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August 19, 2014 1:31 PM   Subscribe

Things That Don't Suck, Some Notes on The Stand
I recently reread The Stand for no particular reason other than I felt like it. I'm honestly not sure how many time[s] I've read it at this point, more than three, less than a half dozen (though I can clearly remember my first visit to that horrifyingly stripped bare world as I can remember the first reading of all the truly great King stories). It's not my favorite of King's work, but it is arguably his most richly and completely imagined. It truly is the American Lord of The Rings, with the concerns of England (Pastorialism vs. Industrialism, Germany's tendency to try and blow it up every thirty years or so) replaced by those of America (Religion, the omnipresent struggle between our liberal and libertarian ideals, our fear of and dependence on the military, racial and gender tension) and given harrowing size.

I'm happy to say that The Stand holds up well past the bounds of nostalgia and revisiting the world and these characters was as pleasurable as ever. But you can't step in the same river twice, even when you're revisiting a favorite book. Even if the river hasn't changed you have. This isn't meant as any kind of comprehensive essay on The Stand. Just a couple of things I noticed upon dipping my toes in the river this time.

[Spoiler alert: assume everything, from the link above to those below, contains SPOILERS.]

Analysis of Harold from "The Stand" / Analysis of Larry from "The Stand"

"Stephen King's The Stand: What a Long, Strange Captain Trips It's Been," by Suzanne Johnson at Tor.com, outlines the cultural landscape in America prior to its publication:
Stephen King's The Stand was not the first dystopian novel, but for a generation of young adult post-Baby Boomers, it was our Hunger Games trilogy rolled into one extremely large package—part apocalypse, part morality tale, part soap opera. The Stand also is arguably the first modern dystopia novel, a product of complex social changes that remain relevant despite the book's ripe old age of 33.

Those of us who were kids or young adults when The Stand was released had grown up in a sanitized, self-consciously innocent America. Vietnam was long gone, Watergate had reinforced a systemic distrust of politicians, and the Cold War drills were no more than quaint tales our parents and older siblings told. Our world of disco and polyester symbolized the slick, emotionless happy zone that was America.
In "The Great Stephen King Reread: The Stand," another Tor piece, Grady Hendrix provides excellent insight into the creative struggle behind the book, which King described as "my very own Vietnam". It also touches upon the Patty Hearst connection. But the introductory paragraph underscores the first thing potential readers will notice:
The Stand was a landmark book for Stephen King, and not just because it's the approximate size and weight of an actual landmark. It was the book that ended his contract with Doubleday and landed him his first agent, turning Stephen King from rich author into a very, very rich author. But, more importantly from a writing point of view, there is one detail that made it tower above everything else Stephen King had written up until that point, one factor that made The Stand special. And that factor? Simple: it was long. M-O-O-N long. And that’s more important than you might think.
The book is ambitious, perhaps the most ambitious of Stephen King's career - and a commitment of reading time.

50 reasons to love Stephen KingToronto Star Newspaper

James Smythe at The Guardian (previously) discusses how personal this book is for him:
The Stand – the original version of it, something I'll talk about later – was published in 1978. I read it 16 years after that. I can remember the time and place: on holiday in Turkey with my family. I can remember that the copy I had was already falling apart, because it was enormous, and the binding wasn't made to be opened, I don't think. The glue melted as I read the thing; page by page, it fell apart. While I knew I loved King before that holiday, afterwards I'd have followed him to hell and back. It's because of The Stand that I've read all his work, and that I embarked on this series; it's because of The Stand that I'm a writer at all. And because of all this, I don't really know where to start writing about it.
HorrorMovies.ca reports that, as of June 8th, 2014, Josh Boone may be the director Warner Brothers selects for a film of the novel. Boone may be an appropriate choice for his talent, but there's also this cute antecdote:
Stephen King has a long rooted connection with Josh Boone which may or may not explain how he got a helping hand into the directors chair in the first place. As a tween his mother found his disguised copy of The Stand and burned it. In response Josh wrote to Stephen King who in turn mailed him signed copies of his books.
Joshua Rothman (The New Yorker, previously) looks at another Stephen King book published last year, Doctor Sleep, and reflects on the categorization of King in "What Stephen King Isn't":
"Doctor Sleep" underscores an interesting fact about King: he's not really, or not exclusively, a horror writer. If there were a Stephen King Plot Generator somewhere out there on the Web, it would work, most of the time, by mashing up ideas from all of what used to be called speculative fiction—including sci-fi, horror, fantasy, historical (and alternate-history) fiction, superhero comic books, post-apocalyptic tales, and so on—before dropping the results into small-town Maine. Often, too, some elements of the Western, or of Elmore Leonard-esque crime fiction, are mixed in. "Horror," in short, is far too narrow a term for what King does. It might be more accurate to see him as the main channel through which the entire mid-century genre universe flows into the present.
Steven Petite, Huffington Post: Taking The Stand for Stephen King

A 1982 interview with King by Henry Nevison, shot on location at the author's home (which apparently you can tour) in Bangor, Maine. This half hour interview was part of series meant to highlight the alumni of The University of Maine; Nevison shares how the interview came about:
At the time, King had just finished writing his novel "Christine" and one year earlier had starred in Creepshow, a campy horror/sci-fi movie based on several of his shorter stories. Initially, I conducted a radio interview and we discovered that we had a lot of similar interests, most importantly the same warped sense of humor. He then agreed to an extended "sit-down" television interview, even though he had avoided that concept up to this point. I think he did it because he knew it would be good for the university. Stephen was extremely hospitable to my crew and I throughout the entire interview process. When I returned to his home later in the week, he told me his mother had watched the show and thought it was the best interview she had seen of him. Mind you, this was broadcast only on local television in Bangor and Portland, Maine.
Hat-tip to Lilja's Library for the above; there's a wealth of information at that site for King fans. The rest of the video archive (warning: autoplaying video), "Classic Stephen King," is a pleasant enough way to while away the hours. (Here's one where Michael Jackson discusses King.)

The comic book version (Wikipedia lists numbers and issues) was published by Marvel Comics in 2008. It written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and has (excellent) illustrations by Mike Perkins; here's a tweet about it that shows some panels. The Marvel Database Wiki (at Wikia) has more.

Things are happening in Hollywood to get a film of The Stand made; if and when it does get made, it will inevitably be compared to the 1994 TV mini-series, directed by Mick Garris (previously).

The '94 TV mini-series (streaming on Netflix; contemporary review by Anita Gates , New York Times) starred Gary Sinise, Molly Ringwald, Jamey Sheridan, Ruby Dee, Miguel Ferrer, Rob Lowe, Ray Walston and others. It is approaching a milestone, so Salt Lake Comic Con (website) is marking the occasion with a 20th anniversary panel this September. Here's a nice graphic tweeted from the organizers. Director Mick Garris, who has adapted several of King's novels, will be on the panel.

Rejected Stephen King Short Story Ideas – parody from The Toast

Other online resources

Writings on Stephen King – criticism, books, newsletters, about King's work.

The Stand Wiki

Is there fan fiction? Yes there's fan fiction.

Tumblr | Pininterest

Previously: God is cruel
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (162 comments total) 181 users marked this as a favorite

 
The thing(s) about the Stand that will stay with me probably forever are not just the grotesquely visceral descriptions of death which are common to all of his stories, but the incredible feeling of loss for thousands of tiny cultural touchstones of my youth. People give him a lot of shit for being an apparently crap writer but I remember as many carefully crafted turns of phrase from him as I do from the likes of fucking Dickens (who unrelatedly I loathe but that's neither here nor there) or Shakespeare, not just for the sense of horror contained within, but also for the incredible amount of nostalgia and a deeper sense of loss that they elicit.
posted by elizardbits at 1:37 PM on August 19 [17 favorites]


Also about 25 years ago my fancasting for Larry Underwood would have been Bruce Springsteen but now I have no idea who I would pick.
posted by elizardbits at 1:38 PM on August 19 [8 favorites]


This is such a good post, thank you. I can't wait to read through all these links and then (naturally) reread The Stand because it's been too long.
posted by annekate at 1:39 PM on August 19 [3 favorites]


I've read two books in my life from cover to cover in one sitting ... It and The Stand. I wish someone would do it justice onscreen.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 1:39 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


I haven't read it in over 20 years, but I remember liking the first 200 or so pages the best, where it's just the disease wiping everyone out. Once the Story kicked in it got kind of patchy, the way a lot of King's books did for me.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:47 PM on August 19 [10 favorites]


This is an amazing post that I havn't read at all because would you believe I've never read The Stand? I will take this as a sign that The Universe would like to remedy this situation and as such, I'll go buy a copy tonight. Thanks jcifa!
posted by triggerfinger at 1:48 PM on August 19 [2 favorites]


I love the Stand. For me it is very much like Lord of the Rings (as mentioned above) not least because it is one of the few books, that for whatever reason, I reread every few years.

I read the original at the urging of my friends in early high school, and was completely taken - terrified and delighted and JEALOUS. The aftermath is so finely drawn that, even with all the nightmares it gave me ("Come down and eat chicken with me, beautiful"), I wanted to be there. And then, oh my, the extended edition came out and holy crap. There was so much more there. It WAS the army (this was hinted at but not made explicit, as I recall, in the original). The Kid. Mercy. I wish another 300 pages would expand that universe - not change, not extend past the boundaries, just fill it in a bit more - every year or so. I'd buy each one.

I enjoyed and hated the miniseries, and I fear and await the new film. If they do it well it will be tremendous. But I don't think even a 3 hour R film will do it. It should be a cable miniseries with an unprecedented budget. 20 or so episodes. I can't even begin to cast it.

Also: obligatory.
posted by dirtdirt at 1:50 PM on August 19 [4 favorites]


Also about 25 years ago my fancasting for Larry Underwood would have been Bruce Springsteen but now I have no idea who I would pick.

That was King's fantasy casting for Larry Underwood too, actually.

I was in my late teens when the unabridged version came out, and I read that first; to this day I love the slow-breakdown-of-society unspinning and the detail of the "aftermath" chapter, where King drily introduces us to a handful of people who all were immune to the superflu but died in other ways. Such rich, arresting detail in those bits. Things all start to peter out for me when everyone's made it to Boulder and things take a turn for the mystic, maybe because the realism of what came before was so striking.

The miniseries sucked dingo kidneys. With one exception - it included a tiny little throwaway line that could very easily have been cut, but it was one of the most chilling bits for me; it's when Stu was trying to escape from the CDCC and is trying to sneak out through the abandoned hallways and is expecting any minute that someone's going to shoot him, and at some point he blunders through a door and one near-dead doctor, out of his mind with delirium, grabs Stu and mutters, "Come down and eat chicken with me, beautiful, it's so dark....."

