The Long Walk

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The Long Walk
TheLongWalk-BookCover 8066.jpg
First edition cover
Written by: Stephen King
Central Theme:
Synopsis: One hundred teenage boys are forced to take part in a death march until only one is left alive.
Genre(s): Dystopian horror
First published: July 1979
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The Long Walk is a 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 & hardback. Set in a near future, the plot revolves around the contestants of a gruelling walking contest, held annually by a somewhat despotic and totalitarian version of the United States of America. The rules of the titular Long Walk are as follows (at least the ones that are mentioned in the novel):

  • Consistently maintain a speed of at least 4 MPH
  • No aid is to be given by a civilian to any Walker, nor should a Walker accept it
  • Interference with any of the Walkers, even by another Walker, is strictly forbidden
  • Violation of any of these rules incurs a Warning
  • If a Walker manages to go on walking for an hour without receiving a Warning, one of his Warnings is removed
  • If a Walker violates a rule when he has accumulated three Warnings already, he buys a ticket
  • The first Walker to finish, or the last one left alive, wins anything he wants for the rest of his life

Not to be confused with the retirement option for judges.

Tropes used in The Long Walk include:
  • All There in the Manual: Only some rules of the Long Walk are mentioned, but the ones that get the most mention are Hint 13 (conserve wind) and Rule 8 (no interference with other Walkers).
  • Alternate History: A blink-and-you-miss-it example where Garraty narrates about a landscape view reminding him of the German air-blitz on the American East Coast during the last days of World War II.
    • Another example mentions a man who lost a leg to radiation storming a German nuclear bunker in 1953, suggesting the war went on for around another decade.
  • Ambiguously Gay: McVries seems to have feelings for Garraty that extend beyond friendship at times. At one point, he asks Garraty "Would you let me jerk you off?"
    • Although his relationship with Priscilla would make it closer to ambiguously bi.
    • Also, Garraty. After all, he doesn't exactly say no when McVries offers to jerk him off.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: Anyone who is too "political" or vocal against the government is taken away by the Squads.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Subverted. Ewing is the first Walker mentioned to be black and he is not the first to die. The first dead Walker's ethnicity is not mentioned, implying that he is white.
  • Bread and Circuses: The Long Walk is a popular source of entertainment for citizens across the country, inspiring bets on favorite Walkers and how many miles the Walk will last, for example.
  • Cry Into Chest: Garraty cries into Olson's chest in the middle of Olson's Rasputinian Death
  • Day of the Jackboot: The United States has been turned into a dictatorship.
  • Deadly Game: 100 teenage boys are selected to participate in the titular "Long Walk" and only one is left alive by the end of it.
  • Death Seeker:
    • Pete McVries. He once had a romantic relationship with a girl that fell apart due to financial differences between the two and this is the reason he signed up for the Walk in the first place. Pearson even wonders how badly McVries wants to die.

Pearson: Jesus, what do you think? He oughta be wearing a 'BEAT ME HARD' sign. I wonder what he's trying to make up for?

