The Stand (1984) by Stephen King

“For a long time I had wanted to write a fantasy epic like The Lord of the Rings, only with an American setting.”

-Stephen King

I finally read Stephen King’s The Stand during the last two months of 2020. What a year to read his story of a deadly new strain of the flu that wipes out most of the population of the planet. “Are you crazy?” I hear you ask. Probably. The timing wasn’t planned, it’s just the way it worked out. The length of this book kept me away from it for so long, 1152 pages in the Complete and Uncut Edition. Now that I’ve read it, I can understand all the high praise it gets. The Stand is King’s masterpiece.

To simplify it, The Stand tells the story of a battle between Good and Evil after a devastating pandemic. I can’t say for sure that it is King’s “best” book because I haven’t read them all. It’s subjective, anyway, but it has become my favourite King novel. I could end the review here–“please do!” I hear you shout–but that would be lazy of me. Let me tell you some of the reasons why this book blew me away.

The Opening

The opening of The Stand is completely gripping and hard to put down. King describes the outbreak and spread of the superflu as he introduces some of the main characters. What makes it so chilling is how it doesn’t read like science fiction or fantasy; it reads almost like a news report. You can imagine how it could actually happen like this, and King’s realistic take is quite horrifying.

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but with a whimper.

-from ‘The Hollow Men’ by T.S. Eliot

The Characters

I’ve written about King’s skill of creating well-rounded and believable characters before. I think this is one of the main reasons why he has been so popular for so long. In my opinion, The Stand contains some of his most interesting and memorable characters. These are the ones that stood out for me. (Possible spoilers ahead.)

Larry Underwood is a singer-songwriter living in Los Angeles. As the story opens, his single “Baby, Can You Dig Your Man?” is successfully moving up the pop charts. Larry is a complex, flawed character who feels real. He is selfish, he makes mistakes, yet he tries to do the right thing. His story arc is one of the most satisfying out of all the characters, in my opinion.

In Nick Andros, King has created another memorable fictional character. Nick is deaf and unable to speak. He can read lips, and communicates by writing messages in a small notepad he carries with him. In Nick’s dreams, he is able to speak. He meets Mother Abigail in one such dream and she asks him to come find her in Nebraska. On his way there, Nick meets another of my favourite characters from the book, Tom Cullen.

I really liked the character Tom Cullen. He is a good-hearted man who has a learning disability. He refers to himself in the third person, and often uses phrases like “My laws!” and “Laws, yes!” Tom has a habit of spelling out different words “M-O-O-N” when he thinks something is important: “M-O-O-N, that spells Nebraska!” These mannerisms helped make him stand out from some of the other more major characters.

The Trashcan Man is another unique and memorable character. He is a schizophrenic and a pyromaniac. After the pandemic, he escapes his incarceration and begins to burn his way across the country. He was teased as a child for starting a fire in an elderly lady’s post box. He really hated being teased and this memory still haunts him. It will play an important part near the end of the book.

Harold Lauder is one of King’s characters you love to hate. King is so good at writing them. In the book, he is sixteen years old. He is clever and calculating, paranoid and jealous. Quick to anger, he keeps a journal detailing his frustrations with the world and the people around him. You get the feeling that he could suddenly lose control and act on his dark desires.

Stunning Set Pieces

One of the joys of reading is getting swept up in a story and losing yourself to the author’s imagination. Some of the set pieces King creates are simply stunning, as well as frightening. There is one particular scene involving Larry Underwood travelling through a tunnel on foot that verged on being an ordeal to read. It is harrowing and gripping. Incredible to think that King can have this effect on a reader simply by his arrangement of a series of words and sentences. It gave me actual chills, and it has been a long time since that has happened to me while reading a book.

In Summary

The Stand is an epic story with a sweeping narrative that will take you on an unforgettable journey across a broken land, leading to a showdown between the forces of GOOD and EVIL. It contains some of King’s most memorable characters and set-pieces. I think this could be his masterpiece.

How about you? Have you read it? What are your thoughts on The Stand?

Thanks for reading!



29 thoughts on “The Stand (1984) by Stephen King

  1. Yep, this blew me away too. I read the edition that is the second one in your collage.Borrowed it from the library and I think I had to renew it a couple of times because I couldn’t binge read it.

    The opening of how it all started was probably my favorite part and what I thought was the best written and most intriguing. I agree with you that it seems so plausible too. I remember getting shivers at thinking how this “could” happen.