The miniseries included that, and I can forgive it just about anything as a result.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:52 PM on August 19 [7 favorites]


"He greases up my head with oil. He gives me Kung-fu in the face of my enemies. Amen."
- Tom Cullen (M-O-O-N, that spells Tom Cullen)

But seriously, I think The Stand has some of the most appealing and enthralling characters of any SK novel, and maybe, dare I say it, *any* novel. Tom, Glen, Nick, Randall, Harold, hell even Trashy himself. Each one really speaks with his own voice. I recall having the same feel for Frannie early on in the book but, for whatever reason, feel it wane throughout the story.

Not to mention the amazing droplets of depth (the caravan/harem anyone? jeeze... but I'll stop there lest I spoil it for non-veterans) that pepper this amazing soup.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:54 PM on August 19 [2 favorites]


I've read two books in my life from cover to cover in one sitting ... It and The Stand.

... The Uncut Edition? If so, man, my hat is off to you. I read the last Dark Tower book by him in one shot, and it was long, but The Stand is a whole 'nother phone book.

I guess, and this is probably hard to understand, I can see a one sitting reading with IT as tenable. Huh, odd.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:57 PM on August 19 [2 favorites]


I read the uncut version straight through in about 8h, I think.
posted by elizardbits at 2:00 PM on August 19 [2 favorites]


I was in my late teens when the unabridged version came out, and I read that first; to this day I love the slow-breakdown-of-society unspinning and the detail of the "aftermath" chapter, where King drily introduces us to a handful of people who all were immune to the superflu but died in other ways. Such rich, arresting detail in those bits.

I haven't read it in... twenty years, probably? But the one detail I remember is the guy who overdosed because he'd never had pure heroin before.
posted by Etrigan at 2:01 PM on August 19 [5 favorites]


I reread this book every time I have the flu.
posted by Lemmy Caution at 2:01 PM on August 19 [26 favorites]


First time reading it or a re-read? It matters, I must know.
posted by RolandOfEld at 2:02 PM on August 19


the guy who overdosed

Yea, SK knows how to write about junkies and drugs.
posted by RolandOfEld at 2:02 PM on August 19 [4 favorites]


I've read and re-read The Stand more times than I can count. Certainly more than 6, but probably less than 12. I agree with the author of Things That Don't Suck that you can never recapture that original magic, but each time I do find little things that strike me differently. And I find it so easy to get caught up in the story and characters again.

I tried to watch the miniseries, but was just too painful. Part of it is that Stephen King novels rarely make for good movies. There's just too much internal conflict and suspense that doesn't translate easily to screen. You have to find a director who gets it, and they're all working on projects that will win them Oscars. Maybe Daren Aronofsky would be my choice... IDK.

It used to be my favorite Stephen King book, but now I don't know. I've found myself re-reading The Tommyknockers, It, and Insomnia more often than I've reached for The Stand.
posted by sbutler at 2:02 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


The Stand is such a weird book. On the one hand the first half or so is probably the block fiction I've ever read, full of delicious doom and gloom.

But the second half felt like King had run headlong into his own limitations. Hope was needed to counter the dread of the first half, and he didn't seem quite able to write or visualize the switch. Instead the grand symmetry of the book (at least, that which existed in my head) was broken, and the ending was profoundly unsatisfying.

In that alternate universe where I have unlimited time I'd love to take a crack at rewriting The Stand, starting about halfway through. With a Childhood's End style finish it could be one of the greatest stories ever told (on first read I was convinced that was where he was going, with the backdrop of psionics so well established).
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 2:04 PM on August 19 [2 favorites]


First read through. It was in Florida on the screen porch of my gramma's place. I was 11? 12?
posted by elizardbits at 2:05 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


I remember reading in an interview or an intro to his books - perhaps it was even the extended version of The Stand - where he talked about people wanting to know how the characters from the Stand were doing, as if he got letters from them every now and then. It seems like a ridiculous notion, but I completely identified with it in a way I never have with any other book. [spoiler] To this day I still wonder about Frannie and Stu wandering around America...and am curious how they are doing. Few character arcs have made me as sad and angry as Harold's. Trashy's fear and longing for acceptance and the way King made me feel sorry for him even as he showed up in Vegas - my gift for you! How in the space of a few sentences - hell, one sentence - King made me care about a character I'd never see again in his amazing passage about the survivors who don't survive. [/spoiler]

However, re-reading this about two years ago, I was really struck at how archaic some of the concepts and characterizations were - particularly around feminism and sexuality. It's interesting to compare King's thoughts around the feminist movement and sexuality - i.e. the section when Frannie imagines embroidering a sampler with the words "thank you, men" or Lucy's speech about needing Larry - with another very popular book published by a man just a few years later, The World According to Garp.

Also, King is notorious for loving music, but few books incorporate music like one. I'd love to see a literary analysis of all the ways he brings in music, from Larry Underwood himself to the lyrics as epigraphs to the quite musical way he'd name a concept "something something blues" to the casual references to artists and lyrics throughout made by the characters. I've always thought Nick was King's imagination going to town with the idea that a horror of horrors would be a life lived without music - not listening, not playing, not singing.
posted by barchan at 2:06 PM on August 19 [5 favorites]


Damn, yea I read it the first time at about that age when I was told to pick another book for a book report because the first one I picked was 'too short'. Eat that Ms. Stebbins. Hope you like how I went into the part about the congealed soup in my report.
posted by RolandOfEld at 2:07 PM on August 19 [7 favorites]


In the eyebrows! Dr Frank D Bruce.
posted by elizardbits at 2:11 PM on August 19 [2 favorites]


i can't remember to pay my rent but by god i will remember a minor character in a 2,000 page book who was dead the entire time
posted by elizardbits at 2:11 PM on August 19 [37 favorites]


I bought in a rest-stop book store on the interstate with my grandparents on the return trip from Virginia to visit my in-laws. I was probably 12. I remember laying on the blankets in the back seat and reading the first chapter and my god and I remember not putting it down for a very, very long time after that. I loved every minute.

I still remember that chapter - about the characters who survived the super-flu and then died after that. Wasn't there a guy who accidentally locked himself in a freezer or a storage unit or something? Geeeeeh.

Geh.
posted by kbanas at 2:16 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


I love this book. I read it 20 years ago for the first time and I am still terrified of finding a sweet treat any time I go to a dark and unfamiliar loo.
posted by mochapickle at 2:19 PM on August 19


And the boy who was picking berries and fell into the well, and the paranoid old spinster with the ancient gun that exploded in her hands.
posted by elizardbits at 2:20 PM on August 19 [5 favorites]


And the guy who watched his 8 kids and wife die before him and put on his tracksuit and ran himself to death.

nb the last time i read this book was prolly 2008.
posted by elizardbits at 2:21 PM on August 19 [3 favorites]


Ooh, that smell. Can't you smell that smell?
posted by rewil at 2:21 PM on August 19 [4 favorites]


I have not read this book. I find King not to my taste, but I will try this one...the comments though suggest that the book's appeal is to a younger "you" that, later, brings back the earlier you and thus a lot of nostalgia. Jst a guess thopugh.
posted by Postroad at 2:24 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


Didn't read it until after the TV mini-series - and well, it became a favorite and has had many reads since.

(As well as re-watching the series via bootleg, prior to Netflix... The soundtrack and many of the cinematic style shots alone are worth the price of admission)
posted by jkaczor at 2:27 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


Wasn't there a guy who accidentally locked himself in a freezer or a storage unit or something?

A girl; well, a teenager who'd been strongarmed into a shotgun wedding when her high school boyfriend got her pregnant. She'd been forced to work in her in-law's restaurant or something, and she'd been putting their bodies in the freezer until she could figure out what to do with them. Except every so often she'd go and look at their bodies in the freezer to sort of gloat that now they were dead. And then came the day when they all were finally gone - her in-laws, husband, baby, and one other person, and she went into the freezer one last time to look at them...and the door shut behind her.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:27 PM on August 19 [12 favorites]


Goddammit, Empress. I need to sleep tonight.
posted by Etrigan at 2:28 PM on August 19 [2 favorites]


One of my favorites of his works, I totally identified with the chubby guy who exploited the apocalypse and made himself a better person. I still aver that kid was a Mary Sue of Stephen King.
posted by Renoroc at 2:29 PM on August 19


Welp, time for another re-read.

I first read it before the release of the extended mega-version. I had it out from the library because it had a picture of two weirdly dressed people sword fighting. One of them had a scythe instead of a sword, I think. I was way into fantasy at the time (I believe I'd just reached that age where I realized Piers Anthony was actually kind of gross), and it looked like a nice thick grown up fantasy novel.

The Stand was NOT what I was expecting, but I couldn't put it down. I've reread it probably more than any other book since.
posted by lovecrafty at 2:30 PM on August 19


Besides anything else, I love the original cover art to death. One of my very favorite book covers, for the style of it, for what it says about the story, and for not depriving me of my own vision for any scene or character in the book.
posted by Wolfdog at 2:34 PM on August 19 [2 favorites]


I've read it three or four times, I think. Always in the summer, and I've always gotten a summer cold when I read it.
posted by Wolfdog at 2:36 PM on August 19 [4 favorites]


However, re-reading this about two years ago, I was really struck at how archaic some of the concepts and characterizations were - particularly around feminism and sexuality.

The Stand definitely has not aged well. I think it's even worse after King updated the book back in the 90's with then-current pop culture references.

I think It was maybe the last Stephen King book I ever read. I got it when it came out as a Christmas present and I liked it. Anything up until then I really liked, but anything after that...

Pet Semetary is still the best, from my point of view, as was 'Salem's Lot.

If you're interested in the history of horror (up until the mid-80's, that is), Danse Macabre is pretty awesome.

I got Dr. Sleep for Christmas (I think it was on sale at Costco) this past year, and I just cannot get into it...
posted by Nevin at 2:37 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


I think it's every 12 year old's obligation to read this book.
posted by MoonOrb at 2:38 PM on August 19 [7 favorites]


A couple of notes regarding the post in the first link (which I thought was quite good):

- He notes the absence of Flagg from much of the book, and its relationship to Lord of the Rings, but doesn't state the parallel outright: Flagg is following Sauron in being a constantly-cited but seldom-seen presence. (King may have mentioned Dracula's long absences in his own book, as well, although the more obvious King tribute there is of course 'Salem's Lot.) King has also said that Flagg's slippage near the end is a direct parallel to Hitler in the bunker near the end, someone whose reach far exceeded his grasp and built a machine of destruction that he couldn't fully control.

- I mostly like the additions/restorations in the uncut edition. Yeah, the Kid seems to have wandered in from some other King story, but most of the rest of it is great. Well, great may not be the right word for the part where Stu's group meet Sue Stern and Dayna Jurgens, who in the uncut edition are prisoners of a mobile rape camp, but restoring that part added some realism to the depiction of what things would be like if civilization completely broke down. (One of the things about the subgenre of postapocalyptic fiction in which people are wiped out but the basic infrastructure of civilization remains is that there's a guilty-pleasure aspect to it, in that you get to take all the stuff that people left behind; this is also a feature of the long middle section of Dawn of the Dead in the mall.)

