898 of 932 people found the following review helpful
Before I get to the meat of my review, I feel I should provide a little bit of perspective. First, I am not a die-hard Stephen King fan. In fact, aside from "The Stand", I have only read collections of his short stories, so I can assure you my review isn't the rabid defense of an overly loyal admirer. Second, I am not a fan of horror and I wouldn't classify "The Stand" as such. Finally, I am a big fan of the "apocalyptic fiction" genre, and I believe I have a pretty good basis for my evaluation of this novel.
That said, "The Stand" is an incredible novel; perhaps one of the best I have ever read, by any author or in any genre. The story is predicated on the accidental release of a "super-flu" that wipes out 99% of the humans on the planet. The survivors find themselves drawn into a battle between good and evil that will determine the future of the entire planet.
As one might expect, a novel with such an ambitious plot and of such prodigious length touches upon numerous themes. In order to simplify my review, I am going to break down the novel's strengths into the following categories, and then consider them one at a time: world-building, plot, characters and themes.
First is world-building. In most apocalyptic fiction, one (if not both) of two things will be true: 1. The characters stay in one place or 2. The action picks up after the disaster. An example of the first is "Earth Abides" and of the latter "On the Beach". There's nothing wrong with either plot device, but in "The Stand" King injects a remarkable level of detail into his novel by covering the super-flu from start to finish. The novel starts at the very beginning of the outbreak, and many key plot lines are developed before the epidemic ever rears its head. King charts the breakdown and eventual destruction of civilization, and then offers a short, but remarkable, picture of the survivors in the immediate days after the flu has run its course. He makes the subtle observation that many survivors would die in a second wave of suicides, accidents and depression that would weed out many of those unequipped for an empty world. Finally, as the story progresses, King makes remarkable (but not overbearing) predictions about how nature would reshape the U.S. in the absence of man.
Second to consider is the plot. As I alluded to earlier, King has used the emptied United States as a battleground between good and evil. Soon after the flu has run its course, the survivors begin having dreams about an old woman (Mother Abigail) who seems to be marshalling the forces of good, and a malign presence (Randall Flagg) who is gathering those who would serve him and his ends. Insofar as the reader knows, the choice is clear-cut, irrevocable and mandatory. It is very much a "are you with us or against us" type of situation. That said, much of the book is devoted to the characters traveling across country to Boulder or Las Vegas (guess which side is where), no mean feat in a world without mass transit, hotels, etc. In fact, King's writing is so effective, the novel would be fascinating if the characters did nothing but travel around and attempt to reestablish society. The second, metaphysical, layer just makes it all the more interesting.
Thirdly, we have the characters to consider; I'll won't name names or speak in specifics to avoid ruining the plot, but there are a few general points worth mentioning. To start, the cast of characters in "The Stand" rivals that of "Lord of the Rings", and King handles it every bit as well as Tolkien. One might expect that a novel with a story this complex would skimp on character development, but the opposite is actually true. King took a huge idea (good vs. evil) and reduced it to a human element that the reader could digest. His characters show an incredible range of emotion, and even their flaws serve to enhance the reader's view of them. They struggle and fail and are rarely sure of themselves, in other words, they are human. As such, their actions take on a level of realism that is astonishing.
Finally, we come to the themes of the book. The way I see it there are three: the dualistic nature of good and evil, redemption and hope. The first is the most obvious, King correctly points out that good cannot be appreciated or striven for in the absence of bad. We can strive to limit the effects of evil, but it will never be overcome, as King sees greed and hate as intrinsic to the human condition in general, and civilization specifically. The second theme, of redemption, is subtler and offsets the first. King does not paint anyone is irretrievably lost, and along the same lines, he considers how good intentions are frequently misdirected through ignorance and fear. King seems to believe that given the opportunity and support, anyone can salvage their lives. Which brings us to the final theme of hope. As the novel ends, the reader knows that evil has not been vanquished, but also that it can never triumph because within its very nature are the seeds of its destruction. Over time, evil empires have gained power because they have torn down their enemies (see Nazi Germany), but as the saying goes, live by the sword, die by the sword. There is always hope, because evil cannot win.
