The Stand and The Dark Tower

As is always the case there was a nice discussion on the “A good story is hard to find” podcast with Julie and Scott.  For those unaware of this wonderful podcast they discuss:

 about books, movies and traces of “the One Reality” they find there.

I always get a lot out of their discussions and recommendations since they have a lot of insights into what makes good stories. This time they were discussing Stephen King’s “The Stand.” I had first read this when it came out and it is easily my favorite of his books. Seeing that they had planed to do an episode on it I decided to re-read it – something I had been meaning to do. I went with the Audible unabridged and uncut version of the book. This was close to 48 hours of audio. Hundreds of pages had landed on the editor floor to reduce the cost of manufacturing and having to increase the price of the book. What was removed due to editorial reasons – stayed removed.

For those wanting a good discussion of this book I refer you to the podcast. Instead I wold like to write about some interesting parallels between The Stand and the Dark Tower series. Having gone through both recently there were comparisons that stood out for me. It is always interesting to diagnose an author and his tendencies and to see some things that maybe even the author isn’t aware of. I remember a story that Jimmy Akins of Catholic Answer’s tells of his friend an author Tim Powers. He had asked him about some specific trends that occurred in his novels and Tim Powers was totally unaware of them until pointed out.

For example both stories included a prominent character that was mentally retarded. I quite enjoyed the portrayal of both characters that displayed a real human element. They both played important parts in the story.

The character of Randall Flagg intersects both stories and there was a hint of Flagg’s continuation in the uncut version of The Stand. The world of The Stand also makes an entrance in The Dark Tower series in one of the parallel earths they travel.

Pregnant women and a birth of a semi-Anti-Christ also plays a role in both stories. Usually this overused plot point annoys me. Too many have tried to set up an anti-Christ being born as the opposite of the Nativity such as the Omen movies. This is almost a Gnostic view towards the Devil with a good god evil god counterpoint. Though neither books use it as a major plot point and the plot regarding the anti-Christ falls apart especially in The Stand.

Both stories also includes a character jumping out the window to frustrate the plans of the people who had captured them.

Both stories also include a black women as a major character. I like the way King portrayed these characters and how he dealt with racial problems. He didn’t stereotype either the characters or the problems. The characters were not used as soapboxes to make commentary, but also didn’t shy away from real problems. But Mother Abigail is simply one of his most wonderful characters and her role of prophetess was grounded quite well theologically. King can be maddening in some books regarding religion and in others he really shows his knowledge and grasp of Biblical stories with sound theological insights. Reading The Stand as a Catholic I was able to even more enjoy and understand this book. It had a depth that passed me by the first time.

Both books also had a very “the journey is the destination” feel as both endings were not entirely satisfying. Sometimes you just want everything wrapped up with a bow and a “they lived happily ever after” — something I really shouldn’t expect to occur in a Stephen King book in the first place.

Sometime returning to a favorite book you wonder what you had saw in it the first time around. The Stand really stands up (pun intended) and I can easily see returning to it for a re-read. A good story has a timeless quality that is not restrained by the decade it it is written in – this is one such.

About Jeff Miller

Jeff Miller is a former atheist who after spending forty years in the wilderness finds himself with both astonishment and joy a member of the Catholic Church. A retired Navy Chief who now makes his living as an application developer.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/happycatholicbookshelf/ Julie D.

    Thank you Jeff! Neither Scott or I had read the Dark Tower series, though each of us had dipped a toe into it. Do you recommend it?

    • Chris

      Yes, yes, yes! Jeff nails some great crossovers between “The Stand” and “The Dark Tower” novels, but he’s just scratched the surface. Go out tomorrow, grab Vols. 1-2 (“The Gunslinger” and “The Drawing of the Three”) and I guarantee you won’t be able to quit. The best part: Stephen King first started “The Gunslinger” in 1970, forgot about it, and didn’t revisit it until a decade later. He took another 20-plus years to finish the next three volumes. And when he was almost killed after being hit by a car in 1999, King put out the next three books within five years, knowing that this body of work defined his entire career. I read a ton of fiction, and “The Dark Tower” series is hands down the best thing I’ve ever read.

  • Chris

    Hi Jeff! Ran across your post while searching for an update on Warner Bros. possibly green-lighting Ron Howard’s three-movie, two-TV series treatment of “The Dark Tower” series (crossing my fingers).

    First, while you use the singular “book” for the eight-novel King “Tower” series, it’s obvious you’ve read most if not all of it, and your post is an enjoyable read. Along with “The Stand,” nearly half of Stephen King’s entire body of work (“Salem’s Lot,” “Desperation,” “Insomnia,” etc.) is tied directly to the world of the gunslinger Roland and the “Tower” canon (also, this being a religious blog, I’m surprised you didn’t mention Father Callahan, who first appeared in “Salem’s Lot” and has a huge role in Vols. 5-7 of the “Tower” series).

    To the point: there are heavy religious (and totally unoffensive) undertones in King’s “Tower” opus, ones that can be easily appreciated by the devout, agnostics and atheists alike. It’s easily one of the best bodies of fiction this side of Shakespeare.

    To answer Julie’s question: yes, HIGHLY recommended. When you get to the halfway point (Vol. 4 “Wizard and Glass”), and cry after reading “Bird and bear and hare and fish, give my love her fondest wish,” you’ll be thankful you gave it a chance.

  • http://www.splendoroftruth.com/curtjester jeffmiller

    Julie,

    I found it worthwhile after I got past the first book. The second started to open up an interesting group dynamic and advancing the plot. A lot of time is spent on stories within the story and really the latest book in the series is really a sub-story. I can also see why the series might not be for everybody and why some were angered or let down by the ending and Stephen King entering the story himself. So your results may vary.

    • juliedavis

      Aha … that makes sense and gibes with the friends who told me to begin on book three or four.

    • Chris

      Agreed: the first book is the least of the seven (eight if you include “The Wind Through the Keyhole”). “The Gunslinger” isn’t all that great. But I’d advise against just jumping in on “The Wastelands” or “Wizard and Glass” (books three and four, respectively). Yes, they can be read on their own (and “Wizard and Glass” is by far the best in the series, IMHO), but if you start at the mid-way point, you miss out on much of the over-arching narrative. King makes us fall in love with this Ka-Tet (Roland, Jake, Eddie, Sue and Oy), and growing on these characters doesn’t happen mid-stream. I do love how you phrased that Jeff: “Some were angered or let down by the ending.” Very true, but it was still a brilliant turn of phrase. And didn’t King warn us all before those final pages? “Endings are heartless. Ending is just another word for goodbye. Would you still? Very well, then, come. (Do you hear me sigh?). Here is the Dark Tower, at the end of End-World. See it, I beg. See it very well.”


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