M-O-O-N Spells My Year of King #4-The Stand, Laws yes!

Monday, April 09, 2018

Clearly, my Year of King is going to turn into my Year or Two or Three of King, but so far my rereading experience has been worth it, so I'll stick with it as long as it takes!

The fourth book to be published by Stephen King (and I mean by the actual person, not by one or the other of his pen names) is one of my favorite books ever, a book that I have on my "Books You Should Read Before You Die" list, the only Stephen King book to give me nightmares. The Stand is, I think, an underrated masterpiece of the 20th century, and should have been on every "best of" list created. I think it is probably underrated because King is considered a "genre writer", and literary snobs love to hate on genre books, especially fantasy and horror (hey, lit snobs, you do know that realistic fiction is also a genre, right?!?). First published in 1978 and clocking in at a whopping 883 pages, it was republished in 1990 in its unabridged form, bringing the page total up to a whopping 1152 pages. This makes it King's longest book; good news for me since his other doorstop novels should feel shorter by comparison. I have read both versions multiple times-I read the original in high school two or three times, and the uncut version in college at least twice-which also makes this my most frequently read King book.

In case you don't know, The Stand is a story of good and evil. After a plague created as a biological weapon escapes the lab, killing 90% of the world's population, the survivors find themselves drawn to one of two places. Those drawn to Hemingford Home, Kansas are hoping to find Mother Abigail, the 108-year-old woman who has shown up in their dreams, and who believes herself to be a prophet of the Lord, sent to defeat the "walking dude". The Walking Dude, Randall Flagg, sets himself up in Las Vegas, and those drawn to him are the violent, the selfish, the deranged, and the greedy. Mother Abigail and our heroes-Larry Underwood, Ralph Brentner, Stuart Redman, Frannie Goldsmith, Nick Andros, Glen Bateman, and Tom Cullen-relocate from Kansas to Boulder, Colorado and start rebuilding society. Flagg's followers, in Las Vegas, soon have the city up and running, and begin to collect as many weapons as they can find. Flagg rules through fear, while Mother Abigail's power comes from love. Flagg is determined to control the entire world. Mother Abigail and her people only want to build a new society that doesn't repeat the mistakes of the last one, and they know that eliminating the threat of Flagg's ambition is the only way they will survive.

Book I details the plague and its immediate aftermath. This is when we are introduced to almost all of the main characters, including Flagg and his future minions. This is the part of the book that gave me nightmares. I don't believe that evil is an actual real force in the world that somehow resides in beings like the devil or Randall Flagg, so that part wasn't scary to me. But, do I believe that humans could create a biological or ecological disaster that could wipe out most of the Earth's human population? You betcha! My nightmares usually took the form of me wandering around the ruins of human settlements, big and small, desperately crying out for someone, anyone, to respond. Honestly, the loneliness of being the last human alive is way more terrifying to me than some evil villain.

Book II is all about the creation of the Boulder Free Zone, the betrayal of a couple of major characters, and the set up for the final showdown. To be honest, this time around I skimmed A LOT of Book II. I remember being interested in the rebuilding society thing the first couple of time I read this book, but this time I really just wanted to get back to the action, already! Truth is, King's original editors were probably correct in their decision to cut those 400 pages, though things like the prologue and Trashcan Man's backstory did add to the plot in important ways. If you decide to read this for the first time, don't worry-after about page 850 things pick up again in a major way.

Book III is the journey of our heroes to confront Flagg, and the final showdown. Without giving too much away let's just say that some characters get much-needed redemption, some characters die tragic deaths, and some characters receive what may well have been divine intervention. Not that it's hard to make me cry, but tears were shed during the last 150 pages, just as they have been every time I've read this book.

This is the first appearance of Randall Flagg, the walking dude, the hardcase, the personification of evil, but it is certainly not the last. Randall Flagg appears, either by mention or as a named character, in many King novels and short stories. Most importantly, he becomes the "man in black" that the gunslinger Roland Deschain chases across the desert in The Dark Tower series. Fans of the show Haven will have seen his name on a newspaper in the opening credits. Whenever Randall Flagg appears, death and destruction are sure to follow. He is the personification of the evil that connects many King books, and constant readers (as King calls those of us who read and reread and read again his books) know that in many ways, King's books are all long chapters in this ultimate story of good and evil that he's been telling for 40 years.

After The Stand, King starts to be more intentional in his addition of "Easter eggs" in his novels and short stories. One of the things I love about reading a King book is finding those mentions of other characters, fictional places, events, and storylines; it feels like a reward for the many, many, MANY pages of King's work I've read over the years.

I am glad to say that I still love this book as much as I ever did (even Book II). King really hits his character-developing stride with this particular cast of characters, especially Harold Lauder and Nadine Cross's characters. They are perfect examples of something King explores in various ways in most of his books-the idea that all of us have good and evil inside of us, and it is this internal struggle that must be won if we want to stay on the side of all that is right and moral in the world. He created one of my very favorite characters of all time, Tom Cullen, the cognitively disabled young man who is really the heart of the story. His worldbuilding is also improving, though the clunkiness of some of Book II proves that he's still got some growing to do in that regard.

The one thing I am noticing most so far rereading these books is how much the language in common use around issues of identity has changed from the 1970s and 80s until now. Tom Cullen is a good example. He is described as "mentally retarded", and the not-so-nice characters call him a "retard". This is not the language we would use any more for people with cognitive or intellectual disabilities, but it certainly was the appropriate term when the book was written. Ditto words like "scag", "fag", etc...King always uses the vernacular of the time when writing his characters-it makes them seem more authentic. However, it does mean that some of this dialogue doesn't really stand the test of time. I ended up feeling uncomfortable for reasons that had nothing to do with what was actually happening in the story, even though intellectually I understood why that word was used the way it was. This is not, however, enough to keep me from continuing with this journey through King's oevre. Next up, The Long Walk, a dystopian novel he wrote as Richard Bachman.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Penny for your thoughts...