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The Long Walk

The Long Walk is a novel by Stephen King published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman in 1979 as a paperback original. It was collected in 1985 in the hardcover omnibus The Bachman Books. Set in the near future, the plot revolves around the contestants of a horrific walking contest, held annually by a somewhat despotic and totalitarian version of the United States of America.

Plot summary

One hundred teenage boys (picked at random from a large pool of applicants) participate in an annual walking contest called "The Long Walk." Each Walker must maintain a speed of at least four miles per hour; if he drops below this speed for a total of 30 seconds (all at once or spread out over time), he receives a verbal warning. Warnings are given for a variety of other offenses, including assaulting another Walker or accepting aid from spectators. Walkers may lose warnings by walking for an hour without being warned. If, however, a Walker with three warnings slows down again or breaks any other rule, he is "ticketed."

At the start of the book, the meaning of the term "ticketed" is intentionally kept vague, but soon after the start of the Walk it becomes clear that "buying a ticket" means to be shot dead by soldiers monitoring the event from halftracks. A Walker with no warnings who begins to slow down has a total of two minutes' leeway before being killed. However, Walkers may be shot immediately for certain serious violations, such as trying to leave the road or attacking the halftrack.

The event is run by a character known only as "The Major," who is the overseer of The Long Walk and is alluded to have a great deal of power.

There are no stops, rest periods, or established finish line during a Long Walk, which ends when only one Walker remains. According to the established rules, the Walkers can only obtain aid from the soldiers monitoring them from the pacing halftracks. They may request a water canteen at any time, and food concentrates (apparently similar to the ones developed by NASA's space program) are distributed each day of the Walk at 9:00 am. Walkers may bring anything they can carry, including food, but are not allowed to receive any help from bystanders once the Walk begins. While they are not allowed to interfere with one another to eliminate another competitor, they are not prevented from helping each other, provided that they do not drop below four miles per hour. The winner receives "The Prize" - anything he wants for the rest of his life. It is interesting to note that many winners of The Long Walk have died soon after the Walk, due to its hazardous mental and physical difficulties. The Long Walk is not only a physical trial, but a psychological one, as the Walkers are continually pressed against the idea of death and their own mortality. Contestants have actually tried to crawl at 4 mph in order to survive after their legs gave out. The story has several characters who suffer complete mental breakdowns, and most characters experience some mental degeneration from the stress and lack of proper sleep.

The Walk begins every year at 9:00 AM on April 31st (This is attributed to an alternate reality in the "Kingverse") at the Maine/Canada border and continues down the eastern coast of the United States until the winner is found. The protagonist of the novel is Ray Garraty, a 16-year-old boy. Early on, Ray falls in with several other boys — including Peter McVries, Arthur Baker, Hank Olson, Collie Parker, Pearson, and Abraham — who refer to themselves as "The Musketeers." Another Walker — Gary Barkovitch — quickly establishes himself as an external antagonist, as he quickly angers his fellow walkers with multiple taunts of "dancing on their graves." This results in the immediate death of a fellow walker, Rank, who is ticketed while trying to injure Barkovitch. Lastly, the most alluring and mysterious Walker is a boy named Stebbins. Through the Walk, Stebbins establishes himself as the loner, observing the ground beneath him as he listens to fellow Walkers' complaints. The only character Stebbins truly interacts with is Ray Garraty, and their conversations allude to "Alice in Wonderland" as Garraty relates him to the Caterpillar. Stebbins, however, corrects him, and believes himself to be more of a "White Rabbit" type.

Along the road, the Walkers learn that one of their number, a kid named Scramm — who is initially the heavy odds-on favorite to win the Walk — is married. When Scramm gets pneumonia, the remaining Walkers agree that the winner will use some of the Prize to take care of his pregnant widow, Cathy.

During the walk it is touched upon how members of the general public who interfere with the walkers in any way can receive an "Interference" ticket. The first instance was when the mother of a Walker named Percy attempted to "save" him. (He had, in fact, already been killed for trying to sneak off the road.) Only the intervention of the local police kept her from being executed. The second instance was when a spectator's dog ran across the road in front of the Walkers and was immediately shot.

Garraty becomes closest to McVries, a boy with a prominent facial scar who joined the walk as a means of suicide.

