Book Review: The Stand, Uncut Version

Photo Source: 2020 CBS Interactive Inc.

Photo Source: 2020 CBS Interactive Inc.

Jack Fahey, Editor in Chief

Stephen King is a masterful author, and certainly one of the greatest fiction writers alive today. Recently, I finished reading King’s longest book, The Stand. At around 1,200 pages, the book is grand in both size and scope.


I will divide this article into two sections, one containing spoilers and one not. I’ll begin without any plot-ruining, in case anyone intends to read the book itself. 


The uncut version of The Stand was written in 1990 and set in the same decade. It details the outbreak and aftermath of a plague that wipes out 99% of humanity, leaving a portion of survivors to fend for themselves. The book contains all of the hallmarks of King’s writing: a massive cast, shocking violence, overwhelming evil, and at least a portion of the story tied to Maine. 


There have been many takes on the apocalypse in literature and film, but I’ve never experienced the kind of twist that King puts on it.


Following the near-complete destruction of humanity, the few remaining survivors are confused and spread out across the U.S. Then, a peculiar phenomenon begins to happen to those who have managed to survive the disease: every one of them experiences vivid dreams.


These are no regular dreams, either. The survivors all experience roughly the same vision of two strangers: a dark man who evokes terror and an old woman towards whom they feel deep love. 


As the survivors navigate the new world, they uncover both the source of the plague and the reason for their strange dreams. They eventually converge, with deep character story lines intertwining as the book goes along. 


It is these characters that drive the novel. One of the best parts of The Stand is created by King’s ability to master huge casts, something few authors can pull of quite as well. In The Stand, there are many that could be considered main characters. Each has a distinct destiny, and the unfolding of their lives makes for one of the most incredible reads. 


Most importantly, The Stand boils down to one of the most central themes to human nature: good and evil. Are humans naturally evil and bound to repeat their worst mistakes? Some of King’s books would certainly suggest so. The Stand, however, is exceptional in its exploration of humanity’s capacity for both good and evil. It delves deep into what can turn a person bad, and what can inspire them to be great. 


The Stand has become an instant favorite for me, resonating in ways I did not expect it to. I was left considering humanity, and what kind of world we would create given the chance at a clean slate. 


And now, spoilers ahead


A synopsis of The Stand might read like this: In the wake of a plague that wiped out almost everyone on Earth, America is left in ruins. Shortly afterwards, two communities arise from the dust. One is centered in Boulder, Colorado around Mother Abigail, the 108-year-old devout Christian that attracts the “good guys” of the story. The others, the “bad guys,” are left to conglomerate in an abandoned Las Vegas around a man that is later revealed to be the Devil incarnate. These communities grow and prepare to face off against each other in a final showdown. Eventually, an atomic blast wipes out Vegas and Boulder is left standing. 


As this is a massive book, this brief summary leaves out so much that makes The Stand special. Several important themes are tackled over the long course of the story. King deals with betrayal, religious doubt, human evil, selfishness, and the wheel of human nature. This last idea is the most important to the overall idea of the book. 


At its heart, King’s book is simple: Good and evil collide in The Stand, and the good guys eventually wipe out the physical manifestation of evil and his followers. This sets the story up for a happy ending, which it originally was in King’s 1978 version. 


In the more recent 1991 version of The Stand, however, King revises his previous conclusion. This time, as the protagonists settle into a newly peaceful America, the evil leader (going by the name Randall Flagg) returns. This time, the Devil in human form reappears on an island untouched by plague. As he steps onto the beach and comes face to face with the healthy natives there, he smiles. 


Here, the wheel turns onwards. Even though the evil was supposed to be banished, it returns. King puts forward the idea that the good and bad in humans is never really gone. Characters Randall Flagg and Mother Abigail are much more than just people, they represent much greater forces that will clash as long as mankind exists. 


The book ends with two conversations, one being between two main protagonists, Stuart Redman and Frannie Goldsmith. They discuss whether humanity is doomed to repeat its mistakes, even when given such a sobering second change. Ultimately, they come to an unsatisfactory but resonant conclusion: “I don’t know” (King 1291). 


While Stu and Frannie’s story wraps up, the Devil talks with the native islanders he has come across on a tropical beach. Even though they speak no English, Randall Flagg states his motive: “I have a mission…I have come to teach you how to be civilized” (King 1296). As King pessimistically but accurately implies, this “civilizing” will likely create another conflict pitting humans against each other. 


The Stand argues existential themes in ways that few genres other than epic fiction can. It spurs the reader to consider their own beliefs in humanity. Most rewarding is the development of the vast network of characters that crop up throughout the book. Even with the broad strokes spoiled, I encourage anyone interested to make the commitment and attempt to read The Stand. Its message can only truly resonate with those who have experienced the whole course of the story.