    • Garraty becomes one by the very end. He's so mentally and physically worn-down by that point that he only wants to keep walking, and thinks his prize will be his own death. A dark figure then appears to guide him on, who may or may not be The Grim Reaper.
  • Determinator: What you have to be to even make it to the halfway point, let alone win. A particularly gruesome example is Hank Olson, who makes it just past the halfway point entirely on sheer force of will as both his body and his mind had completely broken down by then. He even gets shot through the gut and that doesn't immediately faze him.
  • Disappeared Dad: Garraty's dad had negative views against the government and was very vocal about it, going so far as to take Garraty to see a Long Walk when he was younger so that Garraty could see how horrible it was. He was ultimately "Squaded," slang for being taken away by the Squads and possibly Released to Elsewhere.
  • Driven to Suicide: Barkovich. He rips out his own throat.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Scramm, knowing full well he can't finish the Walk with such an advanced case of pneumonia, and Mike, one of two Hopi brothers who gets struck with severe abdominal cramping. Instead of just falling over and taking it, Scramm says his goodbyes, talks with Mike who bids goodbye to his brother, and walks into the escorting half-track's path. They flip the half-track off, insult the soldiers approaching them and sit down to talk while they wait for death.
  • Get a Hold of Yourself, Man!: When Garraty experiences a fit of laughing madness and incurs three Warnings during said fit, McVries intervenes, holding Garraty up to keep him going so he doesn't get a ticket and attempting to verbally coax him out of it. Eventually, McVries slaps Garraty to get him to snap out of it before he gets his ticket, getting himself a Warning in the process of this act.
  • Go Out with a Smile: Pete McVries When he feels he can't go on for much longer, he sits down in the road and smiles at Garraty as he is shot by the soldiers.
  • The Grim Reaper: The possible identity of the dark figure at the end.
  • Heroic Vow: Once word gets out among the Walkers that Scramm has a pregnant wife after Scramm himself is going to die, they make an agreement that whoever wins the walk will help his newly made widow.
  • Jerkass: Gary Barkovich. Not only does he manage to make enemies out of most of the other Walkers, but he even manages to goad an already-enraged and violent Rank to exhaust himself, resulting in his elimination.
  • Kill'Em All: Every contestant save for Ray Garraty dies during the Walk, and it looks he won't have long to live either, even though he won. It's mentioned earlier in the story that most of the previous Walks' winners died not long after due to the immense physical and psychological strain it placed on them.
  • Laughing Mad: Garraty experiences this at one point and draws three Warnings in his fit of laughing madness but McVries slaps him to snap him out of it.
  • Never a Self-Made Woman: The only girls and women who are mentioned (especially by name) or appear in the plot action are girlfriends and family members of the Walkers, who are all male. Justified, though, because The Long Walk only allows male teenagers to compete and the plot is basically the events of the Walk.
  • Nobody Poops: Averted. Much is made about how the Walkers unzip to pee right as they are Walking. As well, one Walker dies because he stopped to squat due to a case of diarrhea and incurred three Warnings as well as buying his ticket before he could even finish up his business. Also, a big deal is made about Baker squatting to pass a turd on the road and surviving, incurring only two Warnings in the process.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: Olson gives two examples as he is trying to hang on for just a little longer.

Garraty: God's garden? What about God's garden, Olson?
Olson: It's full. Of. Weeds.

  • pause*

Olson: I.

  • pause*

Olson: I don't. Want. To die.

  • Pyrrhic Victory: Garraty is the Pyrrhic Victor of the eponymous Long Walk by virtue of having outwalked 99 other male teenagers. However, he's also watched most of them die, including those he had established a rapport with, and is at the point where his physical and mental health have greatly deteriorated and he welcomes the prospect of his own death.
  • Raging Stiffie: Gribble, who feels up a young woman watching the walk. The sexual frustration is enough to slow him down sufficiently to incur his ticket.
  • Rasputinian Death: Olson. He is first shot in the belly, then he gets up and continues walking. Then he is shot a couple more times in his belly, causing his intestines to visibly spill out and he is still walking through this. Eventually, the soldiers put two more bullets in him and take him away.
  • Released to Elsewhere: At the beginning of the book, all the reader knows is that if a Walker commits any offense, then they get a Warning and if he commits one more when he's already got three Warnings accumulated, he "buys a ticket." It then turns out that "buying a ticket" is a euphemism for being executed by the escorting solders
  • Sanity Slippage: Practically everyone suffers from this at some point. Or at least, those who survive long enough do.
  • Suicide Attack: Hank Olson and Collie Parker both try to overtake one of the escort half-tracks by force. Both of them fail, but while Parker got off light, Olson was made an example of.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: No one featured directly in the plot gets pregnant with or is one of these babies, but Scramm has a wife who is pregnant with his baby and with his death has made the baby an example of this trope.
  • There Can Be Only One: There is no set distance for the Walk. It just goes on until there is only one survivor.
  • Too Dumb to Live: A walker who dies early on was wearing sneakers, despite the rulebook that the contestants were given in advance explicitly telling them not to do so, as no other type of footwear will help develop blisters faster on long distances. Predictably, he develops blisters pretty soon, and is ticketed after walking at the required speed becomes too painful for him one time too many. Garraty even discusses it in his internal monologue.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Stebbins reveals that he is the illegitimate son of the Major and therefore, he only expects his "Prize" to be for him to "be taken into [his] father's house" and acknowledged as the Major's son.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: An interesting example with Olson, who has bought his ticket and was shot multiple times in the belly to the point where his intestines are spilling out, but he keeps right on walking. After this, the soldiers simply shoot him in the head and carry him off.
  • Your Head Asplode: The very first elimination gives everyone a good idea of how serious the rules of the competition are.