To be honest, I didn't have a good time with this one. Not because it wasn't well-written. It was. But it was so...unpleasant. It affected me on too deep a level. When I was done, the feeling I think best describes how I felt was "Yuck." Out of all of King's books, most of which are very, very dark, it's weird that this is the one that gets that reaction from me. It's another Richard Bachman tale, and I can now see why people describe Richard Bachman as "Stephen King having a really bad day."
The story takes place in an alternate version of the 1980's, which means that King was probably trying to predict the future, seeing as he wrote this book in the early 70's, possibly even starting it in the late 60's. He wrote it pre-Carrie and this was his third, possibly fourth novel overall, so the idea that he wrote it in the 60's is not unfathomable.
There's hints that in fact it's not just "the future" but an entire alternate reality. For one thing, there's an April 31st in this world, and there was an air blitz from the Germans along the east coast of the US during their version of WWII, not to mention a reference to said war still going on in the 1950's, and a reference to the US having 52 states. I'm grateful for these references, because the idea that this could take place in our world is even more disheartening.
The titular "walk" is a grueling endurance contest that takes place every year on May 1st. It is restricted to teenage boys between the ages of 16-18. Contestants walk from the US/Canada border in Maine down US-1 until it merges with I-95. If necessary, it will continue through New Hampshire and Massachusetts until only one Walker remains.
Side note: as a fan of The Walking Dead I had to continually remind myself what a "Walker" was in the context of this story.
There are several rules:
- Each contestant must maintain a walking speed of 4 mph at all times. They cannot stop even to sleep or...anything else.
- No Walker may leave the road at any time.
- No Walker may interfere with the progress of another Walker.
- No onlooker may interfere with a Walker at all, either with help or hindrance, nor should a Walker accept such help.
- Breaking any of these rules results in a warning. After 30 seconds, if you are still breaking the rules, you get a second warning. Another 30 seconds, a third warning. 30 seconds later and you get your ticket out of the walk. I'll explain what that means in a second. The exception to this is the second rule; you instantly get a ticket if you leave the road.
The Walkers have a half-track rumbling along beside them full of soldiers, and their progress is monitored. Even after one kid trips and gets his legs run over by the half-track, there are no exceptions. Three warnings and then...they shoot you. And they aren't firing tranquilizer darts.
The Long Walk is somewhat like the Game of Thrones. You win...or you die.
Let me tell you; you feel every inch of that walk. Reading this book was physically exhausting, and harrowing. Any one of the characters could die at any second, and many come very close several times each. But the winner...oh, yes, the winner gets a pretty decent prize, I must say. Whatever you want for the rest of your life.
The story is told from the perspective of one Walker, Ray Garraty, who isn't entirely sure why he entered the Walk and, here's the funny thing, isn't sure he's going to win. In fact, none of the boys are with the exception of a couple. This is one of the problems I had with the story, which I'll get to in a bit.
Ray is a fairly average teenager, except more than once his innocence and naivety is commented on by the others. Ray even thinks to himself after watching the first Walker get his ticket that until that moment he hadn't allowed himself to believe that the soldiers really were going to shoot him dead. He had pictured white flags saying "bang" coming out of the guns.
During the walk he makes friends with many of the boys, dire enemies with one of them in particular, and comes to see the one who continually lags behind everyone as a mystery in great need of solving.
Running the entire thing is a mysterious character known only as "the Major", and it is here that we must bring up one of the most striking differences between this world and our own; apparently it is highly militarized and adults who get too vocally political are "Squaded", a term which is not explained except that it apparently does not mean death by firing squad, which was my first thought, or death of any kind. I think it means they're taken away and put on work "squads", or it could mean they're drafted into some sort of military detail that might also involve conditioning their minds akin to the sort of "breaking" that the government practices in George Orwell's 1984. I don't know, but the Major is clearly a man of power, and the boys on the walk alternate between being a bit scared of him to open hatred of him to a sort of hero worship.
These little glimpses into just what sort of world this takes place in are pretty fascinating, and I like that we're left with more questions than answers. I still had other questions; why is the Walk only open to teens? Why only boys?
But here's my biggest problem with the Walk itself. It's often compared to the Hunger Games, but one thing people forget about the Hunger Games is that participation is mandatory for those whose names are chosen. You can volunteer, but if no one does, someone's chosen anyway. Here, participation is 100% voluntary, and in fact, you have to write an essay about why you should be chosen, then if your essay is good enough, you're put through a physical, and if you pass that your name is put in a draw from which 200 names are chosen; 100 primes and 100 alternates. If you're chosen as a prime, you have 24 hours to opt out. If you're an alternate, you are only chosen when someone opts out, and even then, it's random.
