Revisiting The Stand (1978) by Richard Chizmar
THAT WAS THEN…
THE STAND was originally published in 1978, but I didn’t get around to reading it until a decade later — the very end of 1988/beginning of ’89. Christmas vacation of my final year of college to be exact. I was living in an apartment near the University of Maryland at the time, but had traveled home to Edgewood to stay with my parents for the nearly month long holiday break.
I had just finished with exams and the premiere issue of CEMETERY DANCE had just been published weeks before, so I spent my time at home recharging my brain and devouring a pile of magazine submissions…and reading THE STAND every night before I fell asleep.
Why, all these years later, do I so clearly remember reading it during that time period?
One simple image, which I will get to in a moment.
First, my thoughts on THE STAND upon that initial reading:
I loved it, but it was more than that: it almost felt like I was being hypnotized by the story — this was becoming a familiar experience when reading a SK book — as it took over my late nights and, on more nights than I care to remember, my dreams.
I was already a sucker for apocalyptic stories (think books like I AM LEGEND and films like PLANET OF THE APES), and THE STAND was the Granddaddy of them all — featuring dozens of fascinating characters and locales, villains unlike any villains I had ever seen before, and the ultimate showdown between good and evil.
For almost three weeks, I was lost in Stephen King’s version of a post-Captain Tripps world, and I loved every minute of it.
So, yes, while it’s fair to say that I absolutely adored THE STAND, I also have to admit to a simple truth — at the time, I clearly remember not liking THE STAND quite as much as I had liked ‘SALEM’S LOT. Not a big deal, of course — to each their own — but it was still an opinion that led to quite a few in-depth discussions with my best friend and one of my older sisters. They both felt that the sheer scope and storytelling wonder of THE STAND easily trumped the small town horrors of the LOT. I argued that each book was a very different creature, with very different goals, and each were classics in their own right. Ultimately, it was an argument without a resolution, and an early lesson to all of us that King’s Constant Readers would almost always hold differing opinions regarding their favorites (although it’s interesting to note that both THE STAND and ‘SALEM’S LOT are rarely left off of any Constant Reader’s Top 10 lists).
Okay, what else do I recall about that initial reading?
I remember that it made me think a lot about God and faith and good versus evil. More than any other piece of “entertainment” had done.
I remember being wary of the Baltimore Tunnel for months after finishing the book.
And having nightmares not only about Randall Flagg, but of the Trashcan Man. In fact, I was sure he was following me around campus that winter.
I also remember trying to write my own stories with as much emotional breadth as THE STAND…and failing. And coming to terms with the fact that I just wasn’t ready.
I remember liking the climatic scene in Las Vegas just fine, despite a scattering of complaints I had heard about it.
And I remember falling in love with Frannie (didn’t everyone?) and hating and feeling sorry for Harold all at the same time (and realizing that I knew quite a few “Harold”s myself) and wishing Glen Bateman was my long lost Uncle because he was so cool and laughing at the mess of a man that was Larry Underwood (and torturing my friends by singing an awful, off-key version of “Baby, can you dig your man? He’s a righteous man.”) and torturing my friends even more by walking around repeating “M-O-O-N spells moon” and thinking that Stu Redman kept reminding me of someone, but I couldn’t quite place it…and that’s where that single image I mentioned earlier comes into play.
Stu Redman was the everyman of THE STAND. Solid. Dependable. Hardworking. Honest. Strong. And quietly confident. He wasn’t a super hero; he was real.
I’d like to say he reminded me of myself, but that wouldn’t be true. I was just out of my teens, just learning what it meant to work hard and sacrifice. I was also still young enough to think that I knew almost everything, and I wasn’t so quiet about that.
But the more time I spent with Stu, the more I sensed I already knew this guy. I just couldn’t figure out from where.
And then one early morning I found out.
I had read THE STAND until late the previous night. It was well after midnight when I finally turned off the lights. And, as was often the case in those younger days, I had consumed quite a bit of junk food in the process — in this particular instance, a double Big Gulp Coke from 7-11, two chili dogs, and a big bag of barbeque potato chips. Yes, I remember the menu, just like I remember the wobbly tv table (do they even sell those things anymore?) that stood by my bedside holding the feast and the old ten inch black-and-white television that perched on my dresser, picture on to keep me company, sound off.
Anyway, the chili dogs didn’t bother me a bit (I slept like a baby with a whole lot worse than a couple of chili dogs in my tummy back in those days), but the jumbo Coke did me in, and I remember waking up that morning around 5am. I tiptoed out of my bedroom and across the hall to the upstairs bathroom and took care of business in the dark, and on my way back to bed, I noticed a light on downstairs in the kitchen.
I stopped and stared at my father.
