You may recall that just before Christmas I signed up for Book Chick City’s Stephen King Reading Challenge, the goal being to read at least six Stephen King books this year. I’d already read a few of his novels but I’d seen more movie adaptations, and wanted to go back and do his classics, books like The Shining, It and The Long Walk.
I started out with his longest work, quite possibly his best work and a work I’d already read: The Stand.
I’d only read The Stand once before, when I was 12. I borrowed it from the library and spent a summer laboring my way through it’s a thousand or so pages. I can still remember the exact book: the cover was black with the title taking up most of it, and it was in hardcover with that thick and slightly loose plastic libraries love to wrap books in. It was probably the first epic I’d read and although it took me most of the summer to finish it, it stayed with me for years. I saw this as the perfect opportunity to re-read it as an adult, and see if I’d still like it with years of exposure to post-apocalyptic movies, TV shows and other books, and at a time when 1990 – the year The Stand is set in its most recent incarnation – has started to sound very long ago. I also finally cracked the spine on the beautiful paperback edition I’d bought a couple of years ago – the unabridged version, with a few thousand words put back in by the author that due to the cost of printing his brick of a book, his publishers had asked him to delete first time round.
The Stand begins in the dead of a night with a panicked solider waking his wife and child and rushing all three of them off the base, because “the clock went red.” There’s been a terrible accident, and a lethal virus – Captain Trips, a superflu – has been released into the world. Within weeks, it has wiped out over 99% of the population. Bands of survivors find each other in what’s left of the devastated United States – some drawn together by shared dreams of a woman named Mother Abigail, others drawn to “The Dark Man”, Randall Flagg. Both establish new, fledgling societies – Abigail’s people in Boulder, Colorado, and Randall’s in Las Vegas. (Of course!) When they discover each other and realize that both cannot continue to exist, the stage is set for battle, or “The Stand.”
(And that is an extremely over-simplified version of events. Trust me!)
The Stand not only lived up to my memory of reading it, but it was better than I remembered. It must be King at his best. I think one of the reasons I haven’t read more of him is that I feel like his novels take ages to get into. (Case in point: the first book I was going to read was Duma Key, but it was boring me to tears by page 3.) But with this, I was staying up into the early hours just to read more.
And you know how much I like me a good virus outbreak…
Apparently a new movie is in the works, but unless it’s in three parts I don’t see how they could do it. And I think the 1994 mini series did the job fine – for me, Gary Sinise was the perfect Stu Redman, and Rob Lowe was a heartbreakingly beautiful Nick Andros, the gentle deaf mute. (I was never convinced about Molly Ringwald as Fran though.) In fact, the more I think about it the more I think I’m going to try and get my hands on that mini-series, and rewatch it as a sideline to this challenge.
You may have seen in the last week that King announced his new book, due out in November: 11/22/63. That’s November 22, 1963, or the day of JFK’s assassination. The novel will tell the story of a high school English teacher who has the opportunity to travel back in time and potentially change the course of history. I think it sounds great and it’ll definitely be a part of my Stephen King Challenge. You can find out more about it here.
Next up: The Long Walk.