The Long Walk
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First edition cover
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The Long Walk is a dystopian 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, and has seen several reprints since, as both paperback and hardback. Set in a dystopian present, the plot revolves around the contestants of a grueling walking contest, held annually by a totalitarian version of the United States of America. In 2000 the American Library Association listed The Long Walk as one of the 100 best books for teenage readers published between 1966 and 2000. Stephen King has revealed that it is the first novel he ever wrote, begun eight years before Carrie was published in 1974, when he was a freshman at the University of Maine in 1966–67.
One hundred teenage boys 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 that speed for 30 seconds, he receives a verbal warning. A Walker who slows down again after receiving three warnings is "ticketed." The meaning of this action is intentionally kept vague at first, but it soon becomes clear that "buying a ticket" means to be shot dead by soldiers riding in half-tracks along the roadside. Walkers may be shot immediately for certain serious violations, such as trying to leave the road or attacking the half-track, and are given warnings for minor violations such as interfering with one another. The soldiers use electronic equipment to precisely determine a Walker's speed. A Walker loses one warning for every hour that he stays above the minimum speed.
The event is run by a character known as "The Major." The Major appears at the beginning of the Walk to encourage the boys and start them on their way, and then occasionally thereafter. While the Walkers initially greet him with awe and respect, they ridicule him in later appearances.
The Walk begins at the Maine/Canada border at 9:00 on the morning of May 1 and travels down east coast of the United States until the winner is determined. There are no stops, rest periods, or established finish line, and the Walk does not pause for any reason (including bad weather or darkness); it ends only when one Walker is left alive. According to the rules, the Walkers can obtain aid only from the soldiers, who distribute canteens of water and belts packed with food concentrates (apparently similar to the ones developed by NASA's space program) just before the Walk begins. They may request a fresh canteen at any time, and new food supplies are distributed at 9:00 every morning. Walkers may bring anything they can carry, including food or additional clothing, but cannot receive aid from bystanders. They are allowed to have bodily contact with onlookers as long as they stay on the road. While they cannot physically interfere with one another to detrimental effect, they can help each other, provided they stay above four miles per hour.
The winner receives "The Prize": anything he wants for the rest of his life.
It is implied that many past winners have died soon after the Walk, due to its hazardous mental and physical challenges. 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 mortality. One contestant from past years is described as having actually crawled at four miles per hour after suffering cramps in both feet. Several characters suffer mental breakdowns, one of them killing himself by tearing out his throat, and most characters experience some mental degeneration from the stress and lack of sleep.
The protagonist of the novel is Raymond Davis Garraty, a 16-year-old boy from the town of Pownal in Androscoggin County, Maine. Early on, he falls in with several other boys—including Peter McVries, Arthur Baker, Hank Olson, Collie Parker, Pearson, Harkness, 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 death of a fellow Walker, Rank, who is ticketed after repeatedly trying to assault Barkovitch. Lastly, the most alluring and mysterious Walker is a boy named Stebbins. Throughout the Walk, Stebbins establishes himself as a loner, observing the ground beneath him as he listens to fellow Walkers' complaints, seemingly unaffected by the mental and physical strains. The only character Stebbins truly interacts with is Garraty. In one conversation, Garraty alludes to Alice in Wonderland, likening Stebbins to the Caterpillar. Stebbins, however, corrects him: he believes himself to be more of a White Rabbit type.
Along the road, the Walkers learn that one of their number, Scramm — 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.
Members of the public interfering with the Walkers can receive an "interference" ticket. This nearly occurs when the mother of a Walker named Percy tries, on several occasions, to get onto the road and find her son (at her last attempt, he has already been killed for attempting to sneak away). Only the intervention of the local police keeps her from being executed. The second instance is when a spectator's dog runs across the road in front of the Walkers and is shot. However, one man is able to throw the Walkers watermelon slices before being hauled away by the police rather than the soldiers; several Walkers receive third warnings after taking the watermelon, but none of them are shot.
Garraty becomes closest to McVries, a boy with a prominent facial scar who speculates that his own reason for joining the Walk is a subconscious death wish. When Garraty suffers a short mental breakdown following the death of one of his friends, McVries takes several warnings in order to get him moving again.