He was sitting alone at the little kitchen table. Drinking coffee and reading the early newspaper. He took a sip and turned the page.
I stood there and watched him.
A moment later, the microwave dinged (or was it a toaster oven back in 1989?), and he took out what looked like a Danish pastry. He took a bite and another sip of coffee. Sighed tiredly and turned another page.
And I saw it then: he was my Stu Redman.
Sitting right there in my kitchen.
Strong. Quiet. Dependable. No, not a super hero, but a hero nonetheless. My hero.
I went back to bed and thought a lot about my father sitting there in his dark blue work uniform (he was an aircraft mechanic and worked at the airfield on our local Army base). He worked the early shift and rarely missed a day, and when he did, it was usually because one of his knucklehead kids had broken their hand or foot or the great big picture window at the front of our house (ahem).
He worked hard, day in and day out, without complaint. He took pride in his work. He took pride in doing the right things.
I fell back to sleep that early winter morning not thinking about Stu Redman…but of my father; thinking that if I worked really really hard and lived the best life I could, maybe I could grow up to be half the man my father was.
It was a nice way to fall asleep.
* * *
THIS IS NOW…
Okay, let’s get this out of the way right up front: yes, I realize that it took me almost two months to finish my reread of THE STAND!
I apologize for that, and I appreciate the enthusiasm — and impatience — behind many of the emails I received. It’s nice to be missed!
All I can do is offer the following couple of explanations: 1) it’s a particularly busy time of year at the CD offices; and 2) I simply didn’t want to finish THE STAND. For the last half of the novel, I actually rationed my page count each day. That’s how much I was enjoying it.
I realize it’s cliche as hell to say this, but I can’t help it: rereading THE STAND felt like sitting down and revisiting old friends — Stu and Frannie and Nick and Mother Abigail and all of the others; even the bad guys! — and once I got nice and comfortable, I didn’t want to get up and leave.
So that’s what I did; I put my feet up and settled in for a nice, long visit. Too long, if I listen to all those emails I received. I’ll try not to do it again, folks, but I make no promises.
Now let’s dive into a handful of observations based on my reread:
Firstly, and most surprisingly, THE STAND wasn’t quite as scary as I remembered it to be. Don’t take that as an insult or complaint — because it’s clearly not. I still freaked out bigtime about the Lincoln Tunnel and many of the dream sequences. I still found myself both frightened and disgusted by Flagg and Trashcan Man and the Rat Man. I still had a bad dream…or two.
But, as a more mature reader, I found my terror someplace else in THE STAND this time around. You see, I felt so damn close to the characters that I found myself actually wishing and hoping that bad things would stay away from them, even while I knew — of course, I knew! — what their destinies had in store for them.
But it didn’t matter — somehow, after all these years, the fear of the inevitable overpowered the fear of corpse-ridden tunnels and dark magicians dressed in bluejeans and cowboy boots.
The Good Guys felt like family, and I mourned them as such.
When Frannie’s father died, I felt it deep in my soul.
The same goes for Larry’s mother.
When Mother Abigail took off on God’s orders from the safety of Boulder, I felt angry and prayed for her safe return — even though I knew what was coming.
When Nick and Mother Abigail both died within the space of several pages, my heart ached and I felt their loss to the book’s end.
And when Larry and Glen and Ralph all died in Las Vegas, I swear to you I turned back and reread the pages, sure that I had missed something, some loop hole in the plot that would allow them to make a last minute surprise appearance back in Boulder — ta daaaa, we’re here and we’re alive! Tricked you!
But, of course, that never happened.
Just like so often in real life.
And perhaps that is what Stephen King does best of all: he tells us the truth as he sees it. Sometimes, stealing his phrase, it’s the truth inside the lie. Sometimes it’s happy and nostalgic and full of sunshine. More times than not, it’s harsh and dark and found deep within the shadows.
What I also discovered during my reread is that THE STAND contains a whole lot of all of the above.
Sure, there are plenty of scares sprinkled throughout, but there are also a couple hundred pages after the main group arrives in Boulder where nothing terribly dark or horrific takes place (other than inside Harold’s mind and faraway in Vegas). Our main characters are busy setting up new homes, establishing the Committee, working at the Power Plant, and burying the dead. They are also busy falling in love, dreaming again, and worrying about what Flagg is planning in Vegas. In other words, they are busy living again.
This long section has become my favorite part of THE STAND, and if the characters’ cross-country journey to Boulder stands as the heart of the novel, then this section must be its soul.
A few more quick points and I’m outta here…
The “hand of God” ending still works for me. I don’t think Steve copped out or got lazy or couldn’t come up with a better ending (common complaints I have read over the years). I simply think the ending fits the story and what came before it.
