As many of you are probably aware, I've been on a bit of a Stephen King kick lately, and I recently finished reading The Stand. (Final boner count: 26. I just started Gerald's Game, so you can keep up with more boner adventures on the Stephen King's Boners Tumblr.) I am a human being with a brain, so obviously I liked The Stand a lot. But like most King books, once it got down to the last 300 pages or so, I started to get worried that he'd spent too much time wandering around and character-building (in a good way!), and not enough time planning a solid conclusion. Where It felt like it had a climax sort of worthy of the 1,000+ pages that preceded it, The Stand has a deus ex machina device that reads like King is literally defining what that is.
But I forgive him because so much of The Stand is about whether or not God exists, and if evil or something resembling the devil exists, then surely that must mean we have to accept the presence or existence of God. And there's lots of magical, psychic elements that pit coincidence against fate -- that's familiar stuff, sure, but it's still interesting here. So when our heroes who have mysteriously survived a plague take the advice of a 102 year-old woman who has a divine connection and seemingly speaks for God, and head off into the desert to face off with the personification of evil, you kind of expect some weird hocus pocus to happen. And it does, but it feels a bit anticlimactic, as all deus ex machina devices do.
At the heart of the book we have the opposing forces of good and evil: Abagail Freemantle, an elderly black woman who has a strong connection to God and is able to communicate on a psychic level with the survivors of the plague; and Randall Flagg, aka the Walkin' Dude, a man with many other aliases who personifies all things evil and dark. He is a man of technology and science, but he's also a man of madness and destruction, and is described as the kind of guy who can drive you insane just by smiling at you, which is just immensely creepy. Mother Abagail, as she's lovingly called, is a woman of faith who eschews modern conveniences like plumbing -- the woman doesn't even have a proper toilet, but this is why when the plague comes and the whole world goes to hell she doesn't have to worry about not being able to flush her toilet, and if we're being honest, that's something I'm going to be worrying about a lot during an apocalyptic scenario.
There's this wonderful, long chapter in which we get to know Abagail and her entire history. During this chapter, as she walks home from killing the neighbor's chickens and is attacked by weasels set upon her by Randall Flagg, she recalls a terrifying moment from her childhood: a day when she reached under the porch and was bitten by a weasel, and her brother, Richard Freemantle, suggested to their father that it might be rabies. Thankfully it wasn't and she was fine, but why would Richard want to scare her like that? Anyway, Abagail is an old woman and she obviously recalls this day in particular because now she's being attacked by an entire group of hungry weasels. She banishes them swiftly by calling out their evil sender, and that's that.
Flash forward some time to Colorado, where most of the survivors have made it to Boulder, now known as the Free Zone. While Mother Abagail has wandered off into the woods to make herself more humble and get right with God on some crazy Old Testament religious quest, the people of the town hold a meeting, in which one of our main characters, a sociologist named Glen Bateman, talks about the enemy. He notes that Randall Flagg has many aliases they are aware of (and some they are not), but one of them is... Richard Freemantle. Later, Randall Flagg himself says his real name is Richard.
Surely this cannot be a coincidence. I flipped back to the Mother Abagail chapter and scanned through to verify that her brother's name was Richard just to be sure I wasn't making it up. I have thoroughly Googled, but no one is really talking about it. In a book where a major theme is fate and divine purpose, and where coincidence is heartily dismissed, Richard Freemantle cannot be a mistake or something King just wrote in for the hell of it.
Flagg is a character whose nature is cyclical, like all humans, like the entire universe (which also suggests that we and our world are inherently evil, but I digress) -- he recalls being reborn, but never remembers who he was before. He retains knowledge of objects and places and their uses and usefulness, and he knows who he is at heart, but his memories of his own past and his own names are limited and fuzzy. He cannot be destroyed. Every time he dies, he's simply reborn again with a new name, washed up on another shore to start his evil work again and patiently wait for his time to come.
It is said over and over again that you cannot have darkness without light, and that if Flagg is evil incarnate or some representative of the devil, then surely that must mean that God exists and that Abagail is godliness incarnate or a messenger or vessel of God. The act as counterweights, balancing out the universe. You cannot have one without the other. So far as long as Randall Flagg (or whatever his name is) has existed, so has Abagail Freemantle. And maybe her name isn't always Abagail Freemantle, and maybe like Randall Flagg, she can be reborn time and again. If evil and darkness are cyclical, perhaps good and light are, too.
I'm not entirely sure how Flagg fits into Abagail's timeline as her brother, and I'm not saying they were even siblings in Abagail's lifetime, but it is entirely possible that at some point these two opposing metaphysical forces of good and evil crossed paths again and were born into the same family. Maybe that's a part of The Stand Stephen King cut out, but I refuse to believe it's a coincidence -- especially coming from the guy who writes his characters into other books. Everything has a purpose. Everything has meaning. Who is Richard Freemantle, really?