Monday, December 12, 2005

Beyond good and evil

I finished The Stand last night. Those 1400 pages went by a lot faster than I expected them to. Let me first say that I enjoyed the book immensely and found it very difficult to put it down (I read before bed, so lets just say a lot of mornings I didn’t go to sleep until 5am). The one thing I will say I did not like was the ending – the last dozen pages or so felt superfluous and unnecessary, and I think tended to weaken the overall impact of the story. I am not sure if these pages were cut in the earlier edition or not, although I have to say I am certainly curious as to what was cut when the book was first released.

Honestly, I had my doubts about the book before I started. Yes, I have admitted a certain bias against mainstream, popular writers like King, although I never said that these writers can’t write an entertaining story. It just seems that a lot of bestsellers lack substance beyond the words – a philosophical or moral premise that goes deeper than just “these guys are bad, these guys are good, the good will (usually) prevail”. Obviously, that is not the case with The Stand, and it reads like Atlas Shrugged – full of characters of differing moral/social ideals who are constantly faced with decisions that test their beliefs. Also, despite the fact that many fans of the book have said, repeatedly, that the movie was far removed from the book and quite shallow comparatively, the reality was I had seen the movie, so I had certain prejudices based on it. I enjoyed the movie overall, enough that it made me want to read the book, but I found when watching the movie, when it came to the stuff about the dark man I got horribly bored. So when you are faced with a 1400 page novel, knowing that parts of a movie about said novel bored you to tears, you gotta wonder if you will make it through the book. Happily, I was not bored at all while reading the book. I suppose a certain substance is added to the words you read that cannot be conveyed in a movie, because there was a lot more depth to the “evil” people in the book.

The book was really topical for me right now because I have spent a lot of time lately pondering the ideas of good and evil and how it works in society. I get all worked up about the issue, how it seemed to be always so clear cut in America – Americans and their allies are the good guys, the other guys are the bad guys. Communism is evil. The Soviet Union is evil. But is it really true? Sure, it seems obvious when it comes to something like World War II, but didn’t America become the bad guys when they dropped the bomb? And you can’t tell me Hitler was walking around calling himself evil, surely he thought what he was doing was for the good of Germany, as did the people that supported him. What about today? Are the Iraqis really the bad guys? Or was it just Saddam Hussein? Doesn’t good and evil end up boiling down to which side you are on? Or is there a real morality that goes with it that goes beyond religion, a morality that encompasses simple humanity, irregardless of the indoctrination of any religion? I like to think that there is, but how do you define it? Where does it come from?

In The Stand, it is constantly being said that the people on the dark man’s side seem just like the Free Zone people. In the book it seems that it boils down to the choices people make – and not necessarily the quality of their character – that determines the side they end up on. In the end, it is easy to develop sympathy for the characters on the “evil” side, even the questionable ones.

I’ll not go further, I am trying to avoid spoilers because my husband has not yet read it, and I find I cannot discuss it anymore without giving away too much. But I have to say that The Stand is a classic for the modern age, and it will perhaps warrant a second reading, somewhere along the way.

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