Even if you’ve read every word of Stephen King’s post-apocalyptic classic, you may still be able to learn something about one of the horror master’s most popular works.
1. The Stand had roots in an earlier story.
Stephen King first dreamed up the superflu known as “Captain Trips” in the 1969 science fiction short story “Night Surf,” which was published in the University of Maine’s Ubris literary journal. In this early iteration, the virus apparently originates in Southeast Asia.
2. Stephen King wanted to pay tribute to a fantasy master.
King set out to pen The Stand to scratch a 10-year itch to “write a fantasy epic like The Lord of the Rings, only with an American setting.” Wrote King:
“Only instead of a hobbit, my hero was a Texan named Stu Redman, and instead of a Dark Lord, my villain was a ruthless drifter and supernatural madman named Randall Flagg. The land of Mordor ("where the shadows lie, according to Tolkien) was played by Las Vegas.”
3. Chemical weapons tests helped spark Stephen King’s thinking.
King found inspiration in the Dugway sheep incident of March 1968, an episode in which some 6000 sheep dropped dead on ranches near the army’s Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah. The military initially denied any connection, but a later report revealed that the sheep were the victim of a nerve gas test that blew away from the base.
4. Stephen King took cues from an earlier pandemic novel.
In his nonfiction book Danse Macabre, King also cites author George R. Stewart’s novel Earth Abides—about one of humanity’s last survivors after a devastating pandemic destroys most of mankind—as a pivotal inspiration for The Stand.
5. The Stand was also a product of current events.
King also revealed in Danse Macabre that contemporary changes in politics and society helped shape The Stand and inspired him to write a novel in which the America he grew up in collapses:
“Its writing came during a troubled period for the world in general and America in particular; we were suffering from our first gas pains in history, we had just witnessed the sorry end of the Nixon administration and the first presidential resignation in history, we had been resoundingly defeated in Southeast Asia, and we were grappling with a host of domestic problems, from the troubling question of abortion-on-demand to an inflation rate that was beginning to spiral upward in a positively scary way…The America I had grown up in seemed to be crumbling beneath my feet.”
6. Christian radio made a contribution as well.
King revealed a third inspiration for The Stand in Danse Macabre: A single line he heard in a radio broadcast of a sermon when he was living in Colorado. The line “Once in every generation the plague will fall among them” made such an impression on King that he wrote it down and pinned it over his typewriter. Later, when the author was struggling to write a fictionalized account of the Patty Hearst kidnapping (the unpublished The House on Value Street), he saw the gloomy quote and found the inspiration to start a new project that became The Stand.
7. The Stand was originally even longer than the final product.
Even though King had quite a bit of interesting inspiration, the writing was slow going. After two years of work, King had a 1200-page manuscript that weighed 12 pounds. (He jokes in Danse Macabre that the bulk matched “the same weight as the sort of bowling ball I favor.”)
8. The Stand's extreme length led to logistical problems.
The 1200-page novel presented a serious problem: King’s publisher, Doubleday, couldn’t print a novel that long. Literally. In addition to whatever qualms the publisher might have had about trying to sell such a hefty book, its printing presses couldn’t create it. As King explained to TIME in 2009, “Doubleday had a physically limiting factor in those days because they used a glue binding instead of a cloth binding, and the way it was explained to me was that they had so much of a thickness they could do before the glue just fell apart.”
9. Stephen King made heavy cuts.
Doubleday didn’t want to break the novel into two volumes, so King’s editor asked him to slash 400 pages (some 150,000 words) to improve both the book’s quality and its commercial prospects. King complied, and an 823-page revision hit bookstores in September 1978. It moved 65,000 copies to make the hardcover bestseller list.
10. The cut pages weren’t lost.
Of course, when your fans are as rabid as King’s, it’s hard for lost pages to stay lost. In 1990 King restored the text he had hacked away to create The Stand: The Complete & Uncut Edition. King didn’t just slip all the cut pages back into the original manuscript, though—he retyped each one. He told TIME he “had the manuscript on one side of an IBM Selectric typewriter and I had the pages of a book that I had torn out of the binding on the other side.” The restored edition had another quirk: King also updated the setting of the novel to the then-present day and included references to cultural touchstones like Freddy Krueger that had not existed in 1978.
11. Bruce Springsteen gave The Stand its title.
The title of the novel comes from the lyrics to Bruce Springsteen’s sweeping Born to Run closer, “Jungleland.” In the song, Springsteen sings: “Tonight all is silence in the world/As we take our stand/Down in Jungleland.”
12. Stephen King nearly abandoned the project.
In 2000’s part-memoir, part-how-to-guide On Writing, King admits writer’s block nearly killed The Stand when he realized his characters were doomed to make the same mistakes that led to their old society’s woes.
13. The Stand Exists in a larger Stephen King universe.
Like many of King’s novels, The Stand is interwoven with the Dark Tower series. Not only is Flagg a main antagonist in the series, but the heroes of The Dark Tower also visit Topeka in the world of The Stand in the series’ fourth book, Wizard and Glass.
14. The Stand enabled Stephen King to buy a canoe.
While The Stand was the latest in a long line of successes King had enjoyed, his splurges after its publication were relatively modest. In September 1979, one year after The Stand debuted, King opened up to the New York Times about how he was spending the loot by saying, “We have a mortgage like everybody else, but I don’t have to worry about the payments. I feel we’re as safe as anyone can be in this crazy world, but I’m not buying yachts. My only extravagances have been a canoe, a video recorder and hardcover books.”
A version of this story ran in 2015; it has been updated for 2021.
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