Sunday, July 10, 2016

Lana Reviews: The Stand - Stephen King

Writing must be a great profession, - you can kill off entire worlds and get away with it. Having been a Stephen King fan for about 20 years now, I suppose it is quite an achievement to never have picked up The Stand in all those years. Until a few weeks ago anyway. The novel, which was originally written in 1978 and set in 1980, was re-released in 1990, and this newer version is the one I have read. Here, the story is set to 1990, and the book is over 500 pages longer than the original 1980 novel. It is, one might say, a brick of a book. Did it need those extra 500 pages? Since I haven't read the original version, I have no idea which parts were 'new,' but I didn't feel that any parts were particularly superfluous or dull.

The year is 1990, and in an army lab doing research on biological warfare, something goes horribly wrong. A virus breaches the lab's safety measures, and everyone in the facility dies, save for one man who manages to slip out, gather up his family, and get them out of the area before anyone can stop him. They make it to a small village in Texas before they die, bringing along a gift package containing a virus with 99,4% communicability, - a constantly shifting antigen virus that, once contracted, a human body would be unable to produce the necessary antibodies to get well again. The plague spreads through the country like wildfire killing nearly 100% of the population.

Those few who are left, who never got sick in the first place, struggle to take in the enormity of what has happened as they are forced to face this new world. Their loved ones are gone, everything that made up the order of the old world is no longer valid, all the rules have changed. And as the handful of characters we get to follow are drifting from their homes in search of something more, in search of others in a now too empty world, that's when the dreams come. And they are all urged through the dreams to choose sides, urged to travel in one of two directions. One is supposedly toward evil, the other toward good. It seems as if someone, or something, is setting them up for some great conflict or battle that only one side can win.

The funny thing about labeling one part of what is left of mankind good, and the other part evil, is that nothing is ever that cut and dry, nothing is ever that simple. And King points this out too, several times through the story; most people who ended up on the evil side of the conflict were not that much different from most of those that aligned themselves with the good side. And both sides had people drifting away when they felt they had gotten something different than what they had bargained for. Both sides also had people who aligned more with their chosen path (or side) than the rest, people who were more morally good or bad than the average person. But even some of the main characters, who even played key roles at the resolving of the conflict, never fell clearly into any of the two categories even though one might think they should have when they are chosen to champion one side. I liked that. That is exactly how humans are: we are all a mix and there's good and bad in all of us to some degree, that is just human nature. What truly matters in the end, is the choices we make.

As for the two characters who spearhead each side, they are both rather interesting. Both have some larger power behind them, backing them up and using them as tools, and I think they are both very aware of it. The story is pretty much telling us that the larger power behind mother Abigail is God, while the one behind Flagg is the devil. Flagg himself is always described as a jolly fellow, a could-be cousin of Santa himself - most of the visual descriptions of him stand in stark contrast with the fear that both his own side and his enemies have of him. Even when things go wrong for him though, he has very few doubts about what he is doing and is fully committed to the cause. Mother Abigail on the other hand, keeps questioning her role and begging to be released. As much as she trusts in her God, he is not very kind to her. And God and the devil, or whoever is behind it all, seem only to be interested in the great game they are playing, and not in the untold lives that are lost because of it.

I love disaster movies, even most of the bad ones (though I do draw a line at the Sharknado franchise. That was a bit too much, even for me). I am also a big fan of The Walking Dead. I guess it only makes sense that I would enjoy a book where today's world crashes down so severely and completely. I remember that at one point in the book I was wondering what would happen if the lone survivor of a town or village was a child. At that point, King had stuck to his main characters, mostly, and all of them were 16 or older. There were also a few characters I hadn't come across yet. Either way, and fortunately for my curiosity, it turned out King had thought to cover that too. All of a sudden, there was a chapter telling stories of a handful of those people who had survived the plague, but didn't make it in the first month (or first weeks maybe) after, due to other circumstances and incidents. One of those stories is about a little boy, and it is short and heartbreaking, but it sure answered my question. I don't doubt there were other children who ended up similarly to that poor boy, but fortunately, some were also luckier.

To me, The Stand was a lot about the journey. It starts off with a frantic journey to get away from death and ends with a soul-searching journey toward death, and in the middle there is a lot of traveling too. I got a feeling of how lonely and empty and big the world had become, but it felt kind of nice too at the same time. Often, people would see animals about that you hardly ever see anymore because they're too afraid to come out of hiding, or there just aren't that many of them left. It was like a reset of mother nature, and while humans might have gotten the short end of the stick (our own fault though), other species seemed to be thriving in our absence. I had no trouble believing that that's probably how it would be if something like that ever came to pass, and I think perhaps I liked the idea better than I should have.

I have read a lot of Stephen King books through the years, but I have to say that this is, without a doubt, my new favorite of his. It is a huge and slightly intimidating-looking book, and I was honestly wondering as I picked it up whether I could actually get through all those pages (I have had a bit of trouble lately, finishing the books I try to read). As it turned out though, I was never bored. Never did I feel as if parts were dull and shouldn't have been there, and never did I want to give up and put it away. The biggest trouble I had was the actual weight of the book, and being slowed down by the breaks I had to take when I got too tired to hold it. As such, I would heartily recommend this to anyone who likes Stephen King, or a good disaster story, or awesome settings and interesting characters. Now, if I could just get my hands on that TV mini-series they made in the 90s...

Book Details
Title: The Stand
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Gramercy
Pages: 1152
Year: 2001
Language: English
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 0-517-21901-8
First published: 1978, 1990

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