by Jay Wilburn
The plan is to reread all of Stephen King’s novels and collections and assorted other publications. Richard Chizmar of Cemetery Dance has a financial stake in this challenge. It is still not a terrible idea. I’m doing it because I am a writer and I want to improve my long fiction and storytelling. I think there are secrets to be discovered or rediscovered in it too. As Chizmar posts his after read posts and Bev Vincent posts his accompanying history, I will add links to those in my corresponding posts.
Here are Richard Chizmar’s thoughts after rereading The Stand. He reread the original version and will reread the extended version later as well. I’m just rereading the extending version in this slot which is what I owned.
Here is Bev Vincent’s historic essay.
Here is a guest essay by Josh Boone.
You can go back and read my Before The Stand blog here.
You can also go back to the beginning and read Before Carrie and follow all the blog posts through each book.
Much of what I write in these posts will really be notes for me. I will wordsmith them into a blog that appears to be for you. I will also style my comments to be as spoiler free as possible for those that haven’t read the book, but that will also work for those that have read the books. Be warned though that I am discussing the content of the book and the writing.
So, let’s revisit The Stand.
I used to reread this book every summer between school years that I taught. I thought I practically had the book memorized. I did remember all the high points and even some specific lines that really spoke to me over the years. Being that I am a different place in my life, I think new phrases struck me with more power this time.
In this reread, I began it up in North Carolina at an apartment we rented for two months next to the medical center where I was to undergo a kidney transplant. I started the book before surgery and tried to finish it then. That didn’t happen. I had a lot on my mind. I continued it in recovery and finished a couple weeks after returning home just before I began typing this. I engaged the story from a different place, I suppose.
I seemed to remember more from the characters in my previous readings. After so much time and so many readings, I think I filled in the gaps with these characters in my mind. I built them out to closer friends. As I reread this time, I expected more of my assumptions about them would be spelled out on the page. I almost felt like the story moved too fast and the characters weren’t giving me the extra I expected. That’s an odd thing to think with a book this long that I love this much. As I reached the final leg with two old friends finding their way home, I think it may have been me wanting even more about the characters and their adventures. Like the Free Zone though, most of the people who brought me there and who I loved were gone. I did not recognize the faces of the newcomers. Like our remaining heroes, it was time to move on to new spots and live our new lives without fear.
King warns in the authors note that he took great liberties with the geography of real places. He invokes Dorothy Sayers. King also warns that it is not a new book, but an expansion some ten years after the original. King explains his “one word at a time no magic formula” for a commercially successful novel. He pushed the timeframe and references up to 1990 for the rerelease.
The novel’s sections open and end the book with “We need help, the Poet reckoned.” — Edward Dorn
Desperation to save your family opens a novel about the end of the world. How else could you honestly start? An instinct that might kill the world under the right circumstances.
This brings us to Stu’s small town inertia. It takes a world changing crash to move this man. That makes an interesting hero to send on a quest. Nick will also turn out to be an uncomfortable and unlikely leader. Larry, of Pocket Savior fame, struggles with his insecurity at saving anyone as he is forced to assume that role over and over. Glen is an unlikely believer as are others.
“Did you swallow a lump?” Good double meaning. We go in and out of love in one chapter.
Nothing worse than a summer cold. Laws, yes.
“The Party’s got to end, Larry.” Give yourself room to figure it out. Guys like you always do. Hard streak in you like biting tinfoil. We’ll find out this streak came from his mother. Larry felt like a sentry who had gone to sleep. Dog statues are missing outside his mother’s house too. No one is guarding his family’s safety any longer. Robert Frost said, “Home is the place where they have to take you in.”
“Your father went to his grave on easy credit terms.” Good line.
“She came to tell, but stayed to listen … he was a storyteller.” Great turn of phrase.
