Knowing Where We Stand

As part of my commitment to you, constant reader, I intend to recommend reading material from time to time. May I get straight down to it with my favourite novel of all time?

If you were to end up on a desert island, which five novels would you want to be there with you? I would go with Stephen King’s The Stand, and just use the other four to get a good fire going.

stand.jpgNot everyone likes The Stand. I seem to recall that I first read it after pinching a copy from Jamie (I think that he, in turn, pinched it from his mum). I recall that he thought so little of it that he didn’t want it back. Those who know him will know that this sort of generosity is quite out of character. There is also the tale (recounted by the author in the preface to the Complete and Uncut! edition) that a certain reviewer would pass his days standing in bookshops exhorting customers not to buy it.

Don’t be taken in by such nincompoopery. The Stand is brilliant. How else could it romp to victory as the 53rd most popular book of all time in the BBC Big Read? And to think I didn’t cast a single vote.

Comparisons have been made to Lord of the Rings, and to be sure, there are similarities between the two books. There are also differences: The Stand is interesting, and stuff happens.

The plot’s simple: an accident at a germ warfare facility results in the decimation of human race. A lucky few find themselves immune to plague, and try to rebuild a semblance of community in Colorado, under the watchful eye of devout centenarian Mother Abigail. But over in the West, the enigmatic Randall Flagg is also gathering his forces, probably with a view to ruling the world. So, it falls to the God fearin’ folk in the East to pop over and tell him to pack it in.

No doubt it’s an easy read, and some would dismiss it as ‘pop’. But I would argue that the accessibility of The Stand is one of its strengths. It trips along at a pleasant pace, but is over all too soon. Still, one can always read it again. It’s a shame it was never adapted for the cinema. I am still holding out hopes for a full-scale epic trilogy, rather than the somewhat toothless TV mini-series it eventually became.

I think I’ll read it again. Knowing my luck, the third time will reveal it as a load of old tosh, and these ebullient burblings will return to haunt me.

Oh well.

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18 Comments on “Knowing Where We Stand”

  1. Jamie Says:

    Sorry but I have to disagree with you over “The Stand”. It’s an okay read but I would say that it’s not even King’s best novel. I think “It” is a far better (and scarier) read. Overall I think King writes better short stories. And I’m sorry but “Lord of the Rings” is about a million times better than “The Stand”. No, I’d be burning the Kings and keeping the Tolkiens I’m afraid.

    I’ve just finished “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy and I can honestly say that it’s one of the most relentlessly depressing books I’ve ever read. Not one to cheer up the bereaved 🙂

  2. Doug Says:

    Sorry to disabuse you, but It is an exercise in bloated flatulence. As I remember, it all fell apart at the end, where they had to kill the giant spider with the catapault, and then something about a tortoise flying through space. Disappointing, considering the time it took to get to the point.

    Speaking of taking ages to get to the point: Tolkien. I see he’s got another posthumous novel (faux-historical textbook) out. The Children of Húrin: will you be snapping it up?

    I think the LOTR films were an improvement on the books. They’ve cut out the waffle. Although some of it tries to creep back in via the extended editions, which I’ve gone off entirely.

    If you’re not sure, think of Tom Bombadil. Aren’t you glad he was nowhere to be seen in the films?

  3. Jamie Says:

    Actually I thought the ending of “It” was very dramatic with the giant arachnid and the town self-destructing and stuff. I think you’re letting the memory of the TV drama cloud your judgement a bit there. Now that WAS a bad ending and the spider looked bloody awful.

    The Children of Hurin is actually supposed to be quite good, all things considered. I’m not sure how much of the finished product is really Tolkiens and how much is his sons. Don’t know if I’ll buy it. I’m scared it’ll be similar in style to The Silmarillion – that certainly read like a historical textbook.

    Sorry but as regards LOTR it is the book that does it for me, Tom Bombadil and all. When I watch the movies now all I can see are the faults. I really think you should read it again, I seem to recall you making repeated trips to D8 raving about it the first time around. Surely not ANOTHER false memory?

    One last thing – a comparison of Amazon reviews:

    Amazon US
    “It” – 4.5 stars from 842 reviews
    “The Stand” – 4.5 stars from 889 reviews.

    A bit close to call! Let the sage wisdom of the amazon uk reviewer clinch it:

    Amazon UK
    “It” – 5 stars from 128 reviews.
    “The Stand” – 4.5 stars from 96 reviews.

    The UK hoi-polloi have spoken! I rest my case.

  4. Hannah Says:

    Woah, Doug! Is it necessary to trash one of the greatest works of fiction of all time in order to sell some novel by Stephen King? I don’t know you, Jamie, but you sound like a man of sense, intelligence and taste. Unlike Doug. How can you suggest that LOTR is boring, and that nothing happens? And as for saying the films are better than the book – blasphemy!

    I’ve only ever read one book by Stephen King, and it scared the pants off me. Spent about three weeks hiding under my duvet. I fear I shall never be able to muster the courage to pick up another one. Certainly not one recommended by someone who can’t appreciate the literary value of LOTR. Sorry, Doug.

  5. Hannah Says:

    Oh, and by the by – as I recall, LOTR came number 1 in the BBC’s Big Read. That’s a wee bit better than 53rd, don’t you think?

  6. Jamie Says:

    Thanks for the support Hannah! He’s always turning his nose up at the good stuff and embracing the pap. Took me years to wean him off his unaccountable fixation with that horrific David Cronenberg movie Videodrome. Tsk tsk, obviously he’ll never learn.

    (runs and hides)

  7. Neebs Says:

    Haven’t read all the comments, so apologies if this is repeating what’s already been stated. Although not a cinematic adaptation, the book was made into a mini-series – starring Gary Sinese if memory serves and mercifully there isn’t any sign of John-Boy Walton in the whole series… praise be.

