The Dark Tower Book 2: The Drawing of the Three

A review of the book written by Stephen King

The Drawing of the Three cover

Overview

Having confronted the Man in Black, Roland continues his journey to the Dark Tower. After being brutally attacked by lobster-like creatures from the sea, Roland is mortally wounded. He must now face the prophecy left to him by the Man in Black: he must draw three companions. But these companions are from different time periods in another world—our world. A mysterious door appears on the beach, beckoning a dying Roland to enter.

Story:  7

The Gunslinger was essentially a collection of related short stories. The Drawing of the Three wasn’t originally written as short stories, but it achieves a similar effect, though each drawing becomes more and more interconnected with Roland’s world. It’s an interesting effect, as though King transitions us from the format of The Gunslinger to the format of The Waste Lands. The Drawing of the Three, then, is that middle story, that moves us collection to novel. This transition also stalls the story progression. As we move from “Roland” to “Roland and crew,” we spend extended time just getting to know these new characters (and we have one more character to get to know in book three). So, the entirety of the movement in Roland’s world is a few miles on a beach. There is progress as Roland meets and recruits his companions, but we feel no closer to finding the Dark Tower and discovering what evil is destroying Roland’s world.

Characters:  8

  • The Prisoner: Eddie Dean – A drug addict, Eddie makes a great foil for Roland. Where Roland is grim, serious, and humorless, Eddie is laid-back and a bit sarcastic. Roland quickly recognizes that Eddie has a strong mind, but he is a prisoner to both his addiction and his devotion to his brother.
  • The Lady of Shadows: Odetta Holmes/Detta Walker – An African-American woman with a split personality. Living during the Civil Rights era, Odetta Holmes has seen great injustice. Due to two violent assaults, she has manifested a second personality, the evil and cunning Detta Walker. Neither personality is aware of the other.
  • The Pusher: Jack Mort – A greater evil than Detta Walker, Jack Mort is an accountant whose hobby is stalking people and pushing them to their deaths.

While I thought the characters in The Gunslinger were not up to Stephen King’s normal standards, the characters in The Drawing of the Three were stronger. In fact, Eddie’s section was hard for me to put down. He has a great interplay with Roland. They become comrades who, while not quite understanding one another nor always agreeing, learn to work well together.

(O)detta is harder to like because the Detta persona is difficult to read. I didn’t enjoy being in her head. She is an extreme caricature, a stereotype. I could never quite decide if this was interesting or in poor taste. It is an interesting concept, however, that the two personalities must be brought in to balance. It is actually through Jack Mort that this happens. My only disappointment is that we don’t get to see much of the new (O)detta, now dubbed Susannah. That has to wait until The Waste Lands.

Overall, I have few complaints about the characters introduced, though I still miss some of King’s supernatural characters. I loved when Roland and the Man in Black had their meeting. I enjoy the otherness of these supernatural, though malicious, characters. When King digs in to human evil, it cuts too close to reality for my taste.

Themes: 7

Roland needs companions. It is too long since he has had peers who could challenge him and question his single-mindedness. Roland learns quickly that he cannot journey to the Tower without these comrades. Eddie challenges Roland in interesting ways, not least of which is calling Roland out as a “Tower junkie.” But I can’t help but wonder why the Man in Black prophesied the Drawing. As a reader, I want Eddie and Susannah to be able to trust Roland. But I also have to keep in mind that he willingly let Jake die. Eddie and Susannah may help Roland find redemption for things he has done in the past, but I don’t think the Man in Black intends this.

I thought a lot about King’s portrayal of Detta Walker. What I have come to realize is that King often shows hatred as caricature. This is seen in Detta Walker’s personality, which Eddie himself calls out as a cliche. But I’ve seen King use similar cliches in other books, and they always seem connected to people who have given themselves over to hate. (Margaret White in Carrie and Sylvia Pittston in The Gunslinger come to mind. Both justify their hate with religion.) With this, King seems to say that we become the worst version of ourselves when we hate. In fact, we become a cartoon, something that isn’t real. To paraphrase how Roland puts it, they become “what is always said or believed by people who think only a little or not at all.” There are may portrayals of evil in King’s novels, but he seems to consistently show the evil of hate as something that makes a person less human and less real. They become a cliche.

