Whitaker's Reviews > The Stand

The Stand by Stephen King
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Jul 09, 11

bookshelves: 2011-read, fantasy-scifi
Read from June 29 to July 04, 2011

I’ve said before that romance fiction taps into a primal desire for comfort. It’s a fantasy, a snuggie to wrap up in curled up with hot chocolate and toasty roadhouse cookies. The Stand falls squarely into that category, and adds hot rum to the mix as well.

The subtitle of The Stand really should be A Very Norman Rockwell Apocalypse. It’s a political fantasy set in the aftermath of a GM plague: a mutating flu virus with 99.4% transmissibility. Needless to say, 75% of the world’s population dies. Well, as far as we know, since the novel is set in the US, and except for maybe two widely separated sentences in its 1000+ pages of text that tangentially mention the spread of the virus to China and Russia, the rest of the globe is one huge blank.

It is not only a political fantasy, but it is a particularly American political fantasy. The trajectory of the novel could be described by this triptych of American Gothic:

First picture: Standard American Gothic; Second picture: American Gothic zombified; Third picture: American Gothic with Uncle Sam and the Statute of Liberty

The crux of the conflict is between the good guys (who proceed to set up a Kumbaya egalitarian republic) and the bad guys (who run a pseudo-religious dictatorship/cult). The good guys are gathered in by Mother Abigail, an African-American woman (and the only significant person of colour in the entire book I believe), who plays the obligatory role of Virgin Mary/Mother Goddess/Earth Mother. The bad guys are led by Randall Flagg, a persona of pure evil, the Antichrist in all but name.

Now I’ve nothing against comforting fantasy. It’s clearly hit some kind of sweet spot with a lot of Goodreaders. Good wins out, of course, and if you think that this is a spoiler, well then you’ve been living under rock for a century (this is Stephen King for crying out loud, not Thomas Mann).

But what made the whole thing an indigestible corn syrupy mess for me is that it’s essentially founded on the idea that Bad People do Bad Things Cause They’re Possessed by the DEVIL. Seriously. Randall Flagg has this weird power over people where he takes over their minds. Yeah, it’s true that bad people are attracted to him even if they also find him repulsive. But King makes it clear that Flagg has some kind of occult power to influence them.

Now, if this was ultimately about Flagg getting into a fisty-cuffs with Mother Abigail, with her using her own weird (but good weird) occult power to control her minions in some kind of heavenly smack-down, I would be okay with that. But it’s not. The forces of egalitarian righteousness are Good Simple Salt-of-the-Earth folk exercising their God-Given Freewill, laws yes they are! (One of them talks that way, I kid you not.) The spineless terrorised people under one Flagg are, on the other hand, mindless zombie spawn about to unleash nuclear Armageddon on the US of A.

And that just really pisses me off.

Cause in all of human history, it’s always been the rallying cry that the Other Side are in league with the Devil. That’s what makes it okay to rip out their guts, rape their wives, and bash out their babies’ brains. Hey, cause they’re not people, like us. When really, all it is is that that they aren’t people like us.

That they aren’t people is such a sweet little fantasy. And one of the most vile and deadly ones too. It's sad to see it be perpetuated here. For shame, Stephen King! For shame!
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message 22: by Donna (new)

Donna "The subtitle of The Stand really should be A Very Norman Rockwell Apocalypse."
yes...yes...yes.
I also found it beautifully American that the main white-hat had just made it! He had just put out that hit record!!!! and the damn world ends. The horror!


Whitaker Donna wrote: ""The subtitle of The Stand really should be A Very Norman Rockwell Apocalypse."
yes...yes...yes.
I also found it beautifully American that the main white-hat had just made it! He had just put out t..."


Heh. Absolutely! :-)


Jessica The appeal of this book is not (can not) be the tale of good vs. evil. THAT tale is just too basic and a bit anti-climatic.

The appeal of this book is the character development that King is so good at (admit it - his stories ain't that good, but, damn, I miss his characters when I'm done with his books)!.