There are so many other points to touch on, I could write indefinitely, but what it all comes down to is this: if you're looking for a novel that will entertain you even as it makes you think, "The Stand" is for you.
228 of 244 people found the following review helpful
The Stand, in my opinion, marks Stephen King's progression from horror to literature. Consistently voted fans' favorite King novel ever since its initial publication in 1978 (although I personally consider the novel It his finest work), The Stand delivers an archetypal conflict pitting good against evil against a backdrop of civilization itself. In this extraordinary novel, King fully unleashes the horrors previously contained in the microcosms of an extraordinary person (Carrie), a single town ('Salem's Lot), and a haunted hotel far removed from civilization (The Shining).
This is how the world ends: with a human-engineered superflu which escapes containment in the form of a terrified guard who unwittingly spreads death over a wide swath of southwestern America in his bid to escape infection. Captain Trips, they call it - until they die, and people die in droves within a matter of days. In almost no time at all, well over 99% of the American population have suffered an agonizing death. Those that are left all alone begin to dream: comforting visions of an ancient black lady called Mother Abigail in Nebraska rising up alongside nightmares of a faceless man out west. Many find their way to Las Vegas to serve under Randall Flag, the Walking Dude of their night visions, but many others flock to Mother Abigail in Nebraska and eventually Boulder, Colorado. As the citizens of the Boulder Free Zone attempt to reform society and make a new life for themselves, they are forced to come to terms with the fact that they are caught up in a struggle defined by their spiritual leader in religious terms. They must destroy Flagg or be destroyed by him - in a word, they must make their stand.
I could not begin to describe the dozens of richly drawn characters King gives life to in these pages. They are ordinary people called to do extraordinary things in a world reeking of death and fear. Some are not up to the challenge, and betrayal has awful consequences in this new reality - to the betrayer as well as the betrayed. These are real human beings, flaws and all; there is good to be found even among those serving the greatest of evils, and at the same time, the good guys don't always behave in ways you think they should. Nick Andros, Nadine Cross, Larry Underwood, Glen Bateman, Stu Redman, Harold Lauder, Mother Abigail, Tom Cullen, Randall Flagg, Trash Can Man - these are characters you will never forget. I must admit the climax of the great struggle just doesn't seem to be all it might be, but the first 1000 pages of this novel are so good that even Stephen King could hardly be expected to top what he had already accomplished in the framing of this ultimate conflict.
I find it slightly odd that religion plays such a small part in this visionary apocalypse. As far as Mother Abigail and, eventually, the novel's heroes are concerned, this is a religious fight between the imps of Satan and the servants of God, but you won't find any theology apart from a few misplaced references to Revelations by frightened characters, and no preacher of any faith seems to have survived the superflu outbreak itself.
I wouldn't call this a scary novel, but it certainly does have its moments - best exemplified by one character's journey through a dark tunnel surrounded by invisible but very dead and decaying bodies caught in an eternal traffic jam. The real horror, of course, is the all-pervasive atmosphere of a world decimated by man's self-imposed destruction. Death is literally everywhere these characters turn - in the silent houses and cars all around them, in the streets upon which they travel, in the terrifying nightmares they have of the Walking Dude, and even in the future they try to avoid thinking about, as no one knows whether the superflu will kill the children yet to be born. I found the sections dealing with the reconstitution of a society of some sort to be the most interesting aspect of the novel - will it be like the old society, will it repeat the mistakes of the last one, etc. This is also a story of personal redemption, as the novels' heroes must overcome their pasts and/or their human weaknesses and handicaps in order to make their stand. When the deaf-mute Nick tells Mother Abigail that he does not believe in God, she tells him that it doesn't matter because God believes in him - that is a truly empowering message.
There is an intriguing philosophical undercurrent to this novel that applies both eloquently and meaningfully to the human condition. The Stand is modern literature, a direct descendant of such epics as The Iliad and The Odyssey, and you will learn something about yourself when you read this masterpiece of contemporary literature.