Style: 7

King’s style is more confident and natural. His characters are presented clearly. The division of the book into “shuffle” and “drawing” sections was an interesting way to tell shorter stories in our world and connect them with Roland’s world. However, I think Detta can be off-putting. I like the idea of exploring the rage caused by racism and this was certainly a striking, memorable way to do it. I just don’t enjoy being in that head space.

Personal Enjoyment: 6

One thing that I always loved about the concept of The Gunslinger is the promise of Western-as-fantasy. While I have yet to finish The Dark Tower series, it is moving quickly to fantasy and hardly any Western tropes to justify the Western classification. The first book had endless deserts. It felt like Leone with a dash of Lovecraft. Roland pursued a man in black who wronged him. It was a story of revenge, a full-on Western trope. But this book felt more like Lovecraft’s Dreamlands and vague memories that at one time, this was a Western. Roland pursues a magic Tower. This is more of a fantasy trope than a Western one. Perhaps this changes in books 4-7.

While there’s nothing wrong with this change, the difference is so striking that it is entirely possible to love one and not the other. There are thematic and tonal promises in The Gunslinger that are not continued here. And while I preferred the style and characters in this book, I prefer the tone and dark, Western tropes of The Gunslinger. Neither book completely delivers what I think this concept—and King’s talent—are capable of.

Final Rating: 7/10

The Dark Tower Book 1: The Gunslinger

Overview

This year I made a commitment to pick a fantasy series and read my way through to the end. I would like to do this every year in my attempt to fill the hole left by the currently unfinished Song of Ice and Fire. The only criterion for this goal is that 1) the series must be finished (the main series, not peripheral stories), and 2) it must be a series I have never finished reading. There are quite a few fantasy series that I have started but not finished, for one reason or another (lack of time, apathy, the series was on-going). So, I decided that the inaugural series would be Stephen King’s The Dark Tower.

I have read the first three books in this series (The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three, and The Waste Lands) before. In fact, the first time I read them, book four (The Wizard and Glass) had just come out. I tried again a few years later, and stalled out after book three once again. I have always enjoyed The Dark Tower in concept, but not always in execution. But these previous readings had occurred at very different times in my life when I have had very different tastes. The major difference between then and now is that I have come to have great respect for Stephen King as a writer. I do hope to complete my King Reads King goal to read (if not read AND write about) every Stephen King book. In my time working through his bibliography, I have loved Salem’s Lot and The Shining; I have immensely enjoyed 11/22/63 and much of The Stand. And there are a few books that I thought were middling or in the fine-but-not-for-me category. Admittedly, I haven’t read very far in his oeuvre yet. But, it seemed time for The Dark Tower, and I looked forward to seeing how I felt about the book this time. The Gunslinger is a collection of short stories about Roland Deschain’s pursuit of The Man in Black. Roland is a gunslinger, a type of knight in this world that has moved on and may very well be dying. The Man in Black is an evil wizard, and Roland pursues him much as Harmonica Man pursued Frank in Once Upon a Time in the West. But, when this inevitable meeting finally happens, Roland discovers a bigger, deeper mystery that will shape his destiny. In the past, I haven’t enjoyed every story in this collection. They seemed to decrease as they went along, for my younger self. But again, I have grown to appreciate King more, and I eagerly anticipated my reaction as I once more entered Mid-World and Roland’s dying world.

Personal Enjoyment: 4

I can’t tell you how many times I almost gave up reading this book. Interestingly, “The Slow Mutants” and “The Gunslinger and the Man in Black” were my favorite chapters in this read through. In the past, they were my last on my ranking of the chapters. My interest in the stories seemed strongly connected to how much The Man in Black appeared. I found him far more interesting than Roland or Jake. His control and manipulation of Roland was far more interesting than Roland’s need for revenge. My wife challenged me to at the very least get through book four this time. But I wasn’t sure I could get through this one. I did, however, and I enjoyed the final story so much that I was looking forward to The Drawing of the Three, so kudos to King for turning things around in the end. But the stories in this book would, I think, look great on film (if done well), so maybe the upcoming movie will work better for me. Oddly, in the past I would have said this was my favorite of the Dark Tower books. I’m not sure that bodes well for the rest of this journey, but we shall see. For the time being, I am staying with this journey.