    My biggest issue, which I have with almost all of King’s books, is the dualistic nature of his portrayal of Good and evil. Good might win in the stories he tells but he makes sure to let his readers know that that is not always the case :-/

    Liked by 3 people

    • King is well-known for his less-than-satisfying endings. I’ve read a few in my time. But I liked the ending in this book. There are always sacrifices to be made in his stories. I think with the genre he’s writing in, it is more common to steer away from the pain-free “happy ending”.

      What do you think of the argument that with Good and evil, you can’t have one without the other? Is that what you are pointing out about King’s books? Or is it more about there being bad in the good, as well as good in the bad?

      Liked by 2 people

      • I’ve never had a problem with his endings so I don’t understand what people are talking about.

        I have a problem with the “can’t have one without the other” idea that seems to permeate his works. And that they are co-equal and simply 2 sides of the same coin.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I haven’t read every book in King’s bibliography, either, Wakizashi, but I’ll say this: So many of his stories seem to fit within one of two modes; he for the most part writes either contained, limited-POV horror thrillers (The Shining, Misery), or he goes all-out with sprawling, multi-protagonist dark fantasies like The Dark Tower and Under the Dome. The Stand fits into the latter category, and yet King doesn’t let the narrative get away from him; it’s a focused, emotionally affecting, thematically resonant epic. (And, alas, more topical than ever, it would seem.)

    He does indeed have such a special gift for characterization, and for essentially creating very relatable human dramas that get interrupted by the arrival or occasion of something supernatural/paranormal/extraordinary. In other words: Conceptually, he starts with a drama, and then — only after the characters and circumstances have been fully and credibly established — he layers the genre elements atop it. The Stand is a masterpiece; it’s actually a book I think would mean something brand-new to me in our post-COVID existence. Still, 1,300 pages is a hell of a commitment!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Despite The Stand’s length, I felt it was more focused than IT. As you said, the narrative didn’t get away from King here. Yes, I really appreciated how carefully he used the supernatural elements in this story. Despite some of its genre content, I found The Stand to be a realistic depiction of how humanity might react, then try to rebuild after such a deadly event. A book to get lost in.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s funny, I recently finished Chuck Wendig’s Wanderers, another long book about an epidemic of sorts that rages across the country. I think I’d heard someone claim Wendig was at least partly inspired by King, and it does show in many ways. The Stand is one of my favorites by King. It was so long ago I read it I don’t recall specifics, just general impressions, but it was so absorbing, I just got pulled into the story and the characters, which as you said is usually one of the big draws in King’s fiction, his characters. I’d love to reread it one day, along with It, which is also a favorite of mine. I think I prefered the more personal story of It, and that’s why it’s a favorite despite some flaws, whereas this one was more epic (though it still does a great job making things personal) but so well told and I don’t recall thinking there were any of those flaws. Glad to hear how much you enjoyed this one.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Absorbing, yes! Like you, I got totally pulled into the story. It might not be high culture but it was really entertaining. King finding the balance between epic and personal really worked in this one. It seems I’m a little bit unique in coming to The Stand so late. I’m just glad I finally got around to it because it was a great reading experience.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks. No offence to King but I think his books probably come across the best if read when we are teenagers. I got into him when I was 16 and even enjoyed The Tommyknockers at that forgiving age. ๐Ÿ˜… I’m sure you’d notice the flaws a lot more if you reread it now.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah there’s truth in that. Still interested if I would still enjoy it today, it made such an impression on me back then, and it seems you liked it too as an adult, so I have high hopes.

        I’m also thinking of starting The Dark Tower series someday, that gets good press from some adults too, but it seems like a fairly big investment.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yeah, I’m intrigued by The Dark Tower, too. I forgot to mention it, but it was a comment from you that got me to read The Stand. You mentioned how enjoyable it is to get deep into a long, epic story like this book. So thanks for that!

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Well, this and a Booktube review of King has led to it getting on my ever-growing TBR list. So thanks for that! ๐Ÿ˜‰ Not sure if I’ve actually read any of his novels, so I guess this would be a good place to start. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s very, very long, but I found it an easy read. I borrowed a copy from my buddy and knocked it out over the course of a week hiking and camping in northern Arizona/southern Utah.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve always wanted to read this one thinking that it was his magnum opus too and it’s fantastic to see how much praise you have for it. I’ll definitely have to push it up higher on my TBR. The comic book adaptation looks pretty decent but I’ve never been a huge fan of adaptations; have you tried it? Great review though. Thanks for sharing! ๐Ÿ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it was epic; especially the full uncut version. No, I haven’t tried the comic version. Adaptations often don’t work so well. I guess a lot depends on the creative team.
      Thanks for commenting!


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