Would Steve write the same ending today? Probably not. He’s lived a lot of years since the time he originally wrote THE STAND. But then again I’m guessing a big chunk of the rest of the story would be very different, too. People change. Even writers.
There is one thing I am certain would remain the same, though; no matter when Steve first put pen to paper on THE STAND — and that’s Randall Flagg, also known as The Dark Man.
I was fortunate enough last year to publish a short illustrated book containing Stephen King’s poem “The Dark Man,” originally published in 1969 while he was still in college. This rare poem marks the first ever appearance of King’s most famous villain, and I can’t even begin to tell you how much of an honor it was to be involved.
Every time I came upon the words “The Dark Man” during my reread, I thought to myself: dreams do come true. They really do.
Oh, and one last thing: after all these years, Stu Redman still reminds me of my father.
* * *
SEE YOU AT THE MOVIES…
If you had told me back in 1988 that there would be a film version of THE STAND, I would’ve come back with: Nope. Not possible. Not gonna happen.
Remember how I told you I thought I knew everything back then?
Yeah, not so much.
Fortunately for all of us, in May 1994, Stephen King and Mick Garris teamed up to take on the challenge and brought Stu, Frannie, Flagg and the rest of the gang to life in a prime time, four-part television mini-series. King penned a fantastic adaptation of the novel (managing the impossible by including almost all of the good stuff) and Garris did a tremendous job behind the camera. The casting was better than anyone had a right to expect — with wonderful performances by Gary Sinise, Rob Lowe, Ruby Dee, Molly Ringwald, Jamey Sheridan, Ossie Davis, Miguel Ferrer, Laura San Giacomo, Bill Fagerbakke, Corin Nemec, Ray Walston, Matt Frewer, Adam Storke and a cool little cameo by Stephen King himself.
THE STAND mini-series was an unqualified success, watched by a record number of viewers and winning a handful of major awards. And for me, it accomplished the impossible — it brought the heart and soul of Steve’s amazing novel to my television screen.
* * *
Now, more than 20 years later, Flagg and company are headed back in front of the cameras — this time for the big screen and not one, but two features films!
My friend and longtime CEMETERY DANCE reader Josh Boone (THE FAULT IN OUR STARS) is the man in charge, and I’ve learned my lesson this time around — I’m not only hoping for a great result, I’m expecting it.
Why so confident this time around?
Well, I could tell you that Josh just turned in his script and it’s rumored (ahem) to be excellent.
Or I could tell you that the casting for this feature film version will be surprising and stellar (and no I’m not giving you any hints).
Or I could talk about the hefty budget and how it should give this version a chance to be everything the book was.
Or, most importantly to me, I could tell you that Josh is a lifelong Stephen King fan who is determined to do the book — and author — justice.
* * *
Larry Underwood. A corpse-infested, pitch black Lincoln Tunnel. Flicking his Bic lighter on and off in the darkness. The terror is sustained for an amazing number of pages in this scene, but this particular sequence rated a solid 10 on the squirm scale for me:
Behind him, in the darkness, something moved.
Larry wheeled around, instantly engulfed with fear at that single gritting sound…a footstep.
“Who’s there?” he shouted, unslinging his rifle.
No answer but the echo. When it faded he heard — or thought he did — the quiet sound of breathing. He stood bug-eyed in the dark, the hairs along the nape of his neck turning into hackles. He held his breath. There was no sound. He was beginning to dismiss it as imagination when the sound came again…a sliding, quiet footstep.
He fumbled madly for his lighter. The thought that it would make him a target never occurred to him. As he pulled it from his pocket the striker wheel caught on his pants momentarily and the lighter tumbled from his hand. He heard a clink as it struck the railing, and then there was a soft bonk as it struck the hood or trunk of a car below.
The sliding footstep came again, a little closer now, impossible to tell how close. Someone coming to kill him and his terror-locked mind gave him a picture of the soldier with the switchblade in his neck, moving slowly toward him the in dark–
That soft, gritting step again.
Stu and Fran sitting on Mother Abigail’s front porch. Watching baby Peter play in the dirt. Talking about the rest of their journey to Maine. Talking about their future. Talking about the world’s future.
“Do you think…do you think people ever learn anything?”
She opened her mouth to speak, hesitated, fell silent. The kerosene lamp flickered. Her eyes seemed very blue.
“I don’t know,” she said at last.
There are dozens of classic lines in THE STAND. Frightening descriptions that rival King’s very best. Inspiring, uplifting moments in time that readers will never forget. But, for me, this simple piece of throwaway dialogue from Mother Abigail takes the cake (and I emailed Steve the moment I read it to tell him exactly that!):
“The only thing dumber than a broody hen was a New York Democrat.”
I know, I know, a strange choice. But it made me laugh bigtime, and I’ll always remember it.
