The Stand by Stephen King – Book Review

by Josh Hanagarne on October 24, 2010

the stand stephen king

Judging from the amount of people who type “Stephen King The Stand Review” or “The Stand Stephen King review” into Google every month, its’ still on some people’s minds, happily for me.

The countdown to Halloween continues. I’m not sure why it has taken me this long to get around to reviewing The Stand by Stephen King. It is probably the biggest book I’ve ever read, one of the most enjoyable books I’ve ever read, and is hands down my favorite book that jolly old Stephen has ever written. (It is a close second, although now I realize that I haven’t gotten around to reviewing that one either.

But…The Stand. I was a fan of dystopian literature long before I had ever heard the actual word dystopia. I also love horror, big fat books, and the whole good against evil thing. If you haven’t read this book, it has all of that and more. Way more.

Plot summary of The Stand

Well, well, well…humanity has gone and just about wiped itself out again. This time it’s because a deadly plague gets spread around the country wit’ a quickness. And suddenly just about everyone is dead. The survivors do their best to…survive. It isn’t easy and it isn’t very fun, either.

The beginning of the book introduces character after character after character. Who they are, where they were living when everything started falling apart, and which direction they choose to go in once they realize they can’t just sit around and wait for things to get back to normal.

As these characters eventually meet up and band together, they begin migrating to one of two locations. Anyone who decides to play nice and be good heads towards Boulder, Colorado, beckoned by a little old lady named Mother Abigail.

The survivors who are not as pleasant all head towards, of course, Las Vegas. The man–if he is a man at all!!! (gasp!)–running the show in Sin City is named Randall Flagg. He’s a pretty cheerful fellow for most of the novel, despite the fact that he’s obviously some sort of devil. He also goes by the name The Walking Dude. His minions are rightfully frightened of him, as are the people who wind up in Boulder.

Eventually it becomes clear that the two sides–good and bad–are headed for a showdown. Putting society back together means very different things for each camp. Out in Vegas, as soon as they get the power back up they basically start making weapons and trying to activate bombs. The do-gooders in Colorado want to get the electricity back on so they can have well-lit tea parties as they talk about how good humanity is and how badly the government has failed them with their stupid plague. (Just kidding, but it is in Boulder).

Characters and questions

As I said, the character list in The Stand is staggering. But some of Stephen King’s greatest creations are in this book. The Trashcan Man. Harold. Tom Cullen. And the best of all, Randall Flagg. This is a truly great villain, and anyone who has read King’s Dark Tower Series knows that he is not quite done with humanity at the end of this book.

I think I like dystopia books because they are typically fun, fast reads for me, but also because they ask some big questions if I’m in the mood to slow down and think about them. In most of these books humanity is brought to its knees because we are:

  • Too greedy
  • Too careless
  • Forgetting that every zombie will have its day, no matter what
  • We give robots too much power and they became self-aware (Terminator!)
  • We try to play God
  • And so on

Every writer treats these subjects differently. Margaret Atwood’s dystopian books are truly horrifying visions of how bad things could get, as are George Orwell’s. Stephen King’s take on the nightmare future usually just feels…really, really fun to me. Not that I’d want to live in the future gone mad, but King’s books about how bad things could get usually feel like great excuses just to tell an awesome adventure story with some horror elements in it. The Stand does have some great scares in it. My favorite is probably the man trying to navigate a tunnel in the aftermath of the plague. He walks for a long ways in the pitch black midst of a traffic jam, and keeps hearing things. And feeling things. And seeing things.

But whether you’re slumming and just want a 1300 page penny dreadful, as Harold Bloom might refer to The Stand, or you want to ask questions about humanity (while reading pulp, come on now, admit it)  the questions are there.

There was also a miniseries made of this book. It wasn’t terrible, which says something, given the usual results of King film adaptations. But the ninnies really got Randall Flagg wrong. I don’t know if they could have found a way to make him less frightening, but oh well. The book is awesome.

For the record, I read Stephen King for fun. I feel like that’s the highest compliment I can give him, given the fact that he has freely admitted that he writes for the same reason:

For fun. For the thrill of creating something. For the joy of spinning a big fat yarn that people like me will love. It is impossible for me to read The Stand and not feel how much fun King must have had while writing it, even though I know some of it was very difficult. (check out his book, On WritingWSL review–for more on that).

Stephen, thanks as always.

Josh

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Sam Spurlin October 24, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Love it. The Stand is probably my favorite King book as well (followed closely by the Dark Tower series).

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Erin October 24, 2010 at 3:17 pm

I’ve never read Stephen King, but I intend to. When I do, I’ve already decided I will start with The Stand! I can’t quite put my finger on why it appeals to me, but I look forward to tackling it someday!

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Anne Bender October 24, 2010 at 5:31 pm

I read The Stand after watching the mini series. I gave up sleep and just about everything else and it only took me 2 days to finish. I would not recommend ignoring everyone and everything for a book, but this was something special. The hardest part for me was the time spent in the desert. I found those pages a tad tedious.

I think The Stand is the only Stephen King book I’ve read. Hmmm

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Ryan October 24, 2010 at 5:54 pm

Definitely one of my favorite King books, only topped by the Dark Tower Series (and maybe The Shining). Either way, a must read King book

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Rachel October 25, 2010 at 3:20 pm

Definitely my favorite King book as well. Also just one of my favorite books in general. So well-written and imagined.

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