Characters:  7

I’m not going high on this one because there are few characters, and they aren’t quite up to King’s standards. None of the characters in this story are typical for him, though. He’s taking a risk and stretching himself, which I can’t fault him for. But, as stated before, I didn’t connect to any of the leads outside of the Man in Black. He was the most interesting to me. But, as I recall, Roland will get more character to play off of in the next book, and all of them fit more firmly into King’s wheelhouse. I’m holding out hope that I just started in a lull or in the wrong mood.

Story:  7

I’m giving this a seven because, while it isn’t bad, it doesn’t currently do much. As stated before, this is a typical Western revenge story with some setting twists thrown in. And these twists are interesting. But King walks a precarious line here between Western and fantasy. The first story falls firmly in Western, but starting with “The Way Station” it starts to meander into fantasy. This meandering wasn’t quite what I was going for, despite knowing it was coming. I think the cowboy-confronting-his-nemesis trope broke apart because of that meandering, and the genre mixing loses a bit of focus. Roland becomes less a gunslinger than just a man from an elite order than uses guns. The story moves from Western to post-apocalyptic, even though it is the apocalypse of a world similar to, but not quite, ours. It doesn’t quite work for me in this read through.

Setting: 8

I’m almost surprised by the higher score here, but despite the unfocused genre bending, King builds his world well. It is intriguing, especially as Roland wanders through the remains of what was. The flashbacks don’t quite work for me, because I imagine European-based high fantasy with gunslingers, but I totally buy the image of a gunslinger walking through an apocalyptic wasteland. It fits because of the desolation of both the West and the apocalypse. Fantasy is often less desolate (though, as with G. R. R. Martin, it can be bleak). But empty landscapes where, after days of seeing no one, you see a stranger on the horizon, and you don’t know if this person is friendly or not, naturally falls into both Western and apocalypse. It is the breakdown of social order; it is the rule of the gun in a world of limited resources. It is heat and sand and mirage. As I recall from previous readings, The Waste Lands leans heavily on this, and I think it could potentially work better for me. But the places where we moved from Western to Fantasy just didn’t work for me this time. But the ground work is set, and I think King can (and does) build upon what he set up here.

Vision: 7

What was it trying to do?

I think The Gunslinger was trying to pay homage to Westerns (specifically those by Leone) while delving into fantasy and horror to put a new twist on the genre.

Was it successful in doing it?

Not for me, no. Again, Western + apocalypse works for me. Western + high fantasy, not so much.

Was this worth doing?

Absolutely, yes.

To Sum Up

The Gunslinger was an ambitious start. I’m not sure I think the younger Stephen King was up to the challenge quite yet, nor do I think the ideas had solidly manifested by this point. I think this story took greater form as time went on, and I would argue this point because he was compelled to lightly update the book to match where the series eventually went. There are certainly good ideas here, and there are some very good passages. But each time I visit this book, I like it less and less. But I look forward to The Drawing of the Three, oddly, because I think King stuck the landing with The Gunslinger. He ended the book on a high note that made me want to read more, and in the end, that is a type of success.

Final Rating: 6.6/10

King Reads King Book 8: The Long Walk

Signet cover for The Long Walk

Where to Find It

Bookfinder.com

Blurb

In an ultraconservative America of the not-too-distant future when America has become a police state, the annual marathon is the ultimate sports competition. One hundred boys are selected each year to enter a grueling 450-mile marathon walk. The game is simple: maintain a steady walking pace of four miles per hour without stopping. Three warnings and your out—permanently. The winner will be awarded whatever he wants for the rest of his life; but a single misstep could be the last.

First Line

An old blue Ford pulled into the guarded parking lot that morning, looking like a small, tired dog after a hard run.

