If you’re a fan of this blog, chances are decent that you’re also a fan of Stephen King’s The Stand. But if for some reason you haven’t ever read it, here’s a guest post by Lazarus of Lazarus’ Lair doing his part to explain why you should.
The Stand (The Complete & Uncut Edition) –
Stephen King (1990)
Initially released as a 500 odd page novel in 1978, Stephen King had always been dismayed that his original manuscript for The Stand had to be self edited down to almost half it’s size to placate both his publisher and even the bookbinding process available for mass market books at the time. It stuck in his craw for some time and having achieved near godlike status in the publishing world in the following years he was finally able to exert his clout to have the novel published as originally intended, now coming in at staggering 1152 pages.
As I’ve explained in prior reviews of King books in the last few years (see my reviews for Different Seasons, and The Colorado Kid), I’ve only joined the Stephen King bandwagon recently after not being all that enthralled with some of his earlier novels. But with such an expansive bibliography spanning over 30 years, I tried to cull my King “to read” list based on reviews and fan based commentary to extract those novels that stand (pun intended) above others. The almost unanimous consensus seemed to be that The Stand was his best effort, at least from a novel length point of view.
But even reading those glowing reviews, I could see that there was yet another question that needed to be resolved. Even among those who praised the novel there were two distinct (and as far as I could tell equally numbered) camps. Those siding with the trimmed down early print, and those who swore by the recombined “Complete & Uncut Edition” publication. So I had to decide which one to read, the original release or the brick?
In the end I opted for ‘the brick’ thinking that I would at least not be forever troubled by doubts of having missed anything if ended up loving the book.
This is a post apocalyptic tale of a world ravaged by a man made flu strain which results in a survival rate of less than 1%. The first part of the novel covers the initial release and spread featuring both characters that will be around for the long haul and a number that soon die. Those that do make it are mostly in shock, but eventually small groups of survivors begin to congregate and figure out what to do in this new world. But it isn’t as simple as trying to survive in the new ravaged world. A more ominous tone of the story starts off via common dreams shared by everyone. The dreams include the presence of two vague characters, each urging the survivors to go to particular destinations. One dream character is a very old black woman named Abigail, a bible thumping, hardworking good soul, but already at death’s doorstep in her eighties.The other is a shady figure of a man, but hardly any detail can be made out of him other than the fact that he permeates evil. It seems that the people must decide which to follow and most people head off in one direction or the other, Boulder Colorado for Abigail or Las Vegas Nevada (natch!) for the shady character. It is in this section of the novel as we experience everyone’s initial survival tales that we determine the well intentioned characters as well as the select evil’ people from their (often grislier) debuts in the new world order.
The second part of the novel concentrates on the rebirth of Boulder city as all the main characters pile in and become the nucleus of the committee formed to get the city up an running again, striving for as close a ‘normal’ way of life as they can. Ignored at first, the committee ultimately has to decide what to do about those dark forces brewing out in Vegas.
The novel is basically split into an ‘us vs. them’ mentality. Good vs Evil in it’s most basic form. And the conflict isn’t simply cast along the lines of the two groups as we are teased into questioning where the true allegiances lie for some of the characters. Even the climax does not confine itself to having one side win over the other, but whether mankind is to survive at all.
Not always the case with King, but the strength of this novel rides on the great array and diversity of the characters. Aside from those that are clearly Alpha leaders, we also have a simpleton, a deaf-mute, a pimply faced outcast kid and and a habitual criminal and pyro freak (guess which camp he falls in with?) as just some examples. Best of all is that you really never know when someone is going to die and while I won’t spoil it for anyone I will say that some characters that feature prominently in the novel do meet their maker before the end.
I’d also like to add that the novel is a very easy read even with so many characters and there was little if any confusion among the many players. Once again I credit to King for creating such great, and thus memorable, characters.
So is it really King’s best novel? It was for me. Although I would recommend some of his shorter stories if you want the best King, period. As for whether I was right in opting for the brick instead of the shorter version, I cannot say for sure. But I can say that I found no trouble reading the entire book so I’m just glad I did.
You can read more of Lazarus’ book and movie reviews at LasrusLair.Wordpress.com.