Wednesday, February 13, 2019


The StandThe Stand by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“None of us want to see portents and omens, no matter how much we like our ghost stories and the spooky films. None of us want to really see a Star in the East or a pillar of fire by night. We want peace and rationality and routine. If we have to see God in the black face of an old woman, it’s bound to remind us that there’s a devil for every god—and our devil may be closer than we like to think.”

A plague has escaped a lab killing most of the population, only a few, a mere fraction of the whole, has immunity or manages to survive being infected.

It is over in a matter of weeks. Civilization grinds to a halt, then collapses, and then falls into chaos.

A Mad Max world is born.

A virus that kills 99.4% of the people it infects is a very stupid virus. Even the Black Plague had a 20% survival rate, so for a virus to act this stupidly, it would have to be man made. The last thing any virus should do is kill the host. Death of the host leads to death of the virus.

”Now most of the young folks and old folks were gone, and most of those in between. God had brought down a harsh judgment on the human race.”

Invariably, we can’t help bringing God into any situation where we think a judgment has been handed down on humanity, but he/she doesn’t have anything to do with this. This is man destroying himself. Some would make the case that God could have interceded, could have saved us if we had been worthy, but then when have we ever been ‘worthy’? Since we are made in his image I do think sometimes what God, if he exists, likes least in us is what he likes least about himself. The whole theory of God is built on good and evil. If evil exists, then oddly God exists. The Vatican has been working relentlessly to prove for centuries that pure evil exists to justify the whole need for their continued existence.

The proof might be rising out of the ashes of this virulent plague. ”He was coming, Flagg was coming like some terrible horror monster out of the scariest picture ever made. The dark man’s cheeks were flushed with jolly color, his eyes were twinkling with happy good fellowship, and a great hungry voracious grin stretched his lips over huge tombstone teeth, shark teeth, and his hands were held out in front of him, and there were shiny black crow feathers fluttering from his hair.”

The survivors are dreaming about the Dark Man, and they are dreaming about the old black woman in the cornfields of Nebraska. These dreams are as vivid as they are confusing. There is a battle for their souls going on. They must choose. Do they go to Randall Flagg, or do they flock to Abagail Freemantle?

You would think it would be an easy decision. Don’t most of us think of ourselves as good people? Of course, we would join Abagail, the self-anointed prophet of God. Except, maybe it isn’t so clearly cut; as the two groups grow, it is starting to look like an even split. Abagail brings her flock to Boulder, Colorado, wanting to use the natural barrier of the Rockies to be the dividing line between her “good people” and the evil people following the Dark Man.

Not to mention that she knows there has to be a reckoning.

But are they evil? When people from the Boulder Free Zone mingle with those from the Dark Side, they find them to be normal people, just like the people they left back in Boulder. The biggest difference is that they are afraid, and fear, as we know, is the most insidious and easiest way to control people. It becomes very clear that Abagail’s army is really only fighting one man, one man with supernatural powers. ”Nevermore. Tap, tap, tap. The crow, looking in at him, seeming to grin. And it came to him with a dreamy, testicle-shriveling certainty that this was the dark man, his soul, his ka somehow projected into this rain-drenched, grinning crow that was looking in at him, checking up on him.”

So it is sort of interesting to speculate about whether there are truly evil beings like Randall Flagg in the world, waiting for their opportunity, waiting for people to need someone larger than themselves to lead. Their power grows as people choose to believe in them. As long as civilization exists and people are reasonably content, a person like Flagg is never given an opportunity to thrive.

We through our own discontent empower evil.

This novel is one of the King epics. A fan poll on Goodreads, The Best of Stephen King Poll, shows that his fans still believe this is his best book. My favorite book, and the one that I feel will be considered his masterpiece, is IT , a book that I feel really brings together all of his best skills in building characters and shows off his gift for creating twisty, scary plots . IT is #2 on the Goodreads poll. Pennywise, in my opinion, might have had as large an impact on reading/watching audiences as Norman Bates in Psycho. Once you have been introduced to Pennywise try walking past a storm drain without giving it a wide berth.

The Stand has a large cast, and most readers will have a favorite character. I liked several characters, actually, and wondered if I was going to find myself in a George R.R. Martin universe where identifying with a character was tantamount to self-inflicted grief. I was fortunate to stick with Stu Redman. He is a hick from Texas who continues to show hidden depths as circumstances shape and reveal his character. He made me smile with the following response, when it looks like dire circumstances may lead to a slow death: “Ralph came over to Stu and knelt down. ‘Can we get you anything, Stu?’ Stu smiled. ‘Yeah. Everything Gore Vidal ever wrote—those books about Lincoln and Aaron Burr and those guys. I always meant to read the suckers. Now it looks like I got the time.’”

Gotta love the thought of a redneck from Texas reading the unabashed New York homosexual.

In the forward, Stephen King talks about the meeting he had with the publishing group about the size of The Stand. It was originally published at about 800 pages, but then when they decided to reissue the uncut version, he was able to put back in about 400 pages that he had been forced to excise. ”I reluctantly agreed to do the surgery myself. I think I did a fairly good job, for a writer who has been accused over and over again of having diarrhea of the word processor.” He agreed to the cuts because the publishing team made a compelling case. They were able to show him the sales from his previous four books, the profit margin, and if he sold the same number of books of The Stand, how much slimmer the profit margin would be, because of the cost to produce the 400 extra pages. So the cuts were not made for editorial reasons, but for common sense accounting reasons. King was very happy to have the orphaned material reunited with the rest of the book.

The book does bog down at times for me. I think that is inevitable with a book this size. King is taking on some larger themes here and for the most part keeps all the plates spinning in the air. I read a lot of post-apocalyptic books, and I’m sure if I ever let myself be put on a couch, a psychologist will explore those reasons thoroughly, but one thing I notice, while I am immersing myself in The Stand, is that I have a greater appreciation for my life and the cocoon that civilization wraps around me to keep me safe and provide me with the necessities so that I can have the time I want to read, putter, and write. Maybe I’m not as obsessed with the END OF THE WORLD as much as I am finding new ways to appreciate the wonderful life I do have.

I have to admit, though, that I had to agree with lifestyle philosophy of the sociologist Glen Bateman. ”But Bateman himself hadn’t wanted to get in on the ground floor of society’s reappearance. He seemed perfectly content—at least for the time being—to go for his walks with Kojak, paint his pictures, putter around his garden, and think about the sociological ramifications of nearly total decimation.”

I would hope I could ignore the siren calls of the ancient, wise woman in Nebraska and the seductive pull of The Dark Man and just enjoy the peace and quiet of a more tranquil world without the constant noise of people talking on their cell phones, music blaring from cars, planes taking off from airports, and millions of electrical lines humming.

It is truly amazing any of us can think.

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