SCENE THAT STILL MAKES ME CRINGE…
The Lincoln Tunnel comes a close second, but this one belongs to Trashcan Man:
It was Donald Merwin Elbert, now known as the Trashcan Man, now and forever, world without end, hallelujah, amen.
He was behind the wheel of a long, dirty electric cart. The cart’s heavy-duty bank of batteries was nearly drained dry. The cart was humming and buzzing and lurching. Trashcan Man bobbed back and forth on the open seat like a mad marionette.
He was in the last stages of radiation sickness. His hair was gone. His arms, poking out of the tatters of his shirt, were covered with open running sores. His face was a cratered red soup from which one desert-faded blue eye peered with a terrible, pitiful intelligence. His teeth were gone. His nails were gone. His eyelids were frayed flaps.
He looked like a man who had driven his electric cart out of the dark and burning subterranean mouth of hell itself.
Flagg watched him come, frozen. His smile was gone. His high, rich color was gone. His face was suddenly a window made of pale clear glass.
Trashcan Man’s voice bubbled ecstatically up from his thin chest: “I brought it…I brought you the fire…please…I’m sorry…”
CHARACTER I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO…
Flip a coin between Stu Redman and Frannie Goldsmith — and, as luck would have it, I have it on good authority that one day we will all learn more about Stu and Fran’s life in Maine.
And that’s all I’m gonna say about that.
START DATE – January 10, 2015
FINISH DATE – March 8, 2015
I recently heard the character Glenn from The Walking Dead described as the avatar for the audience, the physical embodiment of all those viewers. I think Stu Redman is the same for The Stand.
According to this Hollywood BabbleOn interview – http://smodcast.com/episodes/hollywood-babble-on-bonus-babble-on-hollywood-josh-boone-the-fault-in-our-stand/ – with Kevin Smith, according to Boone The Stand is going to be four movies. Very exciting as Boone obviously ‘gets’ the core King’s stories.
As to The Stand – like The Shining when I reread it – as an older reader I find it’s less than supernatural elements that stand out for me and more the relationships and mortality of the characters that do.
The Stand isn’t my fav King novel but it is his most impressive novel in scope and characters.
Lovely piece Richard. Stu Redman reminded me of my father too when I was growing up. So many great characters in this book.
Four movies was a horrible idea. That’s akin to making every final movie split into two.
You’ve only read it twice? Four times for me – including the unabridged book twice. Still my hands down favorite.
I am another Constant Reader … and consider myself a HUGE fan. I’ve read every book, starting with Carrie when it first came out! I wasn’t as impressed with THE STAND the first time around as I was with other SK books. I purchased the unabridged book when it was first released, and am about to sit down and read the darn thing — finally. Perhaps I will like it more the second time around and with more meat. It’s hard when comparing it with IT and SALEM’S LOT and so many others that I loved so much — I’m just sayin… Here I go! Linda from Northern California
I think you’ll be pleased. The extra 300 pages or so really flesh out some of the characters and situations. I’m really glad he did that and for me, it moved The Stand closer to my #1. It was always in my top 5 but the Dark Tower series (I consider it one long book) has been my #1 since it was finished. I had a couple others ahead of The Stand but I think it’s right there at #2 now.
That was an unexpected cliff hanger!! I can’t wait for more Stu Redman!
Great piece! I’m just a little more than halfway through my re-read, and I’m reading it much more closely this time than the first time I read it. I’d agree that one of the more terrifying scenes, both times, was the Lincoln Tunnel. That really sticks out in your mind, and I cringed slightly when Trashcan Man got to the Eisenhower Tunnel–I’d completely forgotten about that.
But for me, the most chilling line in the book so far–a line I don’t recall at all from my first reading–a line so full of implications, is something from Mother Abagail says to Nick about Flagg: “He ain’t Satan… but he and Satan know of each other and have kept their councils together of old.” I read that and thought who could Flagg possibly be?
Richard, I can’t tell you how much I am enjoying your re-reads. I have re-read all of King’s novels a few times–in order of publication is my favorite way, although I do sometimes pick up certain favorites more frequently–and even did a paper on all the short stories involving Castle Rock. But I look forward to your thoughts and always enjoy your commentary. Can’t wait until you get to Needful Things–my personal favorite.
For me, the visual of the Trashcan Man blowing up the big oil storage tanks is never far away…
I was about 14 when I read it, summertime. I can feel the sun baking on my big wide backside ( truth is truth). My father drove a petroleum truck for a living, so we went buy those big tank farms all the time… to visualize somebody just setting them all ablaze… damn.
Same for me Jill. When Trashie blew those oil drums, I was THERE. I could feel the steel rungs under my feet, smell the gasoline, and feel the KA -WHAMM
THAT was when I really got (as Rich put it) hypnotized by the book.
