Thursday, October 23, 2008

Standing the Test of Time?

I hadn't realized it, but this year marks the 30th anniversary of Stephen King's The Stand (and fitting with the theme of the last post, it's a book I read at least a couple of times when I was in high school). The online magazine marks the occasion with an King interview, in which King tells us an upcoming book called Under the Dome "is a very long book." Ahem.

King muses about God, showing some signs of real seriousness:
Too often, in novels that are speculative, God is a kind of kryptonite...That's not religion. That's some kind of juju, like a talisman. I wanted to do more than that. I wanted to explore what that means to be able to rise above adversity by faith, because it's something most of us do every day.
He also demonstrates a clear grasp of nonsense:
I'm not sure there is an afterlife. OK. If there is one, here's what I think it is. I think it's whatever you think you're going to get. Those suicide bombers, if they really believe that they are going to wind up in heaven with 71 virgins, yeah, that's probably what they're going to get in the afterlife.
The version of The Stand I read -- the cover of which I posted at the top -- was a paperback release with some minor tweaks. King published it in 1978, and set his world-destroying plague in 1980. By the time I read it in the early 80s, he had the plague happen in 1986. By 1990, when his power of cash flow creation permitted it, he released an uncut version that replaced much that had been cut out of 1978 edition, and set the plague in 1990. Careless editing, which has become a trademark of King's work ever since publishers realized that printing him was as close as they could get to being the US Mint printing money, left this version with anachronisms such as renting a Malibu beachfront house for $1,000 per month and the ownership of black-and-white televisions widespread among poor folks. These things all fit the world of 1980, but not 1990. This edition also boasts a nice load of typos. And according to King's official website, it's the only edition of the book that exists, because they don't list the original.

King wrote the teleplay for a 1994 miniseries based on the book. It rated well, but every time I see Jamey Sheridan and his Bon Jovi hair portraying the Dark Man, Randall Flagg, I crack up. Which helps me get through Molly Ringwald's wooden line readings as Fran Goldsmith and Corin Nemec's Screech impression as Harold Lauder. It's now being released as a comic and graphic novel.

The Stand turned me into a King nut and left me with a years-long determination to buy everything he put out. Unfortunately, I got hooked at a time when he was getting ready to slide into mediocrity, cranking out book after book that desperately needed someone to say, "Um, Steve? This part stinks. You need to fix it." Even more unfortunately, I probably threw away a couple hundred bucks on his hardbacks until I figured that out (Bag of Bones, if you're curious, was the breaking point). Soak-the-fanbase stunts like the simultaneous release of Desperation by Stephen King and The Regulators by his pseudonym Richard Bachman, books which even used the same character names in their different stories, didn't help.

Reading a King novel today, for me, usually has me starting out well, hooked pretty quickly, tiring out by the time I get a third or maybe two-fifths of the way in, hanging on until just past halfway and then flipping to the last 30 pages or so to see how things turn out. Reflecting on how the original version of The Stand, one of his best novels, hits the big three-oh this year makes me dust off an old phrase people in King's generation used to say and spin it a little to describe his work: Never trust a book under 30.

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