By the evening of the fifth day, the Walk has progressed into Massachusetts, the first time in 17 years that it has done so. The only Walkers left are Garraty and Stebbins, who revealed to Garraty and McVries earlier that day that he is the illegitimate son of the Major. Stebbins states he used to think the Major was unaware of his existence, but it turns out that the Major has numerous illegitimate children nationwide. Four years earlier, the Major took Stebbins to the finish of a Long Walk; now Stebbins feels that the Major has set him up to be "the rabbit," motivating others to walk farther to prolong the race, just as rabbits are used in dog races. Stebbins' plan, upon winning the Walk, is to ask to be "taken into [his] father's house" as his Prize. Finally, 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 collapses and dies; thus Garraty is declared the winner.
Unaware of the celebration going on around him, Garraty gets up from Stebbins' side and keeps on walking, believing the race to still continue, as he hallucinates a dark figure not far ahead that he thinks is another competitor. He ignores a jeep coming towards him in which the Major comes to award him the victory, thinking it is a trespassing vehicle. When a hand touches his shoulder, Garraty somehow finds the strength to run.
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- Raymond Garraty (#47) – The novel's main character, a 16-year-old boy from the town of Pownal in Androscoggin County, Maine. His motivation for participating in the Walk is unknown. Throughout the story he thinks back to previous events in his life, particularly those involving his childhood friends and his current girlfriend, Janice. He is the one who ends up winning the long walk.
- Peter McVries (#61) – 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 when McVries incurs 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. He opens his eyes and smiles at Garraty one last time before being killed by the soldiers.
- Stebbins (#88) – Stebbins is the most mysterious of the original named group. He takes the first warning of the Walk, which Olson states is a "smart move," since he takes a warning while he's fresh and has now established the lower end of the pace. Quietly, he establishes himself as a loner and walks separately from the group, at the rear, talks to no one and conserves energy. Garraty is strangely drawn to Stebbins: at first he is sure Stebbins will be the first Walker to be ticketed, but soon he becomes convinced that Stebbins will win. 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 diamonds" and impossible to wear down. He receives only four warnings throughout the Walk prior to his breakdown at the end. 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 is to be for the Major to publicly acknowledge him; to "be taken into my father's house," as he puts it. Unfortunately, the Major apparently knew all along that Stebbins was his bastard son, and does not care, except as a means to manipulate Stebbins into making the race better by making him into 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.
- Arthur Baker (#3) – 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 Garraty and McVries) to die. After a short bout of delirium, he stumbles to the ground, cutting his forehead and rupturing something internally so that he develops a severe nosebleed. 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 longer" but Baker can't. He asks Garraty not to watch the soldiers shoot him, 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 (#70) – 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 although he has physically 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 making a broken admission to Garraty: "I don't. Want. To die." A haggard mess, he at last climbs upon the halftrack, takes a rifle from a soldier and throws it over the side, and afterwards is repeatedly shot in the abdomen by the soldiers so as to inflict maximum suffering and discourage others from storming the halftrack. To the shock of his fellow Walkers, he manages to stand and walk again. Eventually, his intestines begin to spill out of his stomach, and he dies after lifting his hands to the sky and shouting "I DID IT WRONG!"
- Gary Barkovitch (#5) – 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 being too much for him. At some point during the night, several shots are heard, and a walker (Pearson) wonders 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 and tears out his own throat, thereby denying the soldiers their chance to kill him, even though they shoot him anyway in what can be little more than a symbolic gesture.
- Collie Parker – The roughneck of the Walkers, Parker repeatedly voices his disgust towards the soldiers, the game, and the crowds. He continually makes remarks on the "damn Maine weather," ribs Garraty about coming from "the most fucked-up state in the fifty-one," and uses excessive profanity. A gunshot awakens Garraty from his doze, and to his surprise, he sees Parker standing atop the halftrack, having taken a rifle from a soldier during a shift change and killed him. As he yells for the other boys to join the fight, another soldier shoots him in the back, splattering his internal organs all over his clothes. Parker 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 (#85) – 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 catches up to Mike and Joe, two Walkers who are brothers and Hopi Indians. 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 before being killed by the soldiers; Joe is shot sometime later.
- Janice – 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 grasp her hand 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, but likely much longer. A pristine, methodical man known for his punctuality and decorum, he is depicted as never appearing in public without wearing reflective sunglasses (it is speculated that a possible reason for this is that his eyes are "extremely light-sensitive"). According to Garraty's father, he is "a society-supported sociopath," and he bears a strong physical resemblance to depictions of Big Brother from George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. The Major's 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 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 her son 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 that lead 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. The Crowd cheers wildly whenever a Walker is "ticketed," and eagerly collect any souvenirs they can find from the Walkers, including their excrement. Billions of dollars are wagered on the Long Walk.
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."