Good vs. Evil by Bev Vincent

After Stephen King finished The Shining, he wrote the novella “Apt Pupil” before going back to work on his Patty Hearst[1] novel, The House on Value Street. After six weeks, he once again felt the book wasn’t coming together for him.

A few  incidents in the news caught his attention. The first was an accident in Utah where canisters of a deadly chemical fell from a truck, split open, The_Stand_faceand killed some sheep[2]. If the wind had been blowing in a different direction, many people might have died. He still had the Symbionese Liberation Army on his mind, so he wondered what would happen if a disease got loose and destroyed most of the world’s population—as in the George R. Stewart novel Earth Abides, which he had read in high school, and M. P. Shiel’s The Purple Cloud—but members of the SLA were immune for some reason. Then he read about the first-ever outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at the American Legion Convention in Philadelphia in 1976. When he heard a radio preacher utter the phrase “once in every generation the plague will fall among them,” he liked it enough to write it down and post it on his desk.

He had written about the survivors of a viral epidemic before, in the short story “Night Surf,” which was first published in Ubris in 1969 and reworked for subsequent publication in Cavalier in 1974. Though that virus was called A6, the survivors referred to it as Captain Trips. At that earlier time, he wanted to write more about the world after the apocalypse, but he didn’t feel ready to tackle such an enormous project.

He was also inspired to try to write an epic fantasy on the scale of The Lord of the Rings, but with a familiar setting. The problem with so much of high fantasy, he felt, was that readers had to learn a new language and geography to enjoy those books, whereas his would be set in contemporary America.

Also percolating in the back of his mind was a character who had been haunting him for years. In 1969, in the Ford Room on the third floor of the Memorial Union at the University of Maine, he wrote a poem called “The Dark Man” on the back of a place mat (or on a napkin) while recovering from a massive hangover. It was about a man who wanders the country like a vagabond, riding the rails, observing everything. The poem turns dark when the narrator confesses to rape and murder. A picture of SLA member Donald Defreeze in which his features were shadowed by a large hat triggered memories of that poem. This inspired him to create Randall Flagg, an amalgamation of a number of sociopaths, including Charles Manson, Charles Whitman and Charlie Starkweather, combined with everything else he knew of from the previous twenty years that was really bad.

Eventually he gave up on Patty Hearst and spent the next few years destroying America. He started The Stand from Franny Goldsmith’s perspective as she gathers followers on a trek across the ravaged landscape of the former America, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. This approach proved cumbersome, however, so King instead opted to write the novel from multiple viewpoints.

While he experienced a degree of pleasure in coming up with a radical solution to the energy crisis, the cold war and the planet’s environmental problems all at once, the book was hard work. At times he actively hated it, describing it to friends as his own little Vietnam because he couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. He might have given up on it if he’d had any other ideas but he eventually reached the point where he had invested so much time in The Stand that he couldn’t afford to abandon it, even after he encountered another novel that seemed to tell much the same story, Survivors by Terry Nation.

During one of the long walks that he often took to work out plot and character issues, he identified the book’s biggest structural problem. He might have thinned out the world’s population, but the story had accumulated too many characters again. Some of them had to go. A strategically placed bomb solved that issue, and he was reinvigorated to finish the novel a couple of months later.

The first draft manuscript was nearly 1400 pages. He reduced it upon revision, but Doubleday thought that a book that long would be too expensive, hurting sales. Either he could cut 400 more pages himself, or the editorial staff would do it for him[3]. He didn’t like removing material for purely economic reasons, but he complied.

The cover art is his favorite among the Doubleday books—an illustration inspired by Goya’s painting, “The Battle of Good and Evil.” He was less impressed by the book’s construction, calling it a “little, tiny squatty thing that looks much bigger than it is,” and suggesting that the Doubleday books in general looked as though they were built to fall apart.

Given his issues with editorial matters and his thoughts about the physical books themselves, it should come as no surprise that he was ready to make a change.


 

[1]Apropos of very little, Patty Hearst’s name made the news recently when she entered a dog in the Westminster Kennel Club dog show that fared quite well.

[2]This reminds me of the scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind where the military fakes this kind of incident to keep people away from Devils Tower.

[3]We’ll revisit The Stand some months down the line when we get to the revised and expanded edition in our chronology.

20 comments

  • I think I’m faintly embarrassed to have to admit that ‘The Stand’ is the only King novel I’ve read, I’m fairly sure… As to why I’m following this series of posts, that’s an entirely different matter!

    • I don’t think that Terry Nation’s ‘Survivors’ is really very like ‘The Stand’, other than the worldwide population reduction! (And in that case I’m pretty sure that the novel came after the TV series…

  • Adam Hall

    Thanks, Bev! Another great historical essay as always!

  • dankeohane

    The Stand was my very first King novel. Blew me away then, and I still remember the weeks reading it (slow reader here) with fondness. It was one of the first times so many characters in a novel had such a life of their own.

  • Lynn Burleson

    I was so happy to read “The Stand” when it was first printed and even happier when the revised and expanded version was released. I think the E-publishing industry has provided a means for authors who write epic or in-depth works to see them published without being gutted due to publication costs. So much the better for those of us who prefer long reads.