So, what we have here is a voluntary contest wherein people sign up willingly to die. They know going in that only one person can win, and most of them are not even sure they'll win. So they're willingly signing up to die. Moreover, people are watching from home as though it's any other sporting event or reality competition.
And unlike a sport like mountain climbing (which it's compared to at one point), death here does not come from negligence or accident. There's not just a chance of death, but a 99% certainty of it. It comes purposefully, delivered by military snipers who aren't even competing. That's another difference from the Hunger Games. In that game, it's you against your opponents, and while they will kill you, or accident or negligence will, it's part of the game. Here, it's punishment. Permanent punishment.
Call me naive, but I don't think we're gonna get to a point as a society where people willingly sign up to be shot by soldiers after putting their bodies through torturous strain. And I don't think anyone's going to want to watch it. We may accept violence in movies as par for the course, but we know that violence isn't real. When we hear on the news that real people are being shot, it definitely affects us.
That being said, this could still work as a movie, as long as it's put up as a sort of satire on the concept of reality shows. A sort of picture of how things might go as long as the public is willing to watch.
Apparently, the Man Frank Darabont owns the rights to this story and fully plans on turning it into a movie. Okay, I'm all for that. If anyone can turn this into a good movie, it's Darabont. So I'm proceeding as if this is Darabont's take on it, and unlike last time, I'm going to include a few of his usual suspects.
For starters, there's our central character, Ray Garraty. Unlike the story, I don't think the entire movie can focus on just him and what he experiences, but he'll be our Katniss throughout this ordeal. Much is made of his innocence, as I already said, and I think Ansel Elgort has that innocent look.
What would a story be without an antagonist? In this case, a kid named Gary Barkovitch is our boo-hiss "villain", a boy who seems to be on this walk just so he can, as he puts it, dance on people's graves. If anything, his persistent douchebaggery keeps several of our main characters going just to spite him. Ryan Potter is capable of a cold, hateful stare that seems pretty perfect for Barkovitch.
Art Baker is a hayseed with a lot of down-home sense. He's one of the more prominent characters, despite not really doing much or being described much. Somehow the tired eyes of Austin MacDonald made me choose him for this role.
The book doesn't stray from the Walk. Literally all the action happens on the road. We see stuff off to the side, and the Major is unquestionably watching progress from somewhere, but we don't see that aspect because we never leave Garraty's point of view. This is where the movie could expand somewhat. We get to see what the Major is actually up to. We get to see what Garraty's family is going through, dropping him off, driving back to their city where they're going to be waiting as spectators. Maybe even glimpse inside the halftrack a few times, though personally I like the idea of leaving them faceless, a spectre of death for the Walkers.
My thought is that portions of the movie could take place within a studio, with a regular host, or hosts, almost like a sporting event today. It would be a way to "remind the viewing audience" what the rules are and really focus on each walker. There could be interviews with the Major, a previous winner, a parent of one of the losers, etc.
Meanwhile, I also like the idea of the Major screwing with the game; the various by-standers who actually do try to interfere being put in place by the Major himself. I can just see him now, in some control room somewhere; "Okay, deploy the wagon offering free watermelon." "Pick one of the boys' mothers and tell her she can come get her son. Don't tell the boys in the halftrack."
I pictured Kevin Spacey as the Major.
Melissa McBride plays Mom and Jeffrey DeMunn plays Patterson/Grandpa.
Presently I'm nearly halfway through The Dead Zone, and moving straight into The Mist after that. I don't think either one is getting a blog post, because both have been adapted to film before, and are generally (I said generally) considered to be among the better adaptations. I doubt either one needs to be adapted again. The Dead Zone already was, as a TV series back in the early 2000's, which I have not seen barring an episode or two here and there, but understand it started off strong and became utterly stupid fairly quickly. This doesn't surprise me, really. Strong book, strong movie, not the sort of stuff ongoing TV series are made from.
However, after that, there's a few stories after those that I think might work very well as movies, one of which already got one, but there's definite room for improvement. I'm refraining from putting a "next up" at the end of this post, because I'm going to read the stories before I decide if a movie version would work, or is needed.