Authors within the realms of horror, mystery, fantasy, and romance have cited Stephen King as a prolific inspiration in their journey into worldbuilding, character creation, and having the courage to delve into lengthy and graphic storylines. After delving incredibly deep into King’s catalog throughout the last couple of years, it has become clear why King is so revered worldwide for his storytelling chops.
Something that becomes shockingly clear after reading a handful of novels from Stephen King is that he does not shy away from the obscene, the uncomfortable, or the taboo. There are scenes to be read within King’s catalog that are indeed nightmare-inducing, as he creates misfortune and misery around every corner for his unfortunate characters. Some of King’s best work has shown itself when he appears to be trying to expand his reach and grasp at ideas and fears that are out of his comfort zone.
King’s longest novel, 1978’s, “The Stand,” aged so finely that it is an even more terrifying piece of fiction in 2023 than it would have been in the year it was released. The novel takes place in the wake of a worldwide pandemic that eliminated approximately 98% of human life on Earth. King spends the first half of the book assembling a unique, off-kilter cast of civilians, criminals, heroes, and villains whose paths will cross and weave between each other with such masterful precision and satisfying intensity that the novel is hard to put down. The bizarre catch with this novel, however, is that King wrote 1,150 pages of it, so breaks are necessary when trudging through the bleak post-apocalyptic world that King crafted.
The nuanced, yet equally catastrophic way that King allows the deadly flu pandemic to unfurl and spread across the world in “The Stand,” is a panic-inducing read in a post-COVID world. The accuracy with which he portrayed the deniers, the doomsday preppers, and the utter social collapse once life has been diminished and placed in the hands of an invisible disease is truly startling. The superflu virus in “The Stand,” is an accidental contamination breach from a U.S. Military base working on biological warfare weapons. Once the disease is running rampant across the country, naturally the government ends up being an equally devastating factor in the near extinction of the human race as the virus is. Humanity goes out the window in a matter of days; think of the violence and controversy that COVID created in the United States but multiplied in extremity by thousands.
This rapid downfall of humanity is portrayed in only the first quarter of King’s 1978 novel as he has something larger, and more terrifying in mind to explore than the simple downfall of man. He picks up with the survivors. The ones who didn’t get sick but really can’t explain how they didn’t get sick - or killed by the extreme violence that rocked the world after it became evident that life might be meaningless with everyone dropping like flies. It is at this point that “The Stand,” becomes a masterclass of King expanding his pen to all genres and all possibilities. There are elements of fantasy intertwined with a classically horrifying King antagonist - a Krueger-esque dream trespasser called The Dark Man who calls out to lonely survivors who still have a semblance of morality and inner peace. King has a tendency to write villains who prey on the insecurities and fears of the helpless, likable protagonists. The most famous instance of this villain-hero dynamic in Stephen King’s work will be found in his notorious 1986 novel, “IT.”
In that brief piece that is hyperlinked to “IT,” King recalls his inspiration for the novel and says,
“A good idea is like a yo-yo, it may go to the end of its string, but it doesn’t die there; eventually it rolls back up into your palm.”
This seems to be a perfect example of what was circling through King’s mind in the late 80s when he was crafting some of the longest pieces of fiction to ever be written. “The Stand,” reads like Stephen King was playing with a literary yo-yo. Bizarre and disturbing ideas are thrown at the wall at an equal rate as fascinating and beautiful imagery and passionate conversations are crafted for the reader. The cast of characters King is able to describe and assign unique personalities to are some of the defining traits of a visionary and a professional storyteller.
Stephen King specializes in finding unique, descriptive ways to challenge existing fears and inspire new ones. His outstanding work has created countless Hollywood films and network television shows. These pieces are fictional stories that may be passed down generations as some of the finest villains and most eclectic characters crafted by a single author.
“The Stand,” is a brutally long read. The misfortune of the characters and the sparsely populated world make the novel certainly feel its length, however, it is a wonderful journey that feels almost Tolkien-esque with its grandiose size and deep cast of diverse characters. Reading a lengthy and disturbing Stephen King novel is an immense task that can feel arduous at times, yet the payoff is always worth it as character’s worlds collide and collapse, shockingly obscene moments occur before your very eyes, and previously inconceivable nightmares are fully realized at the hand of King’s pen.
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