Before I start, I feel it necessary that you know a couple of things about The Stand and me.
Firstly, The Stand is my favourite Stephen King book and I have read it now either five or six times. It is my favourite Stephen King book; not necessarily, in my opinion, his best book (the answer to that is a constant change for me); it isn’t his scariest book (that’s Pet Semetary); it’s not my favourite book (probably Matilda by Roald Dahl); and it’s not the best book I’ve ever read (a tough one, but you can’t be too far off with The Road by Cormac McCarthy). But it is my favourite Stephen King book, and one I return to again and again and my enjoyment is never diminished.
The other thing is that The Stand I am referring to is The Complete and Uncut edition; this edition was released in 1990, 12 years after the original book. I have not read the original release, but from what I can gather, the new edition contains material originally cut from the earlier edition as it was perceived too long at the time. Stephen King also updates the setting of the story from its original 1980 to 1990 along with some popular cultural references.
I first time I read The Stand was probably in 1995, I don’t remember the exact year but I should think it was then as my obsession with anything King had written was in by then in full flow. The Stand is a big novel, and not just in the number of pages; the scope of the book is huge with a large array of characters juggled together over the course of the book. The story itself is split into three distinctive parts – I think that if The Stand were to be published now, there would have been a temptation (not necessarily by King) to publish as a trilogy. I think that The Stand is King’s most ambitious book, a single volume that oversees the impact of a true pandemic and the inevitable decline of humanity that subsequently ensues…
But that isn’t just what The Stand is about. At the very start of the book a super-flu virus is leaked out to the world and starts to rapidly spread across America; within a month or two the population has been reduced by more than 99% and the story follows the survivors.
Throughout the first half of the novel we meet the survivors, following their experiences and stories. Then the novel shifts subtlety; the survivors start to gather together in one of two places. Mother Abigail on one side, she represents the side of good, the side of God. The other side will be led by Randall Flagg, AKA The Dark Man, AKA The Walkin’ Dude. The Stand then becomes a story led by a very basic premise – that is that The Stand is about ‘Good vs Evil’. I like that this simple trope is the background and underpinning of this huge and hugely complex story. King manages to blur the lines of these two groups of people so well too; the people on the ‘good’ side are not infallible, and the people on the ‘bad’ side are not all inherently evil. The power King has to create empathy within the reader for all the characters is quite remarkable, when I was reading I found I could relate to characters on both sides of this story.
What I think is the most outstanding thing about this novel is the characters it portrays. King concentrates the reader’s attention on a minority of key players, but there are many more on the periphery of the story at all times. I think it is also a testament to how well the characters are written that the reader follows some of them for more than a thousand pages. Whether the characters were good or bad, I felt strongly for them, and wanted to get to know them better. Even though I knew what was going to happen to each of the story’s main players, I still wanted more, and despite the multiple reads, I still felt that I did get more. From Stu’s time in Stovington, to Nick’s experience in Shoyo, and on to Lloyd’s story after arriving in Las Vegas – all of these parts of the story were greatly enhanced for me after multiple visits.
Overall The Stand is a book that draws you in quick, builds the characters slowly, and then brings them together for a grand finale. All of this taking place across the sweeping vast background of a country at its knees. The Stand is about ‘Good vs Evil’, and it is about ‘What happens to a nation when it’s population is near wiped out’; but, it is really about a group of people trying to do the right thing unselfishly. I will return to The Stand again and again I am sure, and I would urge others to embark on this great journey of a book…
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