The Long Walk by Richard Bachman (Stephen King) Book Review takes a look at the first novel Stephen King is said to have ever written, while in college, and was not published until 1979 under the penname of Richard Bachman.
Walking the edge of The Long Walk, as a reader, balances the dichotomies of humanity’s actions toward itself: torturous psychological and physical pain foiled by expectant friendship and self-sacrifice.
And the thematic thumping of the drum of feet on the road!
The language is sharp and there is certainly a darker, glass-half-full aspect that emanates dystopian tropes in King’s book.
And yet, despite the terrific pacing, the immersive world of The Walk that grips the Constant Reader, King still harnesses such great characters, major and minor, that they make their journey yours, and their life-like aspects are so real they are uncanny.
This is a gift King seems to have had from the first, and this hard hitting tale is a great example.
The seemingly unending walk, the pounding of the pavement, goes on and on as though the reader’s suspense and the characters’ own fears will never end.
After the book review, I will also take a look at the two elusive first edition copies of The Long Walk that came out via paperback editions, in the US under Signet in July 1979 and then in the UK under NEL in September 1980.
PLEASE NOTE: The following book review is *SPOILER FREE* and discussion of the plot is tread upon lightly for the sake of readers that have not yet opened the book.
Here is the story synopsis from Stephen King, and the review continues below it.
The Long Walk
Formats: softcover, audiobook
First Edition Release Date: by Signet in 1979 (first US edition) and NEL in 1980 (first UK edition)
In the near future, where America has become a police state, one hundred boys are selected to enter an annual contest where the winner will be awarded whatever he wants for the rest of his life. The game is simple – maintain a steady walking pace of four miles per hour without stopping. Three warnings, and you’re out – permanently. First Edition Release Date: September, 2019
For those looking for an introduction into King’s works, The Long Walk serves up both an insightful glimpse into the human condition, under bleak circumstances, and adds some grimly powerful statements about society as a whole, some of which can certainly be echoed in today’s world.
While many are familiar with The Running Man because of the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie of the same name in the 1980’s (there are few other similarities between the flick and book, one could argue, besides entertainment), few realize that the late Richard Bachman, who, sad to say, succumbed to cancer some years back, spawned some of Stephen King’s finest works, including The Long Walk, Rage, Roadwork, Thinner, and Blaze.
There would have been no Hunger Games without The Long Walk.
In days eerily reflective of our own in America, a police state’s great annual entertainment centers around The Walk, or The Long Walk, contest where 100 teenagers walk from the Maine/Canadian border as far south as it takes to leave one standing.
This is not typical Stephen King horror, though Constant Readers will be quick to point out that “The King of Horror” has written in just about every genre, trope, form of writing, and cross-genre imaginable.
The Long Walk is a near-future dystopian masterpiece of suspense and horror.
The horror here is all in the horrible face of humanity that is shown again and again.
The Walk’s prize is whatever the winner wants . . . for life.
But the price is to take whatever you choose to carry with you and wear on your feet, and then accepting only water and food from the soldiers guarding the foot race, with rifles at the ready.
You have to stay above four miles per hour for the entire time, usually days.
You can change your family’s lives forever by winning it all or by being one of the 99 who run out of warnings, slip below the speed, and get shot by a military rifle.
Young men face life, death, and dig deep into themselves to find the mental toughness many long-distance runners require to accomplish their goals, though the stakes are far far less.
For the main character Raymond Davis Garraty, seeing those he loves waiting for him far down The Walk, his mom and his girlfriend Jan, becomes the most important motivation to continue on day and night, night and day as the miles go bye taking their toll and splattering many young mens’ brains in the unending road before them.
It is the relationships these guys form during The Walk that make the story so moving.
There are some wise-cracking clowns, a mysterious loner, and new friendships made that could cause the lives of their own competition to survive, despite that making the contest that much harder for a friendly Walker to outlive everyone else.
At one point, as a storm nears, Garraty looks on dismayed as a loud mouth, named Barkovitch, taunts another Walker in an attempt to get him to throw a punch and break the rules.
Breaking rules have dark black and white consequences from the “emotionless” soldiers watching incessantly.
Inner strife amongst the young men spurns some, as others form teams, some form shaky alliances, and some swear oaths to one another.
