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In this #1 national bestseller, “master storyteller” (Houston Chronicle) Stephen King, writing as Richard Bachman, tells the tale of the contestants of a grueling walking competition where there can only be one winner—the one that survives.
“I give my congratulations to the winner among your number, and my acknowledgments of valor to the losers.”
Against the wishes of his mother, sixteen-year-old Ray Garraty is about to compete in the annual grueling match of stamina and wits known as The Long Walk. One hundred boys must keep a steady pace of four miles per hour without ever stopping...with the winner being awarded “The Prize”—anything he wants for the rest of his life. But, as part of this national tournament that sweeps through a dystopian America year after year, there are some harsh rules that Garraty and ninety-nine others must adhere to in order to beat out the rest. There is no finish line—the winner is the last man standing. Contestants cannot receive any outside aid whatsoever. Slow down under the speed limit and you’re given a warning. Three warnings and you’re out of the game—permanently....
“The whole walk seemed nothing but one looming question mark. He told himself that a thing like this must have some deep meaning. Surely it was so. A thing like this must provide an answer to every question, it was just a matter of keeping your foot on the throttle.”
Only Stephen King could write such a spellbinding tale of a bunch of boys doing nothing but walking.
The Long Walk has become something of a national pastime in America where every year, hundreds of teenage boys apply to compete. Only a hundred boys are selected to try to be the last man standing. The winner receives anything they could ask for. We experience The Long Walk through the eyes of sixteen-year-old Ray Garraty. We see firsthand (or sometimes the fallen one’s name is murmured slowly along the lines that remain standing) as one by one, the contestants fall from exhaustion, pain, mental anguish, or because they simply fell below the required 4mph speed. He makes friends with several and is forced to see them fall to the hail of bullets when they’re given their third and final warning.
‘The lights filled the sky with a bubblelike pastel glow that was frightening and apocalyptic, reminding Garraty of pictures he had seen in the history books of the German air-blitz of the American East Coast during the last days of World War II.’
With references to the German air blitz of the American East Coast and of 31st of April, it’s clear that the world The Long Walk takes place in is a twisted alternative version of our own. Other than that, this story is a very straight forward sort of tale that lacks any sort of supernatural or fantasy aspects. But it’s most definitely horror. Day after day of non-stop walking, catching brief yet unsatisfying naps while your feet continue propelling you forward, being forced to take a warning and possibly two so you can quickly go to the bathroom by the side of the road all the while guns are trained on the back of your head and spectators line the roads just for the possibility of being there to see the guns remove someone from the running.
It’s easy to compare this story to the multitude of preposterous reality competitions these days, but if you take into account that King wrote this during 1966-1967 when the war in Vietnam was raging, the correlation to war, in general, becomes apparent as well. The televised draft, the battle, and the mass deaths that seemed so very meaningless. There is of course also the fact that the one to remain standing isn’t ever actually a “winner”. After seeing the things that occurred in the competition, the victor is irrevocably changed.
The Long Walk is the second book written under the Bachman name but the first I’ve read. At the beginning of my edition, there was an introduction called “The Importance of Being Bachman” where he discusses exactly why he chose to write under a pseudonym, and of his displeasure when he was unveiled as being Bachman. It was an interesting take that I never considered before as to why a writer would choose to write under a pseudonym, but this beautiful line sums it up nicely.
‘…there’s a place in most of us where the rain is pretty much constant, the shadows are always long, and the woods are full of monsters. It is good to have a voice in which the terrors of such a place can be articulated and its geography partially described, without denying the sunshine and clarity that fill so much of our ordinary lives.’