This is one of the best books I’ve ever read. M-O-O-N, that spells phenomenal.
Going into this book can be intimidating. It’s 1153 pages in its complete and uncut edition, making it one of King’s largest books. It is also considered by many King fans to be his best work. There’s disagreement, of course. Some swear by King’s magnum opus, The Dark Tower, while others hale IT as their favorite book of all time, while still others hold up various of King’s other works as their personal favorites. I have yet to read The Dark Tower and thus might change my mind on this, but so far I’m firmly in the camp that The Stand is King’s masterpiece. Within this massive book mingle so many genres. The setting is an apocalyptic dystopia, but there is romance and adventure and humor and theology and satire and fantasy. If I could only re-read five books for the rest of my life, this would be one of those five because it gives its readers so much.
Can you dig that happy crappy? Do you believe that happy crappy?
There were some fantastically well-developed characters in this book, and they all joined the side of one of the two most charismatic characters of all: Mother Abigail and Randall Flagg. Mother Abigail is a 108 year-old black woman who has been appointed by God to lead the side of good. Randall Flagg is the dark man, the tall man, the Walkin’ Dude, and he is the face of evil in this brave new world that’s been wrought by Captain Trips, the worse plague to ever sweep the earth. With 99 percent of the earth’s population wiped out at the hand of man, those remaining face off as they try to remake the world, for good or for ill. Though Flagg and Mother Abigail lead their respective sides, their followers are just as well-developed, of not more so. Honestly, there are too many amazing characters to list. But I think that the star of the show is Tom Cullen, a mentally handicapped man who accomplishes more than anyone would have believed possible. Tom made my heart squishy with his innocence and his belief in his friends. Every character King crafted within this story felt special and real and relatable, but Tom shone.
One thing I really loved about this book was King’s decision to portray “good” characters and “bad” characters in such a human way. Those who sided with Flagg were still sympathetic and relatable, while those who sided with Mother Abigail were still fallible and petty at times. There were no perfect protagonists here, and no flat cardboard antagonists who are easy to hate. These were all people, real people, and I connected with them all.
Besides the characters, my absolute favorite thing about this novel was its religious commentary. There was a level of theological depth here that’s not present in most religious fiction. I knew going into this book that it was a post-apocalyptic war between good and evil, but I had no idea that it would impact my thinking this much. Take this quote from Mother Abigail’s thoughts, for instance:
They filed in through the gate that Ralph opened and she felt her sin, the one she thought of as the mother of sin. The father of sin was theft; every one of the Ten Commandments boiled down to “Thou shalt not steal.” Murder was the theft of a life, adultery the theft of a wife, covetousness the secret, slinking theft that took place in the cave of the heart. Blasphemy was the theft of God’s name, swiped from the House of the Lord and set out to walk the streets like a strutting whore. She had never been much of a thief; a minor pilferer from time to time at worst. The mother of sin was pride. Pride was the female side of Satan in the human race, the quiet egg of sin, always fertile.
See? That’s some deep stuff, man. And this book was chock-full of it! Characters who didn’t believe in a Higher Power at all were faced with His probability, and watching them struggle between the rejection and acceptance of that knowledge was fascinating. The theological debates between characters and within their own thoughts was incredibly thought-provoking, and I would read this book again just for that. But there were so many more facets to this story. I was actually even okay with the ending here, which is often lacking in King’s novels; I felt like this one delivered.
I highly recommend this book. If you’re going to read one Stephen King book, I wholeheartedly believe that this should be the top contender. It’s a commitment, true, but incredibly worth it.
The place where you made your stand never mattered. Only that you were there … and still on your feet.