Like many others, my first experience with this book was during secondary school English lessons. Also like many others, I hated it on the principle tLike many others, my first experience with this book was during secondary school English lessons. Also like many others, I hated it on the principle that books read in school (pre-GCSE) were old, boring, dull and too much like work. We never actually studied this book at the time either, since it was not part of any end-of-year exam; presumably my teacher at the time was committing the unspeakable sin of trying to enlighten us and broaden our minds without completely zoning in on exam preparation. Having picked up the book again not too long ago and trying again with a much more accepting attitude, I believe that this is one of those books that must be studied in order to extract maximum understanding and enjoyment. That's not to say that the book can't ever be enjoyed as a mere story, nor do I presume that a solo-reader will never grasp its meanings, but I do think that it just won't have the desired impact without some proper discussion of the underlying themes.
The book is set during a war (exactly what war is unspecified), and begins with the aftermath of an evacuation plane crashing on an island. We are introduced to Ralph, the natural leader and protagonist, and the intelligent but overweight "Piggy". The boys find a conch, and use it as a horn to attract other survivors. As more boys gather, Ralph begins a meeting in order to establish a Chief and decide what they should do. More personalities arise in the meeting, in particular Jack, the other leader-type who seems to exert a more dominating personality. After Ralph is elected leader, he decides that the boys should enjoy themselves, gather food and water, and most importantly build and maintain a fire, with the intention of using the smoke to attract any passing ships to rescue them. Jack takes up the responsibility of hunting, and leads his fellow choir-boys in searching for meat. As time passes, the structure of this new mini-civilisation starts to deteriorate, and despite repeated efforts to maintain order, the attitude of the boys becomes more savage. The presence of a mysterious beast on the island further drives the boys to more rash and primitive actions, and the original remnants of order are eventually lost.
While the progression of the story and descent into savagery may be predictable (not least because it says that's what happens in the blurb), the social and psychological analyses are still credible, and serve to add depth to the story. A large number of themes are developed, the key theme being humanity's primal nature, and the corresponding evolution of the characters is both intriguing and believable (to an extent). The parallels drawn to current societies are vivid, as is the imagery. However, I think that in a way, the book is biting off more than it can chew, and trying to deal with a few too many issues in one go. I mentioned first that this is one of those books that should be studied, and the reason for that is that there are so many elements to the plot that it's possible to miss some, or think of some as less important than others, before being rudely corrected a chapter later. I found myself having to reread a couple of pages because I'd missed the crucial points hidden under layers of imagery (view spoiler)[, a key example being Simon with his epileptic fit, his neutral perspective on events, and even his discovery of the dead parachutist and revelations about the "beast" (hide spoiler)]. Another question is that of how realistic the behaviour of the boys is. While I suppose this is the whole point of the book, it's unclear whether the boys are merely representing the depths of primal savagery in humans, or whether we are supposed to believe children of such a young age are actually capable of constructing societies and simultaneously descending into (view spoiler)[murderous (hide spoiler)] madness in the absence of authority. Such a question is, of course, best discussed, but it left me with a certain sense of hollowness rather than the intended wonder.
So, while enjoyable enough to read through, I feel the full complexities of the book can't be appreciated without serious discussion, and to me this is more of a hindrance. I believe that a book should be able to present a story, deliver its desired effect, and raise subsequent questions, rather than rely on these questions to provide the book's substance. Perhaps I'm just missing something from the book, and the substance was there all along, in which case the book probably deserves a higher rating, but I appear to have failed to find it.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Before I begin the review proper, I'd like to say that this book is damn heavy. My arms ached for a week after finishing it. If you're considering reaBefore I begin the review proper, I'd like to say that this book is damn heavy. My arms ached for a week after finishing it. If you're considering reading it, hire a servant to hold it open and turn the pages.
