May We Have Happy Days, Satisfied Minds, and Little or No Low Back Pain

(The Stand)

The Stand looms in my mind as one of the most important King works. It’s also probably my favorite. It’s strange to think that it was written a couple of years before I was even born. I mean, I probably knew that, but it just seems like something that was written later, even though I know it’s an early work (at this point in history, you can probably go ahead and stick even 90s  stuff into the category of “early work” depending on your parameters.) Maybe because it’s so long, maybe because so much has been made of it, maybe just because I love it so much, it just seems odd that it was written so early in his career.

I don’t truly have a favorite Stephen King book. Not a permanent favorite, anyway. My opinion on it shifts. But The Stand is definitely one of my, say, top 5. It might be number 1, it might be number 5, or it might be somewhere in between depending on how I’m feeling. But it’s never going to be lower than that.

This read-through was the second time I’ve read The Stand in the past couple of years, because of course, as soon as it became obvious we were going to have a real, destructive pandemic, the first thing I did in lockdown was start re-reading The Stand.

Of course, I’m aware that COVID-19 is nothing like Captain Trips. It doesn’t appear to have been created as a military weapon, it’s not, what 99% contagious and 99.5% fatal? Something like that, I don’t remember the exact numbers, but COVID is certainly easier to survive. And, of course, we don’t appear to be headed for a Biblical-type showdown with evil. I don’t think.

Some of the events surrounding the illness in the book struck me as realistic, though. Some folks aren’t taking it seriously enough – ignoring common-sense steps they could take to hopefully avoid getting sick. Some folks are panicking. There’s been a lot of scapegoating going on.

Luckily, we have the benefit of working vaccines. Hopefully soon, enough people will take them so we can end this mess, before it mutates into Captain Trips on us.

While I enjoy the part of the book that deals with the superflu, and maybe especially the part immediately after the illness has gotten most everyone it’s going to get that describes all of the stupid ways that some survivors managed to die (no great loss) the more important part of the book comes after that, as the survivors coalesce, dream, and find their way to the dark man or to Mother Abigail.

It would take a small book just to say everything there is to say about the characters. Fran and Nick are favorites of mine, as well as Glen Bateman, who is probably the character I identify most with, if there is one. Tom Cullen, too, but with some guilt – I know that what King did there was problematic. But it’s hard not to like the guy.

Speaking of problematic, we’re back to the Magical Negro trope in Mother Abigail. I notice it more and more every time I read the book, and it makes me sad. Even when I didn’t notice that so much, I wasn’t thrilled with the way her character sort of… fizzled out. Although now, I think perhaps he was trying to make some point about not investing too much in a figurehead, no matter how good or powerful or whatever they seem to you. It happens a bit later, but Flagg (easily one of my favorite King villains) fizzles at the end too. He only thinks he has the power to hold it all together – but he doesn’t. And if you’ve read enough of the King catalog, you know that in the end, Flagg is less important than he seems even by the end of this book. He thinks he’s a big bad, but he’s really quite inconsequential. The banality of evil. His end in Colorado should have clued Constant Readers in about that.

This is something I notice about King. Evil exists in his work. Maybe it even wins sometimes. But it’s not as powerful as you fear, or as it thinks it is itself.

I will go ahead and point out here that I personally am an atheist with no belief in the afterlife. I can still get into a battle between good and evil, but the Hand of God stuff doesn’t really do it for me. I mostly just rationalize that the characters would have lived with White American Christian Mythology just like we do, so their brains were probably primed to see the Hand of God in a nuclear cloud. I mean, people still see Jesus in toast. Our brains look for patterns. It’s fine.

The Stand has been made into two television miniseries, and they both have problems. On the other hand, they both have strengths, too. Molly Ringwald’s Fran is one of the strengths of the first miniseries. So was Miguel Ferrer’s Lloyd. I’d also like to give it up for Jamey Sheridan, who I think was probably an unorthodox but inspired pick for Flagg. I’m less impressed with Laura San Giacomo as Nadine, and I’m not sure that I love Gary Sinise as Stu… but I don’t think I actually like Stu that much. I know he’s more or less meant to be the hero of the story – he’s the survivor, anyway. But I’m more of a Larry kind of girl. I don’t know much of anything about the actor who played him in the first miniseries, Adam Storke, but I don’t believe he did a bad job.

Honestly, few, if any, actors really did their jobs badly on the original The Stand miniseries. I think that the production mostly suffered from things like “small budget” and “network rules”. Maybe also “miniseries format”, but I’m not sure. Miniseries seems like a reasonable choice for this story to me == it’s much too long to be a regular movie, it’s not long enough to make into a regular series, so it’s television miniseries or a series of movies, basically, and of the two, I feel like a television miniseries is probably the safer choice. The Stand would be awesome on a big screen, sure, but you’d need everyone to commit to at least two movies to get there, and then viewers would have to wait a year in between. No thanks.

I watched the second miniseries because it was The Stand. Weirdly, even though I’m sure they had more budget, they almost certainly had fewer onerous rules, and they definitely had a pretty star-studded cast, this adaptation didn’t grab me like I wanted it to. I did appreciate Whoopi Goldberg as mother Abigail. She’s always been able to grab me. I’m a fan of Alexander Skarsgård, and I think that he was good at doing what he does, but I missed Jamey Sheridan as Flagg. I thought Sheridan had more chaotic energy, and it worked. I didn’t care much for James Marsden as Stu, but I don’t think it was Marsden’s fault – again, I just don’t care much for Stu.

I like Odessa Young’s performance in The Stand, but I don’t really like her as Frannie? That makes no sense, but she seems almost like a different character. A character that I like. But she doesn’t seem like Fran. Despite that, one thing I did like very much was the epilogue that gave Fran her chance to stand up to Flagg – the chance she wasn’t given in the book or the movie. That was a surprise to me, and given that I felt fairly lackluster about this adaptation, I was even more surprised by how much I liked it. Good on Odessa Young for playing that so well – watching it felt cathartic.

As far as tie-ins to the larger universe, The Stand has them in spades. We’ll see the reality where Captain Trips occurred later on in his work – turns out it’s not our reality, but it’s close. Then there’s Flagg, who continues to be an important King villain for stories to come. I also feel like we see some of these characters again – well, not them exactly, but something close. Larry Underwood reminds me so much of a certain Eddie Dean, for example.

I still think The Stand is one of King’s most important works, as well as a personal favorite. I’m a little sad to have moved past it already. Fortunately, it will be there again for me the next time I’m ready for it.

“The place where you made your stand never mattered. Only that you were there…and still on your feet.”

One thought on “May We Have Happy Days, Satisfied Minds, and Little or No Low Back Pain

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