From the Archives: The Long Walk by Stephen King
The last remaining post from my long-defunct "Stephen King in Order" project.
This one is a re-read you
guys. I read this book years ago and my memories consisted of
"depressing". After a reread I can safely say that
"depressing" is right. What inspired this reread? Why my recent reads
of Battle Royale and Hunger Games. The first place my brain went to was Stephen
King. I guess that's kind of where it always goes when it comes to books. He
has two books that can loosely fit into this sort of genre of competition until
everyone is dead but one (if it is a genre): The Long Walk and The Running Man,
but by King-as-Bachman. I just started reading the Running Man and will post
about that probably later this week
**Interesting Fact: This was the first book King ever wrote, even though Carrie was the first book he published.**
The Long Walk - Every year 100 boys compete in the Long Walk. They go through a rigorous application process before they are selected. Then they all line up and walk until they can't walk any more. If they fall behind too much or stop for too long, they are shot dead on the spot. This continues until there is only one boy left. His prize is whatever he wants for the rest of his life.
Yeah... can anyone see the catch? After walking for days watching 99 other boys die in front of you, how sane do you think you'll be? How much do you think you'll be able to enjoy your "prize"?
I think the real difference with this book of the others is that the participants choose to enter the insane contest. Not just choose, but apply to it like it's some big honour. There are physical and mental tests. They write essays about why they should be selected. Everyone cheers them and envies them. It's really very strange. King credits The Lottery as one of his inspiration points which shows. The Lottery is a short story that everyone should look up at some point. Both King's and Jackson's stories share the idea of everyone being in favour of the dark institution until they themselves become a participant/victim.
This is the part where I begin the Spoiler/Not Spoiler Dance. I'll try to keep it on the Not-side.
In the novel, both a lot and not a lot happen. Basically they all walk until one boy is left. That's about it. But there are character arcs, sub plots, and commentaries on humanity, society, and a tantalizing hint of this alternate world. King has created a whole other society and through glimmers and snatches, I caught a bit of an idea of it. Everyone's wealth has been redistributed so that there are no millionaires. I'm not sure if there is still poverty, but there is no 1% in that world. This make the prize of unlimited money and wishes granted extra sweet. The world is also run by a mysterious figure called only The Major. He orchestrates the walk and begins as something of a god/hero to the boys. Towards the end of the walk, however, the boys have grown to hate him even while some still love him.
Our main character is Raymond Davis Garraty - most of the boys call him Garraty. He's 16 and pretty likeable. There is nothing really remarkable about him and he doesn't really know why he signed up for the walk. To him it seems to be a thing to do. He gets more serious later in the story about it, of course, but he never produces a concrete reason for signing up. Some of the others are focused on the prize, or watching people die, but there are some boys who seemed to have signed up just because it's what you're supposed to do.
So what does it all mean? Be prepared for some analysis that was probably never even intended by King himself: I think the Long Walk is a bleak metaphor for life. Not life as I see it, but life as maybe someone facing depression might see it. Everyone starts together, they walk together and as long as they keep moving, they keep living. Once they give up, or get struck down by sickness or insanity, they die. Along the way, Garraty and the others make friends and start to care about each other. This helps them last longer as they save each other's lives from time time, but eventually even the friends die along with the no-names in the background. And even though they save each other and spend time together, in the end they are alone. The winner gets to go through all of this and out-live everyone else with only a vague promise of endless happiness, yet the book implies that most winners lose their minds or even die shortly after the walk. If you want to look at life in a horrible way, it fits. The only way it doesn't fit is that the Long Walk has no room for happiness or even love as something other than a vague unfulfilled wish. The boys do start out eager and a bit happy/hopeful, but once the first one dies it starts to fade fast. I saw the life metaphor in there, but I think there is joy in life that book does not portray.
Did I like it? Yes. Do I recommend it to people? Yes, if you like Stephen King and unhappy books. Will I read it again? I don't know. I never thought I'd read it a second time. It is bleak and drags you down, but it's short. It's also a testament to King's talent that something with such a dull plot can be at all addictive to read. Anyway, next I'm going to read the Running Man and then I'm going to pick a comedy or something fluffy because man have my books been depressing lately.
Note from 2021: I never did do a write-up of The Running Man. Sorry. Maybe one day.