Now, on with the actual review. Let me begin by saying that the 3-star rating would have been 4, if not for one or two... letdowns. That's not to say that I'm knocking arbitrary points off because it didn't live up to unreasonably high expectations; on the contrary, it lived up to perfectly reasonable expectations. The reason I'm knocking points off is because these letdowns were predictable, and any regular Stephen King readers probably know what they are already.
Split into three sections, the story begins on a military base with faeces hitting the proverbial fan: an incredibly deadly flu-like virus has accidentally been released, and the base is going into lockdown to contain it. However, a security malfunction allows a guard to escape with his family before they are trapped inside. Unfortunately, they're already infected, and so the story continues, detailing the rapid spread of this flu and subsequent death of most of the human race. King left out no small details in his rather chilling description of humanity's near-extinction, as well as the catastrophic breakdown of society as people become aware of how deadly the virus is, try to escape crowded cities, and are stopped by armed forces in a futile quarantine attempt. A large ensemble of characters is introduced, who seem to be immune to the flu, and chapters switch between the points of view of these characters as they come across each other, trying to survive. I would say that this opening section is my favourite part of the whole book, thanks to the carefully crafted mayhem and believable depiction of humanity faced with its own rapidly approaching end.
No Stephen King novel would be complete without mystical powers being introduced at some point, and The Stand delivers with some characters sharing dreams of an old woman, Mother Abigail, who appears to be some sort of embodiment of light and good. Other characters start to share dreams of a darker nature, involving the evil and rather demented (yet morbidly amusing) Randall Flagg, and the story progresses, detailing the journeys each side undertakes before things start leading to an inevitable climax. Along the way, there are more than enough twists, turns, betrayals, revelations, and "oh, you poor bugger" moments to keep the story moving, and suspense builds to quite astronomical levels (more on this later).
Here, however, is my first problem: in the final section, the story expands so much and shifts focus so dramatically from the original setting that it's hard to believe it is all one novel. After a lengthy and engrossing period of establishing how life carries on post-flu (foregoing suggestions of how the dark side is gathering for some impending battle of good vs evil), the story takes a turn into rather bland "let's go kill the bad guy because only we can!" territory. Every horrifying scenario presented in the post-apocalyptic world, every heart-wrenching discovery of loss and betrayal, is somewhat countered by the dullness of individuals/small groups going for a bloody long walk across America to see what Flagg is up to. Rather than the forces of light and dark gathering for a cataclysmic battle to the death, the final part seems to forego its huge potential to instead talk about four blokes who think they can stop a whole city of evil people and their magic-wielding leader (view spoiler)[and thanks to King's determination to forget about the other several hundred good guys, they do (hide spoiler)]. This is one of those letdowns I mentioned at the beginning, and one that most regular King readers are aware of: he can't write a decent ending. As if the wet fish of a climax weren't enough, it's combined with one of the most disgusting examples of Deus-Ex-Machina I've ever read (view spoiler)[I mean, come on, a nuke? AMAGAD THEY ALL DIE THE END LOL. Surely King could have done better (hide spoiler)].
My second problem is that certain characters seem to have only been introduced in order to drive the plot without properly integrating them to the plot. I say properly here, by which I mean doing more than just describing their one defining feature in different settings. I find the Trashcan Man to be a prime example of this. Sure, he likes to set things on fire, but that's almost all you can say about him. His presence to me seems like a cardboard cutout, placed in the scene with more prominent things going on, until it's time for him to blow something else up.
That being said, I still found the story enjoyable; even the concept of Stu, Glen, Ralph and Larry going off on their billy-tod wasn't so off-putting that I couldn't enjoy their particular journey (view spoiler)[ignoring another Deus-Ex, this time with a dog (hide spoiler)]. The sociological perspective applied in the first two sections was a very good angle, giving the story its initial realism, and the continual build-up of suspense towards the inevitable showdown (regardless of the "showdown" itself) was as well-crafted as the best of King's work. So, The Stand is a good novel, worth reading if the concept is something you find as exciting and interesting as I do. The pros outweigh the cons, but the cons are pretty much the same as most other King books, which unfortunately seem to be the exact cons that put people off.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more