In 1978, before the "complete and uncut" edition, before the miniseries, before the author became known as the "King of Horror!!!", Stephen King's The Stand hit bookstores. It was a monster of a book, weighing in at 823 pages (the general public had no way of knowing that almost a quarter of the book had been cut prior to publication), in Doubleday's traditional squat, bricklike format. The Stand would go on to become King's best-loved book, but at the time, the novel shocked many. Previously, King had only released three other novels, the relatively short Carrie
, 'Salem's Lot
, and The Shining
, and a short story collection, Night Shift
. The biggest question was this: was the book's length justified? It was.
The Stand begins its narrative in a quiet Texas town known as Arnette. There, we are introduced to one of our main characters, Stuart Redman, a quiet, downtrodden man whose greatest pleasure is hanging out at the local Texaco station with his buddies. The placidity of Arnette is disrupted by a shocking, unforeseen event - a man named Charles Campion driving recklessly into the pumps of the Texaco, knocking several of them over. When Stu and his friends go outside to investigate, they discover to their horror that Campion's wife and child have died of some strange disease inside the car, and that Campion himself doesn't have far to go.
What Stu doesn't know is that what Campion has is exceedingly communicable, and that Campion has just delivered the death warrant on most of America.
The Stand begins its life a humanist drama, shifts rapidly into bio-science fiction along the lines of The Andromeda Strain then opens up to become a large-scale American fantasy epic. The beauty of The Stand is that King doesn't disregard previous genres when he enters into new ones; the dramatic points of several love triangles are played out against the backdrop of post-plague psychic phenomena; real-world problems such as getting the power back on, disposing with plague-ridden corpses, and rebuilding a democratic society take place while a battle of truly Biblical proportions wages. King doesn't play his people merely as pawns. These characters becoming living human beings (or otherwise) and their fears, worries, and achievements grow out of their essential humanity.
To delve any further into the interworkings of The Stand would be to betray its magic. This novel works as it does because the characters are given room to come to life, and to face the brave new world left to them. Unlike too-long later works such as The Tommyknockers
, the scope of The Stand works for it rather than against it, and the multifaceted narrative remains complex but inviting. Taken as a parable or read as a story: The Stand is one of the King works guaranteed to be read, discussed, and enjoyed hundreds of years from now. It will stand the test of time.