The Stand: The Complete & Uncut Edition, by Stephen King

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Feb 23, 2011

In the last couple weeks, there's been some odd Internet buzz to the effect that Warner Bros. and CBS are trying to turn Stephen King's The Stand into a feature film.

It's odd for several reasons: It's been tried before, and that effort ended up in "development hell" for a decade, partly because of the length of the novel. Eventually, ABC made a mini-series of King's post-apocalyptic epic, with decidedly mixed results -- some good performances marred by weak special effects and budgetary constraints. Well, leave it to Hollywood to try, try and, if necessary, try again. We'll see.

Meanwhile, if you have a few dozen extra hours on your hands, check out The Stand: The Complete & Uncut Edition. When it was originally published in 1978, King was forced by his publisher to cut a third of the book because of (you guessed it) the alleged budgetary constraints of a 1,200-page novel. I suspect the truth was that, at that time, King just didn't yet have the clout to get what he wanted.

Twelve years later, he did -- and with the same publisher, the duplicitous Doubleday! And while it's easy to criticize some of King's longer works as a colossal mess (tag; you're It), this novel of a "superflu" that kills 99.4 percent of the population can be very gripping.

The Stand is flawed. Some of the dialogue is fencepost-wooden, parts of the story bog down, and the bad-guy characters aren't developed enough. But when it works, The Stand thrills and chills the soul. King's ambition here was tremendous -- weave a plague story in with a supernatural situation -- but when it's clicking on all eight, it's one scary ride. Being a survivor in this world ain't what it's cracked up to be. Imagine: You've survived the superflu because you have a freakish natural immunity, but now there are almost no doctors, no hospitals, no law enforcement to stop the baddies, and so on. Oh, and by the way: You and your fellow survivors are all having the same dream -- and nightmare. The nightmare is about some godawful swaggering cowboy-type strongman named Randall Flagg who just might be the Antichrist, and it's your job to make your stand against him. Fun times, huh?

The Stand isn't King's best book; he became a better writer as he worked at it over the decades, and good for him, because some authors go the other way. But I do think that, with the possible exception of The Shining, The Stand is the best book of his early career.

Written by John Mark E.

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