It’s been tough for Lost fans for the past few months because we have to wait till February next year for a new season instead of this Fall. What’s even more depressing is that we might get to see only 8 new episodes next year if the the writers’ strike does not stop immediately. To get my Lost “fix” I decided to buy The Stand a novel by Stephen King which the writers of Lost have mentioned to be their inspiration for the show. This can be clearly seen from the many parallels between the novel and the TV show (I’ll save that for another post). Anyway, I finished it in two weeks and it is easily one of my favourite novel. Furthermore, this is my first Stephen King novel (I’ve only watch movie adaptations of his work)
**BEWARE OF MAJOR SPOILERS**
The novel is thick (approx. 1300 pages) and it has an evolving story. It started as an account of the fall of the American society due to an outbreak of a deadly virus (created by the government of course) through the eyes of several characters who are mysteriously immune to it. By the middle of the book the story shifted gear into some sort of “road trip” story where the characters travel across America and meeting new characters. Eventually, the survivors are divided into two camps: the “good guys” at Boulder, Colorado under Mother Abigail (a 108 years old black woman who talks to God) and the “bad guys” at Sin City itself, Las Vegas ruled by Randall Flagg aka the dark man aka Walkin dude. By this time, the story changes into a socio-political commentary where our heroes tries to rebuild civilization from scratch. Towards the end, some of our heroes make a ‘Stand’ against Flagg at Las Vegas with a surprise ending that some readers may dislike.
You could say that I’ve basically ruined the whole plot in the last paragraph but the real strength of the novel is not the plot but the characters. This novel is long and the story drags in the first half of the book but slow plot development is compensated with deep character development. By the end of the book, you will feel as if you’ve known these characters for a long time. Stu, Frannie, Glen, Harold Lauder, Nick, Larry Underwood, Tom Cullen, Randall Flagg, THE TRASHCAN MAN! and even minor characters such as the Kid and Rat-man are all simply unforgettable. What makes it more depressing is that more than half of the main characters don’t make it till the end of the novel!
I like all the characters and have enjoyed reading them but if I have to pick I would say Larry Underwood and Glen Bateman. Larry is a cocky, short tempered, one hit wonder rock star who turned into one of the leaders of the survivors and made a huge sacrifice at the end. Glen is an old pessimistic sociologist who always comes up with theories that actually prophesized the events of the novel (eg. the Society A & Society B hypothesis). His ‘confrontation’ with Randall Flagg is one of my favourite part of the book.
The Ending **SPOILERS**
I know there are people who hated the conclusion at Las Vegas. Why didn’t the ‘Hand of God’ just destroy Flagg in the beginning? Personally, I believe that the ‘Hand of God’ can only be summoned until the characters reached their so called ‘redemption’ or apotheosis in their personal journey. This story isn’t simply about good vs evil, its about the individual journey that these characters take. Glen was an atheist (Or an agnostic, i can’t remember) but later he accepted his fate when he was sent by Abigail to go West. Out of the four guys that went West, he was the strongest and most ready to face death. Consequently, he got killed first but not before laughing his ass off at Randall. But hey, maybe Stephen King was just plain lazy and drunk when he wrote about the ‘Hand of God’ but whatever the real reason behind the sudden appearance of the ‘Hand of God’, I like stick with my explanation.
As for the Epilogue where Randall Flagg is alive, that fits in with the theme of Good vs Evil where instead of one side winning over another, they are locked into an eternal battle.
In short, I highly recommend this book. I hope they can adapt this into the big screen but since its long so it would probably divided into 2 or 3 movies. Yeah I know, there was a miniseries starring Gary Sinise in which I remember watching when I was a kid. I can’t remember how faithful the miniseries was to the novel, it was so long ago.