Reviews from Lord Taylor of Glencoe
The Long Walk: Richard Bachman, October 21—November 21, 2013
My rating: ♦♦♦♦◊
Stephen King’s first ever novel, The Long Walk, was written under the pseudonym Richard Bachman, something of a forerunner (or forewalker) to Battle Royale in the nineties and The Hunger Games in the noughties.
The annual Long Walk event sees one hundred boys walk a pre-determined route together at a minimum speed. Dropping below the speed earns you a warning, three warnings earns you a shot to the head. The last man standing wins whatever he desires as his prize.
As the walk progresses, Bachman/King leads us through a minefield of terrifying themes about mortality, the meaning of life and the inevitability of death. We consider the motives for signing up for the Long Walk – notoriety, the prize or simply a deep desire to die.
Throughout, we join Garraty as our audience surrogate and see the other walkers through his eyes. He forges a friendship with some other boys who dub themselves ‘the Musketeers’, the most prominent of whom is McVries with whom he forms the strongest bond. Their relationship is my favourite, and touching to observe.
Other honourable mentions must go to Scramm, the married Walker with a pregnant wife that you can’t help rooting for (and feeling guilty thereafter for betraying Garraty), the nice chap Art Baker, machine-like Stebbins who seems unbeatable and talks like Aesop, Olson with his confidence and Parker, whose most notable moment is something of a spoiler.
As far as antagonists go, Barkovitch is the panto villain of the piece. Rechristened ‘Killer’ by the walkers for causing an altercation leading to his opponent’s death, Bachman gives him some humanity later on. The real villain is the mysterious Major, who makes appropriately few and fleeting appearances but is chilling and utterly merciless.
There are many haunting moments, leading to a chilling dénouement. Does the winner really “win”? Having seen 99 others die in front of him and be the only one to live with that fact, with the psychological scarring running even deeper than the mangled mess of flesh that remains, is the first to be shot the real victor?
A dark novel that faces many questions of life. It makes little effort to provide answers – but a convincing argument that there are none to be had.