Thursday, October 31, 2013

Stephen King's Best Books: #1 -- The Stand

#1     The Stand

Halloween is finally here, and today we conclude our countdown by crowning Stephen King's best book --The Stand.

The Stand [1978] is the ultimate apocalyptic / dystopian / end of the world fantasy novel, with elements of pseudo-biblical supernatural horror mixed in.  When an industrial accident at a secret military research facility exposes the staff to a deadly biological weapon, a panicked soldier flees the base with his family, foiling the military's attempt to quarantine the situation and unwittingly spreading the super virus across the US.  Within days, the pandemic escalates globally, wiping out 99.4% of the world population within weeks.

The first half of the book outlines the story of a myriad of characters who are fortunate enough [or perhaps, unfortunate enough] to be immune to the superflu, and their efforts to survive the devastating collapse of society as we know it. As the story progresses, two clearly delineated factions emerge: one group of characters is mystically drawn to "Mother Abigail," a 108 year old woman who is the embodiment of good.  The other is drawn to "The Walking Dude," a sinister anti-christ figure who sets up a base of operations in Las Vegas, and later sends his minions out to acquire abandoned military weapons of mass destruction he plans to use to kill off what remains of humanity.

The second half of the book details the struggle between these two factions, culminating in a epic showdown between the forces of good and evil.

Loosely based upon the biblical Book of Revelation, The Stand is considered by many to be King's quintessential literary opus.  The sheer number of characters and their circumstantially interweaving plots is masterfully written, and gives the novel a robust, multi-layered story.  King nearly abandoned the manuscript midway through the project due to an extreme case of writer's block about how to wrap the story up--a dilemma that he overcame by interjecting a scenario that escalated the conflict between the two opposing factions and set both groups on an unavoidable collision course.  When telling this story, King sardonically observed that he only had to kill off half the core cast in order to get the story back on track.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book is the complex motivations [and supernatural powers] of The Walking Dude, a devil amongst men who is intent upon bringing about the end of the world by finishing what the superflu started.  But the biblical elements of the book take a back seat to the strong characters and the dire circumstances they face throughout the book as they struggle to survive and rebuild in the aftermath of the veritable apocalypse.

The Stand's length, number of characters, and intricate plot complexities were unsuitable for the big screen, but like many other of his lengthier works, King adapted the manuscript into a four-part / eight hour television mini-series that aired in 1994.  King had to tone down certain elements of the story to make it more appropriate for the television conventions of the day.

However, in January 2011, it was announced that Warner Brothers and CBS Films will be developing a feature length film adaptation of The Stand, to be told as a trilogy.

The Stand

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Thank you to all readers for following my top 10 [actually, top 11] countdown of Stephen King's best books.  I'd love to hear any feedback / reactions about my selections, and I welcome suggestions for books that didn't make the cut that you think should have been included.  Feel free to contact me with your reactions via the "Contact Ryan" tab above.

And last--but certainly not least--Happy Halloween!!!


  1. Great countdown. I've enjoyed reading it.
    Where is The Shining? That book scared the crap out of me. I got to some points and had to put it down; so realistic and I found myself screaming at certain points as I was reading that he had to check the boiler!

  2. I'm going to post my list of "honorable mentions" tomorrow, and The Shining just missed the cut. Big fan of that book, though. Very different from Stanley Kubrick's memorable film adaptation

  3. The Green Mile is a movie about a progression of occasions on Louisiana death row during the 1930s.