I have loved The Stand since I first read it (in the early 80’s sometime) and I always will. It is hands down my favorite King book. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on this great book. I can’t wait until we get to the uncut version! And I’m excited to hear more about Stu and Frannie!!
Nicely done, Richard! You have an incredible memory and it’s cool to read your “Then & Now” summaries. I cheated and read the uncut version. I know that one is coming up at a later date but I have wanted to read it for a long time and this was my chance. I won’t say anything except, I liked the way it extended the read…I was able to remain in this wonderful story a lot longer and that’s a good thing!
I, too, really like the religious aspects of this story. I’m not a terribly religious person but the way religion is handled in this is so well done. There is a cross section of humanity in the story…believers and non-believers but even the non-believers were nearly forced to believe at least a little (myself included). So much so that I LOVED the “Hand of God” ending in Vegas. Given the character Mother Abigail and her role in the story, I thought it was perfect.
I agree with most of your scene & character…”favorites” for lack of a better word. I remember initially falling for Nadine & Larry’s story but that quickly changed. I dropped Nadine for Frannie (even though I didn’t like Harold) and I liked Stu from the outset. When the two of them got together, I cheered. I remember being really upset when Mother Abigail sent the 4 main guys on the trip to Vegas because I just knew Stu was a dead man. When he fell and broke his leg, I think I may have thrown the paperback (sorry Steve!). Alas, I believe Steve must have really liked Stu, as well!
I agree with your scariest scene (and there’s a couple more in the uncut version!).
Favorite scene for me is when Kojak doubled back to help Stu with his broken leg. Stu would have died without Kojak…I love dogs so that was very touching. Also, when Tom comes along to join Kojak and Stu…pretty touching stuff. I tend to be as amazed at SK’s touching moments as his scary ones. I think it’s because I don’t expect him to write touching scenes but he does. I like being surprised!
Trashy bringing the bomb and the description of his condition…you call it the “SCENE THAT STILL MAKES ME CRINGE”. You got that right!!!
I’d love to read more about Stu & Frannie…as long as they aren’t killed!!
Can’t wait for the new movies!
Oh, and Richard…you just take your time!! I like being able to cram another book in here and there. Being able to take my time with the re-reads is nice…like you, I didn’t want this one to end!
Isn’t it spelled, “Trips?” One p?
Great write-up! And one hell of a tease with that last line there.
One question, which you’ve probably already covered – will you also be re-reading the “complete and uncut” version of The Stand?
Again, another wonderful job, Richard. I also love savoring a book word for word sometimes.
This book is literally one of the best books I’ve read in my entire life. This was the fifth time I’ve read it and the first time ever reading the original “edited” version. I’ve only ever read the “uncut” version of the book. I first visited this gem back when I was a sophomore in high school in 1999. It was one of the first King books I ever read. The thought of the 16 year old version of me tackling a book of this size is unbelievable to me now that I look back. I loved to read, but I was a little impatient back in those days. But the book description was enough to reel me in and get me interested.
When I first read this book, because of it’s length, it took me a good school year to read it. We used to have this class called Seminar which was pretty much a study hall where we could use our time to do homework. I almost always used this time to read and I can remember sitting in Mr. Meara’s seminar class a couple times a week and reading this book throughout my entire sophomore year. I loved the epic journey it took me on. I loved the characters, which to this day, other than King’s Dark Tower series, is definitely his best and most colorful cast of characters he has ever assembled. I loved Stu Redman, Frannie Goldsmith, Larry Underwood, Ralph Brenter, the mute Nick Andros, the mildly retarded Tom Cullen (M-O-O-N, that spells Tom Cullen), and probably my favorite character in the book Glen Bateman who always reminded me of my grandpa. Like Hershel in The Walking Dead tv show who was my favorite character in that show, he is the wise old man that seems to have all of the answers and lots of people turn to him for advice.) On the colorful side there is Harold Lauder, Lloyd Henreid, the pyromaniac Trashcan Man, The Rat Man, Nadine Cross, and probably the best villain Stephen King has ever come up with, the evil Randall Flagg. I’ve always been a fan of post apocalyptic novels. They just fascinate me. This one is by far the best one ever and no doubt it inspired a lot of future writers.
The second time I read this book was in 2006, the third time was in 2009, and the fourth was in 2011. Every time there is something on the news about an outbreak, whether it be The Swine Flu, or Ebola, or Measles, it always, ALWAYS reminds me of The Stand and gets me interested in reading it again. I can’t help it. And it obviously does the same thing to lots of other people because when I went to see Stephen King speak back in November, he told the crowd that whenever there is a new “plague” on the rise, he always sees a spike in the sales for that book lol.
