The Long Walk, like The Running Man and The Regulators, is a novel that was penned under Stephen King’s pseudonym, Richard Bachman. There’s something a bit more sadistic about King’s Bachman books, which may very well be why he began writing them under a penname. The Long Walk, however, might just be the most disturbing and depressing of the Bachman books.
The Long Walk takes place is dystopian future where hope is no longer a commodity. The story itself surrounds a contest involving 100 contestants – all young boys – who must continue walking at four miles per hour until only one contestant is left standing. The grand prize and, as it is, the only prize, is that the winning contestant will receive whatever it is in life they most desire. Contestants who either stop or fall below the four mile per hour guideline are given a warning. After the third warning, the contestant is shot by one of the contest guardsman who watch from the halftracks. The contest itself is overseen by a mysterious, authoritative figure that goes by the title of “The Major.”
The protagonist of the story is a 16-year-old boy by the name of Ray Garraty. During his walk, he befriends three other walkers. After Garraty watches his friends shot down one by one, he grows increasingly delirious, frightened, and hopeless.
Reminiscent of the Roman-era coliseum bloodbaths, the spectators care little for who wins. It’s only the death of the losers that they come to see. However, it is the suspense of seeing what finally happens to Garraty that keeps readers turning the pages.
The Long Walk, while depressing and surreal, is also highly metaphorical as readers watch Garraty as he in turn watches his friends die one by one as they attempt to make it toward their life’s goal. It’s flinchingly devastating to watch the characters go through such psychological trauma as they push their minds and bodies to the limit.
Like the Cell much later, King leaves his readers hanging on the very last page, forcing them to decide for themselves what the outcome actually is. However, unlike Cell, The Long Walk is a true achievement among King’s works.
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