After five days and hundreds of miles of walking, the Walk eventually comes down to Garraty and Stebbins - who reveals himself to be the illegitimate son of the Major and the "rabbit" set up in the race to make the others walk further. At the end of the book, Garraty decides to give up after realizing that Stebbins has shown almost no weaknesses over the duration of the Walk. Garraty catches up with Stebbins to tell him this, but before he can speak, Stebbins grabs his shirt, says "Oh, Garraty!", collapses and dies; thus Garraty is declared the winner.

At this point, in a severely degenerated mental state, Garraty sees a "dark figure" beckoning to him. Some readers have interpreted this dark figure to be recurring Stephen King villain Randall Flagg, who is often referred to as "The Walkin' Dude" or "The Dark Man" (this is notably mentioned in the book The Stephen King Universe by Wiater, Golden & Wagner). A second speculation comes from Stebbins' earlier reference about the souls of the walkers being close by, and that the dark figure is the specter of either McVries or Baker. A final speculation is that since Garraty "knows the figure like he knows himself," is actually chasing a figment of his own personality--his hope, which he believed was lost after Freeport. Ignoring (or most likely unaware of) the celebration going on around him, Garraty gets up from Stebbins' side and walks after the dark figure; when someone - possibly the Major himself - tries to grab him, he begins to run.

Backdrop

The Walk takes place in a near-future United States, however one stemming from an alternate history, as can be deduced from a reference to "the German air-blitz of the American East Coast during the last days of World War II" and the quote about the "New Hampshire Provo Governor, a man known for having stormed the German nuclear base in Santiago nearly single handed back in 1953." The details of ordinary life are intentionally left vague, however, bits and pieces of information can be gleaned from the boys' conversations. Evidently there was some kind of military takeover of the government, although it's never clear if it was internal or external. There is a reference to 51 states, but at other times states are referred to as "regions." The governor is referred to as a "Provo governor". References to "Squads" are made. The Squads can take people away for many offenses, including speaking out against the Walk or trying to back out of it if chosen to participate. Civil rights were clearly restricted. Garraty's father was squaded. The entire concept of the Long Walk seems to be of "bread and circuses," a deliberate attempt by the unseen rulers to placate the masses, while simultaneously breaking down their spirits.