Anyways, I can’t recommend this book enough to people if I find out they have never read any of King’s stuff. It may be a long one, but it never feels like it drags. The characters are so brilliantly written and fleshed out that you feel like you know them and can see them in your mind’s eye clear as day and you’re interested to see what will happen to them next. And this is one of King’s greatest strengths as a writer. Coming up with characters that you care about whether they be good or evil.
Another thing I noticed while revisiting this book is King’s genius ability to mention songs throughout the book that always reflect the mood and atmosphere with what is going on. It’s kinda hard to explain but it almost gives you a soundtrack to the landscape. This is something I notice in a lot of his books actually, but this is the first one in the chronology that you really see him using it in the best way.
Next to Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, which is beloved to me, I’ve always considered this to be his best book. I’m also excited to hear that it’s in the process of being made into a film trilogy. If done right, it’s going to be awesome. You could never do this book justice in one single film. It would be impossible. The four part tv mini-series version of it was great, but it’s dated nowadays. It would be cool to see a big budget theatrical version of this book.
Wow. That’s all I’m going to say.
As I’ve read and re-read The Stand over the decades(!), I became more sympathetic to Harold and the Trashcan Man. Yes, Harold’s an annoying little snot with an inferiority complex, but everyone around him as he was growing up did their level best to shape him into the obnoxious young man he’d become by the time Captain Trips arrived. The moment when he realises that he’s become accepted, even admired, by the people in Boulder, is a heartbreaking one. There’s a chance there for him to embrace the new society, but he just can’t bring himself to believe in it. After all, why should he expect it to be any different from the one that’s gone?
Trashcan Man’s story is one long tale of pathos and cruelty. He’s the ‘mutant’ for which people watch, so they can cast him out (why yes, I am referring to King’s discussion of Wyndham’s The Chrysalids). He can no more control his pyromaniacal urges than we could turn back a cyclone. And here’s the kicker – he wants to be accepted and loved so much that he can’t see past Flagg’s tenderness to the manipulation taking place. The fact that Trashcan Man’s love is, in the end, what undoes Flagg, is bittersweet and entirely appropriate. ‘My life for you’ is a powerful promise, made in love – and in the end, becomes a sacrifice that paradoxically saves all that is good in the new world.
Rich, when you talked about how much you dad reminded you of Stu Redman, I got goose bumps. Stu was the man I wish my father and step-father had been. When Stu broke his leg and was left behind, I remember crying my eyes out for a whole day because I couldn’t bear the thought of continuing the journey without him, and there I was a man of 28. Steve really knew how to pull those chords. I think Mick Garris chose correctly when Gary Sinise was picked to play the role. I now always see him in my mind as Stu Redman. I had hoped that Frank Darabont would direct the theatrical version of The Stand. I even wrote to Frank and to Steve’s assistant, hoping to entice some interest in him as the director. This would’ve been Frank’s opus, but it wasn’t meant to be. Great review of the book. I’m only about 125 pages into the unedited version. I should have read the ’78 edition instead. Can’t seem to get motivated on this one..
I 100% agree with your assessment about Gary Sinise as Stu. He was perfect for that role. I’ve read the original book once and the abridged version twice, and watched the TV miniseries probably 4 or 5 times. It was by far my favorite King book until 11/22/63. I loved Stu from the moment he showed up in the story. He made everything seem like it would be ok. And Gary Sinise was exactly the same way. Great book, great miniseries and looking forward to a great movie series.
I took the uncut version with me on a two-month work assignment in Basel Switzerland. I figured this will be helpful with some of the downtime I was sure face . It lasted one weekend. And for that weekend, I was swept back to an earlier time as a teenager when I read the Stand for the first time. Still my favorite book of all time!
One of my all-time favourite books. Too many stand out scenes to speak of.. but one of my favourite characters in the book ‘The Trashcan Man’ always seemed to me like King’s version of Gollum from ‘The Lord of the Rings’ does anyone else agree
Nailed it! Right on the money with that one. Was the first thing that popped into my mind when I read The Stand!
It remains the best post-apocalyptic story that I have ever read and the mini-series was a fitting tribute adaptation. So many of the characters developed so well in a huge book, The Stand stands alone for me as an American novel of epic proportions. To me a favorite were all the mini-snippet stories of unusual demise of characters you don’t get to know in the middle of the story when Captain Trips is working it’s way through the population – I think one was on a toilet when it blew up. The novel is full of something for everyone and is much more than a cautionary tale.
A couple of things that nag me on this re-reading are 1) The lack of depth in the Las Vegas camp. So much time is spent on the good guys in Colorado, but very little on the characters – far fewer than the good guys – and motivations of the bad guys. Which begs another question: Are they all really bad? It appears that they are more in fear than actual evil persons. 2) What dreams brought them to Las Vegas? If the majority of these folks are not truly evil, what type of dream would convince them to head to join up with the Dark Man?