I’m not sure when I realized that this story wouldn’t have a happy ending, but I figured it out pretty quick. It was probably when I learned that the book could be interpreted as an allegory for the Vietnam War. I figured King wouldn’t have happy things to say about the war. Truly, this is a good lens to read this book through. It isn’t really trying to say something about the future and where we are going in America; it is trying to look at where we are (or were, in this case, but is it really so different) and how we sell war.

And that does seem to be the core idea in this book: how we sell war. It is young men who Walk. They apply, but they may be turned down. They are offered anything they want in the service of this good event. The Crowd watches them, cheers them on, disrespects them, lusts after them, but ultimately stands apart from them, offering judgment and waiting to see who lives and who dies. The Walkers love the Crowd; the Walkers loathe the Crowd.

Despite being a Bachman book, The Long Walk follows a basic Stephen King formula: fleshed-out characters in a horrific situation, watch and see how they handle things. Similar to the Vietnam metaphor, the novel could also be read meta-textually: the reader is the Crowd, the characters are the Walkers, the Major is the author. The reader, then, holds the lives of the characters in his or her hand, being propelled onward to see who lives and who dies, refusing to close the book and thus freeing the Walkers from their horrible ordeal. But we just have to know.

The grim joke, regardless of the metaphor, is that no one wins. The Major is a lying murderer, the Crowd is complicit in death because they love the entertainment, the Walkers all die, not by “getting their ticket punched,” but because the trauma of the event ultimately destroys the psyche of the winner. The Major promises anything you want, but the one thing you truly want you can’t have: The Walk cannot be undone. What the Walker goes through cannot be wiped away as if it never happened. Life does not just go on.

Again, I think The Long Walk is best read as a metaphor for war. I wanted to know more of the future America. I wanted to know more about why the Walk started. But these wants are left unaddressed, and indeed are unnecessary for the metaphor. We are meant to read our society into these pages, not some future society for escape. The Long Walk is not escape. It is not a happy ending, which is where it breaks some of the Stephen King formula. He drags you through horrors but usually has a few characters achieve some sort of happy resolution. Happiness is not offered here. In this vision of America, it is in short supply.

Verdict

The Long Walk asks questions that are worth asking about war, soldiers, and society. But it is emotionally wrenching and very bleak. You should give that some consideration if that is not your thing.

The Long Walk as Allegory

Line of soldiers walking.
(Source: AP)

“It was nine o’clock. they had been on the road twelve hours. It didn’t mean anything. The only thing that mattered was the cool breeze blowing over the top of the hill. And the sound of a bird. And the feel of his damp shirt against his skin. And the memories in his head. those things mattered, and Garraty clung to them with desperate awareness. They were his things and he still had them.”

Frank Darabont has a fascinating interpretation of The Long Walk.

According to a 2007 interview with the writer/director whose best-known Stephen King adaptation is The Shawshank Redemption (1994), The Long Walk is a war allegory:

“To me, it’s an existential metaphor for our mindless obsession with war — kids being sent off to die for no reason other than ‘just because.’ I don’t think it’s a coincidence that King wrote it in the shadow of Vietnam, though we’ve never really discussed that part of it, that’s just my interpretation.”

I’m inclined to agree with his interpretation. The Long Walk involves young men being promised the glory of The Prize, essentially a better life and all their dreams come true, if they survive The Walk. Very few of the boys have any real indication of what they have agreed to do, and the horrors of The Walk become apparent as time drags on. The conversations the boys have are similar to what you would see in war movies as soldiers contemplate the meaning of war, life, and love. All the while, the Major urges them on and the spectators cheer for them, protected by their barrier of comfort. Many spectators wave flags or are dressed in patriotic colors. One farming couple is directly compared to the “American Gothic” painting. As he starts out, Garraty passionately kisses a female spectator (taking a warning for doing so), which conjured images of the V-J Day in Times Square photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt, the photograph of the sailor kissing a nurse.

But in the midst of The Walk, strength isn’t found in The Prize; strength is found in life and memories and camaraderie. Unfortunately, since only one person can win The Prize, even camaraderie is suspect. You don’t want to get too close to your fellow Walkers if they are soon going to die.