And, yeah, all the poor doomed and damned characters; one of the most surprising things about the book is how much sympathy is engendered for the quote-endquote bad guys--Trashy, Harold, Nadine, Lloyd. They all have a point at which they have to make the choice to follow Flagg, and they all make that choice (although Lloyd is starving to death in jail at the time, you have to remember why he's there), but they each come to regret it deeply in turn. Even Flagg may not be completely in control of things, although the Dark Tower saga (longer, and with its own particular charms, but maybe not as satisfying in the end) muddied those waters a bit. And, really, poor world. One of the most affecting scenes in the book is when the Boulder assembly is singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" and weeping for the America that they lost.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:39 PM on August 19 [5 favorites]


I've never seen anyone touch on this to any great degree, but an ongoing theme throughout The Stand is how Team Good ends up creating a lot of its own enemies. Stop a bit and think about how a lot of the Las Vegas folk are simply rejects. Naturally, Flagg's a devil, no argument from me about the Walkin' Dude. Julie Lawry (played to perfection by Shawnee Smith in the mini-series) and the Rat Man Erwins are most likely bad seeds from the get-go. The Kid was probably never going to write any treatises on ethics. But as to the major players ...

You get a convict and a murderer, admittedly not a nice man, a low-functioning sort, abandoned in a prison to starve when a bullet in the brain would have been a kindness. Flagg decides he will be his number one. "Now you aren’t very bright," Flagg said, "but you are the first." Flagg says that in the book to Lloyd Henreid, who has a feeling of being "chosen" for something. (In the mini-series, Flagg says "I pick you. Do you understand that? I pick you. Anyone ever do that for you in your whole miserable life?")

Donald Elbert, a poorly managed schizophrenic with a pyromaniac streak, but with a savant-like inclination for mechanics (especially those of an incendiary nature), why, he spent his entire childhood being tormented by the salt-of-the-earth good folk in Indiana, after which the good doctors up in Terra Haute zapped him for a while. Flagg picks him to be high in his councils and, even when it is clear he's off the rails, Flagg wants a painless, quick death for him. This guy, this ragged lunatic with an uncanny ability to make things go boom, he is the one for whom Flagg spends his meager kindness?

Nadine Cross has always held herself in reserve, for something greater, something dark and mysterious, since a whirl with a Ouija board in college: NADINE NADINE NADINE HOW I LOVE NADINE TO BE MY TO LOVE MY NADINE TO BE MY QUEEN IF YOU IF YOU IF YOU ARE PURE FOR ME IF YOU ARE CLEAN FOR ME IF YOU ARE. She didn't quite know what she's signed up for. In Colorado, she has a crisis and comes to Larry Underwood, begging for, well, anything Larry can throw her (and it's strongly hinted that the loss of virginity (the "small thing") would wreck one Flagg's plans). Larry turns her out, perhaps understandably, but also not too kindly. "Brutally," he thinks to himself. Unable to defect to Team Good she's encouraged to sway one ...

Harold. Emery. Lauder. He's on the bubble. He's possibly the best illustration of this pattern in The Stand. Kind of a creepy high school kid, but maybe any tubby high schooler with a crush on an older woman might have the non-Tripps cooties. It's important to remember that he's sixteen at the start of The Stand, so he's no more than seventeen by the time he dies. He's smart, figuring out where to go, how to get gasoline. He makes quite a lot of very intelligent suggestions, such as voting in the Permanent Committee en masse, but is still kept on the outside due to nebulous suspicions about his character, leading him to think:
The Free Zone Committee was full of bright ideas, he thought with contempt. The committee would be just fine ... as long as they had good old Harold Lauder to make sure their shoelaces were tied, of course. Good old Harold’s good enough for that, but not quite good enough to serve on their fucking Permanent Committee. Heavens, no. He had never been quite good enough, not even quite good enough to get a date for the Class Dance at Ogunquit High School, even with a scag. Good God, no, not Harold. Let's remember, folks, when we get right down to the proverbial place where the ursine mammal evacuated his bowels in the buckwheat, that this is no analytical, logical matter, not even a matter of common sense. When we get right down to it, what we end up with is a frigging beauty contest.
A few kind words from another man in the thankless job of removing bodies makes him think "All of a sudden the old grudges, the old hurts, and the unpaid debts seemed as worthless as the paper money choking all the cash registers of America." But it's too late by then, as Nadine lands quite literally in his lap about an hour later. Harold, comfortable again on the outside ("outsiders hatch plots"), manages to kill off a good portion of the complacent (as Bateman warns of how everyone's in a hurry to repeat the old mistakes) Permanent Committee. Flagg even arranges an accident for Lauder as he flees Colorado with Nadine purely because he is a wild card.

Flagg's managed to make something dangerous from all of the outsiders and junk people; hell, one of them is even called "Trash" for short. It has been some time since I read the book and I've likely missed a lot of minor additional instances. I thought it was an interesting notion that most of the The Stand is about well-intentioned people creating their own disasters, large and small alike, through rejection, and what might come crawling fresh out of the old human junkpile.
posted by adipocere at 2:42 PM on August 19 [34 favorites]


I mostly like the additions/restorations in the uncut edition.

Yeah, I remember being unspeakably delighted the first time I read Stu's story of the mysterious man with darkness in his eyes at the gas station one summer night.
posted by elizardbits at 2:48 PM on August 19 [5 favorites]


I read the abridged version for the first time when I was about 12. It took me two days (I was on summer vacation and on a sailboat trip with my family) and has been one of my favorite books ever since.

I haven't read it in a few years though, so I think I'll give in and buy it for my Kindle and re-read it for maybe the 10th time. I wonder if it'll be the same as lugging around the giant paperback?
posted by paulcole at 2:50 PM on August 19 [2 favorites]


Team Good ends up creating a lot of its own enemies.

A lot of the Stand has to do with fate and destiny. It was all predetermined beforehand, right? Nadine Cross was "born that way" so she had no choice.

It makes a good summer read, but I'm not sure if the Stand is really a study of the human condition.
posted by Nevin at 2:50 PM on August 19


I had a lot of mixed emotions about the miniseries. I really wanted to like it - and it had some good points - Gary Sinise, a soundtrack by Ry Cooder, Ossie Davis and Ray Walston...

...and it was great that Matt Frewer had a gig. Was always a fan of his, even if he never got all the roles he should have...

...but thing that STILL grabs me to this day is the scene of miles and miles of corpse-filled cars stretching along a highway through middle America....

...and Larry sits on the hood of one playing "Eve of Destruction."

Y'know what damaged The Stand for me? The ending to the Dark Tower series. I get what he was going for - and it's his world, that's fine...but...dammit, King....
posted by Thistledown at 2:53 PM on August 19 [4 favorites]


Oh god I somehow managed to repress the terrible dark tower ending until just now.
posted by elizardbits at 3:04 PM on August 19 [3 favorites]


Which ending? There were, like, five. Thousand.
posted by offalark at 3:21 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


(I'm being flip because I love. Drawing of the Three is probably my favorite Stephen King book, but everything seemed to go south in that series after Wizard and Glass.)

The Stand is good, and I think I read it a few years back. Now I need to read it again.
posted by offalark at 3:23 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


I can't remember if I've read the expanded/revised edition, so I suspect I haven't. It sounds like I might have to change that.

Something about Lloyd and his childhood memory of his temporarily-forgotten pet rabbit just haunted me when I read it as a teenager, and occasionally still makes me twitchy even to this day in some small dark corner of my mind. [I'm not the only one, per this. previously, in askme]
posted by rmd1023 at 3:23 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


King is way better than he gets credit for being, or than I realized when I was reading his stuff the most; The Dead Zone looms over the other popular fiction of its era like Wordsworth's mountain all the more the further I pull away from it.
posted by jamjam at 3:54 PM on August 19 [2 favorites]


What does it say about me that my only memory of the miniseries is that I made out with some dude from a local band to it during college? Unabridged book is much better...
posted by bitter-girl.com at 3:59 PM on August 19


Pwetty firsty now, Larry.
posted by Divine_Wino at 4:17 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


King took a great book about a plague trying to kill humanity and ruined it with a bunch of "god talk"

Can we have Thomas Jefferson release a copy of the Stand with no miracles?
posted by Megafly at 4:17 PM on August 19 [13 favorites]


This book was sort of like It for me--terrific until the really strange supernatural stuff kicks in.
posted by persona au gratin at 4:20 PM on August 19 [2 favorites]


I'm surprised nobody's mentioned the martial law aspect, especially given the ongoing troubles in Missouri. That was always the creepiest part for me, the long slow slide into despotism before the final collapse. The gunning down of the reporter with the early scoop. The talk radio host murdered by troops mid-show. The covertly-published newspapers screaming the truth. The rebellious TV station silenced with plastic explosives. The Reaganesque president calling for calm from an undisclosed location through a fit of sneezes and coughs. The intentional release of the virus overseas to mask the army's blame.

Captain Trips was never as horrifying at what was done in the name of containing it.
posted by Rhaomi at 4:30 PM on August 19 [23 favorites]


It has been a long time, but about the one thing I remember best about this book was how long I went around thinking cholera was a completely different thing because of the constant comparing of the superflu to cholera.

But I admit: I re-read this probably a dozen times when I was younger, and a lot of times I just flat out stopped at the point where it transitioned past the epidemic, but the epidemic part was just so disturbing and felt so very plausible. The rest of it was also good but kind of felt like a different story.
posted by Sequence at 4:41 PM on August 19


I can't go through either the Holland or Lincoln Tunnel now without recalling the terror of Larry trying to get out of the city.
posted by MsVader at 4:42 PM on August 19 [12 favorites]


This is going to make me sound pretty terrible, especially given this thread full of fond reminscing about a novel important in many of your lives, but I read The Stand, the uncut version, when I was maybe 14 or 15. I remember almost nothing about it except the barest plot points, and that one character, at one point, "masturbated bitterly."

I don't know why that's the thing that stuck with me, those two words in that order; maybe because it hadn't occurred to me that one might apply that particular adverb to that particular act. But twenty years later, I still remember. Bitterly.
posted by uncleozzy at 4:44 PM on August 19 [4 favorites]


As a 12-year-old I loved the worldbuilding but I didn't like the way the good characters win basically by sitting around wearily exuding virtue and then traveling to a place they know they need to go to but don't know why. LoTR has a lot of talk-'n'-walk too but its characters have specific aims: they don't go to Mordor because of a prophetic dream that tells them everything will somehow be all right if they do, but rather to destroy the ring.

