In which we’ve been around for a long, long years…
Randall Flagg, the biggest of Bads, ladies and gentlemen. We’ve had some hints already that there’s something looming out there, waiting for our cast of characters to meet up later, and here he is in the flesh.
There’s a long passage in here that made me stop and think, the one tracing Flagg’s backstory (in this verse, at least; I have Eye of the Dragon on my Kindle and again he’s a major player in Dark Tower.) A few posts ago, I had mentioned my friend who didn’t really like one-sided villains, the ones who are evil just because. And here in Flagg’s history, it’s like a post-World War 2 checklist of eeeeviiiil—he went to high school with Charlie Starkweather (go Google the name, or watch the movie Badlands); Flagg met Lee Harvey Oswald and took some political tracts from him; he’s been in the KKK; and he’s responsible for the Patty Hearst kidnapping. (OH I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE KING. I’ve read your nonfiction, I know that The Stand started as a book about the SLA and Patty Hearst.) It kinda makes me think if this book had been written ten years ago, this passage would be filled with Flagg going to Harvard with Ted Kaczynski or had been at Waco or teaching classes at Columbine.
Flagg reminds me of the Joker from The Dark Knight. He lives off of chaos. Flagg does have a definite end goal, eventually, but he’s spent most of his life feeding off destruction and death, no matter whose side he’s on. Especially since what’s coming in the later parts of the novel.
It was almost time to be reborn. He knew. Why else could he suddenly do magic?
I’m in the middle of rereading Different Seasons at the moment, and the first story in that collection is The Shawshank Redemption. I’ve mentioned way back in Chapter Nine that Stephen King loves writing prison stories—Shawshank and The Green Mile being the two most well-known out of his works, but there’s been short stories, and normally if one of his characters has been in prison, he’ll go into that lifestyle.
All this chapter really serves is to show where Lloyd is at this moment, and that how his and Poke’s mass killing spree across the Southwest has managed to knock a national epidemic off the front page. He’s bound for the electric chair (of course we as the readers know that Lloyd’s in for a worse fate, and what happens in a few chapters…), unless he manages to convince the jury that Poke coerced him into doing everything.
You know, if he’ll be able to stand trial.
oh nick sweetheart. Most everyone else is either sitting around in shock, or getting the hell out of town, but he stays and watches over the now-widowed Jane Baker and the remaining prisoners. Because that’s his job. Bless.
In the past twenty-four hours, the flu has jumped from Vince Hogan, to Billy Warner. Nick’s not going to let any of these guys out (especially since their ringleader’s still out there), but he’s not standing there gleefully watching any of them die.
I feel so bad for Nick in this chapter. He doesn’t want to see anyone else die, but there’s nothing that he can. He can go around and try to get help, but because he’s mute, he can’t exactly shout at people to do something or at least open the door for him to pass an explanation through. Doctor Soames isn’t around (very likely that he’s dead by this point), and there’s no way to call outside of town.
With his search for help proving fruitless, Nick heads back to the prison. There’s one prisoner left, Mike Childress, who’s also got the superflu. Mike gives Nick a story about how he wants to check up on his ex-wife, and even though Nick probably doesn’t believe him, he lets Mike go.
There’s a lot of this chapter that contributes to Nick’s character later on. He’s always gotten by on the kindness of strangers, and he’s not going to turn his back on the people who take care of them. Even if the smart thing to do is get out of town. And he likes taking care of others, as we’ll see later.
So, at the close of Chapter 25, Jane Baker dies, and Nick goes to bury her.
ATTENTION! ATTENTION! ATTENTION! ATTENTION!
YOU ARE BEING LIED TO! THE GOVERNMENT IS LYING TO YOU!
I haven’t read a lot of epic novels, but the ones I have read are very tightly focused on the hero/es’ journey. There’s a few glimpses into “Oh, hey yeah everyone else is being effected to but since they’re not the heroes…oh well.” In apocalyptic novels, it’s a little more prevalent, but even so, it’s boiled down to “And this happened here and people die. Aww. But back to our heroes.”
This is where I give King credit. We get these sporadic chapters that focus on what’s happening elsewhere, at least in America (I’ll get on this later), and he makes us care about these people who are only popping up for a few pages. And he does paint this picture of panic and martial law. And we do care about these characters and what happens to them, even if they all end up shot.
There’s a fight back from various media outlets who are all sick of repeating the same newssheet over and over again. A Boston news station reports the truth all the way up until their building is detonated. A small-town newspaper editor writes one last column before he dies. The LA Times manages to sneak out a one-sheet. There’s a talk show radio host who gets taken out when he decides to broadcast his town’s situation.
There’s scenes of college kids protesting the government action and devoted to finding the truth. This is another one of those parts that you can tell when King was writing this originally, and how evocative it is of the Sixties:
“This is Chumm, Dick. I’ll tell you what’s happening out here. It’s a slaughter. I wish I was blind. Oh, the fuckers! They…ah, they’re mowing those kids down. With machine-guns, it looks like. As far as I can tell, there wasn’t even any warning…”
A group of former military men take over a Maine local TV station and execute their former colleagues on live television. (And even more problematic? They’re all black men. I have things to say about this, but will be saving it for when other important characters show up.) The President finally speaks up and hacks a lung while he’s at it, reassuring that everything will be fine. Ahahahah. No.
This whole chapter is the apocalypse seen through the media. I know kind of keep harping on the dated issue, but as I was sitting here taking notes, something struck me. It’s so completely different to do an apocalyptic scenario nowadays. Here, in 1985 (as in the original book) or 1990, the government can still step in and edit things, or dictate what’s said. Nowadays? I have to check three different news sources to make sure that someone’s faking a Twitter trend topic or not. (Example, the Bill Nye death hoax this week. MY CHILDHOOD, STOP MESSING WITH IT.)
I have yet to see an apocalyptic scenario that truly embraces the new media. The two I can think of off the top of my head are Feed by Mira Grant (post-zombie apocalypse bloggers) and “Twittering from the Circus of the Dead” by Joe Hill (short story about a zombie circus; btw, Joe Hill? Stephen King’s son. He’s awesome, go check out his work.) I know a lot of this is because writers are repeatedly told not to put the latest tech in writing, because once it gets published, as soon as the newest tech/social media/what-have-you comes out, that piece of writing is now outdated and your characters are idiots or old. (This is a BIG thing in YA/Children’s books, to the point of automatic criticism when a whole plot point is the latest tech.) But it’s a double-edged sword. If The Stand had been written in the last eight years, I would be expecting these characters to use media to convey what’s going on.
Again, this is not a detriment to King at all. This takes place in a fixed moment in time. And I can buy that the government is able to step in and say to the news media “No, this is what you’re going to say, and here’s a trigger-happy soldier to make sure that you read that correctly.” But if they get a new film adaptation of this off the ground (in my dreams), I would be expecting it to be updated and to integrate all of the changes. I want to see Frannie breaking down over a Facebook post from Amy Lauder before she dies; I want to see Larry deal with paparazzi and TMZ; I wanna see the mass outpouring of photos and testimonials from these little towns that keep dying off. I think it could be a really interesting concept, and I think in the right hands, it could work really well.
(Tangent: SOMEONE REC ME AN APOCALYPTIC NOVEL THAT IS NOT DYSTOPIC OR ZOMBIES. Am I missing something? Is it because I don’t actively seek these out? Help a girl out here. And Good Omens doesn’t count, I’ve read it several times.)
Graffito written on the front of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta in red spray paint:
“Dear Jesus. I will see you soon. Your friend, America. PS. I hope you will still have some vacancies by the end of the week.”