Stephen King's Post Apocalyptic Literature

Jawad Hassan explains why it is a good idea to grab the apocalyptic novel by Stephen Kings that can help you survive the pandemic.

Stephen King's Post Apocalyptic Literature

There is something about post-apocalyptic fiction that has always fascinated readers. The topic has been present in human artistic pursuits and has jumped from religious texts to literature, then movies all the way to tv series.

As the world becomes more and more faced with the doom of global warming, large scale state on state warfare, and nuclear weapons among other things, it can be argued that our collective angst has fostered our fascination and interest with post-apocalyptic fiction, the more we recognize the signs of our uneasy existence the more we are interested in discovering in various ways how would our living on earth and survival be affected by a catastrophe of global scale. The advent of the COVID 19 pandemic is a very pronounced occasion and crisis that should drive us to contemplate the fragility of our existence, our collective behavior, and the precious things we have to use. Literature is in this case a powerful tool that shows us illustrations and draws in our heads mental images that aid us in this task.

One of the aptest authors that can illustrate the feelings of angst, dread, and fragility of humanity in an uncertain world is Stephen King. King is a legend and one of the most celebrated and prolific authors of the world. He is most notably noted for writing some of the most memorable horror novels such as IT, The Shining, and Doctor Sleep all of which have been adapted into very successful movies. During the pandemic, I discovered and read some of his novels which have opened my eyes to interesting worldbuilding, deep and interesting characters, and powerful dark villains, and that specifically focus on a post-apocalyptic setting. These novels are “The Stand” and his “Dark Tower” series.

The Stand and the Dark tower series both deal with cataclysmic events that cause the collapse of order and human civilization and the spread of chaos, darkness, and violence. They also both center around a group of heroes which we get to accompany in their journeys, observe their fears, struggles and witness their maturation as they face the new darkness of their respective worlds and have to deal with other survivors and form deep bonds with them.

The Stand is an individual novel and is one of Stephen King’s longest. The novel begins with the appearance of an airborne highly contagious and deadly disease that end annihilating most of the population of the United States and possibly the world too. In this novel, King draws a well written and horrifying account of how pandemics spread through contact between innocuous hosts, he draws disturbing images of the heavy costs of losing your loved ones and having to survive in a world of isolation, things that must hit especially deeply when reading during this pandemic. In time we learn the history of surviving characters and we discover that the pandemic was actually triggered by a mysterious Dark man who may not even be human at all. We learn that this man called Randall Flagg but also possesses many different names is a seemingly immortal being that has been at work bringing down kingdoms and causing chaos since the dawn of mankind. We learn Flagg triggered the catastrophe and that his plan is to gather all the bad survivors of the pandemic and attempt to overpower and control the remaining surviving human population. Ultimately his plan is thwarted through the intervention and action of the remaining good characters guided by a “higher power”. This novel is amazing especially due to how much we learn about each character’s motivation and emotions and for the feeling of mystery and the dark ambiance which King manages to maintain throughout the long novel. It only disappoints in terms of the dualistic portrayal of good and evil, I personally like morally ambiguous messy villains which I can personally identify with rather than simply fear or cheer against. The novel is nonetheless a great one and a worthy read for fans of mystery and horror.

Rather than being a standalone novel the Dark tower on the other hand is a series of novels. They follow the journey of Roland, a so-called Gunslinger, a sort of mix between a medieval knight and cowboy. Roland lives in a world different than earth called Mid-World, which is experiencing what he calls “moving on”. This appears to be a destructive and degenerative process that is leading to the collapse of civilization, order and even the very fabric of reality which underpins existence. We learn that Roland is on a quest to stop or reverse this process by reaching a mysterious location called the Dark Tower. After reading the subsequent Dark Tower novels we get to learn that Stephen King has linked some of his work in a complicated metaverse just like Marvel has its own universe that includes different superheroes with their own storylines, own worlds but evolving in the same universe where they can even interact with each other like they do in the Avengers. In Stephen King’s metaverse, the dark Tower is the linchpin that binds all the different realities of his stories, that includes Roland’s Midworld, the plague-stricken Earth in the Stand and even the horror story IT. The Dark Tower is the mechanism which allows characters to move across these different realities and affect people and events in them. What is even more fascinating is that the mysterious villain we meet in the Stand, Randall Flagg, exists also in Roland’s world under a different name, Walter, and that he is also one of the forces that have caused Roland’s world to “move on”. In the Dark tower series, the reader deals with the themes of destiny and of being under the influence of forces larger than oneself, it frightens us by portraying how we can fall victim to cosmic forces and how sometimes we can be mere ignorant victims in a large game plan that involve obscure powerful beings. In this series Roland and the friends that eventually accompany him are trying to understand what is happening just like we are, in that sense the reader is also one of Roland’s companions and is a subject to the experiences he lives. King is extremely talented in portraying dreams and surreal psychedelic experiences as well as the grueling nature of Roland’s journey. The first of these novels deals with Roland’s chasing after Walter who is luring him into a trap of his own making and secretly influencing Roland’s journey. The second deals with Roland’s meeting with two of his companions that originate from own world but that come from two different timelines, Roland accesses them through mysterious interdimensional doors placed to him by an unknown entity and for mysterious reasons, these events show us that larger forces are at play which we do not know about. The third novel and the latest one I am currently reading deals with Roland’s party meeting chaotic hordes of brigands and rascals who are survivors of their destroyed civilizations and their attempts to evade them safely on their quest for the Dark tower and understanding their destiny and what happened to the world.

The series extends to six more novels, and I am excited to read them all and see where this journey ends and how it connects to the multiverse King created.

The Dark Tower series, in my opinion, represent a great adventure getaway novel that also highlights the necessity of all humans to preserve what we have today and prevent cataclysmic events in the shape of global warming and nuclear weapons.

The Stand and the Dark Tower series represent a fraction of what Stephen King can offer but they resonate with me as a lover of post-apocalyptic fiction and of engaging adventure and thriller novels. They are especially good for passing the pandemic and contemplating on the state of human civilization and its fragility in addition to being highly entertaining and terrifyingly engaging. I can’t wait to see where my reading takes me, I am currently on the verge of finishing the third Dark tower novel and beginning the fourth one. Do hope to tell you in my next reviews.

Text by

Jawad Hassan