Basically I wanted the characters in The Stand to win by doing good, not just being good. It doesn't help that Flagg is such a memorable and unpredictable (at least for a 12-year-old) adversary. Maybe if I reread it now I'd find more substance to the basic goodness of, like, being a community and peacefully growing vegetables on a farm. Probably not in the skeevy gender politics though.

Also, in retrospect it amuses me that I didn't understand the ending at all, at first. I was sure it was code for something else, because an actual literal deus ex machina (or ad machinam?) was just not on my list of things that can happen in novels.
posted by No-sword at 4:48 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


"masturbated bitterly."

Yeah it was Harold, and I was 12 when I read it and didn't even understand what the fuck it meant at that time, and now even 25 years later that one phrase still has stuck with me. It just seemed so...sordid or something.
posted by MoonOrb at 4:53 PM on August 19 [3 favorites]


But I love the way King is so eager to talk about his sources and influences, because that's how I found Earth Abides, which had the bleakest ending imaginable for a STEM-and-SF-loving nerd (warning, spoilers!): civilization collapses, an engineer type does everything right and successfully restarts a small community... but his kids don't care about reading and don't want to learn. I flashed back on the crawling horror of that idea and all it implies as I read the final passage of The Road, and I'm not certain that McCarthy surpassed it.
posted by No-sword at 4:57 PM on August 19 [4 favorites]


Magnificent post.

I read the original, edited version as a somewhat alienated 12 year old, and the book's excellence was making me realize that having everyone else in town simply die, leaving all their stuff behind for me to pick up, would indeed be hell. The opening chapters, when the reader knows that a disease that certain to decimate the human race is on the loose, remains one of the scariest things I've ever read. (Even the excellent Earth Abides, which I believe King has acknowledged as an inspiration, spares the reader the outbreak of the disease, only the aftermath.)

I've since read the uncut version, and my opinion is the ideal length is to split the difference, at about 1,000 pages. Then again, I'm not sure I could pick which 20 pages to cut.
posted by Gelatin at 5:05 PM on August 19 [3 favorites]


[Every Stephen King book I've ever read] was sort of like It for me--terrific until the really strange supernatural stuff kicks in.

I touched on this exact thing in another thread. I think It was by far the worst offender. I had high hopes for Dr. Sleep that died pretty early too.

Still love King, though. Fantastic characters.
posted by echocollate at 5:11 PM on August 19 [3 favorites]


And then came the day when they all were finally gone - her in-laws, husband, baby, and one other person, and she went into the freezer one last time to look at them...and the door shut behind her.

And so (as I recall King writing) she died with her family after all.
posted by Gelatin at 5:23 PM on August 19 [2 favorites]


Went to get my copy of The Stand and put it next to the bed, and it's gone. I must've loaned it to someone. Balls.

Now I have to drive to the bookstore, because King is one of the few authors I won't buy on iBooks. I can't imagine reading a Stephen King novel in any other format than a musty, yellowing, dog-eared used paperback.
posted by rifflesby at 5:32 PM on August 19 [5 favorites]


I… should not have been allowed by my mother to read this book in the 6th grade.

P.S. Outstanding post, joseph conrad is fully awesome.
posted by ob1quixote at 5:33 PM on August 19 [2 favorites]


uncleozzy:

Can't quite believe I'm sharing this, but I read the book when I was about the same age, and what stuck in my mind was the line about a woman giving Larry a kind of revolting, over-enthusiastic blow job, and King using the word "gobbles." That scene, and that word in particular, has stuck with me for decades, surfacing at dozens of inopportune moments. Stephen King is one of my favorite writers, but I swear to God he has negatively affected the quality of my sex life by a not-insignificant amount, and I hope some day he gets called to account for it.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 5:43 PM on August 19 [5 favorites]


I could even handle the weird supernatural exposition for the monster in It - the pre-teen orgy was a bit much, though.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:51 PM on August 19


I also much preferred the first half, but am sort of thinking of rereading it now.

I think King is often underrated as a writer.
posted by jeather at 6:01 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


Misery is still his best book, in my opinion. Nothing supernatural. Just human madness and desperation.
posted by SPrintF at 6:18 PM on August 19 [6 favorites]


I was working in a bookstore when the hardback expanded edition came out. The other staff and I were bemused, but damned if the people didn't line up to buy it.
posted by thelonius at 6:21 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


That scene, and that word in particular, has stuck with me for decades, surfacing at dozens of inopportune moments.

The whole book is like that for me. I guess I just realized today that it was originally released in 1978 and not the day I personally read it, which I'd say must have been '84 or '85*? I didn't have a driver's license quite yet, and nobody was entirely sure how you got AIDS, and I had never before had any reason to imagine the US as a graveyard of our cars and our junk and our appliances turned on but dead with no power. I still fret if the power goes off, that I need to go turn everything off before it comes back on (and I recently found out my mother does too) because something bad might happen.

Conservatively I probably don't go more than 2 weeks without having some kind of Stand-related thought, those little icons. I have probably been individually fucked up more by some other stories (thanks, Mrs. Todd's Shortcut) but I don't think any of his books are a constant part of my life like The Stand.

*And I read it in Nacogdoches, Texas. Arnett was set just on the outside of town, and my hick town teenage head exploded to see my hometown (spelled correctly) in print. I think he's actually mentioned Nac twice, but I can't remember what other book.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:23 PM on August 19 [2 favorites]


Captain Trips was never as horrifying at what was done in the name of containing it.

I think that sort of thing isn't that scary anymore, all things considered. I mean, it's still scary, yes. But it's not unimaginable to the average human being in 2014. Not by a long shot.
posted by elizardbits at 6:35 PM on August 19




echocollate: "[Every Stephen King book I've ever read] was sort of like It for me--terrific until the really strange supernatural stuff kicks in."

I love Cujo partly because it is every bit as scary if you ignore the supernatural bits. But I also love Christine, which wouldn't make any sense at all if you took the ghosts out of it, and Firestarter, which couldn't exist without all sorts of paranormal stuff. (Although what stays with me most about that is the shrink who gets fixated on his insinkerator.)

As is fitting for an epidemiologist, my favorite part of The Stand is the chain of contagion in the beginning. It's only a few pages, but the story moves like lightning.

Ultimately, though, I wouldn't love King if he wasn't such a genius at characterization. There are very few people in his books who don't leave an impression.
posted by gingerest at 6:48 PM on August 19 [3 favorites]


I return home with a steak, a bottle of wine, and a perfectly dog-eared 1991 printing. Seems like a good way to spend an evening.
posted by rifflesby at 6:50 PM on August 19 [14 favorites]


The Stand was always my favorite Stephen King book. I read the edited version when I was 11 or 12. The uncut version came out a year or so later and I was DYING to read it but my mom wouldn't let me until I was 13. It's the only book I ever remember her censoring for me. I'm not sure what difference being 13 was supposed to make; I was pretty freaked out by the rape camp and Trashcan Man being sodomized with The Kid's pistol. (I'm STILL pretty freaked out by that.)

I've reread the book probably dozens of times since I was a teenager (like Wolfdog, always in the summer) but I hadn't read it in years. I picked it up last summer and just didn't like it as much as I had previously. The first half is SO strong, and the second half seems so weak in comparison. Franny, who had always been my favorite character, seemed kind of soppy. Larry was the character I most related to, rereading it over the age of thirty. I feel like he's the most realistic, standout character in the whole book. His book-long journey of trying to NO LONGER BE THE BIGGEST ASSHOLE really resonated with me. The way male and female characters relate in the book really bugged me. I was pretty appalled by some of the actions of the Free Zone Committee. It was kind of disappointing. Still a really good book, though.

(I got into a King rereading kick and reread Pet Sematary. OH HELL NO. I found it so horrifying as to literally be unreadable and threw the book away. It bothered me WAY more as an adult than when I read it as a 13-year-old.)
posted by Aquifer at 6:57 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


I *just* reread The Stand in May - I was cleaning out my condo in preparation for moving and the 25-cent copy with the cover falling off was not going to make the cut to be shipped cross-country. I love this book so much. The thing Stephen King does - even as far back as Carrie - where with a quick sentence he can paint a character you remember - is the strongest part. There are just so many memorable people having vivid experiences.

I also, for the same reason, watched the miniseries again simultaneously. It's really not as bad as it could have been, but even with some fairly solid acting, it's just not as sharply drawn as the book. I like it fine, but I wouldn't recommend it, exactly.

The one thing I noticed, that I'd never noticed before, is that the book is profoundly racist in the most boring of ways. The one good person of color is the quintessential Magical Negro, and everyone else who has their race mentioned is eeeevil. Most folks don't have that facet mentioned at all - the miniseries took advantage of this, making the Judge (a fantastic character) a black man - but I think you can safely assume the author never thought of his characters as being other than white. It's the sort of thing I get madder about in books written recently than in books published in '78, but it's striking to me now, though, whereas it's something I never would have noticed ten years ago. I think that's a good thing.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:06 PM on August 19 [4 favorites]


I have a somewhat different take on The Stand. I found it a death march (and I foolishly read the longer version) of "that's a really compelling, very disturbing scene", "that's a pretty nifty bit of narrative" and "this could be an interesting subplot" spread out over waaaaay too many pages that you continue to slog through in hopes that you'll get to the next interesting bit sooner than later. It's a string of more and less memorable set pieces. Then King just up and goes "Whelp...all out of ideas. Did the check cash? Good!" at which point he shit's out the lamest, most unsatisfying, hackneyed, steaming pile of deus ex machina on your chest, wipes, flicks the tissue on to your head and says "Fin! Seeya, sucker. Next paycheck, here I come!". I read that (literal) Hand of God (or something...wtf?) scene thinking "I can hear this guy in my head saying 'That's right, peon...I *do* have that little respect for you as a reader!' (cue maniacal cackle)". Asshole.

And lest anyone think I have a special hate for King, I equally and for the same reason detest the other piece of shit book that all my friends hammered me with OMFG YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK IT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIIIIIIIFE SQUEEEEEEEEEE from around the same time. Really, Neal? All that imagination, worldbuilding and potential and you wrap with "ummmmmmm...kinda painted myself into a corner...bother...what to do...OH! Got it. Robot dog enters from stage left (cringeworthy hand wave over the plot) and *runs* supersonic to fly up an airplanes tailpipe. Bad guy dies! The End! Whoooo...made it!". Asshole.
posted by kjs3 at 7:06 PM on August 19 [2 favorites]


I'm surprised nobody's mentioned the martial law aspect, especially given the ongoing troubles in Missouri.

Despite some of the surface similarities, they're actually coming from two very different places. The martial law that goes into effect in the book comes from basically the same place as the superflu itself: a conviction that the government is conspiratorial, brutal and incompetent, a point of view informed by the Vietnam War, Kent State, and Watergate, as well as the shootout with the SLA that was King's original subject for his next novel and that would go on to inspire aspects of The Stand. (The shootout gets referred to in the book--Flagg is involved, as he is in most of the deadlier radical and reactionary movements of the sixties and seventies--as well as in Hearts in Atlantis.) Thus, the same military commander who was in charge of the superflu project is also in charge of first trying to control the spread of the disease, then in charge of both ensuring that it's spread overseas (so that the Russians and Chinese don't escape unscathed) and that knowledge of the disease's true nature--and, more importantly, its true origin--doesn't get out. This is essentially the same mindset that produced Firestarter.

