Scandalous! Is Stephen King's Original Version of THE STAND Better Than the Uncut Edition?

I am a fervent Stephen King fan. I have read everything he's ever published, often multiple times. I've seen every adaptation. I've defended him countless times against detractors. I wrote him a fan letter when I was a pre-teen and he in turn mailed me an inscribed publisher's copy of Wizard and Glass, to this day the single most exciting piece of mail I've ever received. I think King is a brilliant writer who creates some of the most memorable characters and narratives of any author I've ever read. I am the walking, breathing representation of King's Constant Reader.

So please understand that I take no joy in saying this: The Stand was a better book before it was uncut. 

In 1978, Doubleday released the original edition of The Stand, a book that was 823 pages. The publishing house believed that King's original 1168 page manuscript was too long and intimidating for readers, so they cut out nearly a third. In 1990, after King's popularity skyrocketed thanks to the success of books like ItMisery, and the first two Dark Tower novels, Doubleday re-released The Stand with the missing pages included, a massive tome that became one of the best-selling books of King's career. 

But were those pages necessary?

Essentially, I think not. I believe King is strongest with the help of a good editorial eye. After all, the man does go on. I love his rambling ways, but the best writers need an editor, someone who's willing to trim the fat and leave a more powerful, muscular piece in its place.  And the truth about King - remember, I love him! - is that nearly everything he's written could use a little fat-trimming. The Stand: Complete & Uncut is an exercise in indulgence, a publishing company catering to its star author without taking into account what's best for that author's work. 

The scenes added to the Complete & Uncut edition don't necessarily add to the book's quality - with two exceptions. The extended scenes between Frannie and her mother make Frannie a more resonant, sympathetic character, and they speak more to her relationship with her father and her conflicted feelings toward her pregnancy. Those pages are gold, and they supplement the original story beautifully.

The other cut scene that I believe should have been included in the original is the coda "The Circle Closes," where Randall Flagg Russell Faraday wakes on a beach after the atomic blast and begins to live as a god among the indigenous people of the South Pacific. I think this scene adds to the epic universal quality of King's works, the connection each of his novels shares and the impression that none of his stories ever end - that they are, in fact, happening every moment. 

However, the scene between The Kid and Trashcan Man with the gun buggery? Unnecessary! That scene somehow skates the line between disgusting and tedious. The chapter titled "No Great Loss," detailing the rape fears of a one-off character? That chapter was no great loss. All of the additional government paranoia pages only belabor a fairly obvious point, and the extended nuclear warhead scene only stalls the momentum at a critical point in the climax. 

However, the Complete & Uncut edition offers something of an improvement over the original in that King updated the temporal setting. Larry Underwood's hit single is no longer a disco tune but a bluesy riff, for instance. An ideal version of this book would exist with the timeline updates made by King for the Complete & Uncut version and with the two added scenes listed above, but without the 300 extraneous pages that bog down a truly riveting story. 

Anyway, this is all a moot point. It's nearly impossible to find a copy of the original The Stand these days, as the Complete & Uncut edition is the only version on shelves. I borrowed the original from my library when I was in middle school, and was later gobsmacked when I bought the book only to find it 400 pages longer and considerably less streamlined. 

I still think The Stand: Complete & Uncut is a tremendous achievement, a book that has captured the fear and fixation of a nation -- of the world -- for decades. No one can craft a character, shape a paragraph, whittle a conflict like King. But he should trust his editors, because an objective eye is often in the right. As writers, we grow attached to our words. We birth sentences and then develop a mean case of postpartum attachment. But we must remember, no matter how great we become - they're not all gems. That's what editors are for.

Have you read both versions of The Stand? Which do you prefer?

Get The Stand: Complete and Uncut at Amazon

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Adam Johnson's picture
Adam Johnson from Minnesota is reading The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon August 24, 2012 - 8:59am

I've only read the Uncut version, and to say I disliked it is an understatement. A surprise to be sure. Well, best to let me explain ...

I've always been a voracious reader, but didn't cotton to horror in my early years so I avoided King's work like Cap'n Tripps, despite loving many film adaptations of his work as I got older. That, combined with his sheer fame drew me close to reading him more than a few times. Then, two things pushed me over the edge:

1. My wife, like Meredith (here's where I should point out they are not the same person) is a King uber-fan, and we've had lots of discussions about The Dark Tower series (including spoilers, as I assumed I'd never read them, especially as she had some unkind words about the last two installments). So I thought I should jump in, but just had to decide the "best" book to tackle.

2. I fell in love with LOST, still my favorite TV show of all time, warts and all. I read a half dozen great books due to their connections with the show (The Third Policeman, Everything That Rises Must Converge, etc.) and creator Damon Lindelof revealed that not only was The Stand his favorite book, there was a copy of it in the LOST writers room at all times. (Also, the character of Charlie Pace was based on Underwood.)