  • Awesome Bev! Learned a lot of stuff here.

    Loved how you are able to capture King’s mind set when he was writing each book.

  • John Fahey

    This probably will not be the last time I comment on what a great idea this is. Getting the viewpoint from so many great people on books that we all love is very entertaining and informative (both in the articles and the comments). I am looking forward to future posts.

  • John

    To date I’ve read 61 Stephen King books. The Stand is still my favorite though they are all great. Some are a bit bizarre, but as with The Stand, you have to wonder what if??

  • Richard Teevan

    Very good backstory on how the stand came to life. hmmm just finished reread and have been on MR Barker re-reads for a while. Maybe i’ll go on another Stand journey. 😉 Have a great weekend Bev!

  • A big chunk of my adolescence was devoted to reading The Stand. I re-read it so many times my paperback copy actually split in two, but I kept on reading it, and re-reading it, holding the two chunks together with a rubber band. The original paperback had a beautifully spooky dark blue color…I have not seen that cover in years but remember it fondly. While the trimming might have been done for the wrong reasons, I think the original, and shorter, version of the novel is actually better. When The Unexpurgated Stand was released I was disappointed….the “extra” material was not as strong, and I’m glad that the version I remember is the original edition.

    • BR

      Finally, it’s not just me!

      I read it a lot as a teen too. Returned to it recently after about 25 years, but picked up the uncut edition, and it strikes me as a very different book, with many parts having a post-‘It’ King feel that don’t quite gel with the original voice. The original version seems like a book an idealistic youth in his 20’s would write, the expanded version has a bitter undercurrent of cynicism and suspicion about Humanity that I guess I just find unpleasant, cartoonish and lacking empathy, particularly in additions like the EC Comics viciousness of the ‘No Great Loss’ chapter.

      It’s been a month-long slog so far. The earlier version is shorter, but, strangely, seems more epic. Perhaps the simplification of character into classic American Archetypes suits them far better: with the expansion I’m finding I actively dislike a lot of them now, particularly Frannie, Nick and Larry.

      King moved the timeline ahead, but it’s a book that very specifically deals with the 1970’s, and its attendant fears, to the degree I think it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read that sums up the climate of the 70’s. Now my suspension of disbelief is constantly-broken by attitudes that don’t gel with the new 90’s setting: references to cutting records, fantasising about sex with 70’s stars, references to longhairs, the very different cultural climates of university campuses between the seventies and the nineties.

      The pace just drags. I grew so bored with the sixty-four page slog of Trashcan Man’s journey with The Kid that I actually skipped ahead, something I never do, then forced myself to go back and finish his chapter. I realised I could have skipped it. No Great Loss.

      The damage, however, seems to have been done: I’ve abandoned the book 844 pages into it, filed it in the bookshelf, and don’t see myself returning to it. I did, however, order an original paperback version off Ebay for a couple of bucks, and suspect I will stick with the plague hitting in 1980 in the future.

      By contrast, I picked up ‘It’ two days ago and now already 400 pages into it.

  • James Campbell

    I was able to find myself a 1st ed of The Stand locally at a used shop. Being a big King, but not much of a reader until the last 5 or so years, I am sad to say, I have never read this one…..yet!

    Loved this write up! I plan on getting to it soon.

  • Laurie Hennessey

    The Stand is that rare novel that actually induced me to have some pretty vivid post-apocalyptic dreams, which I still remember despite the fact that I had them more than 35 years ago. That’s pretty amazing!

  • TLManning

    I read The Stand when I was fourteen years old. I had to hide it under my pillow due to my Mother fearing it would give me nightmares. She was right, but I couldn’t put it down. To this day it remains one of my all time favorite books.

  • kelli trickey

    I Have read The Stand at least 15 times, both the abridged oneand the full length story and it remains one of my favorite books ever. Franny and Stu, the Judge, all of them live vividly in my mind and I revisit them often!

  • Stefania osellame

    My favorite King novel . The extended version has a permanent place on my nightstand and I re-read up every few years…I think I’m up to 15 re-read so far

  • I’ve been reading King and about King for most of my life, and I don’t remember ever hearing about the original structure of Frannie-as-Dorothy. Thanks, Bev! Great work, as alway!

  • Joann

    Thanks to you Bev for the info, love to learn the history of a novels existence! I grew up with SK from the start with Carrie. Love-love-love his work. For some reason The Stands first release version was difficult to get into. Then the Un-Cut Illustrated version was released in 2001. Adding those extra 400 pages made a big difference for me, it was a great read. I miss my original paperback version, it ended up (by accident) in a book give away box. This was realized when my daughters friend thanked me for the book. She received her first SK experience. I had done my good deed.

  • Wanda Maynard

    Awesome! Thank you for all of this great info. THE STAND was one of my favorite reads.

  • Gunnar Rehlin

    I have read and reread The Stand many times. It still stands as one of Stephen King’s best books (yes, I have read them all). Got both the original paperback (signed by King, with a dedication) and the first edition of the unabridged version. They both stand proudly in the King section ln by bookshelf.

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