Frannie and Larry both burst out crying before their parents. King put a lot of these parallel experiences in this book for these characters. I noticed it more in this reading than before. I had always focused on the differences between the light and the dark sides of this battle and not the cross experiences between separate characters. Frannie’s meltdown burying her father is countered by Harold’s mowing the grass. It’s not unlike Rita and Larry’s experiences in the moments after the end. Nick sees the ad and Trashcan Man sees the fire. Both lost family and both are sent away. Nick’s experience as a prisoner is up against Stu’s captivity. Larry’s and Fran’s repeated tears follow one another. Fran’s emotional tunnel comes after Larry’s real one. Trash’s experience at the Eisenhower Tunnel counters Larry’s at the Lincoln. Stu and Nick watch the same meteor shower – connections even in the smallest of populations. Nick and Tom both get jumped and fight off their attackers. Joe’s jealousy is positioned against Harold’s. Larry steps on one jealous boy’s wrist; Stu puts his hand over the wrist of the other. Joe’s muteness vs. Nick’s. Joe heals with kindness and Nick through dreams. Nadine and Rita both have a sense of innocence and a feeling of being on a quest with Larry at the beginning. Abigail’s sleep through a rough night vs. Larry’s. Fran falling and biting her tongue with Jess juxtaposes well with Harold’s attempt to kiss her. Larry sits down hard on the curb next to Fran. Larry picture’s Fran with a gun on each hip in the way another character actually played out in real life. Trashcan Man and Susan Stern both have primal screams. Fran looks up into the black stone of the sky flawed by stars vs. the Dark Man’s necklaces with the red flaws. Larry sings the National Anthem naked and alone and then the whole group sings it when they come together. Harold has a magnetic draw while Nadine feels a mystic pull. Leo’s trance coincides with Tom’s hypnosis.
“A lady’s hands proclaim her habits.” Nice.
“64 has a way of forgetting what 21 was like.” Love it.
King explains a Pro Life stance in a way that makes sense to the character and does not turn them into a monster or a joke. He demonstrates the ability to write a hero or villain from any viewpoint.
Stu in the hospital. Lies told to avoid giving the truth about the illness. Fear is experienced in waves of high panic and a low bubbling thing.
“On this one, the responsibility spreads in so many different directions, it’s almost invisible.” Great stuff.
Grace Baptist Church and failed brakes come up again as they have in some of his previous short stories.
“In the vast white class of victims, there is a subclass: the victims of victims.” Biting.
“Old age takes an unpleasantly high toll on one’s deeply held prejudices.” I hope that is true.
Time Square is described in it’s early, seedy glory.
“When a man has died, he wants you to know about it.” Good line.
The terror of Booth going for Nick’s eyes is huge. Joe McKinney has said that the perspective character should be the one with the most to lose. Fran will be at Harold’s house later and King again puts characters where they least want to be.
“The Way leads ever on …” Tolkien references again and a lot in his early work. There are a few in this book. He also references Andromeda Strain and H.G. Wells’ Time Machine. The movie Predator is referenced too. Later in the story we get one last Stallone movie and what would have been the final Disney movie in this apocalypse. The Invisible Man comes up. An Animal Farm reference.
“Being in New York was like being in a graveyard where the dead were not yet quiet.” That’s good stuff.
The Lincoln tunnel scene is iconic.
King mentions the smell of cordite twice in the book. This got used a lot to describe the smell of rapid gunfire in books from the 70’s. 80’s, and beyond. Turns out it isn’t exactly accurate for guns much after WWI.
Electric typewriters were the fancy upgrade from manual. An apocalypse before laptops and smartphones. Gallery is mentioned, a girlie magazine not everyone remembers. King invents a chocolate Payday bar and no one lets it go. One of my favorite bits of The Stand lore. There’s a windup clock in a hotel room. Lloyd calls Hoover Dam Boulder Dam, maybe a subtle reference to our other community.
The tragedy of Harold is the great potential of his knowledge and ingenuity unleashed by the apocalypse. His “Stephen King escape route” from his fate throughout the novel is to give in to his good potential instead of his deadly pettiness. The lack of great men, Napoleon said, was the rarity of the combination of greatness to take power and the pettiness to keep it in one man. If the Dark Man had not been in play in these stories, Harold had the potential to rise to be a secular leader of the Vegas side. King runs him to his destiny in a brilliant manner. Great ambition and great pettiness in one tragic character.
There’s another version of this story hinted at in the visions where the Free Zone crowd goes on with rebuilding. The Dark Man completes his preparations and comes east to destroy them in nuclear fire. Then, who knows? “And not all of us will be alive to see how it ends.”
The lesson of Job according to Mother Abigail and many theologians is “All things serve the will of the Lord, even the Dark Man.” She adds, “Anyone that runs ends up in the belly of the beast.”
