The Guardian is rereading ALL of Stephen King's works, in chronological order. King has only recently been granted acceptable status by the American Literati, but we all know he has been one of our most amazing writers for decades. The Long Walk is one of his very first works, and to my mind it's still one of his very best.
Rereading Stephen King: week seven – The Long Walk | Books | guardian.co.uk
The premise: 100 teenage boys are picked from a televised draft lottery by a despotic alternate-history version of the US army, and told to walk until they stop. If they drop below four miles an hour they get a warning. Three warnings and they're shot dead. Of the 100 who start the walk, only one survives, and he is granted the ultimate prize: anything he wants for the rest of his life. And that's it. There's no big bad hiding in the shadows (unless you count the Major, a modern-day fascistic twist on an Uncle Sam figure who organises the event and rallies the boys to walk), no huge narrative twist, no deus ex machina. It's a book that starts with 100 characters who, slowly but surely, are whittled down to one. Sometimes it happens in bursts of vivid description, their infractions logged and detailed, the bullets ringing out from the pages; sometimes it happens via word of mouth, as the boys who are left alive gossip about their dwindling numbers. But you know that 99 of these boys are going to die, and then the book will end. There's no reason given for why the Walk happens, not really. It's referred to as "the national sport", and that's a large chunk of it: entertainment, watched by millions on television. But that's not all, and it's definitely not enough.
The boy we readers want to win is 16-year-old Ray Garraty. He's the main character, our eyes on the Walk. Garraty has a mother and a girlfriend (whom he daydreams of: virginal lusting for whatever she's got underneath her sweater), and he wants to survive. He doesn't know why he's doing the Walk really: only that, when his number was called and he was given the chance to back out, he didn't. Greed and the promise of glory took him that far, and they would be the things that would carry him to the end of the race: that's Garraty's logic. He meets the other boys for the first time as they wait on the start line, and we discover that they all have their motivations. For some, it's love: one boy, Scramm, is married with a baby on the way. For some, it's the prize itself; the pot of gold at the end. Some of the boys have hidden, darker reasons for doing the Walk. But they all drop, and they all die. And at the end, days of ceaseless walking later, feet hobbled and flayed and bloody, his friends shot dead before his very eyes, one of them survives. Although, as McVries, a boy whom Garraty befriends, is quick to point out, it's a raw form of survival: a survival in which the prize is to realise that nothing can make up for what you've seen and what you've done.