Characters

  • Peter McVries - Peter McVries is a well-muscled and athletically fit young man with a sardonic sense of humor and a cynical attitude. He creates the idea for the Musketeer group and bonds with Garraty, even saving his life several times throughout the Walk. Continually providing advice for Ray, he admits early that he will probably lose this game, and is waiting to die. He reveals that he was once in love with a girl, but the relationship fell apart due to financial differences, leaving him with a prominent scar on his cheek and a suicidal depression. This masochistic streak manifests several times by incurring the anger of the other walkers with his "musketeer" attitude, his random attitude shifts between confiding in others and pushing them away, and an antagonistic relationship to Barkovitch. Pearson remarks that the Walk is a form of self-punishment for McVries and that he should have a "Beat Me Hard" sign around his neck. During one speculative moment, he tells Ray that at some point in the game when he can no longer go on, he may simply sit down and wait to die. When the Walk comes down to the final three - himself, Garraty, and Stebbins - he keeps his word and sits cross-legged in the street. Garraty attempts to save him but McVries is resigned to his fate. Before the end he opens his eyes and smiles at Garraty one last time before being killed by the soldiers.
  • Stebbins - Stebbins is the strangest of the original named group, and is the last Walker to die before Garraty. Though he takes the first warning of the Walk, Olson comments that this was a "smart move," since he takes a warning while he's fresh and established the lower end of the pace. Quietly, he establishes himself as a loner and walks separately from the group, talking to no one. Garraty is strangely drawn to Stebbins and engages in conversation with him several times. Stebbins has many strange mannerisms, often talking in riddles to Garraty to teach him a vital lesson--and then later recanting them as lies. After Scramm's death, Stebbins becomes the odds-on favorite, having shown no sign of fatigue and being described as "like diamond" and impossible to wear down. However, he breaks down near the end of the book and reveals to Garraty his goal all along - he is the Major's illegitimate child. His Prize for winning the Walk would have been for the Major to publicly acknowledge him; to "[b]e taken into my father's house", as he puts it. Unfortunately, the Major apparently knew all along that Stebbins was his bastard son, and psychologically distanced him to make him a "rabbit" -- referencing the mechanical lure used in a greyhound race to keep the dogs running -- so that he will provoke the other walkers into pushing longer and harder trying to "catch" him. Stebbins eventually succumbs and falls dead after desperately clawing at Garraty.
  • Art Baker - Art Baker is one of the first Walkers to befriend Garraty during the Long Walk and is also one of the Musketeers. Friendly and sincere, he is the most honest character during the walk, and is the least prone to speaking either cryptically or in metaphors. He is also one of the last Musketeers (aside from Stebbins and McVries) to die. After a short bout of delirium, he stumbles to the ground, cutting his forehead and rupturing something internally until he begins hemorrhaging slowly from his nose. Right before he is killed, he asks Garraty for a final favor if Garraty wins the Long Walk. He wants a "lead-lined" casket - a reference to an earlier conversation about Baker's late uncle, an undertaker. Garraty is sobbing and asking him to "walk a little further" but Baker can't. He also asks Garraty not to "watch 'em do it" when the soldiers kill him. He then shakes Garraty's hand, turns around, and is killed. Garraty reacts so strongly to his death that he can barely keep walking.
  • Hank Olson - From early on, Hank Olson cracks jokes and insults the other competitors. He believes he has an edge over the other walkers, having been told by the Major to "Give 'em hell." However, Olson tires very early in the game, becoming a "hollow shell." Despite his exhaustion, he continues to walk, seemingly oblivious to the world. Garraty compares Olson's demeanor to that of the Flying Dutchman as he is manned even when "the entire crew is dead." Stebbins refers to Olson as a demonstration of the power of the mind to control the body, because though mentally succumbed to fatigue, Olson can still walk. His fellow walkers can only watch in pity and foreboding. Surprisingly, Olson outlasts the majority of the walkers, finally admitting to Garraty that he "does not want to die." A haggard mess, he at last attempts to climb the halftrack, and is shot several times by the soldiers. To the shock and awe of his fellow walkers, he continues to stand and walk. Eventually, his intestines begin to spill out of his stomach "like sausage" and he dies after lifting his hands to the sky and shouting "I DID IT WRONG!"
