Stephen King Overview: The Stand

Entertainment writer Oliver Barnfield has taken on the mammoth task of reading as many Stephen King books as possible. Today he looks at Kings Lord of the Rings.

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Stephen King Overview: The Stand

THE GREAT STEPHEN KING OVERVIEW PART 3: The Stand

The Stand is considered one of Stephen King’s greatest and most frustrating works, owing mostly to its length. (The Uncut edition runs over 1,000 pages, doubling as a doorstop.) It’s renowned for its epic scope and disturbing and depraved imagery, but also infamous for its terrible ending and sometimes racist ideologies. So without much further ado, let’s take a deep dive into Stephen Kings longest, and some say greatest, book.

NOTE: For this review, I only read the original published version, as this is how it was read upon publication. From what I gather, this version changes the time frame and adds in some more gross scenes of Trashcan Man being violated, so no great loss.

The Stand was written after King saw a news clipping about a chemical stronger than Agent Orange being spilled from a truck and into the ground in Utah. The article said that, had the wind been stronger, the chemical would have flown into the nearby town. He was haunted by this story and would write a short story called Night Surf. It’s about a group of teens in the aftermath of the disease and its one of my personal favorite stories of King’s. He expanded the story into a full novel. This would eventually become The Stand.

Before writing the book, King had begun to write a book about Patty Hearst, and he became enamored with Donald DeFreeze, Heart’s kidnapper. After seeing a picture of DeFreeze in a newspaper clipping, King was inspired to create Randall Flagg. King was captivated by the dark expression on the man’s face. He even references DeFreeze in Chapter 17 and talks about Flagg interacting with him. He combined this with the Dugway Incident and his Night Surf story and set out to write his magnum opus, a book which he likened to “an American Lord of the Rings.”

The novel utilizes an interesting structure, similar to that of ‘Salem’s Lot, an earlier King novel. Each chapter takes on a different perspective, keeping the storyline interesting and showing us different sides of the apocalypse and how people reacted. So it makes sense that when the novel abandons this style of writing, it falters. The first half of the book is excellent. Each character is so interesting, and there is something enjoyable in each character’s story. I found Stu Redman’s escape from the facility and Larry Underwood’s terrifying trek through the Lincoln Tunnel to be very effective, in particular, the Lincoln Tunnel scene. It’s one of the most horrifying passages of writing I’ve read, with Larry going through the darkened tunnel crowded with cars, knowing that each one contains a rotting body. Scarring stuff.

Eventually, all the characters arrive in Boulder, and it’s here that things go sour. The best parts of the book have been the creepy descriptions of the bodies and the ruined state of the world. But now that all the principal cast is in the same location, things become pretty bland. The leads start a committee to do the decision making around the town, and these scenes are painfully dull and have no bearing on the plot.

The best parts of these Boulder scenes is seeing into the mind of Harold Lauder, who has become more and more paranoid and is slowly turning to the dark side. King later said that during this time of writing the book, he was stuck in a rut, and so he created the idea of 4 characters going into Las Vegas to kill Flagg. It is here that the book picks up the pace again. We actually see what life is like in Vegas for the freaks and low lives of the world. But oddly, this only occurs a 4th of the way into the novel, and frankly, it happens out of nowhere. Why couldn’t he have sprinkled these scenes in with the rest of the story? They definitely would have spiced the story up quite a bit and would have alleviated the monotony of the city council plotline.

As I said before, the 4 characters head to Vegas to kill Flagg, which leads to one of the worst endings in King’s catalog, one that leaves a sour taste in mine, and many others, mouth. Ralph and Larry arrive in Vegas only to be captured inside cages overlooking most of the Vegas characters so far. The whole book has been leading up to this moment and was expecting a battle of epic proportions. But itś not to be. Trashcan Man moseys into Vegas with an A-Bomb, and then the ¨Hand of God¨ comes down. This is a stupid plot device that is never brought up before this. And then everyone dies.

Only 3 main characters survive in the end, and Flagg disappears right before the explosion happens, making him basically nonexistent in the ending. This gem of a book deserved a more satisfying ending, especially because of the excellent beginning. I’ve already created a more optimal one in my head, one involving Harold Lauder saving Larry Underwood. Stu Redman and Frannie, the two main survivors of the A-Bomb, are the most boring characters in the book.

The Stand’s first half is excellent, being some excellent storytelling that tops both The Shining and The Dead Zone. But when it enters the second half, the book goes far downhill from the fantastic and terrifying first half. It picks up again eventually, and then crashes and burns with the climax.

Overall, I suppose I would recommend The Stand to someone, as it’s first half is nothing but pure greatness. But the ending leaves a lot to be desired, like most of King’s books.

What’s to Come?

As of this writing, I have read these King books (in order)

‘Salems Lot

Night Shift

The Shining

Skeleton Crew

The Dead Zone

Nightmares and Dreamscapes

The Long Walk

Cycle of the Werewolf

So far my favorite is either The Dead Zone or maybe the first half of The Stand. Next I’ll be diving into Pet Semetary. I recently got a collection of King books, so I might read those after. These include It, The Tommyknockers, Different Seasons, The Bachman Books, Desperation, Thinner, and Misery. I’ve got a lot to look forward to, so wish me luck.