Ferguson, on the other hand? That's local cops who seem to have been anticipating (in both senses of the word) this sort of thing for some time, and the involvement of the U.S. military seems to have been limited to providing local law enforcement with military-grade hardware. Local law enforcement in The Stand, at least initially, doesn't come off too bad; you've got the friendly sheriff in Shoyo who befriends Nick and even deputizes him when he becomes ill, and Joe Bob Brentwood, the Texas state trooper who unwittingly becomes the first major vector for the disease, plus Stu being the first sheriff of the Boulder Free Zone. That changes a bit later in the book, when you get to meet the police in Las Vegas--who are, of course, helping Flagg set up a police state--and Stu's replacement, who is not exactly evil but seems to be getting into the job a bit too much.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:10 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


Sadly, I have no faith in our government even attempting to do jack shit in the face of a massive epidemic, except barricade themselves in their bunkers with the last of the good drugs.

I like to think every generation has a perfect casting for Larry Underwood. Mine is Josh Holloway. I pretended he was secretly Larry even on Lost.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:40 PM on August 19 [2 favorites]


I like to think every generation has a perfect casting for Larry Underwood. Mine is Josh Holloway. I pretended he was secretly Larry even on Lost.

Josh Holloway is too much of a shitkicker to play Larry. Larry's a wannabe smooth operator and soul singer - he's a city boy trying to play at being a man until he learns to be one. Which is why my Larry is Justin Timberlake.
posted by mightygodking at 7:47 PM on August 19 [8 favorites]


Totally share MsVader's thoughts every time I drive through the tunnel. Brrrrrr.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:18 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


JTimbz would look very silly with a full beard though.
posted by elizardbits at 8:19 PM on August 19


I've read two books in my life from cover to cover in one sitting ... It and The Stand. I wish someone would do it justice onscreen.

Come on, HBO. You can do this.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:40 PM on August 19 [6 favorites]


I've read a lot of Stephen King, and I think he can be a brilliant writer. Sometimes in his short stories, or in the original cut of The Gunslinger, I'm amazed by what he can put out.

In The Stand and a lot of his other stories - and this especially wore on me in the later Gunslinger novels - was the pettiness of his characters and sometimes his text. A sort of J.K. Rowling fated-because-its-fated we-are-the-chosen-people but how Rotten We Are Inside.

I don't think he's aware of it. That's what gets me - if he was self-conscious about it, I'd eat it up.
posted by pan at 9:01 PM on August 19


OK, you all have me super-confused. Because I too read this book many times in my teens, and I always thought I read the expanded version, because I remember picking up another version in my early twenties and being surprised that some stuff was missing. BUT I don't remember any of this stuff about The Kid, or spreading the virus to Russia/China or any of the other "expanded" book stuff. So I guess I must have read the original version? But then what did I read later that seemed shorter??

Oh, well, I guess this calls for another re-read to settle it!
posted by lunasol at 9:02 PM on August 19


I reread this book every time I have the flu.

Every time I read the book, just as the descriptions of the first couple symptoms of Captain Trips pop up, I notice I've got a runny nose. Always freaks me out just a touch, though I know it's silly.
posted by Ghidorah at 9:16 PM on August 19


BUT I don't remember any of this stuff about The Kid, or spreading the virus to Russia/China or any of the other "expanded" book stuff.

Some of these little facts we are remembering are single paragraphs or even single line throwaway mentions of larger plot points.

The virus spreading convo happens with Creighton just before Starkey goes into the lab to die, I think. He mentions having people "behind both curtains, Iron and Bamboo," meaning Russia and China.

The stuff about the Kid is revealed in various points of Trashy's ramblings. It is easy to miss, especially as his ramblings are often hard to read, both from a word salad pov and a painful tragedy pov.
posted by elizardbits at 9:42 PM on August 19 [2 favorites]


I felt like the climax of the Stand was bullshit. Ruined the book for me.
posted by humanfont at 10:15 PM on August 19 [3 favorites]


I skipped down to the bottom without reading the comments and only skimming the post, because I don't want to see too many spoilers yet.

But I wanted to comment and say thank you for this post, because I am halfway through The Stand at the moment and now I'm very excited to read all this stuff and the discussion in a few days when I am finished.
posted by lollusc at 10:24 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


read the original edition in a weekend 30 years ago.
I don't even like SK books or most of his movies.
For some reason, the whole Zombie thing of late reminds me or maybe harkens back, for me, directly of that page-turner I read 30+ years ago.
So now I'll look forward to the extended ed.

ALSO: I think I'd trust Darabont to make a good series out of the book and wonder why this rather obvious project never happened sooner
posted by Fupped Duck at 10:44 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


RolandOfEld: "Damn, yea I read it the first time at about that age when I was told to pick another book for a book report because the first one I picked was 'too short'. Eat that Ms. Stebbins. Hope you like how I went into the part about the congealed soup in my report."

Ah go easy on her, she'd recently lost a son in the Long Walk;
posted by mannequito at 11:01 PM on August 19 [7 favorites]


I enjoyed The Stand quite a bit, mostly as a companion piece to The Talisman.
posted by evil otto at 12:37 AM on August 20


So somebody fill me in on this Dark Tower tie-in, because I'm not going to read however ungodly-many pages of that just so I can know what was disappointing about it.
posted by scalefree at 12:48 AM on August 20


I have read this thing seven times; first when I was probably 11 or 12. The last time I read it, my senior year of high school, was the Giant Uncut Cinderblock edition. That was more than half my life ago.

Time for a re-read, I guess.

I can wash it down with a re-read of Imajica. Wonder which one will fare better?
posted by Mister Moofoo at 1:24 AM on August 20 [1 favorite]


I like King's short stories more. The Long Walk is one if his best.
posted by Pendragon at 1:24 AM on August 20


Regarding race, King is a Mainer through and through, and grew up in Maine when there were very few non-whites. There were some racists though, which always surprised me, because they hated a group of people they had no experience of. The Stand was published in 1978; in the 1980 census, Blacks were .27% of the population of Maine. Maine used to be one of the poorer states, but is now in the middle for per capita income. So, if King has few blacks in his work, it reflects his background at that time.
posted by theora55 at 3:07 AM on August 20 [1 favorite]


I've read The Stand just once, it solidified for the me belief that King is an intensely moral writer. Right & wrong is at the center of a lot of his work, or at least what I've read. I don't generally enjoy horror, and Cujo and Pet Sematary were too scary for me. I prefer to be able to sleep.

The literary establishment looks down on King, but they envy his sales figures. I think he could use a great editor, but I do love his writing. He is a born storyteller. I think his books will be read years from now, much more so that many writers considered literary stars.

Maybe I'll tackle the expanded version of The Stand.
posted by theora55 at 3:15 AM on August 20 [1 favorite]


elizardbits, ah ok, that makes sense. I can believe that the "bamboo curtain" reference would have gone right over my head at 14, and I did skim most of the Trashcan stuff because, frankly, I found it pretty boring.
posted by lunasol at 3:28 AM on August 20


I do appreciate the fact that, after all the horror and gore, I found Mother Abigail's trip to get the chickens incredibly spooky. Maybe because she was about 100 and all alone.

Also that I somehow felt sorry for Harold after he took a dive off the motorcycle and was abandoned by Nadine.
posted by angrycat at 3:54 AM on August 20 [3 favorites]


Welp, time to hit Amazon... look, the unabridged version is available cheaply too.

It's been... well, I don't really remember, but definitely more than ten years since my last reread. I've recently been rereading books I attempted a long time ago and finding completely new things in them; I'm fairly sure that The Stand will show me new facets, especially since those ten years represent ten more years of living in the USA and learning about the USA.

(The Lincoln Tunnel bit is responsible, singlehandedly, for me to preferentially go through the bridge every time I go to Manhattan by car if I have a choice, even though I'm coming from the south and it means a slightly longer drive.)
posted by seyirci at 3:56 AM on August 20 [1 favorite]


Flagg turns up in the fourth dark tower book, the one that is mostly flashback to Roland's love affair.
posted by angrycat at 3:57 AM on August 20 [1 favorite]


I have no idea how long ago I read it, but it was a long time. And I still remember quite a lot of the book very clearly.

I'm currently in the process of getting over the flu (as in actual influenza that had me off work for a week and a 40°C fever, not just a cold), and of course that line from The Strand that goes something like "he felt a tickle in the back of his throat" has, of course, occurred to me in the past week.

I've probably only read two or three King books, but this is definitely in that short list of "books that have affected me".
posted by damonism at 5:10 AM on August 20 [1 favorite]


Just checked out the ebook from my local library... I can't remember the first time I read the book. I think I must have been in high school, that was when I was devouring all of King's novels. From the post-Trips deaths, the most chilling thing to me was the way all the mini stories ended with "No great loss."

I always felt that it was pretty cheap that a Deaf guy was a hero for some reason. Like, because he has that handicap he can't be a normal person who has good and bad aspects? And I remember thinking it was pretty gross how catatonic-Nadine was always touching herself -- there was no need for that.

But ultimately, the story sucks me in every time. The gradual spread of the flu, until it reaches critical mass and millions are dying daily. Survivors dying alone, or finding other survivors and banding together to stay alive. And then, the Purpose. The feeling that inexplicably bands each group tightly together, giving them something to work for now that basic survival is once again taken for granted. And then... I forget the ending. I remember a sad trek across the desert. And basically that's it.

I think in the end the story is about how people need each other to survive in the most basic physical sense, but also to stay human. Without a personal connection to other human beings, we could all end up like Harold. Or Lloyd.

I can't wait to dig into this book again.
posted by Night_owl at 6:17 AM on August 20 [1 favorite]


Misery is still his best book, in my opinion. Nothing supernatural.

The same can be said for at least the first three stories in Different Seasons: "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption," "Apt Pupil" and "The Body."

It's probably no coincidence that Misery, "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption" and "The Body" were turned into three of the more successful King film adaptations.
posted by Gelatin at 6:33 AM on August 20 [1 favorite]


I think the Apt Pupil is a great example of how much of a master of suspense and dread King can be. No supernatural aspects, just purely human horror (that of the Holocaust). I still feel creeped out thinking about it and I've never been able to bring myself to watch the movie.
posted by lunasol at 6:43 AM on August 20 [1 favorite]


And those were all about the right length for a film adaptation. I fear any attempts to turn "The Stand" into a movie. How much do you cut out - can you cut out? - without irrevocably changing the story into something totally different?
posted by rmd1023 at 6:47 AM on August 20


About once a month I will do something sort of minor and not at all evil, like reschedule an appointment or bring lasagna to a potluck instead of the mac and cheese I said I'd bring, and I'll think to myself, "You ain't no nice guy! You ain't no nice guy!"

