I've come to The Stand late in the game, the original was written before I was born. This copy, the 1,000-plus page behemoth I just put down,is the way King intended it to be released, uncut and without alterations.
You might think it's mad to take on such a task, but as they say in this novel: "Even the company of the mad is better than the company of the dead."
I'll start where King does, with Captain Trips. Captain Trips is the nickname given to the flu. This isn't your chicken-noodle soup, stay home from work kind of flu. No, Captain Trips wipes out 99.4% of the world's population.
The detail that King devotes to Captain Trips' decimation of everyday people's lives is one of the most terrifying things I've ever read, and it's easy to figure out why. We all get sick, everyone gets the flu at some time or another, it's inevitable. Let me tell you, after reading The Stand you'll be squeezing Purell over your Apple Jacks.
Ultimately, this is why this novel strikes such a strong chord: It seems 100% plausible. A super-flu is grown in the bowels of a top secret American military facility and one night it simply gets out, goes home with one of the guards, who takes it home to his wife and baby and boom, you've got yourself mass panic as the world falls into the clutches of an incurable sickness and chaos.
Miraculously, a small handful of people escape Captain Trips' long grasp. They're spread out across the country, but as fate would have it, they eventually find each other.
This would be fine if all they had to do was link arms and embrace a new "Little House On the Prairie" kind of attitude, but no, Captain Trips has opened the door to a thing of pure evil, and his name is Randall Flagg, aka The Walkin' Dude aka The Dark Man. Flagg is a recurring character in several of King's novels, often under different aliases. Flagg is everywhere and nowhere at the same time, he can drive you insane by looking at you, he can control the minds of animals and he has a very, very sick sense of humour. He is probably one of the scariest villains ever created.
Flagg exploits weaknesses in ordinary people, people that have survived Captain Trips but are scared and in desperate need for a leader. People like the Trashcan Man, Lloyd Henry and The Kid (a character so crazy I often wondered if he was the embodiment of The Kid from Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian.)
Using these people, Flagg sets up camp in, where else - Las Vegas, the city of sin. From there, he sets up compound that uses fear and capital punishment (crucifixion) to maintain law and order. Flagg and his lackeys start to compile weapons of mass destruction in order to eliminate the competition, a group of survivors situated in Boulder, Colorado, led by the 108 year-old Mother Abigail Freemantle.
Mother Abigail claims to be a prophet of God, and those that have come to her have done so because their dreams have led them to her. Flagg also invades their dreams, infecting some to act as his spies, sleeper cells that are bent on destroying the "Free Zone" in Boulder.
On Flagg's side is Harold, an awkward, horny teen who falls in love with Frannie, another survivor from his hometown. Frannie eventually rejects Harold and his jealously eventually leads him to Flagg. Harold becomes a pivotal character in the struggle between good and evil in The Stand.
On Abigail's side is Stu Redman, a quiet, strong man whom Frannie falls in love with as they travel to Boulder. Stu eventually becomes the unofficial leader of Abigail's fledgling yet growing community.
After an act of sabotage, Abigail sends her strongest warriors west into the desert to confront Flagg and his henchmen. A showdown of Biblical proportions erupts, but not in the way you might think. It is a test of wills, a test of faith and of the belief that good must triumph at all costs.
I don't know what else to say. The Stand is an absolute masterpiece, it's The Lord of the Rings set in Las Vegas, it's The Book of Revelations packed into a .45 and shot into a hangar full of nuclear weapons. You will root for these characters, you will fall in love with them, you will hate them and you will be scared to death of them because at its core King has written a book about ordinary people surviving a world that has fallen into Hell. You'll find yourself in these pages, because there are little bits of us in every character. I cannot recommend it enough.