The Stand, 30 years on

Salon interviews Stephen King about his great novel, thirty years after it was first published. King calls it a work of “dark Christianity,” which should surprise nobody who’s read it.

It was some years after the book was published that I found out about it. I was in college when some of my dad’s graduate students stopped by my parents’ house one evening. We got to talking about books, as you do with grad students from the English department. One of them recommended The Stand. He said it would scare me — it was about a plague that kills 99 percent of the earth’s population, “And then things really get bad.” He told me it was written by a guy named Stephen King, an author I had never heard of.

It’s still my favorite book.

My only quibble with the Salon interview is that writer John Marks calls the Stand miniseries “mediocre.” The miniseries was excellent and often moving. Molly Ringwald, however, was so bad that she ruined every scene she was in. But the rest of the cast is terrific.

To this day I can’t see a crow sitting on a telephone pole without thinking of the walking man, Randall Flagg.

17 responses to “The Stand, 30 years on

  1. I begged my mom to drive me to the bookstore the day The Stand came out so I could buy it–in hardcover. And yes, I still have that much-read battered copy. It’s a fantastic novel.

  2. Meg, I have to admit to you with some trepidation that I hated The Stand the first time I read it. But, before you kick me to the curb, let me explain. I was young and immature and I really do believe that where we are in life has a great deal to do with how we take in information.

    There were great chunks of it that were so beautifully written, I can’t deny that. But the overall story left me just…bored.

    Now, fast forward many, many years when the powers-that-be decided to add back in those 400 pages they originally cut, and I was older and wiser–I gave it another shot because I was on a journey to The Dark Tower and I wanted to read all related books first before I began. I found it a wonderful tale and although not one of my favorite Stephen King’s, I definitely loved it.

    And, just as an added note, years ago on King’s Web site, one of the kingalings dubbed Molly Ringwald, Molly Ringworm, because of her terrible performance in the miniseries. So let it be written; so let it be done.

    M-O-O-N, that spells whatever you want it to.

  3. The first and only attempt to read The Stand when I was a teenager, I got bored one-third of the way in. I’m still recovering from reading The Dark Tower over a two-year period. One day I’ll read the whole thing.

    BTW, If you watch “Diary of the Dead,” there’s a fundamentalist preacher on the radio (“Get on your !@#$% knees and pray!”) done by Stephen King. If I’m not mistaken, this parallels a similar piece of dialog in The Stand.

  4. The Stand is also one of my all-time favorite books. Not only is it superbly written with characters that truly come alive, it has everything you could possibly want in a book: disaster, romance, heartbreak, action, comedy, and an extremely loveable dog.

    Meg — I don’t think you’re ever getting your copy back. Not only would you have to wrest it from my hands, there’s so much sellotape holding it together that it may well disintegrate in the process.

  5. Kate:

    Who you calling Meg?


  6. Read the interview after Marsha posted a link, and whilst The Stand is without a doubt my all time favourite book, I didn’t think the miniseries was that great (difficult to get 48 hours of audio down to 6 hours of film – didn’t stop me buying the DVD a few weeks back, though).

    That’s par for the course with SK novels, though – film adaptations are usually poor. Some exceptions, though – Shawshank, Green Mile, Salom’s Lot.

    Laws yes.

  7. “IT” and “The Stand” are two of my favorites.

    I read the original 700+ page original version and loved it. But when the extended version came out in the early ’90s, I fell in love with it all over again. I believe the extended cut added almost 300 pages – and a hot-rod driving psychopath named “The Kid”.

    There’s no doubt that I will be pulling “The Stand” off the shelf again sometime very soon.

  8. I love The Stand. I’ve never been able to decide if it’s my favorite of his books or not (I go back and forth a lot), but if it’s not number one, it’s number two.

    I think I liked the miniseries BECAUSE I love the book. I don’t know if someone would completely enjoy the miniseries without a complete appreciation for the novel. I’m sure there’s someone out there who can easily prove me wrong. That being said, The Stand is one of the stronger film/TV adaptations of anything written by King.

    And I know you all hate Molly Ringwald, but the scene with her and Harold (?) where they listen to a 45 of “Don’t Dream It’s Over” made me BAWL. I cannot listen to that song without associating it with The Stand.

  9. I too love The Stand, it’s my 2nd favorite Stephen King (first is Bag of Bones). Here’s abit of trivia: Did you know that Whoopi Goldberg was first approached to play Mother Abigail? I love Whoopi, but Ruby Dee was the best choice.

  10. …when he smiles, the birds fall dead off the telephone wires…

  11. ah, The Stand. I still have flashbacks to various passages, some scary ( The Walking Dude!), some not (the dog that Larry picks up recalling that his last human called him by another name).

    I like the first version released better than the uncut one, as the latter added bits that I didn’t think added to the story overall.

    I think The Stand may have led to my interest in post-apoc fiction books.

    As to the mini-series, I recall it as being okay. The one thing that has stayed with me is their choice of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” for the opening shots of everyone dead in the lab. I still occasionally have those images flash in my head when that song starts up.

  12. Me too, I love it. I “think” it is my favourite King (Salem’s Lot comes close). No I am sure it is. I saw the mini-series on DVD recently and although I quite liked it, I felt that there were lots of gaps in it and wondered if they’d omitted parts in creating the DVD? Anyway, a very good book. I’ve never read the complete edition as that was published later, so I have often wondered about going back for a re-read of it, would the 20-year-old magic I remember still be there? Yes, from the sounds of your post and these comments (most of them!).

  13. I read The Stand when it was first published. To this day I’ve never encountered a fictional character that came off the page as a fully realized human being the way Larry Underwood did.

  14. Gargoyle, “Don’t Fear the Reaper” lingers in my mind as well. What also impressed me about the music in the miniseries is that in the early episodes, before and during the plague, the soundtrack features plenty of rock music. It’s heavy on the electric guitars. But later on, when the national power grid is down, the score is all acoustic.

    Maxine, I’ve read both the original published edition and the “full” version. I loved them both, but admittedly that’s because I’m a big fan of the novel and enjoy re-reading my favorite books. Your mileage may vary.

    Greg, Larry Underwood is a study in growth and redemption. I love him. (Dig him, too, baby.)

  15. The powerful thing about a novel like The Stand is that you could imagine yourself in the apocalypse; what would you do in that situation? Considering how well he has always written kids, especially Mark Petrie in Salem’s Lot–and I was a kid when I read The Stand–I did think he missed a great opportunity by not having scenes from a viewpoint of a child who survived the superflu. (I never read the extended version, though, so maybe scenes like that were there.) But a child alone, in that new world, with those dreams–oh my God.

    Yes, Larry, Fran, Trashcan Man, Nadine, Harold, Stu–these are some of King’s greatest characters. And the scene where Dayna Jurgens faces Flagg–what do we do when we face real evil? That scene stayed in my mind for a long while.

    I liked the miniseries for the most part. I have always had a soft spot for Molly Ringwald, I didn’t think she did such a bad job. My complaint: they should have made Flagg scarier. Much scarier.

  16. Dayna Jurgens — God, the selfless courage. Still chokes me up.

  17. They should have cast Tom Hanks as Flagg, now that would have been scary.

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