One of my greatest friends is The Stand by Stephen King.
The Stand was first published in 1978 and I first read it in 1980. Since then, he has edited it about twice and rewritten aspects to reflect the change in the cultural environment of the United States.
When I was a student, I can remember mentioning to my English Literature lecturer that I thought that King was an excellent writer. The Lecturer, smiled at me with something that weighed a little over a tonne of condescension. She laughed as she stated that King was not a real writer. I didn’t laugh or smile.
I never talked to her much after that and would bluff my way through her seminars in a manner that was apparent to all and sundry. Fortunately for me, this lecturer was only there for a year before returning to the States. She did teach me one thing, FECUNDITYwhich she used lavishly in her description of Gabriella Garcia Marques’ One Hundred Years of Solitude– a true writer. I still have to read that book.
The Stand is an old friend. I read it every five or six years. I go back to it in the same way one might go back to the place in which you grew up. My affair with everything apocalyptical probably came from King, well some of it anyway. The landscape of my youth was clouded by the coming apocalypse. It never came though. There was the threat of nuclear war, Aids, over-population, and ISIS (so called), but it has never ended. Neither has my love of The Stand.
I picked up a copy of this book just before the weekend and started to read it once again. Some people never go back to books once they have read them. Some people never review a film once it has been watched. I do both. The mind-readers out there will tell you that it will be connected with my psychological hoarding, a need to never let go of the past. I believe this to be true, as this book testifies. For somebody who can launch into new experiences and, as a consequence, leave behind old ones, I am a strange contradiction. But there are artefacts that I treasure; books, books, books.
The latest edition of The Stand has new chapters and some new characters. All of these are peripheral to the main events yet they work in a way to freshen up the novel for a new audience. Where King falls down a little is where there are obvious anachronisms that have been born out of temporal revision.
My favourite character, Larry Underwood, a musician about to make it big before Captain Trips seizes his platform, is mixing his tracks with Neil Diamond. Now, I am not one to put Neil Diamond down, but a new audience wouldn’t really know him. If they had heard of him, it would be in the same way that would have heard of somebody once called Noah. That to one side, the book gripped me once again and I spent huge swathes of the weekend lost in its many pages. Once more, I was back to the time when I was eighteen, still wet behind the ears, hoping beyond reasonable hope that I would amount to something in my life. I was afflicted with that good old Jesus syndrome.
The Stand is like reading me and the time that has gone into making this person who I am today???
That’s ellipsis with question marks! Ain’t that something?
My favourite characters in the book are Larry Underwood and Nick … Larry because he is a tragic figure who is haunted by his own doubtful character and who wants to be good, but often does bad things. “You ain’t no good guy!” He hears from women who would have been complete strangers if he hadn’t slept with them. I like Larry because he is a little bit like I was when I was young, self-centred, hedonistic, and a dreamer. He wanted to do the right thing in a world which was not right. He failed. So, he just went along with the process and carved out his own little stretch of land where he could hide from his troubles and the eyes of his judges.
Larry is an artist who has always struggled to be heard properly. He hasn’t had the breaks and when one sashays his way it is blown away by a combination of genetic engineering and ‘the end of days’ conducted by Randall Flag. Old Randy is the Devil in-definite-carnate. And poor old Larry, and the rest of the world, is swept away by this janitor from Hell.
Larry is a guy who has always been good, at heart, but indifferent in actions. The last stand of good against evil is one in which he will play a major role, surprising himself and others with his bravery and selflessness. At the end of it all, Larry is a “good guy”, but dies in the process. So, is this Jesus thing in my DNA or has it been placed there by the writers I worship?
If I was a lawyer, I would possibly say that this particular case ought to go to litigation. Through their poetry and prose, these writers have led me all the way along a narrative that quite possibly would not have existed if they hadn’t caught my imagination and used their works as pseudo scriptures for a half-wit like me to believe in.
Or is it that I was always predisposed to this type of existence and that I chose the literature that best reflected me?
Thank goodness that I never liked Jane Austin – although with zombies it is a lovely treat.