It's before the S really HsTF in the story, when the lady who "gobbles" Larry is screaming out the window at him after he leaves her abruptly. It's been 30 years since I first read this book, and I hear that damn minor character's voice in my head any time I do something that maybe might be questionable.

Also, the scene where Franny's burying her dad and stops to eat a piece of pie, and a strawberry falls out on the counter and goes "plop" and she just stands there staring at it. So simple, and gross, and disturbing.
posted by staggering termagant at 6:57 AM on August 20 [5 favorites]


Shawshank Redemption, recently on the blue.

And staggering termagant, that detail of the strawberry... It's simple, somehow it never hit me as gross, but disturbing, yes, and the way she just stands there staring at it is so, so real.

King's real genius has always been characterization. A few lines and there's someone real in your head. I'll always remember the spatula that girl you refer to threw at Larry, too.

(And looky, Different Seasons is available for the cheap too, and I had never read that one, and I should really stop reading this thread because I seem to flub all my saving throw-vs.-impulsive book purchases today.)
posted by seyirci at 7:08 AM on August 20 [1 favorite]


How bizarre that I came here right after reading the A.V. Club retro-review of the miniseries (it's not positive), which oddly hasn't been linked yet.

I've only read The Stand once, yet so many of these details are so vivid. I remember still having the most fascination for Nadine since she is so viscerally obsessed with fighting/fulfilling her fate, a concept I don't even believe in.

But I love the way King is so eager to talk about his sources and influences, because that's how I found Earth Abides, which had the bleakest ending imaginable

Oh man, I had to read that for one of my HS English classes and the indifference of the survivors' kids to continuing survival was so much more traumatizing than this good-vs-evil tome.
posted by psoas at 7:35 AM on August 20 [2 favorites]


Also, "Maine is full of sadists" is clearly not a rejected Stephen King short story idea.
posted by psoas at 7:41 AM on August 20 [2 favorites]


And those were all about the right length for a film adaptation

Honestly, I think King is at his best in the short works. Once you get past the regular-novel (or heck, even novella) length, he gets a bit overwrought and seems to pile everything on. When he's practicing economy of both prose and plot, I think his talent in characterization shines even more.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:44 AM on August 20 [3 favorites]


Lurking in the "fanfiction" links:

Last One Standing is....actually kind of worth it. It's a crossover with The X-Files, so it's all "let's pretend that Mulder and Scully were caught up in this as well and then write about their own trek to Boulder" - but the writer managed to hit Stephen King's style pretty well.

It's long, though, and she was writing in pieces and at one point just stopped for a few months about three-fifths of the way through, and she had a bunch of us making offers to pay her to finish the thing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:00 AM on August 20 [1 favorite]


I'm in the middle of re-reading The Stand, so it's cool and odd to see this post now. Or maybe not so odd, since it's a perfect summer novel, and plagues are on people's minds with this whole Ebola thing going on.

I don't know if it's his best novel (that may be The Shining), but it's certainly my favorite. It's one of the few examples of King's work where his tendency towards sprawling, boundless narratives is compatible with the premise. King giving himself that huge amount of space in which to unwind his story makes the story so realistic and immersive.

What people who think King is a lousy writer don't get is that King is a master of character in a way that few authors are. He has a knack for drawing his characters with such naturalistic detail that they don't feel like authorial creations. Their thoughts and observations seem to take on a life of their own, as if King is merely recording what he's hearing rather than actually creating those thoughts. That's a pretty tough trick to pull off; with most fiction, you never lose your awareness that the author is speaking through their characters, but with King the characters feel like living individual people.

One thing about The Stand that both aggravated and impressed me is that he's kind of the original Joss Whedon -- he's perfectly willing to kill off beloved major characters if that's where the story takes him. What makes the final section of the novel suspenseful is that, since many of his central protagonists have been killed, often in the most mundane and anticlimactic ways, you can't assume that any character is safe. People complain that King's endings are lame, but that's how most stories would end if the author didn't contrive events to tie up in neat, satifying finales. In real life, dramatic situations tend to have anticlimactic endings.

My only real nitpick about The Stand is that I really, really wish King hadn't bothered with updating the time period with the paperback and Uncut versions. The book feels like a 70s story, and it should have stayed there. Bringing it into 1990 makes a lot of it feel not quite right. I mean, would a song called "Baby, Can You Dig Your Man?" really have become a pop hit in 1990? Yeah, no.

I've always thought it would be fun to write my own version of the book. King practically invites Stand fan fiction in Wizard and Glass, when Roland and gang pass through a Captain Trips-ravaged world that's a different reality and time than the one depicted in The Stand.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 8:40 AM on August 20 [3 favorites]


It's before the S really HsTF in the story, when the lady who "gobbles" Larry is screaming out the window at him after he leaves her abruptly. It's been 30 years since I first read this book, and I hear that damn minor character's voice in my head any time I do something that maybe might be questionable.

And how she throws the spatula at his head and when the cabdriver tells him "hey buddy, you know you're bleeding?" and he's like yeah man, this crazy bitch threw a spatula at me, and the cabdriver is just so unimpressed with his explanation.


Also, the scene where Franny's burying her dad and stops to eat a piece of pie, and a strawberry falls out on the counter and goes "plop" and she just stands there staring at it. So simple, and gross, and disturbing.

UGH and then when she's pulling him out of bed he burps the festering decay deathburp. I will remember that forever. I thought about it as I was sitting next to my mom's body waiting for the paramedics to take her away, and was glad when the hospice worker shooed me out of the room before they got her on the stretcher.
posted by elizardbits at 9:50 AM on August 20 [1 favorite]


I meta'ed regarding a book group discussion.
posted by theora55 at 10:16 AM on August 20 [1 favorite]


Chapter 38 is the "unkindest cut" one, where everyone in it dies, but not from the flu. I wasn't surprised to see those characters mentioned here already. I really have to believe it's got short story origins -- it works so well that way.

Grady Hendrix at Tor did a Stephen King reread in 2012 and 2013 -- here's that take on the book, and here's the series overall.
posted by gnomeloaf at 10:19 AM on August 20


Chapter 38 is the "unkindest cut" one, where everyone in it dies, but not from the flu.

"No great loss." Yes, it's a series of cruel standalone vignettes; very King.

The Hand of God ending is annoying (and laughably badly portrayed in the mini-series) because it seems so unnecessary to provide a deus ex machina as resolution. Larry & company distracts Flagg away from Trashcan Man's approach; Trashcan arrives, "my life for you"; BOOM; it's sufficient and satisfying without the Hand literally lighting the fuse.

Flagg's defeated not by God but by his own arrogance: he believes humans are entirely predictable, but he's startled by Dayna and Nadine's sacrifices and he's blind to Trashcan's chaos.

Parallels with Lord of the Rings: Both Flagg and Sauron are organized and technologized evil -- King even explicitly states that Flagg tends to draw engineers to him. Both meet their downfall by having their attention distracted at the critical moment.

The Stand also paints Flagg's evil as opportunist and cyclic. He's introduced as having been here many times before under many different names. The coda of the expanded version has him reborn on a tropical beach ready to start the cycle all over again.

I think also the book hints that Flagg is an inevitable consequence of human weaknesses. At the end of the book, Fran and Stu leave the Boulder Free Zone because they sense it is already starting to change. It has become larger, more impersonal, more authoritarian: the police are starting to carry firearms.

I really, really wish King hadn't bothered with updating the time period with the paperback and Uncut versions. The book feels like a 70s story, and it should have stayed there. Bringing it into 1990 makes a lot of it feel not quite right.

Yes, very much so: the revised version wavers uneasily between the two periods and so doesn't really feel firmly rooted in either. His New York is obviously 1970s; but then WHAM jarring 90s reference.

I mean, would a song called "Baby, Can You Dig Your Man?" really have become a pop hit in 1990?

Would it ever? It always read like a cloth-eared pastiche to me. King's very good at picking existing song lyrics to use as epigrams; but on the evidence of this, not much good at writing them himself.

Maybe to some extent that's deliberate -- Larry's a one-hit-wonder, a chancer who got lucky and can't really handle the result -- but even so it doesn't read as earwormy enough to become a one-off hit. (The version in the miniseries does nothing to argue against this.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:51 PM on August 20 [3 favorites]


Oh man, I had to read that for one of my HS English classes and the indifference of the survivors' kids to continuing survival was so much more traumatizing than this good-vs-evil tome.

I haven't read this book, but your description reminds me of the wife in The Road who simply doesn't want to live any more, because she isn't interested in just surviving, and that's all the world has to offer (in a best case scenario). The more likely scanario was worse. The absolute lack of hope, and not even knowing how you would answer her hypothetically were you there, was worse to me than the terrors they were trying to avoid.
posted by SpacemanStix at 1:44 PM on August 20 [1 favorite]


I really appreciated Grady Hendrix's point that it's the rare novel that's better in its uncut version. And for exactly the reasons she says: it buries the schematic elements in throwaway details and setpieces, which are often the best part of King books anyway.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 2:59 PM on August 20


Captain Trips was never as horrifying at what was done in the name of containing it.
I think that sort of thing isn't that scary anymore, all things considered. I mean, it's still scary, yes. But it's not unimaginable to the average human being in 2014. Not by a long shot.


Yeah, this is something I take away from the book every time I read it - not only is the idea of the government fiddling with super viruses totally unsurprising any more than them failing to contain them when things go unsurprisingly awry, but the way they react is also completely unsurprising.

I always find the big ending climax disappointing too. The 'hand of god' thing is just so not necessary - humans can always find a way to fuck up a grand plan without the need for divine intervention.
posted by dg at 3:57 PM on August 20


We had a deal, Kyle: "Flagg's defeated not by God but by his own arrogance: he believes humans are entirely predictable, but he's startled by Dayna and Nadine's sacrifices and he's blind to Trashcan's chaos.

Parallels with Lord of the Rings: Both Flagg and Sauron are organized and technologized evil -- King even explicitly states that Flagg tends to draw engineers to him. Both meet their downfall by having their attention distracted at the critical moment.
"

There's definitely a reference in there to (the myth of) fascist efficiency, particularly to the order and technology underlying the Final Solution, and to Mussolini's railway improvements.
posted by gingerest at 7:29 PM on August 20 [1 favorite]


The Complete & Uncut Version came out the summer between my junior and senior year of high school. My mother said I couldn't read it until I finished my required summer reading.

