The Stand almost defies classification. While it is certainly a horror story in the sense that frightening events and supernatural powers are depicted, it also qualifies clearly as science fiction or epic fantasy and even as a political allegory. This last aspect is immediately apparent in the events which open the novel: Nearly all of the world’s population (99.4 percent) is killed in only three weeks after a superflu virus escapes from a U.S. Army biological warfare installation. The world as all have known it is destroyed.
A few people inexplicably survive to pick up the pieces. Stu Redman, a laconic Texan, is taken to a disease laboratory in Maine, where the few remaining government scientists hope to discover what has given him immunity. Realizing that the government plans to use him as a guinea pig, Redman flees the laboratory and soon meets Glen Bateman, formerly a New Hampshire sociology professor. Other survivors throughout the country also appear: Nick Andros, a deaf-mute genius, is wandering around rural Oklahoma, where he meets the retarded but amiable Tom Cullen. Larry Underwood, a rock singer on his way to New York, finds the city devastated. Soon, they and other characters begin having disjointed, prophetic dreams of a “dark man,” Randall Flagg, the personification of evil, and of Abigail Freemantle, a black woman more than a hundred years old who serves as God’s instrument and prophet. Each character is drawn toward one of the two: Some find Freemantle in her old cabin in a Nebraska cornfield; others follow Flagg in what appears to be the beginnings of a reborn American society in Las Vegas.
Flagg gathers to himself a large number of average-citizen types, who are deceived by his cunning into believing that they are salvaging civilization. He has also claimed many of the dregs of surviving humanity, such as Donald Elbert, a mad pyromaniac, and Lloyd Henreid, a mass murderer. Together, they help Flagg assemble a massive arsenal of destruction. As his technological power grows, Flagg begins to display supernatural powers: He can transform himself into animals and control minds.
With little more than Freemantle’s goodness and visions to guide and inspire them, Redman, Bateman, Underwood, and Ralph Brentner (a good-hearted farmer) undertake a long and torturous journey on foot to Las Vegas, where...
(The entire section is 965 words.)
On an air force base in California, a highly contagious flu virus is accidentally released, but a panicked employee escapes before the base is sealed, spreading the disease across the Southwest. The “super-flu” depopulates the country in a four-week period in July, 1985.
The only survivors are naturally immune to the disease, and within a week, each one dreams about two opposing forces, one heralded by the aged, pious Mother Abigail, who has received messages to prepare a meal for unknown guests. The other force is represented by the evil Randall Flagg, the infamous “walkin’ dude” or the “creeping Judas.” Flagg’s first convert is Lloyd Henreid, a convicted murderer starving in a jail cell in a prison of the dead. Just when Henreid seems forced to survive by cannibalism, he is mysteriously released: At Flagg’s command, Henreid bows down and worships him. The two set out across the country.
Meanwhile in New England, Harold Lauder and Frannie Goldsmith begin to look for a cure for the super-flu. To impress Frannie, Harold climbs on a barn roof and leaves a sign to inform any survivors who want to know where they have gone. On their trip, Mother Abigail calls them west in dreams, and on the way they meet Stuart Redman. Harold immediately becomes jealous of Redman, and begins to turn toward the dark force.
Larry Underwood, meanwhile, has also begun to go west following the signs left by Lauder.
(The entire section is 565 words.)