151 of 165 people found the following review helpful
on December 12, 2003
The Stand, Stephen King's apocalyptic novel that mixes science fiction with horror (think of it as a realistic merging of The Andromeda Strain and The Final Conflict), was a runaway best-seller when it first hit bookstores in the late 1970s and is still regarded as one of King's best works, at least by his millions of fans. Its scenario of an accidental outbreak of a government-created strain of the flu -- which has a mortality rate of over 90 percent -- that wipes out most of mankind and sets the stage for a final showdown between good and evil makes for compelling reading.
What many readers did not know was that King was asked by the accounting department of his publisher to trim his already huge novel by several hundred pages to keep costs down and to make the hardcover's price affordable ($12.95 in 1978). Given the choice of doing the edits himself or letting the in-house editors do the cutting, King chose the former. As a result, most -- but not all -- the characters and situations appeared reasonably whole, although King remarks in the Preface that pyromaniac Trashcan Man's westward trek from the Midwest to Nevada has the most scars from the literary surgery he performed.
By 1989, though, King had enough clout -- and reader support -- to get Doubleday to publish The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition. Released in hardcover in 1990, the book sold very well and was later adapted by King as a miniseries for ABC-TV.
So what are the differences between the two versions of The Stand, besides the heavier weight and higher price? (Remember that
$12.95 retail price from 1978? In 1990 this had nearly doubled to $24.95!) Well, the novel's tale remains the same -- nefarious U.S. military creates a deadly strain of the flu...flu accidentally (and later not so accidentally) infects most of humanity...then the survivors split into two camps, one led by the evil Randall Flagg, the other headed by an elderly woman known as Mother Abigail, thus setting up the ultimate battle between darkness and light.
But in this novel, the magic is in the details. The long and fiery journey of the Trashcan Man across the United States is now more complete, and a frightening character who was completely excised from the original novel in '78 is now restored in a literary equivalent of the Extended Editions of The Lord of the Rings DVDs.
Another bonus: Illustrator Bernie Wrightson, who has contributed his drawings and artwork to King's Creepshow, Cycle of the Werewolf and one of the Dark Tower books, has added several illustrations to this edition. There are just a few and they are sprinkled sparingly, but they add a powerful jolt of visual effects to King's already vivid prose.
King acknowledges his penchant for writing big, sometimes rambling novels, and The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition is surely big and rambling. Yet the cast of characters -- Stu Redman, Frannie Goldsmith, Larry Underwood, Harold Lauder (whose descent from merely obnoxious teen to jealousy-driven traitor is one of The Stand's more interesting subplots), Nadine Cross, Nick Andros, Tom Cullen, Lloyd Henreid...and the mysterious entity known as Flagg -- is one of King's best ensembles of fictional creations, and the mythical landscape of post-flu America is truly unforgettable.
110 of 132 people found the following review helpful
on May 2, 2003
If I were reviewing the original of this novel, I'd definitely give 5 stars. I read it years ago and loved it. I was heartbroken, though, to read this version with all those pages that had been originally edited out and which, years later, King decided to have put back in (purely out of ego, I'm sure, because he couldn't bear the thought of any of his writing being discarded). Examples:
1. In the original, I recall being impressed that you got an explicit sense of what Frannie's mother was all about, even though she wasn't in a single scene. In the new version, she's in there, taking up space.
2. Similarly, I liked the understated reunion between Larry and his mother. You got a clear impression of their awkward relationship in just a few pages. But once again, SK decided to throw in a lot more exposition that wasn't at all necessary and slowed down the book.
3. There is now a completely gratuitous and really grotesque homosexual rape scene that I could have lived happily without.
4. Worst of all - SPOILER ALERT - There is now a tagged on ending that renders completely meaningless the sacrifices made by the heroes of the novel.
5. SK claimed he was putting back in original material and yet he has a character wondering if the plague is some strain of AIDs. When The Stand came out, no one had ever heard of AIDs.
6. The character of (I believe) Dana originally crops up in Denver with a minimum of history attached. Now there's an utterly ridiculous description of how she and some other women had been kidnapped and turned into sexual playthings for a wandering gang of thugs before being rescued.
