A Review of Stephen King’s The Running Man

*This review was written as part of The Stephen King Project*

The Running Man (1982) is a novel by Stephen King, originally published under his pseudonym, Richard Bachman (For those who are only familiar with the film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, the film is only very loosely based on King’s story). It is set in a dystopian United States in the year 2025 and centres around the protagonist, Ben Richards. In the novel, America is a site of violence, racial bigotry, high unemployment, pollution, and massive class division. The population is under the hypnotic control of the media which finds it’s nucleus in the Games Council, an organisation that runs a multitude of games that offer cash prizes to poverty-stricken contestants in exchange for their dignity, personal safety, and even their lives.

In an act of financial desperation Richards enters The Running Man, the most popular game. Contestants must go on the run from a team of hitmen employed to kill them. The result of the game is always death for the contestants with their next of kin inheriting their prize which is dependent on how long they last and how many (if any) hitmen or law enforcement officers they kill along the way. The Games Council meet their match in Richards as he proves to be the most creative and challenging contestant ever to take part. Richard’s run results in a complete overthrow of the game when those who chase him become the hunted.

This novel is fast paced and, much like The Long Walk, offers a negative futuristic view of the U.S. The dangers of media control and the disenfranchisement of violence-led capitalism are key issues in The Running Man. The free-vee, a television set required in every household by law is symbolic of these intersecting themes. The population have been hypnotised by violent games that thrill, humiliate and subdue – one such game involves contestants with heart and/or lung disease who must run on a treadmill while answering quiz questions until they collapse from heart failure, stroke or even death. The lower classes, like Richards, watch and become convinced that their only hope for basic provisions like food and medicine in a starving and disease-ridden country is to take part in the games, while the upper classes indulge in the free-vee for their viewing pleasure. King’s nihilistic vision of 21st century America is compelling and well-constructed. The hypnotic and sociopathic nature of the ruling system percolates through every fibre of the story.

It is not too far a stretch to draw some comparisons between The Running Man and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Issues of starvation, poverty, oppression and self-preservation are present in both, as well as the dystopian vision of the U.S. under totalitarian rule held together by media control through extreme and violent “games.” Those who enjoyed Collins’ novels would not be disappointed in  The Running Man.

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This entry was posted by americasstudies on Monday, September 10th, 2012 at 6:02 pm and is filed under America, book review, literature . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

8 Comments

  1. Rory says:

    This is one that I haven’t read but really want to. It does sound a bit similar to The Long Walk with the rather dire view of the future. However, I am looking forward to the protagonist taking control…

    • Americas Studies says:

      Thanks for stopping by. Yes, it’s a good read! I have added Pet Sematary to my reading list after reading your recent review.

  2. It was great too see you by at my Limerick-Offs!

    I didn’t realize that Richard Bachman and Stephen King are the same person.

    • Americas Studies says:

      Thanks. I enjoy popping into the Limerick-Offs every so often! Great to see so many people embracing the Limerick! They are indeed the same person. In fact, Stephen King even writes Bachman into The Dark Tower novels as a character.

  3. Amy says:

    I read this one shortly after The Long Walk and was blown away by both. I’ll admit that when I think of The Running Man now I end up with visions of the movie instead of the book though. That might be the perfect reason to re-read this one.

    • Americas Studies says:

      Thanks for reading! I read The Long Walk, Roadwork, and The Running Man one after the other. They are great reads. I had visions of the movie for the first few chapters, but King’s descriptive power soon erased it from my mind. I’d love to see a remake of this one.

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