The Stand

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The 1978 edition of THE STAND was published in a truncated version since King’s publishers believed that it would be too long in its original form. The new edition reinstates what had been cut, updating the novel as well so that it is now set in 1990. Thus revised, THE STAND is a massive 1,153 pages long. Within this length, King is able to be more than merely a horror writer. There is room for science fiction, fantasy, romance, and social commentary.

THE STAND opens with a deadly virus, the “superflu,” accidentally released from a military lab doing biological warfare research. Because of this accident and a chain of events that leads to contact with one contaminated person after another, 99% of the world’s population dies within a couple of weeks. King describes in agonizingly grim detail what death under these terms is like. Life for ordinary Americans is shattered by the incurable superflu. Under the sheer weight of mass death, the small number of survivors must find a way to cope with a world that has been permanently altered.

For the remaining portion of THE STAND, these survivors must not only find a way to form a new society, but also fight against an evil that has risen out of the destruction of the civilized world. The survivors attempt to build a new society in Boulder, Colorado. The moral leader of this new society is a black woman known as Mother Abagail. She is 108 years old and understands that the struggle against the evil Randall Flagg and his enormous powers will not be easy. Various characters either rise or fall to the occasion as they are presented...

(The entire section is 655 words.)

The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Despite stringent security measures, a deadly flu strain that kills its victims within hours is released accidentally from a secret government laboratory in June of 1985. Lacking a vaccine, federal officials, the Army, and disease-control personnel falter and then fail in efforts to check the flu’s spread. When it becomes clear that the epidemic is unstoppable, U.S. agents are ordered to spread the plague in China and the Soviet Union to ensure a worldwide holocaust. Within a few weeks, America’s population is decimated. Only a handful of befuddled but immune survivors are left to organize themselves to cope with the disaster. A motley collection of people drawn from all sections of the country, the survivors divide into two groups, each consisting of several thousand people. The actions of the first group, led by Larry Underwood, a former rock star; Stu Redman, a taciturn Texas laborer; Frannie Goldsmith, a pregnant college student; Harold Lauder, an insecure, egocentric young nerd; Glen Bateman, a social sciences professor; and Nick Andros, a divinely inspired deaf-mute, are influenced by their common dreams about a mysterious Mother Abigail.

After sundry individual adventures, this band and its followers finally locate Mother Abigail, who proves to be a mystical 108-year-old black woman living in Nebraska. Above involvement in mundane affairs even after her followers form their own worldly government, Abigail nevertheless is the embodiment of good,...

(The entire section is 522 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Beahm, George. Stephen King: America’s Best-Loved Bogeyman. Kansas City, Mo.: Andrews and McMeel, 1998. Beahm provides an intriguing glimpse into Stephen King’s life as a celebrity and publishing phenomenon. An excellent resource that helps readers gain deeper insight into King’s works.

Bloom, Harold. Stephen King. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1998. A collection of critical essays that address various aspects of King’s work. Useful for gaining a comprehensive overview of King’s canon.

Hohne, Karen A. “The Power of the Spoken Word in the Works of Stephen King.” Journal of Popular Culture 28 (Fall, 1994): 93-103. A defense of King’s work against the “snobbery of scholars who look down upon the rustic tradition of popular language.” Hohne gives a solid overview of King’s work and calls for academia to recognize “its potential to mobilize mass support.”

Magistrale, Tony. The Dark Descent: Essays Defining Stephen King’s Horrorscape. New York: Greenwood Press, 1992. A collection of essays that explore King’s works in depth. Includes “The Three Genres of The Stand,” by Edwin F. Casebeer. Also features a helpful bibliography for further reading.

Magistrale, Tony. “Free Will and Sexual Choice in The Stand.” Extrapolation 34 (Spring, 1993): 30-38. Magistrale argues that King’s novel reflects his philosophy of today’s world, specifically addressing the power of sexuality to influence the nobler as well as the baser aspects of human nature. An intriguing look at King’s thoughts on the human condition.

Russell, Sharon. Stephen King: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996. Offers a brief biography of King, as well as an overall view of his fiction. Entire chapters are devoted to each of his major novels, including one on The Stand. Discussion includes plot and character development, thematic issues, and a new critical approach to the novel.