This was my fave when I was younger, and I still love the scope and characters, but I wouldn’t rank it quite as high these days.
I have read it several times, always a good story. One should also read Swan Song. Also a very good story written about the same time as I understand.
The character I want to know more about is Leo. He is central to the plot until Nadine finally gives in, and then virtually disappears.
I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed reading this. This is the closest description of how I feel about this book that I have ever come across. I read The Stand every few years and have to date read it about a dozen times. We own the mini series on DVD and we watch it about once a year. I hope hope hope that we are not disappointed in the new movie. Thank you for sharing your insights!
I have a love-hate relationship with The Stand. I mean, I love it. From a pure storytelling standpoint, it is genius on so many levels. And I don’t think that the ending was the result of King being lazy or running out of ideas or steam; I just did not like it very much. It didn’t speak to me the way it did others. That doesn’t mean I think King should have written it a different way, it’s his book, afterall. I just could never get past the religiosity of the novel/film. I don’t have any religious faith, so I never knew where I would fit in in that world. Would I go to Bangor, because I’m a good person, despite my lack of a belief in any sort of higher power? Or would I simply wind up in Vegas, not because I’m a villain, but because the believers wouldn’t have me? I was always stuck there with the novel, it’s either/or approach to faith. Despite this, I have read it three times and listened to the excellent audio book twice. The first half will always remain the best part for me, like Kubrick’s Full Metal jacket and how the actual war scenes were good, but the parts everyone always talks about are the training scenes in the first half.
Also, I seem to be the only one who doesn’t like Stu. I like him well enough, I suppose. But I always thought of him as kind of an A-hole. My favorite character has always been Larry Underwood. I really identified with and loved his character’s journey from arrogant know-it-all to falling on his face to rising above it all. I thought he was the focus, my focus. Great write up though, as usual. I love these.
I finished re-reading it a couple of weeks ago. (I’ve since re-read Firestarter and – as of this afternoon – The Dead Zone). I first read The Stand back in the mid 80s and I never got around to re-reading it. Other than Dan Simmons’s Hyperion Cantos, I’m not that keen on re-reading books. There are too many out there I haven’t read once! But I thought I’d join in with this project.
The Stand is an archetypal King book. The characterisation is beyond reproach, King’s characters are so well-rounded you can’t help but care about them – good and bad. The plot is so-so. And the end is poor. You could write the plot out in three or four sentences (and not miss out very much) and the end is really, really disappointing. 1000 pages and then this “with one giant leap” nonsense.
But I don’t mind, because I don’t read King to find out what happens at the end. I read King for the pleasure of the journey. And The Stand is a wonderful journey. Sure it’s dated in places, even the 1990 re-write updates, but that doesn’t matter.
What has surprised me re-reading the books so far is how strong the religious elements run in these early books. Perhaps it’s glaringly obvious in The Stand but it’s still fairly strong in the other books.
‘It’ remains my favourite King book and I’m looking forward to re-reading that one. I’d always said that The Stand was my second favourite. I’m not sure it still holds that position. I think 11.22.63 might have usurped it. We shall see,
First time reading the original version. I found myself missing certain scenes but the story still works as well as in the longer version.
Some favorite scenes; when Lloyd is in jail and telling himself he won”t eat Trask. and then the line: He was not even aware he was salivating. Of course the Lincoln tunnel scene is awesome.
Overall a brilliant story with great characters.
I didn’t read all of the comments, but I am astounded by those on their second read of this amazing book? TWICE?
I read it (and IT) at least once every other year without fail.
This is my favourite Stephen King book, well maybe it battles with ‘Salems Lot for first place. I loved re-reading this and I loved reading everyones comments and Richard’s essay was great. I’m enjoying the Stephen King Revisited expereience very much Keep up the good work, Richard!!
An excellent article even if I didn’t share some of your opinions when I first read it and still don’t.(s) I couldn’t stand Fran Goldsmith in the book, and of Molly Ringwald in the Prince Valiant hairdo motorcycling in the retro cocktail dress, the less said, the better. I took it for granted I was supposed to sympathize with Fran: young, pretty, pregnant, just lost boyfriend, Mom and Dad. But I had serious trouble sympathizing with a college student too clueless to bother with birth control: I was younger than she was and I’d known for quite a while that practice made pregnant. And she’s too inexperienced/immature/whatever to deal tactfully with a teenaged boy with a crush on her, but adults take her seriously in a position of authority? Not any adult I knew.
