Epic tale

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Stand in the place where you live

Now face north

Think about direction

Wonder why you haven’t before, “Stand” by R.E.M.

I have been intrigued by the apocalypse for quite some time.  In recent times, doomsday has been expected in 1999, 2000, 2012(And I feel fine!) the alleged Mayan apocalypse(Baktun to the future), and the various predictions about when the world is going to end (Embracing the end times).  As an avid reader and later as a teacher, I became a dystopian novels enthusiast. Despite being a longtime Stephen King fan, I had not read his post-apocalyptic epic,novel,  The Stand.  I chose it as an audiobook to follow the Game of Thrones Series. Because it is quite long, I knew I would be reading it as Lent began. I did find The Stand to be enjoyable as a counterpoint to Game of Thrones, as a post- apocalyptic novel, and even as a Lenten read.  

The Stand was a good follow-up to Game of Thrones. Like GoT, The Stand has an intriguing cast of characters.The Stand’s antagonist, Randall Flagg, is despicable yet I found myself engaged by his personality quirks.  Some GoT fans might say the same about Cersei Lannister. I also thought that there was a level of camp that I noticed in the Game of Throne books. Call me a weirdo but sometimes the scenes are hilarious.  I would cackle at the shade being thrown between characters. On a more serious note, The Stand included themes of betrayal, conspiracy,infighting and people preying on others’  insecurities. The behind-the-scenes political power plays that plague humanity are still in full effect post humanity. According to King, even when there very few people left on earth, they are still going to engage in the game of thrones.

I have read and done a lot of work as an English teacher with classic dystopian novels like Brave New World and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.  The young adult fiction market has generated several popular dystopian novel series in the last decade including The Hunger Games, the Divergent series, the Uglies series, Delirium, and The Girl with All the Gifts. These are only the ones I have read; there are many more. It would seem young adults are being marketed a fascination with the end of the world. The Stand, however, predates this trend in fiction.  The Stand debuted in the late 70s before it was remixed in 1990 with the uncut full length version. The Stand differs from  other post-apocalyptic novels in that it is grounded in realism. The characters are real people in contemporary America.  The novel is not sci-fi in terms of how who the characters are before, during, and after the apocalypse. A lot of similar books are set in a distant future that is in many ways very removed from our current reality. King places his story, if not in this world, in a world that’s similar and therefore relatable. Rather than focus on terrifying the audience, the book puts more focus on the relationships that build between characters, their Interactions, and personal dynamics between the opposing sides. King is making a statement about society and  its values by imagining a world where there’s an opportunity to get away from where society is today and its failings. It’s not about a failed future society; it ponders whether or not we would pick up where we left off in the event of of an apocalyptic event. If I were still teaching Advanced Placement literature and still teaching a unit on dystopian novels, I might recommend the book as a contrast with other books or in tandem with the Bible. While there’s certainly some allusions to the Bible, it’s not at all like the Left Behind series which is definitely a faith-based apocalyptic read. (don’t get me started on that topic. That is another blog for another day.)  I did enjoy the social commentary present in The Stand.  

I started The Stand before Lent and finished it during the first week of Lent.  I had mixed feelings about continuing to read this book as I was going into a time that is personally important to me. Lent is a time of reflection and reconnection with spiritual discipline. I work on putting myself in a serene and focused state of mind. I wondered if reading about the end of the world and a demonic character made sense.  As we progressed into Lent, the scripture readings did tell about Christ battling evil. The Stand is a story about battling evil, both the evil with a capital E and also the evil of our own ways of thinking, our ambitions, our failings and flaws as people. I finished this book as I transitioned into a different time in the year and in my thinking.

There were parts of The Stand that I could have done without; there was gratuitous gore and sexual violence.  I sometimes question King’s language, specifically his use of the n-word, other slurs and profanity.  Overall it was an entertaining read, especially as an audiobook.

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