The Long Walk Critical Essays

Stephen King


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The Long Walk is one of five books published by Stephen King under the pseudonym of Richard Bachman. The book was first submitted for publication in 1967 but went unpublished until after King’s success with such novels as Carrie (1974). King himself has said, in the preface to the Signet paperback edition of The Bachman Books: Four Early Novels by Stephen King (1985), that the book is “full of windy psychological preachments (both textual and subtextual),” but he also says there is a lot of story in the book. The Running Man (1982, filmed in 1987), another of the Bachman books, also involves a futuristic “gaming” event. In that book, the premise is a televised manhunt in which contestants must try to stay alive for thirty days.

The subtle horror in The Long Walk may resonate with the reader long after the reading, in spite of the “preachments.” King is noted for horrifying elements and gimmicks in his novels, but the most horrifying element in this book is, perhaps, the straightforward, matter-of-fact way in which the material is presented. The first shooting of a walker may jolt the reader. Until this point, the walkers have referred to the possibility of a walker “getting his ticket” without specifying what that means.

At no point in the book does King explain the genesis of the Long Walk. Other than glimpses of the totalitarian regime governing the United States, readers are not given insight into the reason for the change or the ways in which the new system operates, other than as they relate to the Long Walk and mentions of the Squads. The walk is a symbol for the worst of a bad system. The use of a sports metaphor is particularly apt, as it outlines the behaviors of participants, spectators, and bettors, as well as incorporating the military in the enforcement of rules of a so-called “sport.” The images of multitudes of people cheering on the walkers and simultaneously watching them get shot is grim. King has neatly extrapolated some of the worst of contemporary social attitudes in this disturbing book.