I guess to sum it up: King's editors knew what they were doing back in the days when editors actually dared to edit him! I just hope he leaves The Shining and Salem's Lot alone. I can see why everyone's giving 5 stars, but I really wish you all could have read the original - You really missed out, and I'm sure you can't find it anywhere now.
95 of 114 people found the following review helpful
on October 18, 2001
THE STAND was the first Stephen King novel I read (I think it was in 1985). The similarities to biblical prophecy in this marvelous story are hard to miss for even the the novice student of the book of Revelation. That fact played a large role in my interest in The Stand. The book is so enthralling that even when I became aware that King had veered a long way from the scriptural story, I didn't really care. And after all, no other writer had managed to figure out what all those seals, and trumpets, and vials of the Apocalypse were either.
Continuing my interest in the subject, I have read a number of other books in the same general vein. Or perhaps I should say that I started to read several. The problem is that every writer that tries to stick with the original concept of end-times prophecy is also out to force a load of preaching down your throat. Their stories are less coherent that comic books and they seem to think their relationship with God makes up for the fact that they can't write.
I have very recently found an exception to this rule and I wanted to recommend it. It's THE CHRIST CLONE TRILOGY by James BeauSeigneur. BeauSeigneur does an incredible job of story telling while sticking very exactly to biblical prophecy. He even blends in prophecies from several other religions! An interesting difference is that in THE CHRIST CLONE TRILOGY the antichrist/Flagg character plays his role and tell his lies so well that you can't help but sorta be pulling for him even though you know he's the bad guy. Or is he?
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on September 3, 2004
I'm not, it has to be said, a huge fan of the greater part of Stephen King's work. This isn't a criticism of the man's writing style, which I enjoy immensely - it's just that the horror genre doesn't really do it for me - purely a matter of personal taste. I think King really shines when he chooses to paint with a much broader canvas, which is why I love both this book and the equally brilliant Dark Tower series, but am not particularly fond of, say, Carrie, Salem's Lot or even The Shining. My loss, I'm sure.
Here, though, I can engage. Man, is this an awesome book. Much more than a horror, it certainly has its fair share of grippingly gruesome imagery, particularly in the first part of the book with its compellingly disturbing descriptions of the horrible symptoms of Captain Trips (what a name) and the behaviour of those driven mad by terror and grief. Whilst I'm not the kind of person who really believes in epic confrontations between Good and Evil in real life (nasty versus nastier, that's another matter), it sure makes good reading, and in the second half I was turning pages like a man possessed (I finished the whole thing in half a week and yes, I am a student).
What I particularly love is that despite the huge length of this extended version (I never read the original), the author never wastes time with big flowery metaphors or extended passages of description. There's always something happening, and virtually every paragraph advences the plot or gives you more information about a character. This is quite a feat. At over 1400 pages in my edition, you almost expect that kind of thing, even from a writer like Stephen King. It's not quite War and Peace in terms of length, but it's not far off, and if you took all the frankly unnecessary waffle out of War and Peace it would probably be shorter than this book - not to diss Tolstoy or anything, I love War and Peace - and I'm certainly not suggesting The Stand is better, it's just more fun.
The reason The Stand loses a single star is that the climax of the book is not all that climactic. The sense of menace has already receded some by the time of the climactic scene, so all the tension is drained out of it. This means it misses out on a classic Lord of the Rings style 'doom, destruction, doom, gloom, evil, menace, doom, oh, they won' ending, and I'm not sure that anything is really gained from it, except that the 'evil' characters gain a little humanity. And I don't really know whether that's a good thing - I certainly wouldn't sacrifice good old dramatic tension for it.
