I will stray from my Dark Tower National Park and Wildlife Reserve format for these "side trails," i.e. those Dark-Tower-related books that are not part of the main Dark Tower series. Or at least for this particular blog, as it doesn't fit as easily into the Overview / Trail Notes format. I tried to make it fit, but it grew too unwieldy. So! Onwards.
For many people The Stand is Stephen King's hallmark work.
|Anyone else think of Spy vs. Spy for this?|
And it's easy to understand why. He's had bestseller-success with everything published since, of course, but this is the one most often named as "best King book," a phenomenon upon which King has remarked, "There's something a little depressing about such a united opinion that you did your best work twenty years ago."
Me, personally, I think he's done stronger work since. But that's not to take anything away from its status as "King's best." It's certainly a hell of an accomplishment.
The book is dedicated to Tabitha King (ie his wife, if you live under a rock), with the inscription, "This dark chest full of wonders." Just what every wife wants: a tale of apocalyptic destruction!
Here's what King has to say about this one in Danse Macabre:
"(I read a news story) about an accidental CBW spill in Utah. All the bad nasty bugs got out of their canister and killed a bunch of sheep. But, the news article stated, if the wind had been blowing the other way, the good people of Salt Lake City might have gotten a very nasty surprise... We were living in Boulder, Colorado, at the time, and I used to listen to the Bible-thumping station which broadcast out of Arvada quite regularly. One day I heard a preacher dilating upon the text. 'Once in every generation a plague will fall among them.' ...And that was that. I spent the next two years writing an apparently endless book called The Stand. It got to the point where I began describing it to friends as my own little Vietnam."
"My own lesson in writing The Stand was that cutting the Gordian Knot simply destroys the riddle instead of solving it, and the book's last line is an admission that the riddle still remains."
Interesting. As The Stranger says at the end of Lebowski, " I guess that's the way the whole durned human comedy keeps perpetuatin' itself. "
|I'd love to talk to the book design folks at Signet about the choices they made with their King reprints. I enjoy most of them, and this one in particular is pretty cool. But it almost reminds me of a karaoke video at the same time.|
I've read this many times over the years. It's an amazing book, undoubtedly, though my personal opinion is that it slacks a little in the last few hundred pages. A victim of its own realism, perhaps? The story takes its time for the first 800 pages or so, and that's a good thing. While it may not be very interesting (then again, it very well may be) to watch ordinary Joes put a society back together and all that entails, the no-stone-left-uncovered-ness of the plotting / pacing is at least consistent.
And then, wham, Vegas explodes because God appears to push down a nuclear detonator, and Tom Cullen's having those deux-es-machima dreams familiar to many of King's third acts. Now, don't get excited - it's still one hell of a great and gripping read, and far be it from me to snarkily-nitpick a story as enduring as this one. But this time around, the last few hundred pages seemed a little less satisfying to me than they had previously.
A brief aside:
|I used to listen to this album a lot back in the day. The title track is inspired by The Stand. And, incidentally...|
I've referred elsewhere to SK as the Charles Dickens of the twentieth century. And as I go along the Highway, here, I'm finding that to be more and more true. Not just in terms of contemporaneous popular-entertainment, but in novel-construction and population-of-characters. Perhaps. Someone smarter than me should explore this more thoroughly.
Or is King the Chaucer of the modern day? Maybe that's a better comparison? They have a few things in common, most notably a) their plots both operate in a universe where "Godly" intervention is taken as something of a given, or, put a different way, if the idea of a higher power helping the characters along strikes you as insane, then the third acts of many of their stories will anger or irritate you. (King's interventions are definitely more subtle, but that's more the result of 700 years of narrative innovation; medieval morality plays didn't spend much time with "subverting convention," mainly because the conventions were still being drafted) and b) their dialogue and characterization rely on what Maude Lebowski (okay, so I've got Lebowski on the brain) calls "the parlance of (their respective) time."
|I never felt more like an English major than that one semester I took both a Chaucer and Dickens seminar. Talk about knowledge for which I've had no subsequent use!|
Does that make Bill Thompson (who "discovered" King and was his strongest early booster) John of Gaunt? A question for the ages...