And thus began my burning hatred for Jane Austen.
posted by Lucinda at 8:51 PM on August 20 [1 favorite]


The Stand is the only Stephen King novel I love. It's one of only a few I've actually read, and the only one I've read more than once (well, I might have read Christine twice, but it was so long ago I don't remember). I have read The Stand at least five times, between the long version and the longer version. I fell in love with both Frannie and Nadine (who broke my heart).

It cemented my love of post-apocalyptic fiction -- though I prefer it served with a helping of hope. It does, however, depress me that the damn thing is 33 years old.
posted by lhauser at 9:38 PM on August 20 [1 favorite]


It was all predetermined beforehand, right? Nadine Cross was "born that way" so she had no choice.

I disagree. There is a desperate moment for her character - when she has come to realize that perhaps she doesn't want what is waiting for her, after her life of staying true, staying pure - in which she attempts to seduce Larry (and there were also several other moments in her life when she had the opportunity - but passed it up. She made choices. Hell, she could've gone home and fucked Harold).

Now the Larry Underwood of the first third of the book wouldn't have hesitated. He was a pretty shallow, somewhat selfish man (there's something in you that's like biting on tin foil) But by this point, Larry has grown up a little bit, and has made commitments and is going to stand by them. So he does. He stays with Lucy. And we the reader view that as a good thing on Larry's part. And yet I sometimes wonder - how many lives are changed if Larry takes Nadine up on her frantic, clumsy attempt at seduction?

Nadine takes that rejection and uses it to justify herself - much like Harold takes the years of resentment and rejection and uses it to justify himself. (If you were strong enough to reject everyone's bad opinion of you, you had to be strong enough to reject their good opinion of you). "My name is Harold Emery Lauder. I do this of my own free will."

Every character - minor and major - has the dreams, and chooses. One side or the other. The overall conflict that is set up here might be ordained - that in the end, humanity will face a choice - but the individuals who go about determining the outcome of that moment do so via their own choices. In the end, four of them choose to seek out Randall Flagg (M-O-O-N, that spells sacrifice) in order to save their community. Nadine has a final moment of choice as well, and denies Flagg.

King's choices of how to depict the sides - the techno-fascists versus the spiritualists - feels clumsy, especially to me on the last re-read about 10 years ago. And it might be the first, but not the last, time that he's kinda written himself into a situation and just blown everything up to get out of it (Hello, Under the Dome). I wonder, though, if King had written The Stand a few years later in his career - when he had a few more big stories under his belt - if it might have been a more adept handling of the final third of the book.
posted by nubs at 10:10 PM on August 20 [4 favorites]


How many lives are changed if Larry takes Nadine up on her frantic, clumsy attempt at seduction?

Or if Harold doesn't? He is almost redeemed by his work in the Free Zone: becoming liked, even respected, by his workmates; but then falls to Flagg when he throws Nadine at him.

(A fairly icky part of the book, I always thought; Flagg uses Nadine on Harold as a sexual tool, she has almost no agency in it.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 10:43 PM on August 20 [2 favorites]


There are few things (not just few books) I love like I love The Stand. Thanks for this post!!
posted by kostia at 11:42 PM on August 20 [1 favorite]


Flagg turns up in the fourth dark tower book, the one that is mostly flashback to Roland's love affair.

Flagg is mentioned in the very first line of the very first book in the Dark Tower series, isn't he? "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed"?
posted by elizardbits at 12:50 PM on August 21 [1 favorite]


I mean he was called Walter but it was just a Flagg pseudonym, no?
posted by elizardbits at 12:50 PM on August 21


My wife would like to say: "The Stand was Just Ripping Off 'Earth Abides' - He admits it in the Intro!"

Emphasis hers.
posted by pan at 3:12 PM on August 21


I fell down a wiki-hole for an hour over the Man In Black thing yesterday. Every iteration of these worlds has a Man In Black, Walter, Flagg, Walking Dude, etc. They are not exactly the same person, like they aren't a singular traveling person like Jake, but they are the same entity and they all serve the Crimson King.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:16 PM on August 21 [2 favorites]


"If we accept the idea that The Stand was our first modern dystopian novel, "
That's quite a stretch. Brave New World isn't modern? 1984 isn't modern? Both are rather more significant as literature. But maybe the author means "our" as the important point, meaning something she wasn't required to read in class.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:05 AM on August 22 [1 favorite]


I've been trying to get caught up on this thread for the last couple days and subsequently been thinking about The Stand too. I was doing some math, and figured I read this book the first time in 1979. The main thing I remember about the first reading was getting kind of bored in the second half. But many of the scenes mentioned above stuck with me, the Lincoln Tunnel sequence in particular. One other that stuck with me, and is still painful upon rereading, is the suicide of the woman Larry meets in New York. It was just so sad, the lady not being cut out for survival in that world, and Larry (who I wanted to root for) seemingly failing to take care of someone, again. I remember being really angry at Harold when he went over to Flagg. I felt like kind of a loser & probably identified with him more than I cared to admit at the time. I was like "Here's your chance to reinvent yourself and have friends & not be a loser, don't screw it up!"

I've since read the book a good dozen times (cut & restored), and like others have mentioned, the characters are the standouts in this book and the events in the tale change & develop them.

I mentioned doing some math earlier. I have a distinct memory of reading Night Shift in tenth grade biology class when I should have been dissecting my fetal pig. So that would have been 1978, I'd read a paperback of Salems Lot a couple years before that. I realized a new Stephen King book every year has been part of my life for coming up on 40 years. I've read all his books at least once and enjoyed them all, obviously some are much better than others. It might sound hokey, but King & his work have been a constant companion though a lot of ups and downs. They've been great friends: funny, scary, inconsistent, always memorable.
posted by marxchivist at 12:04 PM on August 22 [1 favorite]


Does anybody want to (re)read the Stand as a group? Maybe on Goodreads? MeFiMail me.
posted by theora55 at 1:59 PM on August 22 [2 favorites]


Hmm... Interesting casting choice?
posted by Night_owl at 6:53 AM on August 23 [1 favorite]


Count me in as one of the readers who felt a jarring sense of discontinuity with the revised edition of The Stand: some things just read as so culturally appropriate for the 1970s (especially a 1970s New York), trying to update the novel for the 90s was a fool's errand. YES I JUST CALLED STEPHEN KING A FOOL.

As my partner says, "Stephen King needed an editor who could say 'no' to him..."
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 8:46 AM on August 23 [1 favorite]


I'm two days into a re-read now. Jealous of riflesby, I went out that evening, picked up a paperback copy and a bottle of wine and went to the beach for sunset. I'm a little confused about the uncut version though - I thought that was what I had read, two or three times, back in high school, but that version was 1000-1100 pages and the version I have now is 1430 pages. But I definitely remember The Kid. Are there three different editions?

Any reason against discussing a group re-read here in thread? I don't have a goodreads account and I'm not eager to join yet another site.
posted by mannequito at 1:00 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]


So far (~200 pages) my favorite little forgotten detail is Starkey's obsession with Frank D. Bruce and his bowl of soup.

Flagg just made his first appearance - I really like the idea of McConaughey playing him.
posted by mannequito at 1:05 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]


Mannequito, there were only two editions, and The Kid was not in the abridged one. The page count disparity you're noticing could simply be a matter of different printings; different margin size, different font size, anything.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:35 PM on August 23


i was into post-apocalyptic fiction for awhile, but actually never read the stand (just watched the miniseries,* which i thought was ok, but probably wouldn't _stand_ a rewatch ;) i just never really got into king, like i read the first few dark tower books, but only really liked the first...

anyway, of the post-apocalyptic horror genre, robert r. mccammon's swan song stood out for me, and i guess i was also more into clive barker at the time, but i can see it was pretty influential -- the walking dead, etc. after cormac mccarthy's the road and blood meridian (the kid!) tho, i didn't really see the need to read post-apocalyptic fiction anymore :P until wool that is!

---
*like has under the dome been worth watching with brian k. vaughan?
posted by kliuless at 3:02 PM on August 25


Under the Dome is a mess.

Crazy excited about reading The Stand again after this next project, though.
posted by mochapickle at 3:13 PM on August 25 [1 favorite]


angrycat wrote:

I do appreciate the fact that, after all the horror and gore, I found Mother Abigail's trip to get the chickens incredibly spooky. Maybe because she was about 100 and all alone.

Also that I somehow felt sorry for Harold after he took a dive off the motorcycle and was abandoned by Nadine.


I feel the same way; it's Mother Abigail's vulnerability, I think. King conveys how difficult it is for her to do physical stuff (even just take a dump!). Plus she's alone and it's at night. One of the scariest parts for me in a book filled with spooky sections.

"There's a weasel in the corn! There's a weasel in the corn!"

As an aside, I really enjoy the Mother Abigail parts ("Welladay.") and having access to her inner monologues.

One thing she thinks that's always bothered me and struck me as tone-deaf on the part of King, in an otherwise stellar portrait. She thinks to herself, something like, "As dumb as a Democrat..." or some such thing. I do NOT believe she'd have this attitude but maybe that's just me.

WOO STUFF!

Some of the "tools" used in the novel are *so* 1970s/60s-influenced, like the use of hypnosis with Tom Cullen, and the whole levitation thing that Flagg does. Man I recall levitation being a big thing in the 70s...

Now, I'm not dissing it - it's great and a terrific way to show Flagg's state of mind (he's unable to levitate very well when things start to go badly at the end), but it's also very culturally influenced.

I always thought it was so cruel how Mother Abigail had to send them off at the end with, literally, the clothes they were standing in: no water, no provisions - she wanted them to just go. What was the point of that?

I'm guessing that it was to lend their journey a biblical tone: a lot of the stuff is biblical, and when King could turn up the volume on that, he did. (But, I'm sorry - it's just harsh to undertake that journey with no provisions, WTF Mother Abigail?)

I do not find the climax to be as problematic as some people.

And I find Trashcan Man one of the saddest portraits by any writer.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 8:48 PM on August 25


Also: it's incredibly shocking when the "good guys" arrive in Las Vegas and have a confrontation with Flagg's security patrol, and are taken custody and driven back to the city center and have a conversation. It's clear that the bad guys aren't that bad but they've gotten the wrong end of the stick in a big way. Yet they're very certain they're right. Chilling.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 8:53 PM on August 25


I always thought it was so cruel how Mother Abigail had to send them off at the end with, literally, the clothes they were standing in: no water, no provisions - she wanted them to just go. What was the point of that?

I'm guessing that it was to lend their journey a biblical tone: a lot of the stuff is biblical, and when King could turn up the volume on that, he did. (But, I'm sorry - it's just harsh to undertake that journey with no provisions, WTF Mother Abigail?)


This is a theme that King picks up on in some other works (I want to say that there's something similar in The Regulators/Desperation but can't remember them clearly, so I could be confusing it with something else) - that there can be an element of cruelty, or of sacrifice, in the Christian faith. That the demands of being faithful may require submission to a test or a trial, and that it may be unfair, bloody, and fatal. Because what use is faith without it being tested? How can you say you are faithful if you haven't kept the faith in the face of pain and death?

