The Substance of Faith

The Substance of Faith

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Bucket Book – The Stand

As a teenager I read the science fiction classics: Asimov, Bradbury, Heinlein, H.G. Wells, plus a few whose names I’ve forgotten.  I stopped in my late teens, thinking that science fiction was nerdy.  Having put aside childish things, I later discounted horror writers like Stephen King, lumping his work into the same general category as science fiction.  Both genres were fantasy.  Because I  shunned King’s books, I also ignored movies made from them.  I never saw Carrie or the Shining, although I know Carrie made Cissy Spacek famous and Jack Nicholson made The Shining creepy.  Then about, 15 years ago, I wanted a book to take to the beach.  I wanted a thick and entertaining read that would last all week.  Weighing in at 1141 pages, The Stand looked promising.  After a long week under an umbrella, I can, at last, admit I misjudged King and changed my mind about on a few things about fantasy, whether it be science fiction or “horror.”


The plot of The Stand may be familiar to you.  A super virus escapes a government facility and infects most of the world.  A small percentage of people  have life-saving antibodies which help them survive in a desolate world.  The survivors polarize into two groups.  The forces of good make their way to Colorado.  The forces of darkness head to Las Vegas.   Heroes emerge along the way to the Rockies and villains reveal themselves while responding to the gravitational pull of destruction coming from the desert.  Their journeys are arduous and often unclear, but eventually the two camps both reach critical mass, setting up a climactic conflict.  Randall Flagg, the ageless agent of darkness, commands the forces of evil.  Flagg and other characters with the initials “R.F.” appear in many King novels, always as villains.

King may write in the “horror” genre, but he understands the human heart.   Consequently, the Stand’s novel-long apocalyptic battle between good and evil serves as the stage for the characters’ motives and actions.   Here are two of King’s insights.

They filed in through the gate that Ralph opened and she felt her sin, the one she thought of as the mother of sin.  The father of sin was  theft; every one of the Ten Commandments boiled down to “Thou shall not steal.” Murder was the theft of a life, adultery the theft of a wife, covetousness the secret, slinking theft that took place in the cave of the heart. Blasphemy was the theft of God’s name, swiped fro the House of the Lord and sent to walk the streets like a strutting whore.  She had never been much of a thief, a minor pilferer from time to time at worst.  The mother of sin was pride. (p. 645)

A boy does not need a father unless he is a good father, but a good father is indispensable.  (p. 795)

After The Stand, I read several other King novels, including the Dark Tower series.  I enjoyed the series, but found the ending a bit disappointing.   King’s writing himself into the series as a character seems forced.

The Stand makes Bucket List status for me based on its epic portrayal of good versus evil.  I also give it credit for opening up to me literature genres I’d passed by.   Recently I was in the bookstore looking over the table of summer reading for high school students.  I saw several of the science fiction classics there and skimmed a few that I read decades ago.  Remembering the story lines  and characters I understood the reason for their presence on the table.  The genre doesn’t matter as long as the plot and characterizations are strong.  You don’t have to be Sheldon or Leonard from Big Bang Theory to read and appreciate them, particularly when the author captures the timeless fears, conflicts, and aspirations of the human heart.   I’ve come to appreciate Orson Scott Card (Speaker for the Dead informs the way I conduct funerals), but I have to admit that I’ve had a hard time with Neil Gaiman, despite his overwhelming popularity.  I read every one of The Wool series on Kindle.  I thought they were great stories.

Summer is here, why not use it as a time to venture past your normal categories of reading.  Perhaps you’ll find something you hadn’t expected.




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