Title: The Stand
Abstract: The Stand is a post-apocalyptic horror/fantasy novel by American author Stephen King. It demonstrates the scenario in his earlier short story, Night Surf. The novel was originally published in 1978 and was later re-released in 1990 as The Stand: The Complete & Uncut Edition; King restored some text originally cut for brevity, added and revised sections, changed the setting of the story from 1980 (which in turn was changed to 1985 for the original paperback release in 1980) to 1990, and updated a few pop culture references accordingly. The Stand was nominated for the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1979, and was adapted into both a television miniseries for ABC and a graphic novel published by Marvel Comics.
The book is dedicated to King's wife, Tabitha: "For Tabby: This dark chest of wonders."
The novel is divided into three parts, or books. The first is titled "Captain Trips" and takes place over nineteen days, with the escape and spread of a human-made superflu (influenza) virus known formally as "Project Blue", but most commonly as "Captain Trips". The virus is developed at a U.S. Army base, where it is accidentally released. While the base tries to shut down before any infected person can escape, a security malfunction allows a guard and his family to sneak out. Unfortunately, they are already infected, and set off a pandemic that kills an estimated 99.4% of the world's human population, as well as that of domesticated animals, such as horses and dogs.
King outlines the total breakdown and destruction of society through widespread violence, the failure of martial law to contain the outbreak, and eventually the death of virtually the entire population. The human toll is also dealt with, as the few survivors must care for their families and friends, dealing with confusion and grief as their loved ones succumb to the flu.
The expanded edition opens with a prologue titled "The Circle Opens" that offers greater detail into the circumstances surrounding the development of the virus and the security breach that allowed its escape from the secret laboratory compound where it was created.
"On the Border"
Intertwining cross-country odysseys are undertaken by a small number of survivors in three parties, which are drawn together by both circumstances and their shared dreams of a 108-year-old woman from Hemingford Home, Nebraska, whom they see as a refuge and a representation of good in the struggle of good versus evil. This woman, Abagail Freemantle, or "Mother Abagail", becomes the spiritual leader for the survivors. Mother Abigail directs them to Boulder, Colorado, where they struggle to re-establish a democratic society.
Meanwhile, another group of survivors are drawn to Las Vegas, Nevada by Randall Flagg, an evil being with supernatural powers; he exists in the story to represent the opposite influence of Mother Abagail. Flagg’s governance is brutally tyrannical, using crucifixion, dismemberment and other forms of torture to quell dissent. Flagg's group is able to quickly reorganize their society, restore power to Las Vegas, and rebuild the city with the many technical professionals who have migrated there. Flagg's group launches a weapons program, searching the country for suitable arms.
In Boulder, the democratic society of the "Free Zone" is beset with problems: Mother Abagail, feeling that she has become prideful due to her pleasure at being a public figure, disappears into the wilderness on a journey of spiritual reconciliation. Meanwhile, one of the survivors builds a dynamite bomb in response to feelings of disconnection and unrequited love, while another survivor crudely rigs it to destroy the Free Zone's leadership. Shortly before the explosion, Mother Abigail returns, much to the relief of the survivors.
The stage is now set for the final confrontation as the two camps become aware of one another, and each recognizes the other as a threat to its survival, leading to the "stand" of good against evil. There is no pitched battle, however. Instead, at Mother Abagail's dying behest, Stu, Larry, Ralph and Glen set off on foot towards Las Vegas on an expedition to confront Randall Flagg. Stu breaks his leg en route and drops out. He encourages the others to leave without him, telling them that God will provide for him. Glen, Ralph, and Larry soon encounter Flagg's men, who take them prisoner. When Glen rejects an opportunity to be spared if he kneels and begs Flagg for his life, he is shot on Flagg's order by one of his men. Flagg gathers his entire collective to witness the execution of the other two, but before it can take place, Trashcan Man arrives with a nuclear warhead and a giant glowing hand—"The Hand of God"—detonates the bomb, destroying Flagg's followers and the two remaining prisoners.
Stu, with the aid of Glen Bateman's dog "Kojak" (formerly "Big Steve") and Tom Cullen, survives injury, illness, and a harsh Rocky Mountain winter. The three of them arrive back in Boulder soon after the birth of Fran’s baby. Although the baby falls ill with the superflu, she is able to fight it off. In the end, Stu and Fran decide to return to Maine, and the original edition of the novel ends with the two of them questioning whether the human race can learn from its mistakes. The answer, given in the last line, is ambiguous: "I don’t know."
