The Stephen King Project – The Stand (1978)
About the project
I will be reading all of Stephen King’s books in order of publication (with the exception of The Dark Tower series which I will read together, at the end of this adventure) and writing a review of each. I’ll be looking at the recurring themes, the tricks he likes to use, the way he develops character and the way that his craft has evolved in the 44 years sinceCarrie was first published.
When Stephen King first handed in The Stand to Doubleday, he was informed that it was too long. The book would be too expensive to print, and the price would put readers off. Four hundred pages had to be cut, and he was given the option to do the cutting himself or to have the editorial team take care of it. King decided to do the cutting himself and in his own words, some of those pages deserved to be on the cutting room floor. However, a lot of them added to the story and in 1990, when his name would sell any length of book, he was able to re-release The Stand with much of the deleted material put back where it belonged.
I read this complete and uncut edition for this project. In fact, I’ve never read the version that was originally released in 1978. It’s possible that I will at some point, just out of curiosity, but I do love an epic story and suspect I wouldn’t enjoy the shortened version as much.
For many of King’s Constant Readers, The Stand is their favourite of his many novels. It’s not mine, although it would definitely make my top ten. The Dark Tower, Insomnia and IT all beat The Stand for me.
The Stand tells the story of the end of the world as we know it. When a secret government lab has a brief computer malfunction, a deadly disease is released into America, spreading at a devastating rate. The first half of the book follows some of the key characters as they deal with the world ending around them. Stu Redman, one of the first people to be exposed to the disease known as Tube Neck in some places and Captain Trips in others; Franny Goldsmith, a young woman in the family way; Larry Underwood, who “ain’t no nice guy,” and Nick Andros, my own favourite character.
It’s hardly a surprise that the government take steps to cover up their mistake – steps that only serve to make the situation so much worse. Reading this section, I really wanted to be able to think it would never happen like this. People would do the right thing. But, of course, we all know that it probably would happen exactly like that. For me, that’s the true horror of this book. Not the Lincoln Tunnel, which Larry has to negotiate in the dark, climbing over corpses, not the Walkin’ Dude and all of his horrendous acts or even the Trashcan Man. It’s the fact that the end of the world is so very believable.
In a matter of weeks, civilisation collapses and life as we know it is over.
The second half of the book follows our key characters as they each make a journey, searching for other survivors and eventually, Mother Abigail or Randall Flagg, according to their nature. There’s a period of recovery, of gathering together and resetting, but the final confrontation between good and evil is still to come.
I have heard people complain about the end of the book and, although I don’t want to say too much about it in case any of you haven’t read it yet, I do not share their dislike of it. Although it did break my heart a little. King is very skilled at that particular trick.
I love The Stand. I love the sheer scale of it. I love how real the characters are, as in pretty much all of King’s work. I love the realism of the disease and the aftermath. I mourned for the characters who died, and even found myself foolishly hoping that the plot had changed somehow from the last time that I read it. When I finished the book, I was sad it was over and wished that I could stay with them just a little longer.
The Stand has themes that continue through much of King’s work. Stu Redman is the good, reliable everyman that appears is many of King’s books. Quietly doing what needs to be done without complaint. The struggle between good and evil, and the fact that the struggle is never really over. The sacrifice made by good people, to save others who may or may not deserve such a chance.
The threads that run through The Stand which echoed most strongly with me, were the ones that link to The Dark Tower. The most obvious one is the presence of Randall Flagg, the man in black who Roland pursued across the desert. The Walkin’ Dude has a mysterious past that he can’t remember and it’s clear that he may not even be human. He dances in and out of other stories and is a brilliantly drawn villain. It’s important to note that Flagg sets himself up in the west, where failed gunslingers and disgraced citizens of Gilead go. This is an important and recurring theme throughout The Dark Tower.
We also see the seeds of some of the other elements of the tower; Mother Abigail says that ‘all things serve the Lord’, while in The Dark Tower we hear that ‘all things serve the beam’. Reference is made in The Stand to ‘a stone, a leaf, an unfound door’ something that later became an important plot point in the later books of The Dark Tower.
During The Stand, there are also nods to Tommyknockers (a western ‘by that woman up in Haven’) and The Shining (someone is described as having ‘the shining lamp of God, or just The Shine). I love the way that so many of King’s books interact with each other.
The Stand is a brilliant book and you should absolutely read it. You might want to clear your schedule for a while first though – once you pick it up, it’s really hard to put down again.
The next book on this read through is The Long Walk, the first of the Bachman books to be published. I’m looking forward to reading it as it may be one of the only books that I haven’t read before. Or if I have read it, then it was long enough ago that I don’t remember much about it. Unfortunately, it will have to wait for a while as I have edits due on my own work that’s going to keep me busy as well as a secret project that I can’t talk about yet. Plus, a family holiday. So, you’ve got plenty of time to find a copy and read along with me!