As far as mainstream fiction goes, the majority of you voted for The Stand. Which is good because that’s the book I wanted to do anyway, but I wanted to at least pretend to give you a choice about it.
The Stand was originally published in 1978, though the setting date in the book appears to be about the mid 1980s.
In 1990, a new edition came out which contained material that had been left out of the original novel. The unabridged version changes the dates in the story from the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s, and Wikipedia promises me that cultural references have been updated accordingly. We’ll see if I can spot any.
We are going to compare both versions, though officially speaking we are reviewing the unabridged edition.
Another thing we are going to do is compare this to the once popular novel Left Behind, by Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins.
Being raised Seventh-Day Adventists, many of us are unfamiliar with Left Behind and may be wondering what exactly it has to do with The Stand. It turns out that they are very similar books. Here’s a basic overview of the similarities:
- A large percentage of the population suddenly no longer exists
- Conflict between good and evil
- Evil antagonist (Antichrist, Walking Man)
- A person who represents God/good (the 2 witnesses(LB), Mother Abagail)
- Protagonists who try to stop the evil antagonist*
- Both books are incredibly religious
I am not going to be reviewing the Left Behind novel, because someone else has already done that much better than I ever could. We’re only going to focus on Left Behind as it relates to The Stand.
I can’t tell you how excited I am to blog about a book that I actually like for a change. The Stand has its problems, and I personally find the religion in the novel to be just as fucked up as mainstream Christianity, but there are those who disagree with me, and there’s still no denying that The Stand is a better book. It is better written, God looks like less of an asshole, and the characters are actually likeable.
With that out of the way, let us begin.
The Circle Opens
Right away we come to something new. This entire chapter was left out of the original edited edition.
The book starts out with Charlie frantically waking his wife, Sally. As she wakes up, she notices that it’s 2am and Charlie looks panicked. He tells her to wake the baby and get dressed.
“Is there time to pack?”
Sally recognized that what she had taken for fright on his part was closer to raw panic. He ran a distracted hand through his hair and replied. “I don’t know. I’ll have to test the wind.”
Sally and I are just as puzzled by what this means. Sally, however, realizes that leaving means Charlie will be AWOL. Absent Without Leave.
Sally begins to dress baby LaVon, and Charlie comes in to tell her to hurry up. He says they’ve got some time to pack, but not a whole lot.
“For Christ’s sake, woman, if you love her”–he pointed at the crib–“you get her dressed!” He coughed nervously into his hand and began to yank things out of their bureau drawers and pile them helter skelter into a couple of old suitcases.
Sally gets herself and the baby dressed as Charlie packs, and the baby cries. Sally thinks about how LaVon never cries, and somehow this makes things seem even more dire.
“What is it?” She cried…”have you gone crazy? They’ll send soldiers after us, Charlie! Soldiers!”
But Charlie isn’t worried about soldiers chasing them. He’s more worried about getting off the base. Which, um, if he’s that worried about getting out of there before they shut the gates, why is he even taking the time to pack Sally’s bras? Like, seriously, don’t even bother to let them get dressed. If the situation is that bad, make them leave in whatever clothes they do or don’t have on, and you can explain why as you drive off.
Charlie tells Sally that the wind is blowing east to west, which is a good thing. Then he coughs. I’m still not sure what the direction of the wind has to do with anything. Does he think that the disease is carried on the wind?
If he thinks wind direction has something to do with it, he would know that they were working on deadly diseases. How does he not suspect he’s already infected when he starts coughing?
Finally, as they are about to head out the door, Sally figures out that there was an accident. Charlie nods and explains:
“I was playing solitaire,” Charlie said. “I looked up and saw the clock had gone from green to red. I turned on the monitor. Sally, they’re all–” He paused, looked at Baby LaVon’s eyes, wide and, although still rimmed with tears, curious.
“They’re all D-E-A-D down there,” he said. “All but one or two, and they’re probably gone now.”
“Everything’s supposed to mag-lock if the clock goes red. They got a Chubb computer that runs the whole place and its supposed to be fail safe. I saw what was on the monitor and I jumped out the door. I thought the goddamn thing would cut me in half. It should have shut the second the clock went red, and I don’t know how long it was red before I looked up and noticed it. But I was almost to the parking lot before I heard it thump shut behind me. Still, if I’d looked up even 30 seconds later, I’d be shut up in that tower control room right now, like a bug in a bottle.”
This is why I like the fact that this was included. In the original version, the story didn’t quite make sense. If there was only a delay of a few seconds between the clock going red and the door shutting, how the heck did Charlie have time to find his wife and daughter and get off the base before the gate closed? Now I understand that we are talking about a separate building within the base itself, rather than just having the gate of the base be closed.
Sally asks what it was that killed them, and Charlie says he doesn’t know and he’s not sure if he wants to find out.
I also like this section because it makes it clear that Charlie didn’t know that he had been exposed to the virus. In the edited edition it honestly seemed like he knew he’d been exposed and just didn’t give a shit about whether or not he infected anyone when he left in a panic. It also seemed like Charlie might be one of the specialists who worked with diseases who really should know better. But here we are shown that he wasn’t one of those people, and he really has no idea what they were working on, aside from the fact that it’s a super dangerous disease.
One can still argue that he knew he was exposed and shouldn’t have left, but really, I almost can’t blame the man for panicking.
Charlie, Sally, and Baby LaVon get out to the car and put the luggage in the trunk.
Charlie was hunched tensely over the steering wheel, his face drawn in the dim glow of the dashboard instruments. “If the base gates are closed, I’m gonna try to crash through.” And he meant it. She could tell. Suddenly her knees felt watery.
Because if they get trapped inside the base, they are already dead. So I guess it doesn’t matter if they die in a car crash attempting to escape.
But there was no need for such desperate measures. The base gates were standing open. One guard was nodding over a magazine….This was the outer part of the base, a conventional army vehicle depot. What went on at the hub of the base was of no concern to these fellows.
Seriously? The military does stuff with diseases in a secret building on the base, but they don’t have any sort of protocol in place to maybe warn the guards to like, I dunno, close the gates if an alarm goes off? Worst military ever.
By dawn they were running east across Nevada and Charlie was coughing steadily.
It’s chilling to realize that all 3 of them are already dead.
I can see why this section got left out. The book is probably a little stronger if we don’t get this background information ahead of the protagonists. I like having it in here, but I can also see the benefit of discovering things right along with the protagonist rather than sitting there mentally screaming at them to not touch the sick bodies in the car.
That was a very short section. I’m not sure how I’m going to divide these up. The chapters are way too long to do one per post, so I guess we’ll figure it out as we go along. This being the kindle edition, I of course do not have page numbers.
Next week, we start the first real chapter, which is where the original edition actually began.
*Technically in Left Behind the protagonists don’t try and stop the antichrist, even though that’s what they say they are doing….