First published back in November of 1978, Stephen King’s epic and justifiably cult-classic post-apocalyptic novel ‘The Stand’ was initially born out of a scenario detailed within his 1974 short story ‘Night Surf’. In May of 1990, the novel was re-released as ‘The Stand: The Complete And Uncut Edition’ that saw the inclusion of a large volume of text that had been left out of the original publication, a number of new additions, numerous revisions and a change in the year in which the tale is set (from 1985 to 1990). An insightful forward from King was also included, giving reference to the changes and additions within this newly expanded edition. The following review will deal with this more recent expanded edition.
When a superflu virus that was created as a biological-weapon under the name of ‘Project Blue’ is accidentally unleashed onto the world, mankind is brought to the very brink of extinction. For this virus which would be dubbed ‘Captain Trips’ quickly spreads throughout the world, killing an estimated 99.4% of the entire human population.
After the initial panic and free-for-all breakdown of all law and order, only a small number of survivors remain; those immune to the deadly effects of the virus. These survivors now have a brave new world to accept and re-adjust to. But first they need to search each other out in order to establish a new community and the beginnings of a new life together.
A vast number of these survivors are drawn to Boulder in Colorado by shared-dreams of a one-hundred-and-eight year-old woman named Abagail Freemantle (aka ‘Mother Abagail’), whose words speak of a ‘Free Zone’ where the good survivors can converge and begin to rebuild their lives.
The first of these is Stuart Redman, previously a factory worker from Arnette (a fictional location) in East Texas. On his journey to Boulder, Redman encounters a number of fellow survivors, who join him on his way to Boulder.
In Nebraska, the deaf-mute Nick Andros is in turn undertaking a similar journey to Boulder where he hopes to meet up with other fellow survivors. On his way Nick picks up Tom Cullen amongst other people. Cullen is a good natured mentally-handicapped man who becomes predominantly reliant on Andros for support.
A final notable group of survivors travelling to Boulder are headed up by Larry Underwood – a musician from New York.
However, a wholly separate group of survivors is emerging and convening at the same time. Similar to that of the beckoning from the spiritual-guide Mother Abagail, these survivors are being drawn to Las Vegas, Nevada by a man known as Randall Flagg (aka ‘The Walkin Dude’, ‘The Dark Man’, ‘The Hardcase’ or ‘The Tall Man’). Two of those following the call of Randall Flagg are Lloyd Henreid (a common thief) and Donald Merwin Elbert (aka ‘The Trashcan Man’) - a schizophrenic pyromaniac. Two men who will become deeply entwined with Flagg’s plans.
With the two communities now separately converging, the individuals in the ‘Free Zone’ begin establishing a democratic society, rebuilding a life for their entire community. However, Flagg and his followers have very different ideas about how they should be living. Even after the dust has settled from the Captain Trips outbreak, death still lingers in the air…
From the outset, King sets off on an epic journey, setting down a moderate pace that will keep up the excitement of the storyline whilst maintaining a character driven tale that draws the reader in with the ease of a great storyteller.
Characterisation, like with all of king’s work, takes on a predominant and vastly important role within the course of the novel. Each character that is unveiled is given equal time and care towards their development, allowing for strong bonds to form between the reader and the individual characters.
King sets down a vivid picture of the mass-panic and the apocalyptic scale of death that hits the world within the first few chapters. The chaotic and futile final breaths of humanity are impactful to say the least, with selected snippets into individual characters' final few hours detailed, to broaden the readers understanding of how the world (although the story is focussed on America) is ripped apart at a very personal and humanitarian level over these final days.
When the proverbial dust has settled and the vast majority of humanity has died, King’s writing begins to portray such a different and contrasting new world for the survivors. As the reader picks up on the beginnings of the survivors' routes, a vivid picture is portrayed of a vacant planet devoid of almost anything other than the forgotten remains of what was once our civilisation.
The resulting storyline is a truly monumental post-apocalyptic masterpiece, building upon a spectacularly dramatic and powerful plot, to finally deliver a tale of good against evil in its most stripped-down and basic of environments.
With epic adventures of such a proportion, it is essential to maintain a storyline that is engaging and intricate enough to keep the reader gripped throughout the entirety of the tale. Characters need to display a progression in their personalities that adequately reflects their developing surroundings. King achieves all of these goals with what seems like a fluent ease. Each character is well defined and their individual journeys (both logistically and emotionally) fully documented and incorporated into the overall structure and development of the plot. The gripping ‘good versus evil’ premise finally creates a good clear and solid central thrust for the tale to follow.
The concluding couple of hundred pages are just as engaging and entertaining as every page that had preceded them. The ultimate wind-down of the story leaves a stabbing sensation of heartfelt sorrow to see this epic story finally wrapping up.
This truly is an incredible journey showing a touching face to what it is to be human. The storyline and the characters that fall into its path will remain close to the heart of each and every person who picks up this weighty tome. This is undoubtedly one of the finest examples of post-apocalyptic fiction to date.
The tale was later adapted into the eight-hour television mini-series in 1994 which was directed by Mick Garris. Although the screenplay was written by King himself and it was given a full eight-hours’ worth of film-play, the resulting adaptation was still lacking a large proportion of the novel’s intricate sub-stories as well as missing off the vast majority of the ‘winding-down’ storyline. Furthermore the television mini-series watered down a great deal of the conflict between the two groups, which sadly resulted in a rather tame and unconvincing adaptation.
The novel runs for a total of 1440 pages in the complete and uncut edition.
© DLS Reviews