The Long Walk, Introduction

Cover for The Long Walk

With The Long Walk I return to the writings of Richard Bachman, which at this point in Stephen King’s career means I am reading works written prior to Carrie. Basically, these are pre-Stephen-King novels. You know, Stephen King before he was STEPHEN KING.

The Long Walk was first published in paperback in 1979. According to his afterward in Full Dark, No Stars, The Long Walk was the first novel he wrote. It is a dystopian science fiction novel, although from where I am four chapters in the science fiction elements are minimal. The dystopian aspects are highlighted by the central concept, which is an endurance test undertaken each year by 100 teenage boys. This test, called The Long Walk, is pretty much what it says on the tin—a walk to see who is the last boy standing. Or walking, in this case. They have to maintain a four-mile-per-hour pace. Three strikes and they “get their ticket,” a King-esque euphemism for execution. The entire event is a national past-time. People take pride in rooting for boys from their state. Not every leg of the Walk is broadcast, but parts are. Presumably, places where boys are likely to get their ticket are less likely to have spectators.

Even though it was written much later, think of this as The Hunger Games but with walking.

The protagonist, Raymond Garraty (#47). I don’t know why he is Walking. I get the impression that Walking is a type of choice. Most of the first four chapters consist of build-up, so apart from being introduced to the basic concept and a few additional characters, I don’t have much more to report on the plot or world building so far.

The book is short by King standards: under 400 pages. In truth, I’m wondering how he maintains the pace for what may be a limited time scale for the novel. I expect at some point the boys may turn on each other, unless there are specific rules against this. Even if it is against the rules, I’m sure the pressure will build.

Book Review: Stephen King’s The Stand

Earlier this year I shut down King Reads King, a blog where I hoped to write about the experience of reading through Stephen King’s books. I didn’t fully comprehend the time commitment such an undertaking would require. Maybe if I hadn’t gone back to school I would have found the time. Regardless, I couldn’t commit to the new project while I was trying to finish up this blog’s goals. Frustratingly, however, I still wanted to read some of his books. I had already purchased a few of them. They sit on my book shelf, mocking me. So while King Reads King is probably finished for good, I will still be reading through King’s catalog. So long as there are no objections, I will probably write about the experience here.

Incidentally, since the primary focus of this blog is Doctor Who, I get quite a few views from England, is Stephen King popular there? What about other parts of the world?

In the U.S., he has a fairly large readership. Some critics don’t know what to do with him. He is extremely popular and he writes horror. These are qualities that don’t typically get an author access to the higher echelons of literary merit, which is a shame because Stephen King is actually a really good writer. In fact, in “Better Late Than Never?: Stephen King’s The Stand,” Keith Phipps quotes Dorothy Allison, who said that King doesn’t really right horror. Instead, he is a working-class realist. And this is absolutely true. Stephen King is a working-class writer; his fiction has broad appeal. Sure, he writes stories with eldritch horrors and vampires, but his gift is for characterization and slice-of-life moments. The brilliance of a novel such as Salem’s Lot is that the first third of the story is devoted to giving a fleshed-out look at a small town in Maine. He uses this to build suspense, but he also uses it to build the horror as we see how evil infects the town and how the townspeople succumb to it. You can replace the vampires with whatever metaphor you want: Cold War era communism, terrorism, conservatism, liberalism. Or you can enjoy the story as a reinvention of the vampire story. But King’s snapshots of life are rooted distinctly in the United States culture. So I’m curious, what do people of other cultures do with him? Is he popular? How is he viewed? Feel free to comment below.

The Stand
Source: Wikipedia.
Source: Wikipedia.

There are two versions of The Stand. The first was released in the 1970s; the second was released in the 1990s, and it included 400 additional pages. The 1970s version had been cut down due to concerns over binding and cost. By the 1990s, King was a big enough name in the publishing industry that the publishers could release the book as he originally intended. So, he reinserted the cut material and updated a few references to make them more contemporary. But make no mistake, this is a 1970s book. The outlook is rooted in the U.S. cultural climate of that decade.