    You can buy it on DVD… in fact, I think I will RIGHT NOw

  8. J Says:

    Got to admit that I’m not a fan of Mr. King despite a number of attempts to plough through selections of his repertoire. I don’t think I’ll have any chance of taking him seriously after witnessing the magnificence of Garth Merenghi’s “Darkplace”.

    In the interests of equal dissing, I can’t stand Tolkien either. Utterly impenetrable to read. I’m with the guys from the movie Clerks 2 – the LOTR saga boils down to people walking. Walking to a volcano

    😉

    J

  9. kenny Says:

    Hey dol! merry dol! ring a dong dillo!
    ring a dong! hop along! fal lal the willow!
    Tom Bom! merry Tom! Tom Bombadillo!

    Brilliant character and a sad omission from the films 😦 Did he not get the hobbits to run about naked on the barrow downs? would have been a great scene 😉

  10. Doug Says:

    Hannah, don’t be taken in. Jamie is a nefarious rogue, whose opinions must be suppressed for the good of humanity.

    Now, I have read LOTR twice (just to be sure) and both times I thought it dragged. Especially at the beginning. As memory serves, it was chock full of redundant (from a narrative point of view) events, which seemed to have been placed solely in order to plump up the first of the six sections. At least the film skips most of this stuff.

    I absolutely cannot advocate the presence of Tom Bombadil in the story, whether in film or book. I don’t remember the bit about getting the hobbits to run around in the nude, but it wouldn’t surprise me, frankly. What else would you expect from a chap with yellow wellies?

    Yes, the presence of LOTR at #1 is the fly in the ointment of my cause. I’ll ignore it.

    Neil – yes, The Stand became a miniseries with Gary Sinise, Rob Lowe and Molly Ringwald (her from The Breakfast Club). I’ve only seen the first installment. It’s a bit embarrassing to behold, frankly. Maybe I should give it a second shot.

    J – I am almost in agreement with the Clerks 2 (awful film) crowd, although I must stress that I have almost no beef with the film adaptations of LOTR, just the book. As films go, a walk to a volcano is perfectly adequate subject matter, I think.

    Come on The Stand!

  11. Ross Says:

    I can’t keep quiet anymore…

    Doug, I’m afraid that your argument about how ace The Stand is has become lost amongst a lot of grumbling about hobbits, elves, and rings. As far as engaging, thrilling, action-packed fiction goes, very little beats The Stand. Doug gave me a copy to take on my hols to New Zealand two years ago. It was a huge hard-backed edition and the prospect of lugging it thousands of miles to the southern hemisphere was hardly appealing. But I was very glad that I did. In fact, I got so engrossed with the tales of two disparate bands fighting for humanity’s sole that when my only chance to go whale-watching by boat was cancelled I was happy! I was given time to read more! And given that just about everybody else I met in NZ was reading The Most Overrated Book In The History Of The Printed Word (aka The Da Vinci Code) I had a sense of quiet superiority.

    Oh, and so the accompanying arguments don’t go unnourished: reading about Ents is far more of a chore than watching them. At least you get to fast forward.

  12. doug Says:

    Well done Ross – you waded in at just the right moment. Others, behold: the testimony of a Stand convert!

    I was having a little flick through The Stand again last night, to to make sure, once and for all, that it is a great book. Ye unbelievers had started to sow the seeds of doubt, ye rascals. However, a brief read leaves me vindicated, in my opinion.

    If you can’t be persuaded to read the whole lot, might I suggest reading Chapter 23 in isolation? It’s only a couple of pages, and I’m sure the people in the shop wouldn’t mind. It’s the bit where Randall Flagg is first introduced. This is tight, compelling writing, people. And not a talking tree in sight!

  13. Ross Says:

    To continue along the LOTR theme, does anyone know if the legend is true – did Tolkein, in his final days, believe that he was a hobbit and begin to live like one?

  14. Hannah Says:

    I think not. However, he and his wife did have the names Beren and Luthien engraved on their tombstones, in reference to the great romance between Man and Elf from The Silmarillion. So he may have become slightly unhinged by the end of his life.

    Doug, I’m intrigued by the comment you made on facebook that you steer clear of sci-fi. The story of the decimation of the human race by a germy plague and the consequent attempt of one group of survivors to take over the world sounds rather like sci-fi to me. I’d hate to think that you have fallen prey to the facile assumption (no offense) that sci-fi has to involve spaceships and ray guns.

  15. Doug Says:

    Hannah – no offence taken, assuredly. I was racking my brains to recall the context in which I’d made the above comment, but couldn’t recall it, nor find it on Facebook. You see, if I knew the context, I could give a clear account of what was meant.

    Of course, I don’t have a blanket policy of steering clear of sci-fi. I’m actually in the middle of Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris, and enjoying it immensely. I talked about the Soderbergh film verson on the blog at some point. There are spaceships, but no ray guns, to its slight detriment. Still, you can’t have everything.

    The Stand isn’t really sci-fi, although you’d be forgiven for thinking so on the basis of my description.

  16. Doug Says:

    What are the criteria for a story being classed as science fiction? This would have been useful information to have to hand before I made the above suggestion.

    I am assuming that such a story would have to be based in the future, or to feature prominently some facet of modern technology. I am willing to be corrected, though.

  17. Hannah Says:

    For the answer to that question, Doug, I direct you to the most recent post on my blog. You may wish you’d never asked…

  18. Doug Says:

    I will read it with interest, but only after I get home. You Blogspotters are filtered out by NHS Lothian. So far (touch wood) WordPress has managed to slip under their radar.


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