The Long Walk: The Sport With No Room To Stop.

Richard Bachman (A.K.A. Stephen King). The Long Walk. New York: Signet Books, 1979.

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The Long Walk Podcast:

-"The Major was studying a stainless steel pocket chronometer. He raised his fingers slowly, and everything hung suspended with his hand. The hundred boys watched it carefully, and the silence was awful and immense. The silence was everything." p. 20

In America’s alternate future the events of the past have lead the nation into a totalitarian, police controlled state. There is reference to 51 states, a German air attack of the East Coast during WWII, and other events that could have but never took place. In this America there is one ultimate mental and physical contest for supremacy. Every year a contest takes place in which 100 teenage boys attempt to out walk each other for a grand prize. The rules are very simple; you must maintain four miles per hour, and whoever walks the furthest wins. However the stakes of this race are different than conventional sporting contests in America’s reality. The walk has no finish line, the race ends when there is only one competitor remaining. Through out the race you can earn warnings for various infractions including slipping below the mandatory four mile per hour pace. Additionally if a competitor earns three warnings he is then ticketed or “buying a ticket” and is removed from the race. There is strict motivation not be ticketed because there are soldiers in tank-like vehicles that line the course, and if ticketed, you will be shot dead and left on the roadside.

-"He shivered convulsively, and his body broke out momentarily in heat-bumps. The headache thumped sickishly behind his eyes . . . how easy it would be to let go of the rope." p. 217

Ray Garraty, who is 16, enters the race and quickly groups up with several other boys that are his competitors. Their new friendships become strained and stressed, because as the race continues they realize that only one of them will win and survive. Ray and others are faced with questions of morality and survival as helping others survive reduces ones own chance of survival.As the walk continues it becomes apparent to the participants that the race is as mentally challenging as it is physically. Many of the contestants fall out due to the overwhelming elements that factor into the race.

-"Olsen swept onward. His face turned into the darkness, and he was moving, yes he was moving. Something was going on here, something was still ticking over, but -"

After walking further than any long walk in history the race is down to just two competitors, Ray Garraty and another boy named Stebbins. At this point the boys have walked for five days and well over 100 miles. Stebbins reveals to Garraty that he is in fact the illegitimate son of the Mayor, the powerful man who runs the long walk contest. It is at this point that Garraty comes to grips with reality that he cannot beat Stebbins and realizes that he too will share a fate with 99 other boys that started this walk. He musters the strength to catch up to Stebbins to tell him he will quit and die, but Stebbins himself collapses and Garraty is then declared winner.

The walk has taken such an intense mental and physical toll on Garraty that he does not even notice the celebration around him, or acknowledge the fact that he has actually won the walking contest. Like other past winners of the long walk the contest has destroyed him and his fate is not different than his friends who could not complete the walk.

-"And when the hand touched his shoulder again, he somehow found the strength to run." p. 370

Recommendations for Teachers

Stephen King's The Long Walk is a fascinating story, that touches on many issues in a teenager's life, while setting the story in an unconventional setting that allows the subjects to be tackled in an entertaining way that does not seem preachy. This is a real bonus for teacher, because SiFi and Fantasy often tackle bigger issue or have hidden meanings; The Long Walk is no different. The number of issues that can be discussed using the long walk is endless .The book can easily be used to explore the role of sports in our culture, with the obvious symbolism of lost youth spending there time reaching for the pros to only have 1 in 100 make it. What is the place of fanaticism in the sporting world and are we going to far, there are many spots where the fan interaction is out of hand. Not mentioning what Long Walk fans will pick up off the road as a souvenir. Issues of fascism are present. The walk can be seen as a metaphor for growing up and losing friends (The Walk itself is a metaphor for any and everything) , there are instances of bullying. This book leads down many roads, the main characters sexuality is doubted as he remembers playing “doctor” with another boy as a child. The subject is approached in such a way that it could hardly be deemed offensive and does not have to be broached at all. One of the reasons he keeps walking is the chance to see his girlfriend waiting up ahead so there is no real answer to the question of Ray's sexuality making it all the better for good discussion fodder. As with many kids cliques form and there are relationship issues told in back-stories. Ray lives in a single parent home were his father was lost to political violence. As Teachers, there is a lot going on in this book and we can only imagine that lot of kids can relate to one of the characters in the story. The one weakness of the book is there are not a lot (or any) female characters of substance. However, this is also a great topic of discussion; girls’ sports routinely play a secondary role to the boys (even in the future). With each reading you can see something new or apply it to something else. With the rise of reality television, you can see it in the long walk even though it did not exist in 1979. The book is a good alternative to 1984 or Fahrenheit 451. The writing is very accessible, making it seem like it not a complex story, and on the surface its not, but like the life’s of students the complexity is not on the surface and as teachers we can use that.

About Name of Author

Photo of "Richard Bachman" (actually Stephen King's literary agent Richard Manuel
Photo of "Richard Bachman" (actually Stephen King's literary agent Richard Manuel
Stephen King
Stephen King

The Long Walk is attributed to Richard Bachman, an alter ego of famed writer Stephen King. Mr. King was born in 1947 in Portland, Maine. He graduated from the University of Maine at Orono in 1970, earning a B.A. in English. After graduating, he spent a few years teaching high school at Hampden Academy in Maine. King published his first novel, Carrie, in 1973. Since then he has gone on to publish over 40 books. Many of King’s works have been made into movies and TV miniseries. He still lives in Maine with his wife Tabitha.

Writing as Richard Bachman, King found his id. Says King, “he said the things I couldn’t, and the thought of him out there on his New Hampshire dairy farm—not a best-selling writer who gets his name in some stupid Forbes list of entertainers too rich for their own good or his face on the Today show or doing cameos in movies—quietly writing his books gave him permission to think in ways I could not think and speak in ways I could not think” (“The Importance of Being Bachman” from The Long Walk by Stephen King, pg ix). King describes the Bachman “state of mind” as “low rage, sexual frustration, crazy good humor, and simmering despair” (King, vii). Bachman was unveiled, to King’s dismay, and subsequently killed off by “cancer of the pseudonym”. There have been seven books in total published under the Bachman pen name, two after his “death”.

Stephen King Lecture and Interview

The first video contains a snippet of a Q & A session with Stephen King at Yale in 2003. Mr. King gives valuable advice to youngsters (or anyone) who aspires to be a writer. This video could be good inspiration for students; not only does King insist that writers have to write a lot, they also must read a lot! The second video is a segment done by Borders, in which Stephan King talks about short stories. He gives his personal thoughts and ideas towards not only on writing short stories, but also toward other genres. It is a helpful and relatively short video, which could be used as a learning tool for the classroom.

Additional Resources:

-- Jake Cagle, Don Ivers, Derek Ochodnicky, and Blaine Sparling (Rumble Fish and Ghost World).