  • Gary Barkovitch - Barkovitch cements himself as a loud-mouth walker whom everyone hopes to outlast. He first provokes another boy named Rank, leading to an altercation resulting in Rank's death. Because of this, the other walkers turn against Barkovitch and refer to him as "killer". McVries states several times that his only goal in life is to outlast Barkovitch. However, in a touching moment with Garraty, Barkovitch admits that he wishes he had friends, and that he just doesn't know how to act any other way. Then he agrees to help donate some of the winning proceeds to Scramm's young wife. Later, he reverts to his previous demeanor and hassles the other walkers. The others realize that Barkovitch has finally lost his mind, the intensity of the walk too much for him. At some point during the night, several shots are heard and Garraty asks if it is Barkovitch who has been killed. Barkovitch, however, yells from the back of the crowd he's not finished yet. He then screams in agony, tears out his own throat, and is shot by the soldiers.
  • Collie Parker - The roughneck of the walkers, Parker, or 'Collie' as he is referred to in the story, is the most vocal of the walkers in his disgust towards the soldiers, the game, and the crowds. He continually makes remark on the "damn Maine weather," ribs Garraty about coming from a "the most fucked-up state in the fifty-one," and uses excessive profanity. While Ray Garraty is dozing, he wakes to hear a loud gunshot, and thinks another walker has "bought his ticket". To his surprise, he sees Collie holding one of the soldier's carbines, stolen from a sleeping soldier during the shift change. Parker has killed the soldier, and yells for the other boys to join the fight. The other soldiers shoot him in the back. Collie fires two shots as he falls to the ground, the bullets ricocheting into the crowd, then tries and fails to say "bastard" before dying.
  • Scramm - A likable young man, depicted as a simple soul who dropped out of school and married early, Scramm is the "Vegas favorite", with 9 to 1 odds. Despite being the predicted winner of this year's Long Walk, having been described as "moose-like" and able to walk long distances with little difficulty, Scramm succumbs to pneumonia. Realizing his time is almost up, he thanks his fellow walkers for agreeing to help his wife with their financial problems and informs them that he is ready to die. He then walks towards Mike and Joe, two Hopi Indian Walkers. Mike has developed stomach cramps. Scramm, Mike and Joe walk and talk before deciding on a course of action. Scramm, and Mike head to the side of the road towards the crowd. They then flip off the crowd, yell insults, and sit in conversation. Then they are run over by the halftrack.
  • Jan - Ray Garraty's girlfriend from home, with whom he has a steady relationship. He establishes Jan early on as a symbol of his life, and as encouragement to keep walking. When the news that Garraty has been picked as a Walker is revealed, Jan is extremely distraught and fights with Garraty in an unsuccessful attempt to have him back out of the event. In the first half of the book he determines to keep walking until he reaches his hometown, so he can see her. When the Walkers finally reach the town, Garraty can only embrace her briefly before being ripped away by McVries to save him from being shot by the soldiers.
  • The Major - Little to no biographical information is presented about the Major within the book, but due to Stebbins' testimony, it is inferred that he is at the very least in his mid-to-late thirties and has been running the Long Walk for at least 13 years. A pristine, methodical man known for his punctuality and decorum, his first appearance is at the starting line, meeting each walker, passing out their respective numbers, and starting the race quietly with his signature phrase: "Luck to all." He strategically reappears whenever the walkers break a major record and at predetermined sections of the track, and while the walkers continue to build animosity for the Major, calling him a murderer and sadist, they often cannot help but cheer him during each appearance. He appears at the end of the race, ready to offer Garraty the prize, but is mostly unrecognizable to Garraty, who initially mistakes him for a "damn fool" who should not commit a capital crime by driving on the road. This is the only time that anyone in the book overlooks the Major.
  • The Crowd - The long walk bystanders play an increasingly significant role as the walk progresses. While no one is allowed to witness the beginning of the race (it is rumored to ruin the walkers' concentration), they are allowed to appear with more frequency by the squads as the race progresses. Bystanders come from all over the nation to cheer walkers with signs, and frequently yell slogans to encourage them. Garraty sees several calling him "Maine's own" and several stating "Go Go Garraty," which he initially takes as a strong encouragement. As the race progresses, the crowd influence becomes more intrusive, with several bystanders trying to give aid to the walkers by selling cokes, giving away watermelon, or in one case, a walker's mother attempts to pull him from the race. The walkers alternately embrace the crowd and members of it, notably Garraty taking a warning to neck with a girl and Gribble making sexual advances leading to his demise. As the volume, sheer numbers, and intensity of the crowds build, the walkers become more hostile and paranoid. One walker, seeing the crowd ahead swelling and threatening to close up the road entirely, goes insane, claiming that they will "eatusup" over and over again until he is shot by the soldiers. Finally, as Stebbins predicted, the walkers begin to ignore the crowds almost completely, as the finalists are focused only on the road and each other.