The book opens with Charles Campion, a soldier at a U.S. military research facility goes AWOL with his wife and child. He doesn’t realize that they are already infected with a super-flu which had been developed at the facility. The super-flu got loose, and now Campion and his family are carriers. In their flight, they create a line of infection that spreads from California to Texas. Since the disease exhibits flu symptoms, it is consistently misdiagnosed until it has become widespread. I believe the mortality rate was given at 70%. The first third of the novel deals with the spread of the super-flu, now generally dubbed Captain Tripps. King introduces us to many of The Stand’s characters during this part of the novel: Stu Redman, Franny Goldsmith, Harold Lauder, Larry Underwood, Nick Andros, Lloyd Henreid, and Randall Flagg. Other characters are introduced in part two of the novel (Mother Abagail, Glen Bateman, Nadine Cross, and Trashcan Man among them). Part two deals with the dreams the survivors have of Mother Abagail, a 108 year old woman who is calling people to her home in Nebraska. But the survivors are also haunted by nightmares of a dark man—Randall Flagg. In this part of the novel, the survivors make the journey to Mother Abagail, then to Boulder, CO, where they establish the Free Zone, an ad hoc community of survivors. But other survivors are flocking to Las Vegas to follow Randall Flagg. Flagg is creating a society according to his own rules, and he sees the Free Zone community as a threat. The people in the Free Zone fear Flagg, and some of their number are tempted by him.

The final part of the novel deals with the final confrontation between members of the Free Zone and Randall Flagg. By this point in the novel, the conflict has been painted in good versus evil, explicitly God versus Evil. Anyone familiar with Stephen King’s fictional world (primarily that of The Dark Tower), know that Randall Flagg is a force of chaos, a trickster creature who prides himself in causing destruction wherever he goes. In The Stand, one character even names him Nyarlathotep from H.P. Lovecraft’s mythology. Mother Abagail, on the other hand, is a prophet of God. But she is human and prone to all the weaknesses that come with humanity.

It would be easy to dismiss Stephen King as anti-God or anti-Christianity. He has many characters who display the horrors that can come from extreme religious fundamentalism. In an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, King said that he grew up watching televangelists like Jerry Falwell and Jack Van Impe. He found them fascinating, not because he agreed with them, but because he found them entertaining. He appreciated the showmanship. But it is hard to read The Stand and come away thinking that Stephen King is anti-God. He has a firm grasp of certain aspects of theology, one that is probably stronger than the teachings of the men he grew up watching. But he doesn’t really speak much for God. Evil has a voice in Randall Flagg, but God doesn’t have a voice in The Stand; He has a prophet, and that prophet makes mistakes. God remains a mystery in The Stand, but God does unquestionably exist to the reader. Of the characters who see the strongest sign of God and live to talk about it, one is a man with strong a mental handicap and the other is dying of heat exhaustion and infection. But perhaps the greatest examples of Stephen King’s theology (as of 1978, at least) are how he characterizes good and evil among his very human characters. I’m thinking of Larry Underwood and Harold Lloyd in particular.

Larry Underwood as portrayed by Adam Storke in the television adaptation of The Stand. (Source: Stephen King Wiki. Copyright 1999 by Artisan.)
Larry Underwood as portrayed by Adam Storke in the television adaptation of The Stand. (Source: Stephen King Wiki. Copyright 1999 by Artisan.)

Larry Underwood is a bit of a washed-up rock star. He had a hit single and pursued the lifestyle of a rock star: girls, drugs, girls, and drugs. Unfortunately, he was unable to have a follow-up hit, and his lifestyle had bled him dry financially. After getting in to debt with the wrong people, Larry returned to New York City to live with his mother and try to get his life back together as well as get some money to pay off what he owed. But as they say, old habits die hard. He had pretty-much kicked the drugs by this time, but the habits he had were behavioral. His struggle was that he blamed others for his failures. He never owned his own mistakes. This caused him to be dishonest with himself about his own motivations. Thus, he never would have been able to put his life back together. Then Captain Tripps hit, and he was put into positions of leadership, not out of choice, but out of necessity. As he tried to make sense of this post-apocalyptic world, a woman died because he couldn’t help her. This caused him to question himself even further. He later met up with Nadine Cross and Joe, and formed a makeshift family—mother, father, and son. He couldn’t consummate the husband/wife relationship, however, because Nadine had her own agenda—she believed herself to be promised to a man, later revealed to be Randall Flagg. Nadine rejected Larry’s love to pursue Flagg, thus choosing evil (although, Mother Abagail told her in a dream that she had a choice and that Larry was becoming a good man). But it is the bond between Larry and Joe that healed Larry. He had grown up without a father. Joe forced him to become a father, thus forcing Larry to become the man he needed in his own life. But Larry always had a choice. There are moments when he realized he could choose to respond according to habit or according to who he was becoming, most specifically when Nadine finally offered herself to Larry even though he had already started seeing another woman. He realized that the work of just a few moments would give him the woman he had desired for months, but to do so would also cause him to reject another woman (Lucy) who represented his new life. It was the choice between the new Larry and the old Larry. He chose new life.

