We’ll start this off with a book that’s very popular right now. So you’ve just finished Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games, that not-so-
fun trilogy about a warped, dystopian America where kids compete in the annual “Games” where they fight to the death.
There’s a lot to love about these books. Katniss Everdeen is a fairly bad-ass female protagonist, her love interests of Peeta and Gale are just different enough for rabid fangirls to go back to the tried-but-true ‘Team’ system (I’m Team Peeta all the way.) The tension is present throughout, making The Hunger Games easy to read, though not always easy to stomach.
If something about this world makes it hard to let go after just three books, then venture a little down the bookshelf to the Stephen King section (it’s massive, I know. Eventually I will suggest you read most of these books.) Under a tiny sub-section known as the Bachman Books is The Long Walk.
About the Bachman Books
First, a background. Stephen King, with that whole shelf of books, was such a prolific author that in the late 1970s he wanted to
produce more than one book a year, something that publishing companies advise against because it oversaturates bookshelves with one particular author. So instead of releasing two books a year under Stephen King, he came up with the idea of a pseudonym: Richard Bachman, a darker, crueler person who wasn’t limited to the things Stephen King had already branded himself as — namely, the king of horror.
So the same year The Shining was released under the name of Stephen King, an unknown author called Richard Bachman released a dark semi-horror book called Rage.
Eventually, the connection between the two “different” authors was discovered by Steve Brown bookstore clerk from Washington, D.C. who noticed the similarities in King and Bachman’s writings. A thorough look at publishing documents in the Library of Congress included a page that listed King as the author of one of the Bachman books. Brown contacted King’s publishers with his findings. Two weeks later, an article in the Washington Post announced Bachman’s “death” — the diagnosis was “cancer of the pseudonym.” This was in 1985, when King was working on Misery, which he’d intended to release as a Bachman book.
After Bachman’s “death,” King wrote The Dark Half, a novel about the relationship between an author and the pseudonym that consumes him. Later, The Regulators was released under Bachman’s name in conjunction with King’s Desperation, with the claim that the manuscript had “been found among Bachman’s things.” The character of Richard Bachman also appears in the Dark Tower series.
Why Participate in The Walk after playing the Games?
The Long Walk, like The Hunger Games, is about a competition that only those under the age of eighteen can participate in. There are some notable distances — only boys can sign up, and participating in the Walk is completely voluntary. The lure of the prize at the end — anything you want, anything at all — is enough to get a hundred boys to join every year.
This Walk takes place in Maine (if you’re a King fan, you’re nodding and going ‘of course it does’) and goes on for as long as it needs to. There’s friendships formed, and villains named, but mostly we just learn more about Ray Garraty, our main character. Like The Hunger Games, this is a coming-of-age story, as Garraty recalls what made him participate in the Walk and tries to think of how he can go on with his life after it’s all over.
But the thing to remember is that, unlike The Hunger Games, this was not billed as a Young Adult novel, even if our main character technically is one. The things that happen during the Walk are brutal and cruel and, as Garraty slowly figures out, completely senseless.
The Long Walk is a Hunger Games without the twist of fantasy to make everything seem all right. While the America it takes place in is dystopian, it is not so far gone as Panem and nearly unrecognizable. In fact, most everything seems the same, except instead of the Super Bowl or March Madness being the sporting event of the year, adults all bet on the outcome of the Walk, on which of these 100 boys will win. It’s gritty. It’s real. If you thought children participating in the annual Hunger Games was bad, the circumstances behind the Walk will completely throw you.
But this short book — just under 400 pages paperback — is worth a read. If you’re fascinated by the actual Games in The Hunger Games, you will enjoy everything about The Long Walk.