The Stand (Stephen King)

the_stand_journal_2No, not the ‘uncut’ one, but the original. 823 pages was enough for me, I don’t need another 377 or whatever the new one clocks in at. Anyway, The Stand is not a flawless novel by any means. The ease with which the overwhelming majority of the survivors seem to get over the loss of loved ones, and society in general, is a tad too easy.

A rapidly mutating flu virus is unleashed by the US military on humanity. By accident of course. Outside of America nothing is mentioned of the rest of the world. The novel is also dated in that it was written pre-internet and with modern social networking, the big plague cover-up would be harder to achieve now. That said, it remains a truly great story that involves the reader on an emotional level throughout, as well as making for a mighty fine adventure story. If you only read one Stephen King book then let this be the one.

Easily the best Stephen King book I have read.It has the familiar ordinary people with plausible back stories thrown into extraordinary circumstances, which bring out the very best and very worst in them. King decides to kill off 99.6% of the world’s population and broadly divide the survivors into ordinary folk who are drawn to a seemingly benevolent force and (mostly) ordinary folk drawn to a seemingly malign force. Who makes a better fist of things?

I won’t give any clues as to what happens next except to say storms of unpleasantness ensue, and it boils down to a battle of well-meaning people with free will on one side and weak-willed people being coerced by evil on the other. Ultimately, it asks the question of where would you stand in all this? Would you be strong enough to even take a stand?

The author has drawn up an impressive ensemble cast for this epic work with the good people led by a dependable man from East Texas, a feckless musician, a naive young mother-to-be, an aging academic and a deaf-mute drifter, all guided by a seemingly messianic 108 year old woman. The dark side are a mob of mostly ordinary types, but under the thumb of a demonic terror who haunts the dreams of the survivors, aided by a reluctantly cannibalistic thief and murderer and an insane arsonist with an eye for the spectacular.

stephen-king-stand-movie-director

Somewhere in between there are people unhappy with their lot. They shift between the two sides. It’s a story of hope, betrayal, friendship, love, loss and jealousy against the backdrop of a seemingly deserted world where anything can happen as everything is just lying around waiting to be picked up; food, booze, resources, houses, cars, toys, guns, atom bombs…. Stephen King effectively gives his cast the chance to wipe the slate clean and some characters do that, but they tend to be the ones who turn to the dark side. Meanwhile, the ones who carry the past with them and acknowledge their failings (while seeking to atone for them as well) are the ones who try to do the right thing.

The male characters are better drawn than the female ones on the whole, in fact the female characters were a bit of a drag at times, but for the most part the characters are the real heart of this book. One major drawback to reading this in 2015 is that this type of post-apocalyptic structure, which was still fresh back in 1978 when King wrote this, is now considered almost run of the mill and ‘samey’: a lethal virus, loss, confusion, banding together with fellow previously unknown survivors who become involved with each other, set-backs on the journey, rebuilding a community etc.

Other novels have come along since, like Justin Cronin’s  The Passage, to knock The Stand off its lofty perch. There have been some critics who accused King of helping himself to some of the Lord Of The Rings and Day Of The Triffids plot mechanics but that is harsh. Very few writers can be 100% original. Even Bram Stoker had to dip into other people’s creativity to bring “Dracula” alive. Finally, there is only one way I can end this review – by quoting the tagline used to entice the public to the book – the end of the world was just the beginning.

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Comments

  1. Excellent review! I’ll be sure to check this one out (my only foray into King’s books so far has been “The Shining”). 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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