It's not a particular theological view I agree with, even when I was part of a church. And I'm not sure its necessarily a view King agrees with either - but I can appreciate that when you a crafting a horror story that has religious overtones, you may want to include the fact that being on the side of light isn't just sunshine and roses; that there is a cost and a toll to be paid for divine intervention and miracles.
posted by nubs at 11:40 PM on August 25 [4 favorites]


That was beautifully put, nubs - thank you.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 6:51 AM on August 27


Wow, nubs. That has me thinking about my other favorite King book, The Long Walk, in a new way.

- A large group of people facing a trial that's cruel, unfair, bloody, and fatal, and yet profoundly celebrated. The winner is set for eternal reward.
- One of the walkers wants desperately for his father to notice him and hopes that winning the trial will create that connection (metaphor for god, the father, who is father to many).
- Getting through the trial takes a lot of personal grit, sure, but there's a lot to do with serendipity and luck of the draw.
posted by mochapickle at 8:25 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]


One thing I'm really appreciating on my re-read is the overall structure of the book. I don't think I was able to step back and see it when I was younger.

The first few chapters are long and a little slow, introducing and getting the back stories of characters like Larry, Fran and Nick. It helps that the other main protagonist, Stu, is caught up from the beginning, so the reader gets his story as the virus starts to move. Then there's a barrage of 20 chapters or so that are shorter and move very quickly, much like things would if something like this happened in reality. You really need to run along with the plot.

Chapter 38 is the series of little stories about the second wave of victims, but it also acts as a sort of sleight-of-hand intermission transitioning into the next ten chapters, longer ones as the main characters start to move around and link up.

Chapter 48 is Trashcan's journey from Indiana to Vegas, including the infamous The Kid. (Incidentally I was getting a strong feel of The Long Walk themes as he stumbles through the desert.) But this also functions as a transition chapter - afterwards it moves smoothly into the Boulder vs. Vegas section of the plot. These chapters, where I'm at now, are also longer but don't feel like it, since all the time invested in the characters is finally paying off as they start to interact. I'm interested to see if there's another sort of 'intermission' chapter before moving into the final act of the four men heading towards Flagg.

One other thing I'm looking forward to, that I never truly honed in on previously: Every single character in this book, including Flagg and Abigail, has a tendency to analyze and over-analyze and over-over-analyze. The two exceptions are perfect counterpoints to one another - Trashcan and Tom Cullen, and I know that they both play pivotal roles in the climax of the story. It's interesting that for all the biblical implications King draws into the story, it's arguably the two characters least likely to be aware of any of that that the story sort of hangs on.

bonus observation - King seems to have totally ignored the West Coast in this book - aside from Larry's background in LA, there are virtually no characters from California, Oregon or Washington, just the occasional reference to 'technical people'. it's kind of strange
posted by mannequito at 1:53 PM on August 28 [3 favorites]


So I now have the library's very battered paperback of The Stand; King describes it in the preface as "this long tale of dark Christianity."

(He also notes that "Robert Duval would make a splendid Flagg"; and as Larry "my personal choice would be Marshall Crenshaw.")
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 8:00 PM on August 31


She thinks to herself, something like, "As dumb as a Democrat..." or some such thing. I do NOT believe she'd have this attitude but maybe that's just me.

The Republican Party was the one that gave us Abraham Lincoln and fought against the spread of slavery into the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. It's only fairly recently that they became the party of racist oppression. Someone of Mother Abigail's age would remember them as they started out.
posted by elizardbits at 10:39 AM on September 1 [1 favorite]


(oh, and if she was 100 years old in 1985 she would certainly remember hearing from her parents that the Southern Democrats of their youth were pro-slavery pro-lynching white supremacists.)
posted by elizardbits at 10:46 AM on September 1 [2 favorites]


I think you mean "She would certainly remember hearing from her parents, who had been slaves,..."

But it still rings a little off unless she'd been a hermit since before 1964, when white southern racists learned how to couch their racism in Goldwater-libertarian language. I expect it's a result of King's long residence in New England, where Republicans were reasonable and noncrazy past 1985.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:24 AM on September 1 [1 favorite]


But it still rings a little off unless she'd been a hermit since before 1964, when white southern racists learned how to couch their racism in Goldwater-libertarian language.

She wouldn't be the first senior citizen not to have readjusted her political beliefs for a while.
posted by Etrigan at 11:40 AM on September 1


Post-re-read, I'd forgotten that Flagg effectively controls the West Coast. In general there's a lack of characters from major cities. Actually when you get right down to it, aside from NYC Larry and backwoods Texas Stu, The Stand is basically New England Teams Up With The Midwest To Kick Arizona and Nevada's Ass.

But it was really nice to revisit that world. Tom Cullen is easily top five for King characters.
posted by mannequito at 1:57 AM on September 4 [1 favorite]


One of my favorite characters is Dayna Jurgens (character information here at the Stephen King wiki). I think the passages surrounding her character arc reveal her to be the bravest (and most kick-ass) character in the story.

The scene where she is "busted" and the attitude she shows in it - it gives me chills but at the same time it shows what she's made of. Great stuff. And she's defiant and unapologetic in the face of knowing she will be horribly tortured and killed - maybe by Flagg himself. A truly wonderful character from King.

This tumblr page (I don't know how to link to just one post - not signed up with Tumblr, but here's the result page that shows it) has a great summary:
"Dayna Jurgens:

spy
attempted assassin
survivor of absolutely horrific abuse
feminist
bisexual woman (the only one across all Stephen King’s works, as far as I know)
courageous and badass as hell
outwitted the embodiment of pure evil, striking a massive blow against him, even though she had to die to do it
She’s easily my favourite Stephen King character."
Me too.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 7:35 PM on September 7


(I like Tom Cullen too. Very little "M-o-o-n" up in here, that's surprsing.)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 7:38 PM on September 7


FWIW, I took my reread to Twitter. Deets in my profile, if anyone's interested.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 6:52 PM on September 12 [1 favorite]


Just did my own reread. Stray observations:
  1. Helluva fun book to read. I devoured it.
  2. Stephen King's prose is like vanilla ice cream -- completely accessible, but not offensively pandering. I didn't feel like an idiot reading it.
  3. Mother Abigail is the epitome of the "Magic Negro" trope.
  4. Sue Stern and Ralph Brentner should've been fleshed out more.
  5. The numbers don't seem to work out. We're told 99.4 percent, and a projected population for the Free Zone of around a million, but that should've left scores of people to wander most small towns. Even a town of 2,000 should have 12 people walking around.
  6. Unedited version is mostly good, but I think the updating to 1990 was a mistake... the shoehorned-in references to 80s events (Roger Rabbit, Rambo, Ronald Reagan) stand out like a sore thumb in what's otherwise clearly taking place c. 1980.
  7. someone should diff the two versions.
  8. The constant references to Rock 'n' Roll as n****** music seem out of place even for 1980.
  9. I found myself wanting a little more intricacy and puzzles -- references to past chapters that you had to piece together, or hidden meanings. There's very little to figure out. But, it's Stephen King, not DFW or Pynchon.
  10. Most of my in-head casting remains untouched by the miniseries, since my first read was in the late eighties. In my head:
    • Fran is Annette O'Toole (Lana Lang from Superman III)
    • Stu is Ted Danson
    • Tom Cullen is Cameron Frye
    • Larry is, well, Larry from Three's Company.
    • Trashcan man is Animal from the Muppets.
    • Harold Lauder is a younger version of Police Academy's Sweetchuck.
posted by condour75 at 6:27 PM on September 17


The numbers don't seem to work out. We're told 99.4 percent, and a projected population for the Free Zone of around a million, but that should've left scores of people to wander most small towns. Even a town of 2,000 should have 12 people walking around.

I think Chapter 38 is King's attempt to go from "99.4 percent" to "Fuck it, everyone's dead except few enough for me to write about."
posted by Etrigan at 6:48 PM on September 17


Also, there's at least a little hint that there's some supernatural pick-and-choosing going on beyond the case fatality statistics.
posted by gingerest at 9:41 PM on September 17


Ehh but in chapter 38 he says 16 percent died of accidents after the flu. Not enough. Unless it killed a lot more than 99.4%.

The population of the free zone is 11,000 by Mayday 1991, with people still coming in.

So let's say that's the end, everyone's there and it represents half of the surviving population of the US. That's still 99.99%. Figure around 10 out of every 100,000. Cities like Boston and DC would have 50 people or so. NYC around 700. This doesn't really track with how the book imagines things. The clumping is all wrong, it should be larger parties coming out of metro areas rather than dribs and drabs of singles and pairs.
posted by condour75 at 5:49 AM on September 18


Starkey says:
99.4% communicability, he thought. It played insanely over and over in his mind. And that meant 99.4% excess mortality, because the human body couldn’t produce the antibodies necessary to stop a constantly shifting antigen virus.
Does this actually mean "99.4% will die"? I read this more as (a) there's an incredibly high chance of transfer from an infected to an uninfected person, and (b) once a person is infected, they are sure to die. (Stu is very much the exception here, and the CDC have really no clue why he's immune: "he dreams a great deal more than average".)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 8:30 AM on September 18


So let's say that's the end, everyone's there and it represents half of the surviving population of the US. That's still 99.99%. Figure around 10 out of every 100,000. Cities like Boston and DC would have 50 people or so. NYC around 700. This doesn't really track with how the book imagines things. The clumping is all wrong, it should be larger parties coming out of metro areas rather than dribs and drabs of singles and pairs.

I got the impression at the end that people were still coming into Boulder even after the events of the book, so I always chalked that up to "some people in other parts of the country may have also been alive but stayed put longer or even just stayed put permanently". It takes a while to cross the country even when you do have a car, probably longer when you not only DON'T have one but also have to dodge the cars that have been abandoned on other parts of the highway. And no telling what other percentage of people may have met with misfortune on the road to Boulder.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:34 AM on September 18


I got the impression at the end that people were still coming into Boulder even after the events of the book.

Yeah, I agree. In fact, if I had to guess King's intent, I'd say he did see the 99.4 number as an answer (albeit hedged) on the final tally of flu victims -- it's the only time an official figure is given, and even though "communicability" as a metric doesn't really make sense, we're not given much else to go on. If that wasn't the number, wouldn't our omniscient narrator give us another one somewhere along the way? He's happy enough to tell us the 16% "no great loss" victims in the US.

But that means there should be 9,000 people in Manhattan alone, and 600 in every small city of 100,000. 230 people should be milling about Montclair, NJ. There should be 720 in Topeka, Kansas.

75% of Americans in 1990 lived in urban areas, and I don't think most Americans really grok that, imagining an uncountable number of idyllic one horse towns in the heartland. I think King is falling victim to that same bias.
posted by condour75 at 10:47 AM on September 18


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