When we think of dystopian novels for teenagers several names come to mind, Robert Cormyr and Chocolate War is first among them. Lord of the flies also but one name that tends to be overlooked today is Stephen King and his short Story the Long Walk despite its being selected as one of the best 100 stories for teenagers in 2000. This is no doubt owing to the fact that when one thinks of Stephen King one thinks of very adult oriented horror stories or deeply complex grown up moral tales like The Stand and the Green Mile or dark fantasy like the Dark Tower Series. Stephen King fills his books with children and he is at his best when delivering some terror to a hapless child but here the child is less a young person than an archetype for youth itself They are not so much children as they are the distilled essence of childhood, filtered, purified and given given flesh. But one of his stories deserves closer attention and a place in any teenager’s library.
Utopian concepts are tricky. We tend to think of a utopian community in peaceful often new age terms and in literature we have the example of Plato and Thomas Moore which have served to further define what we mean by Utopia but it is worth noting that the very word has a double meaning. It means both good place and no place and both are perfectly correct because utopias are doomed to fail and fade from existence by virtue of their founding principles. They will become either democracies governed by the will of the people or Dictator states governed by the will of a select few “shepherds”. Because we tend to think of Utopias as good places or as places confined to small experiments like Rugby Tennessee, Lily Dale, New York or Fourier and Alcott’s short lived Fruitland’s, or as places with metaphorical meaning such as Thomas Moor’s Utopia we forget that the good underlying the founding of any utopia is subjective. We cant forget that Hitlers 1000 year Reich was a Utopia, a new world order of peace and prosperity and good health. Of course these would have been achieved through war, conquest and destruction that could be perfect only by eliminating anything seen as impure. The Nazi Utopia of a thousand year Reich was very different from the Jewish idea of utopiac Land of milk and Honey in all but one respect. Both were places that promised peace but provided only further conflict.
For these reasons I tend to enjoy reading about Utopias that are failing, or that must be propped up through some means, often ritualistic (like Romes Gladiatorial arenas). Now I am no great fan of Stephen King but one of his early short stories, The Long Walk fits this bill nicely. Without giving too much away for those who might wish to read it for themselves the story is about a future dystopic America that has become governed by a man called the Major who keeps the people happy by an annual sport in which boy’s from around the country walk non-stop until there is only one left standing. What’s more the boy’s enter this contest with eagerness that is one part individual bravado and one part group think, not unusual for boy’s in the real world. Many would not consider such a world a utopia but to me, a utopia is any world that seeks perfection by a collective of will. The means are almost irrelevant; you can destroy imperfections, you can refocus people’s attention away from imperfection or you can simply redefine value systems to make what was once morally bad seem to be morally good.