This is my Sunday with… “The Stand”!
It is the dream of every writer to create something that is not only beloved, but regarded as a classic. Stephen King has been blessed to have put out several of these, however, in the eyes of most fans one story STANDS out above the rest. It is a sprawling tale that travels the landscape of the United States, leaving scorched earth and dead characters in its wake. It is a classic tale of enduring good versus seemingly insurmountable evil.
“The Stand” was first released in 1978 and is actually the continuation of a short story King wrote titled “Night Surf.” The Stand is the standard in which all other post apocalyptic stories strive to be. This particular work has been released several times, with a huge unabridged version of well over 1000 pages in 1990. The Stand is one of the most beloved, cherished works of horror fiction ever written; it had seen a made for tv adaption, as well as a series of graphic novels released by Marvel comics.
The story itself is broken up into three parts, beginning with the release of a weaponized strain of a superflu as it rampages its way thru the US. With the spread of Captain Trips (one of the many names the flu is given) we are introduced to several of the main characters scattered throughout the states. As the flu worsens we begin to see the dark side of the human condition as the thoughts of community and helping others are quickly thrown away for the needs of the individual. Rioting and murder quickly takes over and it is here where we are introduced to the underlying theme of the book and that is good versus evil. King beautifully and violently takes us through societies complete breakdown through the narratives of these main characters. As with most King books, the theme of government violence and shadowy operations is in the forefront. The flu itself comes from an army basement and in the initial stages of its spreading we see how the government attempts to go into damage control, not being honest about what has been unleashed. As society crumbles, we see martial law being established as the army uses violent means to attempt to regain control. On top of that we also see some of the survivors rounded up and somewhat experimented on in an attempt to find a cure. When it is all said and done 99.4% of the population has died, leaving the survivors to embark on their own journey, one that is more arduous than surviving Captain Trips.
It is the second act where the story really takes off as the survivors start having vivid dreams. Mother Abigail, is 108 years old and is appearing in the dreams of the survivors, inviting them to join her at Hemingford home in Nebraska. It is a struggle to reach Mother Abigail, but when they do that is only the start of their journey. Mother Abigail directs her clan to Boulder Colorado to establish a democratic “free zone.” Mother Abigail becomes the survivors “spiritual leader” as she preaches peace, acceptance, and love for the survivors. The opposite of her is Randall Flagg. Flagg is a supernatural presence who is the stark opposite of the free zoners. He is a tyrannical, violent being who uses torture and fear to rally his supporters. His final base of operations is Sin City itself, Las Vegas (perfect). From there we see the characters inner and outer turmoil as the good and just must make their final “stand” (see what I did there) against Flagg and his tyrannical followers. This book is full of plot points and twists and turns it would be unfair for me to even attempt to get into the whole thing, however this was the main spark notes version!
The scope of this novel is huge and deeply entwined within are several thought provoking characters and themes that often call King’s work home. As with IT, the characters themselves often embody certain traits or aspects that provide a deeper understanding in the world of the book. The biggest example of this for me was Harold Lauder. In the book, he is a 16 year old, however in the adaptation he is an adult. Harold is a social outcast before society breaks down, but falls in love with Fran Goldsmith. She’s kind to him but often laughs off his advances. After the flu devastates their town, Harold and Fran are the sole survivors and thus stick together as they make their journey. Harold takes this as a responsibility to become Fran’s protector, and actually gives him a purpose. As they start to meet other survivors, it isn’t long until Stu Redman and Fran develop a relationship. This leaves Harold not only heartbroken, but without a purpose. This opens him up to the seduction of Flagg. Harold embodies self doubt and it is his character arc that I found one of the most intriguing. He starts as an awkward kind teen, or man depending on what your medium is, and is transformed into a double crossing monster. This is only one example of King’s mastery over his characters and how gripping their stories and evolutions are to readers.
The theme of self doubt is only one, the book also deals with the previously mentioned uneasiness with the government, but above all it comes down to good versus evil and what you are willing to make a stand for. The idea of good versus evil is often intertwined with the biblical idea of good and evil. There are many references to this as Mother Abigail is essentially a Jesus Christ figure. Several times throughout we see her praying to God about how her being this “messiah” is almost unfair. She puts herself into exile as a test, much like Jesus in the desert; in the end they both return with a deeper understanding and purpose as to what their purpose is. On the other hand, we have Flagg – he is not the devil, but he is a supernatural evil being. He preys on people’s base desires (sex, freedom, power) to use them for his purpose. He is a liar and a deceiver and uses his flash to draw people in. In the end the “good” deal with unbearable pain and suffering but their sacrifice ends the evil threat and opens up the rest of the world’s survivors a safe place to restart. As with most ancient religious texts good triumphs over evil. The phrase the meek shall inherit the earth is also perfect for this as in the end the survivors are mostly made up of people who do not fit the “survival of the fittest” motif.
The only screen adaptation of The Stand was a made for tv event that debuted on ABC in 1994. While this interpretation will always be remembered for some of its cringeworthy graphics, especially during the climax, this actually sported a large talented cast including Gary Sinise, Rob Lowe, Ed Harris, Molly Ringwald, Ossie Davis and others. Jamey Sheridan does an amazing job as Flagg, but it is Bill Fagerbakke (yes the voice of Patrick Star) who steals the show as my personal favorite character, Tom Cullen. As with IT, the tv format could not really scratch the surface of this book, but for what it was, I found it to be an enjoyable and mostly faithful adaptation of this work. The idea of a big screen adaptation has been thrown around since the early 80’s, however it never really gains traction. Hopefully with the upcoming IT and Dark Tower films, The Stand can finally gain traction as a big screen release; hell I’d even love a Netflix series!
With The Stand, Stephen King took on (and surpassed in my opinion) the sprawling epic, much in the same vein as Frodo and his quest to Mount Doom. This is an amazingly layered, scary, and heartfelt journey that every reader will enjoy. Admittedly it is an intimidating task to undertake, but the rewards are sweet. It is no mistake that The Stand often finds itself atop best of lists of all kind as it is an absolute classic that will be held in regards as not only one of the best horror stories of all time, but also one of the best stories of all time period.
(Rob Texter – GrundyXII)