Stephen King is one of my favorite authors. Many people have him pigeonholed as a horror author (with books like It, I could see why). The Stand was a different beast entirely. This stringently follows a three act structure, so when taken as a whole, it’s hard to believe how much has happened and changed from beginning to end.
The book follows several characters spread across the U.S., with each chapter following a different one. There’s Stuart Redman, a good ol’ boy from Texas; Frannie Goldsmith, a pregnant college student; Harold Lauder, a 16 year old intelligent and insecure overweight boy; Larry Underwood, a drug addled one-hit wonder musician; Nick Andros, a very smart mute and deaf young man; “Trashcan Man”, a schizophrenic pyromaniac with a penchant for setting trash on fire; and of course, Randall Flagg, the Walkin’ Dude. Every character is amazingly crafted with their own voice. As you learn about their personalities, it’s easy to understand or even identify with most. Some are just flippin’ nuts.
The prologue shows a guard grabbing his family to escape a military base with his family before it’s locked down. Eventually it’s revealed that a weaponized superflu was being developed at the base. Due to mishandling, the virus escaped, killing everyone on the base. This infected guard fled, spreading the highly contagious. Dubbed Captain Trips, the virus easily made it’s way across the country. All but 0.5% of the populace was unaffected, and contagion was a guaranteed death sentence.
After the virus took it’s toll, spiritual elements came into play. Mother Abagail, a 108 year old woman living in Nebraska, has visions that convince her she is a prophet for god. Many of the survivors like Frannie and Stuart dream of her, becoming drawn to her. A few make it to Nebraska, before collecting her and moving on to Boulder, Colorado. This becomes the camp for the “good guys”. Meanwhile, Flagg begins gathering forces of his own in Las Vegas. The Trashcan Man, and many other wayward souls are drawn to him. Flagg becomes the figurehead for ‘evil’, and is hinted at being from another world, the personification of the antichrist.
The final act has Stuart, Larry, Glen Bateman, Ralph Brentner, and Kojak the Irish Setter go to confront Flagg in Vegas. Sent by God, they travel on foot, and bring no supplies. Stu falls and breaks his leg while traveling. He and Kojak stay behind while the three continue. When they reach Vegas, they are brought to the town square, in front of the denizens. In what I thought was a deus ex machina moment, Trashcan Man returns from his desert scavenging with a nuclear bomb. It blows and kills them all. The rest of the book is about Stu making it home with a broken leg. Oh, and Flagg washes ashore in Africa.
What I like best is the scope of this book. So much happens and changes on such a large scale. By the end, I almost forgot about Captain Trips. That doesn’t mean it was bad story telling, it was more like 3 stories wrapped into one. I did have some problems with the ending. It was built up to be this triumphant moment for humanity, but fell flat. These three were fighting for us all by just showing up and saying “no”. The introduction of the bomb was just a wildcard that would have happened without their presence.
There is an unabridged version of the book, clocking in at 1152 pages, with much of the deleted material restored. Along with some changes like updating the timeframe to 1990. This book is one of, if not the longest of King’s. As for the Dark Towers connection, Flagg is one of the many names a Tower’s character goes by, claiming credit for “destroying one world.” Book 4, Wizard and Glass, has the ka-tet stumbling into this world after the plague. While the group stops to camp, Roland tells a story from his childhood.
In 1994 there was a tv mini-series of The Stand, running 8 hours. Rob Lowe and Molly Ringwald starred. Seriously, don’t. I mean it. Don’t. After the success of adapting and creating Dark Tower comics, Marvel released the entire series in comic form. The story came as a set of 6, 5 issue mini-series, chronicling the tale. Taking nearly 4 years to complete, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (writer) and Mike Perkins (artist), did the entire project, maintaining an excellent level of quality throughout. If you don’t have time to read the 1000 page tomb, this is a very viable option.
What did you think of the ending? What’s your favorite Stephen King book? Comment below!
“bumpty, bumpty, bump! My life for you!”