So that was that. And then I read it ...

I guess "deeply flawed" would best describe my impression of it. I've since read other King works I've liked better so it's not just him (though I still cringe at approximately half the dialogue his characters utter. STOP TRYING TO BE SO CUTESY CLEVER, Steve! People don't talk like that, and if they did they would be unbearable.)

There were the characters who never justified their existence. There was the [SPOILER ALERT] more-or-less literal deus ex machina at the climax that made me wonder why we'd bothered to follow all these characters if they had so little impact upon the outcome of the story. There was the bizarrely naive "city council" arc where characters would suggest extremely obvious no-brainer solutions to simple problems and everyone reacted like they were geniuses.

And in the suspension of disbelief department: the biggest problem for me was the conceit that every road was so clogged with car wreckage that almost none of the characters even tried to drive cross-country. A) They go to Boulder, Colorado. There is no traffic congestion for hundreds of miles east of Boulder. Ever. B) The world didn't die on the spot. They go the flu and died within days. What's with all the deaths behind the wheel, anyway?

But more than anything, there was so much BLOAT. I really think I'd be far more forgiving of the original version, because the length is really what made it a slog. It gave it this sense of importance that I don't think it really deserves. Despite the epic scale of what's happening, the story feels ... small, which I suppose is why so many people like it. But it just ... I don't know. It just didn't work for me. I didn't particularly care for or about most of the characters.

So yeah. The Stand.

Dennis's picture
Dennis from Los Angeles is reading Necroscope by Brian Lumley August 24, 2012 - 9:04am

Hmm, I've only ever read the Uncut version, but it stands as my favorite King novel and probably one of my favorite novels of all time.  I've always wanted to come back and re-read it, and now you have me intruiged enough to give the original version a try.  

Get this: I was at this huge flea market in Pasadena recently (hosted at the Rose Bowl-- they have it once a month) and a guy there was selling old books.  And he had a 1st printing hardcover of the Cut version.  But he was asking a boatload for it.  Still, it was cool to see and hold it.

ReneeAPickup's picture
Class Facilitator
ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig August 24, 2012 - 9:11am

I have a first ed of the original I bought at a yardsale for 50 cents. I haven't read it to compare to the Uncut, only because I'm quite afraid it would fall apart.


Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading Library Books August 24, 2012 - 9:17am

I've never read either, but from what I've heard, aren't there incongruities in the Uncut version as far as the updating of the timeline?

Dave P's picture
Dave P August 24, 2012 - 9:50am

Josh: Yes, there are a few issues with the timeline update. For instance, Stu Redman is still implied to be a Vietnam vet despite the fact that in the updated timeline he's impossibly young to have served (or, he's way, way older than Frannie, pick your poison.)

Strange Photon's picture
Strange Photon from Fort Wayne, IN is reading Laurie Anderson lyrics August 24, 2012 - 10:03am

Is gobsmacked a word? I always thought the word was godsmacked, but I could be wrong. I always thought it was a stupid word when I thought it was god-smacked, so I'm secretly hoping for gob.

Adrian Warren's picture
Adrian Warren August 24, 2012 - 10:16am

King writes some excellent some short stories, and some pretty good novels. I've read everything he has written, barring a few impossible-to-get early works. The uncut version of "the Stand" just illustrates his biggest flaw: overwriting. He has admitted that he has poor judgement on how to trim the fat from his novels. As he has become a monolithic presence in pop. lit. people have just come to accept that he writes huge novels. I do like the original "Stand" better, and I am even more annoyed at the New-and-Improved version of the "Gunslinger: DT#1". I think every one of those changes was for the worse. I think his short stories are far, far better than the majority of his novels. Maybe he has an easier time when he has to work under constraint in terms of word count? I don't know. But here is a fun experiment: go all the way back and reread "Carrie". It is VERY different from his later work, and doesn't even really read like one of novels. Oddly, "Rage", written as Richard Bachman, reads very much as a modern Stephen King book despite being being published only three years later ( and probably written either before "Carrie", in the same timeframe, or only slightly after).

Adrian Warren's picture
Adrian Warren August 24, 2012 - 10:18am

@Strange Photon: yes it is goBsmacked. Gob is slang for mouth. It means to be very surprised, apparently as if you were smacked in the mouth by surprise lol.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading Library Books August 24, 2012 - 10:49am

When you are GODsmacked it means your friends have just ironically put the terrible band GODSMACK on the radio to torture you.

FionaT's picture
FionaT from Ireland is reading Stonemouth by Iain Banks August 24, 2012 - 12:28pm

I have read many Stephen King books, and The Stand, like so many others of his, contained a wonderful array of characters and a great storyline, but a lousy ending. That, for me, is his biggest weakness, in all of his books that I have read, I'm always gripped by the fantastic way he sets up a tale, but ultimately somewhat deflated by how it ends.