Harold Lauder as drawn by Mike Perkins in the Marvel Comics adaptation of The Stand.  (Source: Comic Vine. Copyright by Marvel Comics.)
Harold Lauder as drawn by Mike Perkins in the Marvel Comics adaptation of The Stand. (Source: Comic Vine. Copyright by Marvel Comics.)

The opposite equation is Harold Lauder. Harold dreamed of being a writer. He was extremely nerdy and pedantic. He was a know-it-all. His father didn’t like him, and accused him of being gay. His parents poured all their attention into his attractive sister. Harold was bullied at school. No one saw his worth as a person. Because of this, he built up fantasies, both from the fiction he read and from his adolescent desires. He didn’t learn to view people as people, but as caricatures of his fantasy life. When he and Fran were the only survivors in Ogunquit, Maine, he took it upon himself to protect her, to save her. He fell in love with her—or at least, with the fantasy of Harold saving Fran. When they joined up with Stu Redman, Harold was threatened. Stu initially denied being interested in a relationship with Fran, but he soon realized that he was wrong. Stu fell in love with her and Fran with him. The decisive moment of Harold’s development is when he decided to read Fran’s diary. She had written all her thoughts on Stu and Harold, the latter being quite harsh at times. Harold realized as he held the diary that he had the choice to put it down and walk away. Choosing to read the diary would be an act in which he embraced the old way of thinking: the world of jocks who made fun of him and of parents who were not loving. Walking away would empower him to find a new life in this new world, symbolizing turning his back on the old world. He chose to read the diary, which proved all his fears: Fran didn’t love him, she loved Stu. Harold could not learn to live outside of how people viewed him or what people thought of him. He reacted to those views and let them define him. Thus, he became every bad thing that people saw in him. He lived in fantasy, and when Flagg tempted him, he gave him those fantasies. But they were empty. Harold’s story ends in tragedy. After accomplishing Flagg’s commands, Harold is cast aside as worthless.

So, where Larry Underwood embraced self, Harold embraced ego. Larry embraced compassion for others, Harold embraced the other as wish-fulfillment, as something to be manipulated to gain his own desires.

Concluding Thoughts

The Stand is an impressive work. It deserves three stars out of five just for the fact that it is over 1000 pages and it all holds together. But while Stephen King has a very conversational style, there were passages that I struggled with. There were times when I felt the novel went on too long. I have since learned that some of those passages were ones that were cut from the original publication. (One day soon I want to read the original version to see if it resonates with me more.) I think there is a bit of fat that could be trimmed from the uncut version. (In particular I am thinking of the chapter with Trashcan Man and The Kid, which I think I would prefer to never think about again, but also some chapters when King widens the scope to show us what is happening in different parts of the country when Captain Tripps is running rampant. That went on a bit too long for my liking. It slowed the pace too much.) I also had difficulty with Trashcan Man and Nadine. Both of them felt like plot devices rather than characters. An attempt was made to give them development, but they never entirely rose above device for me. They didn’t feel as real or sympathetic as other characters. If The Stand were written by an author with less talent than Stephen King, I probably wouldn’t have been bothered by this, but King is great at writing characters. When compared to the journeys and motivations of Larry Underwood and Harold Lauder, Nadine and Trashy just don’t seem up to King’s standards. In all, The Stand is a very good work, but it is still rough around the edges.

My Rating

A solid 3/5