But then I can't write like Stephen King. It's a small complaint really, considering that this is a modern classic and all.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on January 8, 2004
OK, so obviously this isn't "my" book in the sense that I wrote it, but long-time fans and admirers of "The Stand" like me consider the book to be a masterpiece and are kind of possessive about it. I was excited about reading an expanded version of The Stand, in supposedly its original state as submitted by Stephen King to his publisher in 1978. I was very dismayed that this edition actually contains some *new* material that Mr. King wrote around 1989. As a result, this edition suffers from some temporal dislocation. An example: the rock singer Larry Underwood goes to a girl's apartment where she has displayed a "Love Story" poster -- very 70s. Then afterward he goes to a Freddy Krueger movie. NOOOO! This just doesn't work for me. It takes me right out of the dark spell that the previously published "Stand" put me under.
I still give it 4 stars because the story is so powerful. But if you haven't read "The Stand" yet, I would really recommend that you read the truncated (edited) version first.
19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on September 21, 1997
After reading the raving reviews given by other
readers, I must give another side to the story. King's book starts out wonderfully, a disease (Captain Trips) runs rampant throughout the world. Though after the disease runs its course, Stephen King was not able to continue in the course of a good science fiction, he turns to mystical powers and magic to finish his story. The Stand would have been much scarier if there was no magic and based solely on the aftermath and rebuilding of society after the disease. The use of mysticism in his stories only exposes his weakness as a writer.
56 of 73 people found the following review helpful
on May 30, 2002
"The Stand" was a profoundly silly, specious, and annoying book. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite bad enough to discard. Stephen King is such a compelling writer that I couldn't put it down until I had read every cheesy page.
Since other reviews describe the plot, I'll just say that it pertains to a government-created virus wiping out 99% of the population, and the survivors coalescing into two groups, "good" and "evil".
While this idea has potential, and it's interesting/creepy that the book was written years before AIDS, Ebola, etc. were ever heard of, King's execution is badly flawed. He's a talented writer -- given the initial premise, he could have written a spellbinding, heartrending book.
Plotting is humdrum, characters are uninteresting and/or unlikable, illogicalities and implausibilities are explained away with "a wizard did it", and the climax... Worst climax ever!
A few characters were well written. I liked both Lloyd and Harold, although they were obviously supposed to be "bad guys" in different ways. I couldn't help thinking that, if they hadn't been the kind of guys who had never caught one break in their entire lives, they might have turned out very differently. King even lets us glimpse that possibility (Harold respected by his Boulder co-workers, Lloyd actually becoming brighter when he gets a job). Larry was a sharply drawn portrait of a hard-nosed New Yorker (granted that's a stereotype, but I can attest to its accuracy), maneuvering to come out on top even in a conversation with his mother, yet paradoxically striving for integrity. Some of the minor characters were funny and rang true.
But most were bland and dull. Stu, Ralph, Frannie's father, et. al., were simple country folk with untapped resources of down-home wisdom. Glen Bateman and Judge Farris were interchangeable old eggheads who get their comeuppance when they discover that science and education are not only less virtuous than superstition and mysticism, but also have less practical value. Tom was a mentally handicapped man who nonetheless managed better than many "normal" people. Note also (if it needs pointing out) the persistent anti-intellectualism in these characterizations.
Randall Flagg is one of the weakest villains I've ever encountered. Sure, he's unpleasant -- but he's not especially scary. Poke Waxman and Trashcan Man, both of whom are clearly psychotic, are much scarier than Flagg. Heck, I've had *bosses* scarier than Flagg! By the way, if King is going to describe Flagg as "fishbelly white", and then send him to Africa, shouldn't he think of something to call him other than, "The Dark Man"?
Then there are the women. King, already notorious for being unable to write believable or sympathetic female characters, hits a new low in "The Stand". Most female characters are one-dimensional, either too good to be true (Frannie, Lucy), or too bad to be true (Nadine, Julie Lawry). The few who are neither, who are strong (Dayna), or complex (Rita), or simply unglamorous (Larry's mother) invariably meet horrific ends.