Death list

The asterisk (*) indicates that the walkers were mentioned dead at the same time, meaning that there is no way to determine exact order. (Note: Most "Reasons of Death" indicated with a "?" resulted from a walker dropping below 4mph too often.)

Order Name Number Reason for Death
1. Curley, ? No. 7 Charley horse
2. Ewing, ? No. 9 Blisters
3. Toland, ? No. ? Slowed down too often
4. Zuck, ? No. 100 Excessive bleeding from scraped knee
5. Travin, ? No. ? Slowed by diarrhea, shot when sitting down to empty bowels
6. Fenter, ? No. 12 Foot cramp
7. Larson, ? No. 60 Fatigue - sat down and couldn't get back up
8. Unknown boy No. ? ?
9. Toland, ? No. ? Fainted
10. Unknown boy No. ? ?
11. Unknown boy No. ? ?
12. Unknown boy No. ? ?
13. Baker, James No. 4 ?
14. Rank, ? No. ? Fighting with Barkovitch, fell down and got up dazed
15. Unknown boy No. ? ?
16. Percy No. ? Shot while trying to escape into the woods
17. Unknown boy No. ? Fell down
*18. Unknown boy No. ? ?
*19. Unknown boy No. ? ?
*20. Unknown boy No. ? ?
*21. Unknown boy No. ? ?
*22. Unknown boy No. ? ?
*23. Unknown boy No. ? ?
*24. Unknown boy No. ? ?
*25. Davidson, ? No. 8 ?
26. Unknown boy No. ? ?
27. Unknown boy No. ? ?
28. Yannick, ? No. 98 ?
29. Unknown boy No. ? Convulsions
30. Gribble, ? No. 48 Blue balls
31. Harkness, ? No. 49 Fatigue- "Burnt out"
32. ?, Percy No. 31 Tried to escape into the woods
33. Unknown boy No. ? ?
34. Unknown boy No. ? ?
*35. Wayne, ? No. 94 ?
*36. Unknown boy No. ? ?
37. Morgan, Frank No. 64 ?
38. Unknown boy No. ? ?
39. Unknown boy No. 38 Feet run over by escorting half-track.
40. Unknown boy No. ? ?
*41. Tressler, ? No. 92 Sunstroke
*42. Unknown boy No. ? Convulsion
*43. Aaronson, ? No. 1 Cramps in both feet
*44. Unknown boy No. ? Sunstroke
45. Unknown boy No. ? ?
46. Unknown boy No. ? ?
47. Unknown boy No. ? ?
48. Jensen, ? No. ? Panic & blundered off of road due to hailstorm
49. Unknown boy No. ? Fainted
50. Fenum, Roger No. 13 Fainted
51. Unknown boy No. ? ?
52. Unknown boy No. ? ?
53. Olson, Hank No. 70 Shot while attempting to hijack escorting half-track
54. Unknown boy No. ? ?
55. Unknown boy No. ? ?
56. Unknown boy No. ? ?
57. Unknown boy No. ? ?
58. Unknown boy No. ? ?
*59. Scramm, ? No. 85 Pneumonia/sat down
*60. ?, Mike No. ? Stomach cramps/sat down
61. ?, Joe No. ? Unwilling to desert brother Mike/sat down
62. Unknown boy No. ? ?
63. Gallant, ? No. ? ?
64. Milligan, ? No. ? Severe headache from cheering
65. Unknown boy No. ? ?
66. Unknown boy No. ? ?
67. Quince, Harold No. ? ?
68. Barkovitch, Gary No. 5 Ripped out his own throat
*69. Unknown boy No. ? ?
*70. Unknown boy No. ? ?
*71. Unknown boy No. ? ?
*72. Unknown boy No. ? ?
*73. Unknown boy No. ? ?
*74. Pearson, ? No. ? Vomiting; shot that night
75. Field, Charlie No. ? ?
76. Unknown boy No. ? ?
*77. Klingerman, ? No. 59 Appendicitis
*78. Unknown boy No. ? ?
*79. Unknown boy No. ? ?
80. Tubbins, ? No. ? Insanity
81. Unknown boy No. ? ?
82. Parker, Collie No. ? Shot after attempting to hijack escorting half-track
83. Wyman, Marty No. 97 Lay down
84. Sledge, Bobby No. ? Tried to escape into the crowd
85. Unknown boy No. ? ?
86. Unknown boy No. ? ?
*87. Unknown boy No. ? ?
*88. Unknown boy No. ? ?
*89. Unknown boy No. ? ?
*90. Unknown boy No. ? ?
*91. Unknown boy No. ? Exploded
92. Abraham, ? No. 2 Fever-induced fatigue
93. Pastor, Bruce No. ? ?
94. Fielder, George No. ? Insanity
95. Hough, Bill No. ? ?
96. Rattigan, ? No. ? ?
97. Baker, Art No. 3 Hemorrhage
98. McVries, Peter No. 61 Sat down
99. Stebbins, ? No. 88 Sudden death due to fatigue

Hints and Procedures

All Walkers receive a handbook of sorts that included "hints," and several are featured prominently in the novel:

  • Hint 13: Conserve energy whenever possible.
  • Hint 6: Slow and easy does it.
  • Hint 3: Do not, repeat, do not wear sneakers. Nothing will give you blisters faster than sneakers on a Long Walk.
  • Hint 12: (not stated specifically, but recommends wearing white athletic socks)
  • Hint 10: Save your wind. If you smoke ordinarily, try not to smoke on the Long Walk.

Each year, thousands of teenage boys apply to take part in the Long Walk. Applicants are put through a series of tests, including an essay in which they explain why they believe themselves qualified to participate. Those who pass are entered into a lottery drawing that is broadcast nationwide on television. Two hundred names are drawn, with 100 classified as "Prime Walkers" (first picks to participate) and 100 as backups; however, no announcements are made at this time as to which is which. The drawing takes place well before the Walk, with several deadline dates in between the two for boys to withdraw. If someone does withdraw, the first available backup Walker (based on the order in which names were drawn) is moved up to take his place. Notifications as to Prime or backup status are not sent out until the final withdrawal deadline, which is the day before the Walk begins.

The Route

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

Frank Darabont has secured the rights to the film adaptation of the novel. He said that he would "get to it one day". He plans to make it low-budget, "weird, existential, and very self contained".

Editions

  • ISBN 0-606-16924-5 (prebound, 1999)
  • ISBN 0-451-19671-6 (mass market paperback, 1999)

References

External links

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