The Stand (Stephen King 1978)

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I have a lot to thank this book for, since it was one of the first Stephen King books I read and one I’ve been wanting to review ever since I first started this blog. It not only introduced me to Stephen King and his books, but it also reignited my interest in reading after spending most of my early teens lying around playing video games. Since I probably would not have become a writer without having read any of Stephen King’s works, I have a lot to thank this book for. So without further ado, let’s start at the beginning.

The book opens as a superflu virus sweeps across the USA and the rest of the world, killing off most of the world’s population. In the aftermath of this disaster a host of people are left fighting for their survival. Gradually a clash between good and evil builds, as the mysterious Randall Flagg rises to power in Las Vegas while the old Mother Abagail calls out to people in their dreams, directing them to Boulder, Colorado. I have heard the book described as Lord of the Rings in a fantasy setting and it is easy to see the parallels. A lot of the protagonists stand in for the fellowship of the ring, though I cannot draw exact parallels since they often take on different roles as the story progresses. Yet Randall Flagg fills a similar role to Sauron, that much is without doubt. There is even a reference to Gollum in the form of Trashcan Man, who is psychotically devoted to Flagg in a manner similar to Gollum’s attachment to the ring.

The plot is overall decent. I admit though that at times it felt like it took a while to get going. At the beginning it takes a while before the protagonists finally converge and meet Mother Abagail, which is the point where the story truly begins in my opinion. Yet I understand why King had the journey to Boulder take so long, since in a way it allowed him to establish important characterisation which becomes important later on. The Stand is more of a character story than a plot story so it was essential for King to establish his characters and their own story arcs early on. Towards the end, the plot dwindles. A group of heroes set out to defeat Randall Flagg but in a strange twist which I still can’t comprehend, the main protagonist Stu breaks his leg and forces the others to go on without him. The others go on, but get captured by Randall Flagg and their efforts generally prove to be ineffective. In the end Trashcan Man brings Flagg a nuclear bomb as atonement for betraying Flagg during one of his fits of insanity, and a mysterious hand of god appears and sets off the bomb, killing everyone in Las Vegas. Stu is able to return home to his love interest and live happily ever after. Yay for him I guess?

As you can probably guess the ending bugs me more than just a bit. It is a blatant example of Deus ex Machina, or god out of the machine, referring to classical mythology where the gods would descend from the heavens and solve everything. The term is used when the plot is miraculous solved by outside forces, with little or not input from the protagonist or foreshadowing for that matter. In the end the protagonists have no effect on the plot and this really bugs me. To make matters worse, the ending also drags on a bit, with a lot of focus on the return journey. Just like the Return of the King book, the return journey takes up more time than you’d like though The Stand is worse since there isn’t a lot going on during that time. Put simply, the book is excellent for most of its run but once it reaches the climax it starts to lose its touch.

The book as a whole is still an excellent read. Everything up to the climax read like a masterpiece, and certain characters such as Harold Lauder and Trashcan Man really made the book worth reading. While I do not enjoy the climax when I read it with my current mindset as a writer, the book still reads as a flawed masterpiece and unlike other instances where I have used the word I place the emphasis on the masterpiece part of the word. If you don’t mind the over religious themes and aren’t afraid to put a bit of time into what you read then this book is perfect. I have a lot of fond memories of this book, and I wish I could give it a perfect score, but the reality is that it is a bit short of perfect but despite this the book still gets a decent score in my view and I will always list it as one of my favourite reads of all time despite my opinion of it as a writer.

SCORE: 4/5

IN A WORD: LONG

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