Some time ago I began reading Stephen King’s The Stand. Being such a large novel, and being conveniently broken down into three parts, I decided to read it in pieces. So now, I’ve come back to the second book in The Stand: On the Boarder. Honestly, I’m not sure if “Boarder” is a typo or not. I would think it should be “Border,” because there’s no real explanation as to why it would be “Boarder.” But maybe, just maybe, that’s the way Stephen King intended it to be and he fully expected his readers to sit there and scratch their heads, much as I’m doing right now. Though I have been dealing with some slight scalp itch lately. I blame my shampoo.
Anyway, the second part of this epic novel is quite extensive in itself. It spans pages 383 through 911, making it a touch longer than the first part. Part III consists of less than 250 pages. So I’m pretty sure I could have the entire novel done tomorrow if I wanted. But that’s a debate I’ll save for later. Right now, why don’t we just focus on this Part II stuff.
When we left off after Captain Trips had decimated the world’s population, we had a handful of people beginning to come together in a sort of pilgrimage. These people are driven by their dreams. Oddly enough, these dreams seem to be a shared experience. Each of our heroes and villains seem to be having dreams that center around two particular people. The first is Abigail Freemantle, a kind, 108-year-old black woman in Nebraska who seems to be a representative of God. The other is Randall Flagg, a dark man that inspires fear and terror in anyone who sees his shape and senses his presence in their dreams. No one ever truly sees the face of Flagg in these dreams. They only know that he represents evil in its truest sense. This is agreed upon, even by people who have a difficult time grasping the concept of an almighty Creator who has a hand in what goes on in the world.
As the book progresses, society begins to re-form around these two figures. Mother Abigail leads her people to Boulder, Colorado, where the good guys try to restart civilization in a manner that, at the very least, resembles the one that existed before the plague. Randall Flagg? Well, he’s got his people, too. We really only get a couple of terrible glimpses into what his society looks like over in Las Vegas. But Vegas isn’t his only stronghold. He apparently has pockets up and down the west coast. But Vegas seems to be his base of operations. In our glimpse of life in the desert, we see that he’s ruling with an iron fist and crucifying anyone who dares to stand in his way, even his own followers.
But, as I said, we only get that glimpse into the dark man’s side of the Rockies. Most of Book II is spent following the exploits of Stu, Fran, Larry, Nick, and a few others that I failed to mention in my first post about this book. For these leaders, things in Boulder seem to be running smoothly as everyone who comes to town is pretty willing to do just about anything to help get society back on its feet again. As these people begin to gel as a group, the dreams about the dark man and Mother Abigail occur less frequently, then disappear altogether. But that doesn’t mean that life in the Boulder Free Zone is all sunshine and daisies.
Just as a small government forms and seems to be working out just fine, Mother Abigail takes it upon herself (at the prompting of God) to take a walk into the wilderness. She disappears for some time, and though people are concerned for the health of such an old woman, the general feeling is that if she felt God was telling her to do this, then God would take care of her. In the meantime, we still have young Harold Lauder (Fran’s fellow survivor from Ogunquit, Maine), a kid who has turned to the dark side. See, Harold left Maine with a raging crush on Fran. Fran, on the other hand, fell in love with Stu. As it tends to happen, Harold got his feelings hurt. But, instead of being a grown-up about it (he’s still only 16, after all), he bore a grudge. Enter Nadine Cross, a woman who has been marked as special by Randall Flagg. She and Harold set up an elaborate scheme to tear things apart in the Free Zone before heading west to receive their reward from the dark man. Tragedy and chaos ensue, but things could be so much worse for the good guys.
Eventually, Mother Abigail returns to her people with an ominous message from God. She tells Stu, Larry, Glen Bateman, and Ralph Brentner that they must travel to Las Vegas to confront Flagg. She warns that one of them will fall before they reach their destination, but that the other three will be taken before the dark man to make their stand, once and for all. She informs them that the will of God was not to bring them all together to form committees and switch on the electricity. God brought these few together so that they could act as instruments in this battle against the forces of Evil.
And this is where Book II ends. King has built up this amazing story to a thrilling climax that seems to be just on the other side of a few pages. Originally, I had planned to take a break between sections of this novel. But seeing as how there are just over 200 pages left before the end, I sort of feel the need to keep going. So I guess I’ll be back in a few days with my final thoughts on Book III and The Stand altogether.