The Stand is one of the longest and most celebrated epics from horror author Stephen King, first introducing audiences to Randall Flagg, a true embodiment of evil. While Flagg would later develop into a recurring character in some of King’s other works, including The Eyes of the Dragon and, most notably, The Dark Tower series, he began as the bringer of chaos and the primary antagonist in The Stand.
The Stand was only King’s third novel published under his name, and one he has admitted he struggled to complete. The reason for King’s struggle is obvious, given the complexity of the story and the long list of characters and subplots. Still, he wanted to write something with the epic quality of The Lord of the Rings, only set in contemporary America. For fans of King’s work, it would seem he succeeded.
At the center of The Stand, and one of its most captivating characters, is the villain Randall Flagg. Flagg emerges as the leader of a settlement in Las Vegas, Nevada. He sends out a psychic call that draws people attracted to order and stability and creates a totalitarian society ruled by rank and creature comforts. To punish those who violate his laws, he uses cruel torture and crucifixion. Interestingly, Flagg has many supernatural powers. Although it’s never explained exactly what he is in the book, it’s clear his abilities are of an evil origin, and he has a lot of powers, as outlined below.
One of the first powers that Randall Flagg exhibits in The Stand is his ability to project psychic messages. He sends a wave of his dark energy that causes people all over the United States to dream. For some, these dreams are nightmares and serve as a foreboding warning that the Dark Man exists. For others, the dreams serve as a summons, drawing them to join Flagg in Las Vegas.
Interestingly, Flagg doesn’t appear in the novel until Chapter 23, in which he is seen walking down the road, gleeful, because he senses how the plague is going to change the world; his time to rise up has come. In that chapter, he doesn’t display any powers, but does have vague memories of being a marine, a member of the KKK, a Viet Cong, and playing a role in the kidnapping of Patty Hearst. It seems that when the world is ready for his evil, he appears to carry it out and gains magical powers. In the chapter, it reads, “It was almost time to be reborn. He knew. Why else could he suddenly do magic?“
The next power that Flagg shows is the ability to levitate. In Chapter 31, a man that Flagg has worked with before lays dying of the Superflu. Flagg levitates above him and tortures him in order to get a car to drive. This is a chapter that was cut from the original edition of the novel, but shows Flagg exercising his power before the plague has finished wiping out 99% of the world’s population.
Of course, if Flagg can levitate, it’s likely he can do other similar mind-control type powers. He can, but at this point in the novel, he’s still quite mysterious. Other mind-control powers that Flagg has include hypnosis, mind reading, and the power to glamour or create illusions and visions in other people’s heads.
Randall Flagg can also control animals, or at least some of them. In Chapter 45, he sends a pack of weasels to harass Mother Abigail. In the scene, she is alone and waiting for the people she has called to arrive. She is preparing some chickens to eat for her intended company when a horde of them come at her, but she is able to drive them away.
In this same chapter, Mother Abigail thinks about how the dogs have been driven off by the plague, but that the wolves are still available for the Dark Man to control. Later, in Chapter 48, Randall Flagg sends a pack of wolves to deal with a man known as “The Kid”, who rapes one of Flagg’s favorite allies, The Trashcan Man. Flagg also uses crows to spy for him.
While Mother Abigail’s crew begins to build a new town and society, Randall Flagg is secretly in contact with two people there who belong to him rather than Abigail. In Chapter 57, he is able to psychically enter Nadine to partially control her. At this point, he has chosen Nadine to be the mother of his child. The experience turns her hair white.
Later, Nadine goes to Flagg and he impregnates her, but she goes insane from the experience. This happens in Chapter 65, but by Chapter 67, Flagg kills Nadine in a fit of rage. Flagg’s actions point to the fact that although he is evil and has several supernatural powers at his disposal, he’s not infallible and still makes human mistakes. All throughout The Stand, he is able to sense evil in people, read their minds, and draw out the darkness in them. He does this with Nadine, but goes too far and she ends up dead. Flagg is also able to create pain in both the body and mind.
One of the last powers that Randall Flagg displays in The Stand is being able to shoot lightning. In Chapter 67, Flagg shoots a “glowing ball of fire” at one of his men to silence him at the public execution of Larry and Ralph. Unfortunately for Flagg, a divine force that looks to Ralph like the Hand of God, takes his own electrical fire and uses it to set off the nuke that The Trashcan Man has brought to him as a gift. Everyone is consumed in “holy fire“.
At the last second, Flagg shows that he can disappear and teleport, in a sense, to another location. Right before the bomb goes off, he vanishes, flashing his true form for a second: a monstrous creature with glowing yellow eyes. However, part of him is destroyed, because when he wakes up he can’t remember who he is or where he came from.
In the epilogue to the extended version of The Stand, Randall Flagg wakes up on an island and is confronted by natives with spears. They seem to see him as some kind of god, and he introduces himself as Russell Faraday. From this, it seems that Stephen King intended for Randall Flagg to be some sort of force of evil that is constantly reborn. When he is defeated, he comes to a new body as the same demon-like entity to start the cycle over again. However, King later expanded his story, making him a part of his extended universe.
As The Stand was written relatively early in King’s career, Randall Flagg hadn’t yet grown into the evil character that becomes one of the primary antagonists to Roland Deschain in The Dark Tower books. In King’s epic series, Randall Flagg becomes The Man in Black, also known as Marten, Walter O’Dim, Richard Fannin, and Rudin Filario. Over the course of the series, he displays many additional powers, including the ability to travel between dimensions in the multiverse, make himself nearly invisible (dimming), and bring the dead back to life (the weed eater in Tull).
At the end of The Gunslinger, he tells Roland’s future with a deck of tarot cards. He then harries Roland’s quest of the Dark Tower along the way, appearing in various locations and worlds along the way. It’s unlikely that Stephen King knew what an important character Randall Flagg would become when he wrote The Stand, but he remains one of his most lasting and compelling characters to date.