[Name Redacted] I detested the book for many of the same reasons. I read it when I was 11 and could not understand why it was so popular -- even my 11 year-old self thought it was cliched and hackneyed (and more than a little copied from the 1970s BBC series "Survivors"). I am relieved to see that I am not alone!

That said, "in all of human history" might be a bit of an exaggeration. For the pre-Christian Roman Empire, for instance, it was less about others being in league with "the Devil" and more about them being uncivilized and uncultured. If one was stronger, if one was more powerful, then it was that one's natural right to conquer and prevail and do as it pleased to (in the case of the Romans) their barbarian foes.


Whitaker Ian wrote: "That said, "in all of human history" might be a bit of an exaggeration."

Ah well, do forgive a little artistic licence on my part. ;-)


[Name Redacted] Ha ha, fair enough. A career in Religious Studies has made me a bit humourless in that area, I'm afraid...


message 16: by Mike (new)

Mike wow people on this site really hate them a stephen king book huh? lol


message 15: by mark (new)

mark monday brilliant

although i must admit to rather liking this book. rather liking it. even my 15-year old self (4 years older than young genius Ian) found it a bit off-puttingly corny. many, MANY years later, i found the oft-compared The Passage to be far superior.


Whitaker mark wrote: "brilliant

although i must admit to rather liking this book. rather liking it. even my 15-year old self (4 years older than young genius Ian) found it a bit off-puttingly corny. many, MANY years la..."


Thanks, mark. I'm always in the market for good sf. Will go check out the passage.


message 13: by Brad (new)

Brad I have a copy, but I've never cracked it, and I probably never will. Loved your last declaration, Whitaker. That will be what makes my eyes pass over it on the bookshelf next time I am looking for a read.


Whitaker Brad wrote: "I have a copy, but I've never cracked it, and I probably never will. Loved your last declaration, Whitaker. That will be what makes my eyes pass over it on the bookshelf next time I am looking for ..."

Thanks, Brad! :-)


Thami Mzolo The book is about good vs evil. And its about choice. People make a choice which side to join. Each dreams about both Mother Abigail and RF, but its the choice that each one makes which side to join. There's nothing wrong with that. I prefer to enjoy the journey each character goes through, whether 'good' or 'bad'. That is what makes this an amazing story.


Whitaker Thami wrote: "The book is about good vs evil. And its about choice. People make a choice which side to join. Each dreams about both Mother Abigail and RF, but its the choice that each one makes which side to joi..."

Thanks for your viewpoint, Thami. I'm glad you enjoyed the book.


Jessica Clearly, no one on this thread actually read the part where Larry walks through the Lincoln Tunnel.


message 8: by Whitaker (last edited Dec 05, 2012 11:10PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Whitaker Jessica wrote: "Clearly, no one on this thread actually read the part where Larry walks through the Lincoln Tunnel."

Ahem, Jessica. Do I count? The brevity of your tossed-off statement makes it difficult to determine your tone. While I'm glad you enjoyed the book, perhaps you shouldn't assume ignorance on the part of those who do not share your enthusiasm or views. The world is, hopefully, large enough to accommodate a wide and diverse variety of these.


message 7: by Scribble (last edited Dec 05, 2012 11:44PM) (new)

Scribble Orca Forgot to say "great review" when I liked it last time, Whitaker.

So: Great review. And I liked it again.


Luis Great Review.


Whitaker Luis wrote: "Great Review."

Thanks, Luis! :-)


Denise I am a fan of apocalyptic works and Steven King.I loved this the first time I read it and I still do. I like the character development. I like the premise. Your typical good vs. evil. It's a NOVEL, people. ...artistic license allowed. I find it entertaining and engrossing, hate to put it down.


Whitaker Well, I'm very pleased you liked it Denise. :-)
There's room enough in this world for all types of likes and dislikes. I certainly hope you'll give a full review when you're done with your reread so other goodreaders can decide if your meat is also theirs and not their poison.


message 2: by Jane (new) - added it

Jane Bane hahaha. I started reading this book yesterday and I suddenly have a cold. its scaring me too.


message 1: by John (new)

John Emerson Interesting review. I see that there really are a few people who don't like the book. I think I will read it again.


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