James Storie's picture
James Storie from Alabama is reading The Fireman August 24, 2012 - 1:01pm

My mother still has the hard back copy of the cut edition. I hope to get that one from her at somepoint and it in with my stuff. I have only read the uncut that I have. I usually find myself wanting more of the authors writing if the publisher cut stuff out. But if they cut stuff out I want it back in the story, not just like this is what the chapter would have read like. I want it fully incorporated.

Meredith's picture
Meredith from Houston, Texas is reading His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman August 24, 2012 - 2:11pm

For those of you Uncut fans who are going to read the Cut version for the first time, I'd love if you would come back and let me know what you think!

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated August 24, 2012 - 3:45pm

A big part of the reason I got into King was his long novels. I often finish a book wishing it had a few hundred more pages, I never get that with a King book.

Erros's picture
Erros August 24, 2012 - 4:20pm

I have only read the cut version when I was in middle school. I just recently got my boyfriend to watch the made-for-TV miniseries with me and I have since been tooling over whether or not to read the uncut version. I own a copy (my mother gave me her entire hardback collection when I moved out), but remember hearing my mom complain about it when she read it when it came out. I can recall her being very pissed off about the inclusion of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle figurine that she deemed an anachronism. She was emphatic that King must have wrote some of the added material after the cut version came out. Anyway, this article has me thinking that maybe devoting that much of my free time towards tackling the uncut version may not necessarily be wise.

Courtney's picture
Courtney from the Midwest is reading Monkey: A Journey to the West and a thousand college textbooks August 24, 2012 - 4:20pm

I haven't read a lot of King, but my favorite of the ones I have read is Under the Dome. It's so incredibly long, but it ultimately felt too short because of the immersion. The plot follows a city that's suddenly cut off from the rest of the earth and the entire story takes place within the dome -- so you're literally in the city, feeling the helplessness of crime that can't be punished because people are so corrupt, trying to reason with God. It's so amazingly in-the-moment that you never realize you're reading hundreds upon hundreds of pages.

It's one of his novels that he abandoned and came back to, so maybe it's the extra time he spent away from it, honing his craft, that made it so good even though it's so ridiculously long. Who knows? It's just fantastic, despite its length.

Boone Spaulding's picture
Boone Spaulding from Coldwater, Michigan, U.S.A. is reading Solarcide Presents: Nova Parade August 24, 2012 - 9:53pm

Read the original publication, the edited version, four times growing up. Read the unedited version four times as well.

Great article, Meredith. Exactly. King read better when he wasn't too popular to be edited.

Began reading my girlfriend's copy of Nightmares & Dreamscapes the other day, while on the toilet. She was reading "The Night Flier." It seemed...not as good as I remembered.

Found my copy of Doug Winter's compilation Prime Evil. Began reading the originally-published "The Night Flier." Wow. Much better.

King is a masterful short story writer, and in the 1970s, a masterful novelist. Bloat and self-indulgence pretty much sums it up.

I'm reminded of the Reader's Digest Condensed Books of my grandmother's, which I read as a child. I believe there could be a great marketing scheme of publishing Stephen King's Condensed Books...

Erik M Held's picture
Erik M Held May 9, 2015 - 9:43pm

I found an original HC at a Traverse City used book story a decade ago but am only now getting around to it. We'll see how it hashes out! My guess is I'll like it better than the "Uncut."

...and that version isn't the original anyway. King has admitted he took the cut material and just rewrote and wrote new material for the second, expanded edition.

What would be wonderful is a published version of the unedited original manuscript.

Carey Grayson's picture
Carey Grayson October 14, 2015 - 2:01pm

I've read several of King's other novels and based on recommendations from friends I read The Stand. I thought it sucked. 

It meandered all over the place. A half million word tome that goes on and on and on because King didn’t know where he was going or how to end it. I wanted to quit so many times, but I kept at it so I could find out what all the fuss was about. What a disappointment. The ending was deeply flawed and dissatisfying considering all I had invested in the characters. Then I found out I read the uncut version. What my friends didn’t know was they had read the first edition. 

Wonder what they would think about the uncut version? 



Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated October 25, 2015 - 8:29pm

I loved the uncut version. Of course I think the genius of King is in the world building, so I didn't care if the plot wandered all over the place.

Orson Bull's picture
Orson Bull July 10, 2016 - 8:01am

From a die-hard uncut version fan.
After reading the cut 5 years after my first reading of his 1990 1300 page release, I felt extremely unsatisfied. Almost like It was a movie adaptation of the book. So much stuff was left out. Maybe I am just saying this because I don't mind reading long books because I generally read them fast. The Uncut Stand was the first S.K. book I read. And it really got me onto his other books.