Stu had a chance to leave Harold behind at their first meeting, thereby changing everyone’s fates. Harold is drawn like a magnet after reaching the Free Zone. Stu inadvertently saves his own life in front of Harold. Stu is essentially saved by his own nature.
Harold’s escape route is open again as he prepares to read Fran’s diary. that moment of near sanity slipped away and so did he then. If she had awoken while he replaced the diary, he would have killed her. He had a premonition of his end. His fate was set at that moment. Every dog has its day and Harold started his own infamous journal then. Harold’s well of hate and margin to margin writing is striking.
Trashcan Man has the briefest moment in a dream where he thinks he is being deceived. Then, it was gone. He pauses again before taking his black stone with the red flaw. Trashcan Man holds the myth of Ciabola, his seven cities of gold. The original myth is about 7 bishops who fled ahead of the Moors in Spain with the treasures to save them from capture. Trashcan Man hearing the laughter of acceptance instead of the laughter of ridicule is a big moment for his character, but foreshadows a later fall.
Nadine has one last chance to escape with Larry, but it is Larry who closes that door.
“Second epidemic” … This chapter always fascinated me. These extra stories of immune survivors not equipped to handle the apocalypse cap off humanity’s story. The runner, the pregnant 17 year old who married, and the girl afraid of dogs and rapists. “If there was one, there will be more ..” It’s all tied together by “No great loss.”
Corn comes up as a symbol of religion more than once in King’s work. Maybe American religion in particular. “Come see me anytime and bring your friends.”
One man is a saint … seven will reinvent warfare in 7 years. The whole quote and speech by Bateman is good.
Nick and Tom’s pairing is a beautiful connection. It makes Stu and Tom more powerful later, I think.
“He had to, you should pardon the expression, piss like a racehorse.” This is an interesting use of an aside to the reader in the narration.
The switch from knife to guitar for Joe is good. The moment Larry trusted Joe as they siphon gas is a big moment. The fact that Joe is not mentioned more in the quest, the goodbyes, and the return after losses in this story kind of bothers me. With Lucy’s resolution, Joe’s story is significant too or should be.
“If we don’t have each other, we go crazy with loneliness. If we do, we go crazy with togetherness.” Great line.
“That’s why we got knit together. In Colorado. God came to me in a dream and showed me where … Your trip will be longer than ours, if’n you don’t fight off the power of the Dark Man.” The prophesies in this book are powerful, but don’t ever give away the end or freewill in the revelations. “The Lord provides strength, not taxicabs.” Mother Abigail has a “let this cup pass from me” discussion with God much like Jesus. Her grandmother called prophesy “the shine.”
Mother Abigail lived through the first flu epidemic and lost people then too.
“The only thing dumber than a broody hen is a New York Democrat.” King fires this shot a few times from various characters in his stories.
Girl falls from a barn and breaks a leg. Harold hung off the roof of a barn. “The Last Rung of the Ladder” involves the same idea. I think King may have a real fear of falling in barns.
“He believes in You.” Good line. Mother Abigail says people who love God hate him too. “There is really nothing so comforting to the beaten of spirit or the broken of skull than a good strong dose of ‘Thy will be done!'” Theft is the father of sin and pride is the mother. Mother Abigail struggles with pride. The atheists and agnostics are put in a tough spot in this King story due to the naked supernatural and bold evidence of God we do not see in our real modern world. King later describes it through one such character as the “horseshoe over the barn door. It is up there for good luck, but if it falls, you don’t abandon the barn.
The way Abby faces slaughtering animals is a different outlook than Ralph and Dick. Same with sacrificing people later.
I love Frannie’s journals and her “things to remember.” The stories of the spies’ journeys are some of my favorite bits too. Including the return.
Stu and Glen essentially plan a secret government take-over. In a different circumstance, they could be the dictators.
King relays Kojak’s experiences from an animal’s perspective and understanding.
Hair goes white a lot in Stephen King stories.
He mentions the “ka” of the Dark Man’s spirit in the crow. This concept plays bigger in the upcoming Dark Tower series.
I hope this rambling list serves some interest to readers and fans. I love The Stand and it changed the way I think about the apocalypse.
Next on the list is The Long Walk, so Before the Long Walk will be the next post.
Thank you for following along,
Jay Wilburn, writer