“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 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-from ‘The Hollow Men’ by T.S. Eliot
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but with a whimper.
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.
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!