The expanded edition follows this with a brief coda called "The Circle Closes", which leaves a darker impression and fits in with King’s ongoing "wheel of ka" theme. Randall Flagg, using the alias "Russell Faraday", wakes up on a beach somewhere in the South Pacific, having escaped the atomic blast in Vegas by using his dark magic (although Flagg does not remember how he got to the beach or what his real name is, and it is suggested that he does not even remember the events in America), and begins recruiting adherents among a preliterate, dark-skinned people, who worship him as some sort of god.
In his non-fiction book Danse Macabre, Stephen King writes about the origins of The Stand at some length. One source was Patty Hearst's case. The original idea was to create a novel about the episode because "it seemed that only a novel might really succeed in explaining all the contradictions".
The author also mentions George R. Stewart's novel Earth Abides, which describes the odyssey of one of the last human survivors after the population is decimated by a plague, as one of the main inspirations:
With my Patty Hearst book, I never found the right way in . . . and during that entire six-week period, something else was nagging very quietly at the back of my mind. It was a news story I had read about an accidental CBW spill in Utah. (. . . ) This article called up memories of a novel called Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart.
(. . .) and one day while sitting at my typewriter, (. . . ) I wrote—just to write something: The world comes to an end but everybody in the SLA is somehow immune. Snake bit them. I looked at that for a while and then typed: No more gas shortages. That was sort of cheerful, in a horrible sort of way.
The Stand was also planned by King as an epic The Lord of the Rings-type story in a contemporary American setting:
For a long time—ten years, at least—I had wanted to write a fantasy epic like The Lord of the Rings, only with an American setting. I just couldn't figure out how to do it. Then . . . after my wife and kids and I moved to Boulder, Colorado, I saw a 60 Minutes segment on CBW (chemical-biological warfare). I never forgot the gruesome footage of the test mice shuddering, convulsing, and dying, all in twenty seconds or less. That got me remembering a chemical spill in Utah, that killed a bunch of sheep (these were canisters on their way to some burial ground; they fell off the truck and ruptured). I remembered a news reporter saying, 'If the winds had been blowing the other way, there was Salt Lake City.' This incident later served as the basis of a movie called Rage, starring George C. Scott, but before it was released, I was deep into The Stand, finally writing my American fantasy epic, set in a plague-decimated USA. Only instead of a hobbit, my hero was a Texan named Stu Redman, and instead of a Dark Lord, my villain was a ruthless drifter and supernatural madman named Randall Flagg. The land of Mordor ('where the shadows lie,' according to Tolkien) was played by Las Vegas.
King nearly abandoned The Stand due to writers' block. Eventually, he reached the conclusion that the heroes were becoming too complacent, and were beginning to repeat all the same mistakes of their old society. In an attempt to resolve this, he added the part of the storyline where Harold and Nadine construct a bomb which explodes in a Free Zone committee meeting, killing Nick Andros, Chad Norris, and Susan Stern. Later, Mother Abagail explains on her deathbed that God permitted the bombing because He was dissatisfied with the heroes’ focus on petty politics, and not on the ultimate quest of destroying Flagg. When telling this story, King sardonically observed that the bomb saved the book, and that he only had to kill half of the core cast in order to do this.
The Complete & Uncut Edition
In 1990, a new unabridged edition of The Stand was published, billed as "The Complete & Uncut Edition". Published in hardcover by Doubleday in May 1990, this became the longest book in Stephen King's oeuvre at 1152 pages. When the novel was originally published in 1978, Doubleday believed the readers would be averse to such a long book, and The Stand would be a bigger seller if it was much shorter, and Stephen King cut approximately 500 pages (around 150,000 words) from the original manuscript. This edition reinstates the deleted pages, as well as updates the setting from the 1980s to the 1990s. This new edition features a new preface by Stephen King, and illustrations by Bernie Wrightson. Additionally, Doubleday published a deluxe edition of The Stand: The Complete & Uncut Edition, limited to 1,250 numbered copies and 52 lettered copies. This edition, known as the "Coffin Box" edition due to the book being housed in a wooden case, was signed by Stephen King and Bernie Wrightson (Wikipedia, 2012).