As unlikely events follow seemingly every possible behavior and action, positive and negative, you could imagine during such a trial, The Walk almost seems a test for what an enduring human can be.
Meanwhile, the weather, from heat to rain that threatens to wash out bridges, to lightning and hail storms all play as battle after battle, skirmish after skirmish in the constant war that is the Walk.
There has never been such a gripping tale of camaraderie and humanity like this set amidst a society-induced hell on the road, complete with its own military overseers and Lord Of The Flies-like scenarios.
The only complaint or critique of The Long Walk that I have is that there could have been many more of these tales from previous or future Walk events.
Looking at these books, though they are not small press issue, they are certainly rare collectible books worth examining. Though publication numbers of the two first editions of The Long Walk are unknown, TheDarkTower.org believes the print run to be close to the 75,000 first editions of Rage; the rarity in them is that paperbacks are fragile and not many Very Good and Fine copies survive.
This copy of the UK The Long Walk is a personal favorite of mine.
I prefer the cover art by Gerry Grace in the NEL copy and this book is Very Fine with square corners and white pages – almost As New, except for a slight wrinkle and a tiny white chip near the spine on the front of the cover.
Finding clean, bright covers is difficult in and of itself, but finding spines that are not cracked with one of no lines and pages not yellowed is not easy, and, at times, expensive.
Both the Signet and NEL first editions are starkly ominous and quite spectacular books visually.
The cover art on the American version of The Long Walk (not sure of the artist) highlights the menacing military man overlooking the contestants, as one is about to die.
The Red cover and black, bold font of the title, make it stand out in a “RED ALERT” type of way.
But the NEL UK first edition of The Long Walk is truly a work of beauty.
The cover art by Gerry Grace covers the entire cover, not just a panel, and shows the Walk in full progress, complete with another menacing military man, but this one bearing the rifle that has spilled the blood of one fallen in the road.
The other Walkers amble on, like zombies, exhausted.
One is stumbling, and all are under the armored tank and possible media tank following behind them and shining spotlights to capture the ‘entertainment’ of the Walk at night.
The Beams of light seem to emanate a prison tower, or the Panopticon. And all things serve the Beam.
The Grace UK cover is a fantastic work of art, the title emblazoned in deep crimson, and is even highlighted by a limited Suntup Editions fine art print too (sans red title).
The Forgotten Fiction Grade: YEA (read it and buy ’em if you collect)!
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“The Long Walk By Richard Bachman (Stephen King) Book Review” was written by R.J. Huneke
P.S. If You Like The Hand-made Wooden Case For The Long Walk
Check Out The Rune Works Rare Book Case Page here.
Though designs can be made for others, with a Roman Numeral limited edition of 19 maximum, each one is a unique and truly one-of-a-kind collectible due to the customization of the wood used and the design nuances brought in as each one is hand-crafted.
These wooden cases are archival safe, using methods studied from the Library of Congress and other sources to provide the most protection for the book in each aspect of the Rune Works cases from the use of low acidity woods, like the poplar shown above, to the use of specific clear-coating with protective epoxy to eliminate book aging and paper degradation via off-gassing found in traditional wood stain polyurethane clear coats, to the acid-free padding, satin, rust-resistant hardware, and then the use of UV protective Plexiglass on the front of the case to display the book and its cover art in a setting that is nearly as creative and artistic as the book design itself.
Wooden book cases, for example, are not used in most libraries and The Library of Congress and the Vatican’s archival safe library, because of the breakdown of the wood with off-gassing damaging and aging the paper and other book materials over time – the closest we can get to a powder-coated steel book case is a sealed and
Detailed engravings and personalizations can be added to the side, or spine, of the Rune Works Case too – just as Mr. Bachman’s signature (may he rest in peace) was added to the front of the case above – to save shelf space if one wants to put it in between other books the narrow way, versus book cover side out.
P.P.S. If You Want To Know A Little More About How The Forgotten Fiction Is Different & Our Mission . . .
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The long walk is one of my favorite King stories of all time. Wish they would make a movie of it one day. Great review!
Great review. This story blew me away long before the Hunger Games conception. It’s quite remarkable in its unique style and content for the time.
The Running Man also was extraordinary.
The Long Walk stands as one of my favorite novellas of all time.
Keep these great reviews coming. Love it.