic blues fan scrawled on the wall of a London subway during Clapton’s days with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. It’s a moniker Eric Clapton was never comfortable with, and in fact, Clapton is brutally frank about himself and his shortcomings in this fascinating autobiography.

Clapton was the illegitimate son of a girl from Ripley, a country town near London. Raised by his grandparents, he thought his grandparents were his parents until his was almost 10. This threw Clapton’s identity into a tailspin, and he found solace in a guitar he talked his grandparents into buying for him. As he grew older, he began to find the guitar as his “path to God,” so to speak. Moreover, he discovered American blues, as a great many English teens did in the late fifties and early sixties. Soon, he was playing clubs and recruited into a band called the Yardbirds. Their manager viewed them as a replacement for his previous client, the Rolling Stones.

Clapton’s success grew, but so did his insecurity. After leaving Cream, he soon drifted into heroin. In an age before modern rehab, he got clean only to replace smack with alcohol. While Clapton’s post-Cream music has been truer to his soul than earlier acts, alcohol interfered with his playing and his relationships, poisoning his marriage to Patti Boyd.

But Clapton got sober. And his music became purer blues. Eventually, in his mid-fifties, Eric Clapton became something no one would ever expect: A family man.

The Talisman

Stephen King & Peter Straub

This collaboration between Stephen King and Peter Straub is less a horror novel than it is a fantasy epic. It concerns Jack Sawyer, a twelve-year-old boy who, with his mother, is running away from Morgan Sloat, Jack’s late father’s partner in a Hollywood talent agency. Sloat is your basic greedy bastard, and Jack’s mom, former B movie actress Lily Cavanagh, flees to a remote New Hampshire resort to get away from his pestering. She wants to die in peace.

Jack wants desperately to save his mother, and when he meets amusement park custodian Speedy Parker, he discovers his mother is not just Lily Cavanagh, Queen of the B Movies. In another world, she is Queen Laura, ruler of The Territories. Speedy shows Jack how to flip between worlds. The Territories are smaller than our world. A hundred feet there will put you half a mile from where you were originally in our world. That’s good. Because the resort where Jack is staying overlaps the Queen’s castle in The Territories. And Jack needs to get to California to a resort on the opposite coast, because that place is also where the Talisman is kept. It is the Talisman that can save Lily from cancer. Save Lily, save the dying Queen.

But he’ll have to fight his away across both countries, flipping back and forth between our world and The Territories. Along the way, he meets some very real – very human – monsters on both sides, but he also picks up some unlikely allies, such as Wolf, a sort of werewolf who adopts Jack as his “herd.” Wolfs must not eat the herd when the moon is full, he tells Jack.

The journey across the country is harrowing in both worlds. And actions in one world impact the other. World War II in The Territories was a two-week skirmish. The trek is reminiscent of Lord of the Rings, though this book, 769 pages in the version I read, is a pamphlet compared to Tolkien’s epic. It also foreshadows many aspects of The Dark Tower series. (Some elements of The Dark Tower series appear in the book’s sequel, The Black House).

One thing it has in common, though, with Lord of the Rings is the interminable ending. The climactic battle takes a hundred pages, and it takes another fifty to wind down. Granted, a prolonged battle with Sloat and his otherworldly counterpart is somewhat satisfying in longer form, but there were points I just said, “Somebody kill the other guy already!”