Anyway, The Stand is populated with a small universe of memorable characters, but for our purposes here, (i.e. that which relates to the Dark Tower) we will concentrate only on one of them: Randall Flagg, aka The Walkin' Dude. More from Danse Macabre:
"...An Apollonian society is disrupted by a Dionysian force (in this case a deadly strain of superfly that kills almost everybody). Further, the survivors of this plague discover themselves in two camps: one, located in Boulder, Colorado, mimics the Apollonian society, just destroyed...; the other, located in LAs Vegas, Nevada, is violently Dionysian... But below all this, the face of the real werewolf can be dimly seen."
|I wish I could add this background to pretty much every photo of mine. I suppose nothing's stopping me.|
Flagg is King's signature villain. He appears in the Dark Tower right off the bat as The Man in Black in The Gunslinger, but not explicitly until The Waste Lands (coming soon to the ol' King's Highway but beyond our scope today.)
He next appears in...
Written as a bedtime story/fairy tale for his daughter Naomi, Eyes is a fun read and has several parallels with Dark Tower stuff:
"A tale set in the medieval country of Delain (the name recalls Deschain) ruled by King Roland, who has two sons, Peter and Thomas; Peter is the heir to Roland's throne. The main antagonist is Flagg (The Man In Black, Randall Flagg, The Walkin' Dude, Marten Broadcloak, Walter O'Dim, The Dark Man, R.F. etc...) he is the king's evil advisor, he conspires to kill the king, frame Peter, overrule Thomas and ultimately cause anarchy in the kingdom. He imprisons the prince in a high tower called the "needle". When prince Peter escapes he confronts Flagg with his brother Thomas and other loyal friends. Thomas shoots Flagg with an arrow that his father killed a dragon with. Flagg dematerializes and flees. He is followed by Prince Thomas and his servant Dennis. This book has the "feel" of a story set in in-world, with similar speech, customs and mood."
|Shades of Shawshank in that escape-from-the-tower bit.|
Not much to say about this one. It's a fun read, to be sure. I remember buying this one (well, the Viking mass paperback, not the limited edition from Philtrum Press) new off the rack at Waldenbooks. If memory serves, I picked up this on the same visit:
(Not that that has anything to do with anything. If only Rebecca Howe's initials were R.F.!)
SyFy is allegedly putting together an Eyes of the Dragon TV event - makes sense. It's kind of surprising one hasn't been made already. Here's hoping Pixar or an animation company of similar quality makes one. (Tho I wouldn't mind a Rankin / Bass-style adaptation, myself.)
At the story's end, it's mentioned that Thomas and Dennis meet and do battle with Flagg again but that it's a tale for another day. I'd like to read that; maybe that day will arrive soon/ someday.
As for the TV adaptation of The Stand...
|Jesus, I forgot Corin "Parker Lewis Can't Lose" Nemec played Harold. Great casting of Miguel Ferrer as Lloyd, though.|
it starts off kind of strong and then whiffs as it goes along. What's to blame? Partially, it suffers greatly from trying to adapt R-rated material for a PG audience. Sometimes that works out just fine, but The Stand in particular suffers, I think, from being so "sanitized."
And the good and evil showdown comes across as Hallmark instead of HBO. Instead of adding to the "epic"ness, it dilutes it. It really doesn't change too much from the book, so maybe "dilute" is the wrong word, but it just has a totally different feel on screen, particularly in the scene where our heroes are marching along the road, singing Christian spirituals. Nothing wrong with that - and again, it appears in the novel the same way - but it just isn't as compelling on screen.
|And nothing against the actor, but this depiction of Our Man Flagg is not to my liking. He doesn't even do a bad job, just... that haircut is ridiculous. The banality of evil and all, sure, but it's tough to access the "unspeakable evil" of a dude who looks like a Molly Hatchet roadie. Tho in all fairness, his appearance does match the description from the book; it's just one of those circumstances I feel they'd have been better served changing things up a bit. I suppose I should be thankful they didn't turn him into Dave Navarro.|
Among the more disappointing King adaptations, unfortunately.
I've been staring at this blog for the better part of an hour, trying to figure out if I'm missing anything. A book like The Stand and a character like Randall Flagg is enough material for a whole different series of blogs, so it feels like I'm not doing them justice. What more can I say? (Answer: Plenty.) If you haven't, for whatever reason, read The Stand, you should read it and then leave me a message in the comments with your own impressions. For a 1000+ pager, it's actually kind of a quick read.
(By the way, I had a flu last weekend when I was finishing the book. It definitely added something to the mix!)
The Talisman, SK's first collaboration with Peter Straub...