Frannie is the supposed heroine, but she was a whiny, self-satisfied, irritating nitwit. When we first meet her, she's berating her boyfriend for impregnating her, although their sex was consensual, and Frannie was the one who forgot to use birth control. When he offers to marry her or pay for an abortion, she angrily refuses to consider either possibility. Later, she berates Harold -- a twenty-year-old boy -- for not knowing how to perform an emergency appendectomy. I thought, "Hey, Miss Snottypants, are your hands tied? Why don't *you* whip out the pocketknife and start cutting, if it's so easy?" She hasn't an interesting thought in her head (or diary) all book. Her main virtue seems to be that, even after she gets pregnant for the second time in less than a year, her belly is "still perfectly flat".
Mother Abigail is even worse. A borderline offensive Noble Savage stereotype who lectures on and on about her god, she's revered, if not worshipped, by all the "good guys", despite the fact that she's ignorant and bigoted. At one point, she says she's proud of having nothing to do with Catholics, whom she refers to as "mackerel snappers". Can you imagine a book where a Catholic woman refusing to have anything to do with "darkies" is portrayed as a wise old saint?
Abigail also seems to be a mouthpiece for some of King's more ill-considered opinions, as when she says that the only thing dumber than a chicken is a New York Democrat. I had to wonder where a woman who's spent her entire life on farms in Nebraska would ever have encountered ANY New Yorkers -- Democrat, Republican, or otherwise.
In fact, there's a disturbing and unfortunate reactionary subtext throughout the book. Aside from the anti-intellectualism mentioned previously, there's an underlying conservative bias, which subtly (or sometimes blatantly) equates "good" with patriarchal, right-wing christianity (patriarchy being particularly irrational in the society described, given its population deficit). The good guys are passive sheep who blindly follow orders from Abigail and her god, although when Flagg expects the same sort of groveling, he's supposed to be satanically evil. Harold, the lone anti-authoritarian character, who quite accurately points out that the people in authority were the ones who caused the problem in the first place, is depicted as crazy and physically repulsive, and eventually killed off in a gruesome and painful way. One of the ways we know that the Vegas folks are subhuman "bad guys" is that they (brace yourself) share child care.
King at his worst (though this isn't his worst by a long shot) is still pretty gosh-darn entertaining. Reading "The Stand" is like binging on Cheez Doodles - you'll hate yourself, but you won't be able to stop. Although I can't wholeheartedly recommend it, give it a try if you're a King fan.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on February 6, 2009
First of all I should preface this by saying this was the first Stephen King book I have ever read, and how I got to it is a story within itself. I am a high school history teacher, and one day back in November I was waiting on my students to gather their things, to leave our school's library. As I was waiting I noticed the book and picked it up to read the back cover. Needless to say I found a picture of the author instead. As I waited I started to read throught King's intro to the book, and became increasingly interested in what was inside. For whatever reason I had carried the book out of the library with me and at the end of the day, seeing it on my desk I started to read.
Needless to say I was hooked instantly. For years I had heard how long winded King's novels were and this is what had kept me away from his works, and as I discovered he is long winded and wordy, but that isn't a bad thing.
So my review, easily the first 400 or so pages of the book is some of the finest writing I have ever read. His attention to detail and the way King sets us up by describing the carnage caused by the "super flu" is second to none. In describing the decimation of the United States, King is all the while introducing us to characters, that while we don't know it early in the book, the reader will come to feel attached too.
Unfortunately after such a rousing start, I felt that for the next 300 pages the slowed down considerably, to the point where it became a struggle plow through the book. Where as the begining book was long winded and painted an epic picture, the long windedness of the middle 300 pages, seemed to drag. While I knew Mother Abigail to be a critical character, I felt no connection to her, and really could have cared less about her history.
Finally around page 700, the book kicks back into high gear as King starts to set us up for the final battle between good and evil. The problem with this is that King does such a good job setting up the battle, that the author just can't deliver on the suspense that he has built. Ultimately I was let down, by the climax, feeling as if, the ultimate battle between good and evil, went out with a wimper instead of a bang.
After being letdown by the battle, the book lost my interest in the final 70 pages, as I was still feeling the disappointment of the battle between good and evil. Overall, it was a good read and I would be interested to see King revisit these characters, since he left it wide open for a sequel. However, the ending didn't live up to the greatness of the beginning.