Admittedly, King seldom does women well: e.g. his mothers are almost invariably controlling, emasculating, profoundly unhappy, hyper-religious, insane or any combination thereof. But I kept thinking that Fran’s like Lois Lane — a boy’s woman, not a man’s woman — and having her hook up with Stu Everyman was a way of giving himself the girl he wanted in high school. (Seriously, did anyone really doubt that Stu/Saint Joseph was going to make it back to Boulder?) Fran was there to be pregnant, get laid, have hysterics, play secretary — and sit on her butt while other people did the dirty work.
TBF she wasn’t the only ‘good guy’ on the latter: the Committee members couldn’t do anything dangerous ‘because it would take too long to get a replacement up to speed’ — and all they’d done was organize a meeting. If it was going to take more than a day for someone to get up to speed, the Free Zone must have held a remarkable collection of idiots. (I’d have had more patience with them if they’d just admitted they’d rather be in charge in Boulder than risk a bullet in the head in Las Vegas. It wouldn’t have been terribly heroic, but it would have been honest.)
And the ‘good’ men — hoo, boy. While the ‘too inexperienced to cope tactfully and generously with Harold’ might play for Fran, the men are all a decade or more older, and supposedly both intelligent and well-acquainted with human nature, but they not only can’t recognize/cope with a kid with a crush, they all view this seventeen-year-old not merely as an equal, but as a formidable adversary: you could be excused for thinking he’d somehow gone from seventeen to forty via an apprenticeship with the Teflon Don. TA he does seem to have more brains than anyone else in the Free Zone: he suggests that the Committee serve en bloc, which was precisely what they were trying to arrange, preferably so quickly no one would think to ask who’d died and put them in charge. (Did anyone else ever wonder why they felt so entitled to be in charge? As if no one else could be trusted to even remember democracy? Or why King went rambling at length about Mother Abigail’s supposed pride, but never spent a moment explaining the Committee members’ sense of entitlement?)
Ntm Stu’s in his thirties: what’s this supposed embodiment of all the masculine virtues doing climbing in the sack with a teenager he barely knows? A couple of kids half his age who’ve got to be scared out of their wits, and he sees them as a potential sex partner and a rival? I found it creepy: Fran was looking for a replacement for her father and an efficient protector in a world suddenly without cops, so her latching onto Stu made sense, but him? What normal middle-aged man wants a relationship with someone young enough to be his daughter?
Probably strangely, I found the ‘bad guys’ more interesting; perhaps King did as well, since they seemed far less cardboard cut-outs: the Everyman, the Philosopher, Everyone’s Favorite Grandfather. Trash was a pathetic nightmare from start to finish; Lloyd had the integrity to acknowledge his choice as his, just as Harold did. (Although describing Harold as ‘having fallen victim to his own protracted adolescence’ seemed more than a bit odd. It’d make sense applied to Larry Underwood, but Harold was seventeen: he hadn’t finished his adolescence, much less protracted it.)
And LBNL, as someone pointed out earlier, there’s no real explanation for the people who went to Las Vegas: they’re simply dismissed as ‘techies who like the trains to run on time’ as if anyone who’s in favour of hot water and indoor plumbing is a closet fascist. (And dissing techies was a little odd considering one of the first things on the list in Boulder was getting the power back on: obviously techies weren’t as evil as all that.) There’s no acknowledgement that Flagg, like any other cult leader, targets the damaged, or that he was unlikely to have gotten people to join him by saying “Come to Las Vegas and live under the control of my personal posse of thugs”, and only a very brief note that people were leaving/trying to leave Las Vegas (presumably when Flagg started to show his true colours.) Whitney, for one, doesn’t seem any better or worse than the people in the Free Zone — and however belatedly, he does publicly stand up to Flagg, which must have taken a lot more nerve than sitting around playing Virgin Mary-stand-in in Boulder, especially since he did it without the assurance that he was on a mission from God.
LSS, like Matt Hamilton, I couldn’t figure out where I’d have been supposed to fit, either. Flagg wouldn’t have rung my bells, but I doubt the Committee members would have wanted me in Boulder, either.
Holy crap your perspective is awesome. I hope you get on one day and get a high from feeling like your review was acknowledged and was well received, by at least one other person. It definitely made me happy.
Fran pisses me off, man. She acts like she’s too good for the fat author kid. And then we have a scene where we find out his parents just didn’t care about him (and that’s why he’s weird), and she’s still too busy being grossed out to comfort him. But she can deal with all the sick people?
Accurate depiction of the yuppies that occupy colleges. They’ll rally for stuff that’s popular like Black Lives Matter, but they’ll wear the Nike shoes made in sweatshops reinforced with machete-guided corporeal punishment or using the same phones powered by lithium secured in Afghanistan.
Sorry, the scene really irked me. I hope Fran grows up and stops acting like she’s better than the fat kid as the story goes on, but I bet he dies and she becomes mayor of the new town all the survivors make or something dumb like that.