That being said, I do often tell my friends to read the cut version if they don't have a lot of time on their hands.(I also express my love for the Uncut version)

Lance's picture
Lance January 10, 2017 - 5:47am

can anyone explain why randall in the uncut edition needs paperwork and a car form kitt christpoher brenton anyone?is the paperwork scandal sheets from dark tower series and is the car A BUICK FROM STEPHEN KINGS FROM A BUICK8?,and why would a magician demon need paperwork for a car and why not just take any car? please help

Michael Reed's picture
Michael Reed May 21, 2017 - 7:14pm

How can you not like the No Great Loss chapter? It provides a nice, almost comedic break in the story. Just my opinion.

Mascotkelly's picture
Mascotkelly December 10, 2018 - 10:56pm

Just finished rereading uncut version , originally read it in high school and loved it. seemed so bad in the reread. So much time spent building up characters just to kill them for no real purpose (Nadine, Glen, least nick died to be Tom's"guide"). The hand of God ending...just...meh.and after that MORE about Stu and Tom? Wrap it up G! I still enjoyed the book, it just could have been much much shorter. King and George RR need editors who wont bend to famous authors. Towards the end I started just skimming some paragraphs. I kind of remembered why I stop reading King after the shit weasel aliens...(btw I googled this just to find someone ranting about the uncut being bloated)

tenderfoot's picture
tenderfoot October 28, 2019 - 5:57pm

The following was found elsewhere online and as a loyal fan of the original, I couldn't agree more:

I did a side by side comparison of both books, and it seems that King did a lot of revising and rewriting. Strangely, he makes subtle changes in almost every chapter that make the villains more repulsive and stupid, and the good guys more wise-ass. A lot of scenes, where originally the reader felt for the characters, even if they were "bad", are changed so that the reader is encouraged to sneer at them. One of the most significant examples of this is the story of Nick and the "Good Ole Boys". In the original, the story ends with Nick letting the last of his former tormentors out of jail, a note of forgiveness and shared humanity in the face of the descending plague. The "Uncut" adds a horrid horror-movie coda of another guy coming to gouge Nick's eyes out, and Nick ends up kicking his dead body after their struggle, which gives a much nastier feel to it. All the "Good Ole Boys" have had their dialogue changed to make them sound stupider, or their descriptions are changed to make them seem comical, so that you are laughing at them instead of feeling for them as human beings. Another chapter, involving Lloyd in jail, where in the original one felt for Lloyd, makes his horrible ordeal seem like a big joke on him, and one moment of Lloyd's misery and sadness is sabotaged by King adding a line about Lloyd masturbating, with the snarky line "it was as good a way to get to sleep as any."

King in this "Uncut" version, has, I'm convinced, actively added, not restored, material in which stupid people die, a formerly tragic General wanders around playing with corpses, black and white soldiers humorously gun eachother down on TV, a scene where Flagg tortures a gay man, and a scene where a girl, who in the original buried her father with affection and love, becomes a whiny brat who needs to be shocked into realizing her father is dead by the belching/farting of his corpse. King apparently transplanted the Belching Corpse scene from his novel Pet Sematary, which had a "belching corpse" scene deleted prior to publication, so the ruining of this scene in the Uncut seems to have been motivated purely by the desire to have that deleted scene seen somewhere, even as it ruins a poetic portrait of Frannie's state of mind.

Everywhere in the "Uncut" goofiness proliferates, puncturing the original's focus on the deadliness of the plague, and ignoring the original's poetry and sense of beauty. King overfocuses on sneezing and snot, probably because, when revising, he thought it was funny to do so.

I give the original version of THE STAND maybe 3 1/2 to 4 stars, but this version is so horrible, with King's weird attitude towards the characters and the story itself, that I ought to give it zero stars. If you are thinking of buying this "Uncut" version, please don't. Please try to find a used copy of the original. It's shorter (only 800 as opposed to 1200 pages) and it's a much better read. You'll feel filthy after reading the "Uncut", and most people who recommend this book are recommending the original version. If you want to read this after reading the Original version, there are only a few scenes that seem to match the Original's tone.. One phone conversation between Fran and Jess and a spookey and magical scene with Flagg in a car lot, picking up his car (though it follows the horribly rewritten and goofy scene where Flagg humorously tortures a gay man.)

King says he had trouble with the original's ending, and it is a bit disappointing. Unfortunately, it looks like he took the opportunity to revise this and decided to pretend that he never meant any of it seriously, and graffitied all over what was good about it. You must realize that the man who revised to create this "Complete and Uncut" version was older, more bitter, more angry, and suffering from the afteraffects of years of drug and alcohol abuse. He wasn't in any condition to appreciate the writing of a younger, more ambitious, more poetic man.