When ‘The Hunger Games’ was called ‘The Long Walk’

With The Hunger Games opening this weekend, a lot of people are pointing to Battle Royale as an obvious precursor, but I’ve been thinking of The Long Walk, a novel that Stephen King published under his pseudonym Richard Bachman in 1979. It is set in your standard-issue totalitarian America of the near future where the national sport is the Long Walk, an endurance contest in which 100 boys (no girls, sorry Katniss) walk until they drop. The one who walks the longest wins, the rest die. That’s it. In place of The Hunger Games’ Head Gamemaker Seneca Crane, The Long Walk has a malevolent Major overseeing the action, but otherwise it’s the same stuff: a deadly contest of wills governed by strict rules of when and how help from the outside can be provided, lots of spectacle, and the same mix of strong kids, crowd favorites, scrawny outsiders, etc. etc., all of whom meet bloody ends.

I actually read and loved The Long Walk when I was in high school, before it was revealed that King wrote the Bachman books. I found it on the paperback rack at the public library in Lakewood, Ohio, instantly drawn to that iconic cover (well, it was iconic for me). Even thirty years later I can remember the main character’s name, Stebbins, and several key incidents, such as when one kid takes a dump on the road and it’s quickly scooped up by onlookers as a souvenir (as if there were ever any doubt that King wrote these books). There’s another scene where two kids decide to opt out of the Walk by marching into machine gun fire, their middle fingers defiantly raised (a last great act of defiance if I’ve ever seen one).

I’m not saying that The Hunger Games is a rip off of The Long Walk. In his favorable review of Suzanne Collins’ book in Entertainment Weekly, Stephen King is polite enough to mention The Long Walk only in passing, along with Battle Royale and another of his books, The Running Man (“those latter two by some guy named Bachman”), and even then just as more examples of the teen dystopian genre.

Being now the parent of teenager myself, I see this from the other side, which is that the appeal of this genre and the reason why it is revisited by every subsequent generation is that it speaks directly to that constant state of aggrievement and persecution that teenagers experience so deeply. The profound unfairness of life. The sense of being put upon at every turn. The certainty that no one else in the history of the entire world has ever felt this way. This is the teenage mind in its most primal state, and any author who can effectively tap into that potent stew will find their place in the teen canon assured (at least until the next author comes along and does the same thing all over again).

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17 Responses to When ‘The Hunger Games’ was called ‘The Long Walk’

  1. My parents told me about the hunger games today. First thing that popped into my head was the long walk, and I asked if it has been written by King. Then I claimed whoever made it, stole the premised. Frank Darabont, who did a bunch of king flicks, owns the rights to it. You think he’s not kicking himself for making it? He claims he’s going to get around to it, but everybody will be up in arms saying it borrows from Hunger games.

  2. wow! paul, i can’t believe how much i was moved by the long walk in a very similar way as you. i also remember the shitting scene (i think he was the character with the running shoes—stebbins chose loafers!). my dad bought me the collection called, the bachman books when i was in junior high and it has stayed with me ever since. i have brought it up several times as an important yet completely overlooked novel (i also believe king is an important yet overlooked author!). when sophia first started talking about hunger games, i didn’t really make the connection until she described it in fuller detail; i think started insisting she read the long walk immediately. not sure, if she will, though i have been impressing her with suggestions recently so she just may read it.

  3. Cz says:

    The Long Walk is one of my favorite stories- and ironically enough ‘The Hunger Games’ is one of my wife’s favorite books. I find the whole thing fascinating, and also find your post on the matter really well poised & put. There is that same sense to the two, though never really tied together till you brought it up.

    It’s a really good observation, & thanks.

  4. Jacob Davies says:

    The main character in the long walk was called Ray Garetty Davies. Im 16 and have read the hunger games trilogy and am now reading the long walk. It is a great book. Both similar but i feel the hunger games expands more on the political side than the long wall does. But so far haven’t put it down.

  5. tom says:

    Ray Garrity (Go, Go, Garrity the sign read) is the character from the book. Ray Davies is the lead singer (& founding member, with brother Dave) of the Kinks. Being 16 you’ll need to look that up LOL.
    I read Hunger Games to see how much it shared with the Long Walk (a fave of mine) and found it a cross between LW & Running Man. I liked it OK, but I’ll read anything

    • i am just glad to hear running man and king for that matter is getting their proper respect now. when i was reading him in grade school and into high school, it was like a dirty secret that i unwittingly let everyone know about. i just read it not knowing it was so low brow until i was introduced to cool kids when i moved to a college town and was introduced to “real” writers. i didn’t have the vocabulary or courage to defend king.

      jacob, the the road isn’t supposed to touch on the political side of things. it is more about humanity and the relationship between a father and his son/child. try pretty little horses (same author) when you are done. cormic mccarthy is usually pretty brutal, but the road and all the pretty horses aren’t as crushingly violent.

      wait, just reread your post. you are reading the long walk. well, it is a short story not a trilogy so can’t get into the politics so much. when you are done, you must read the road!!!!

      i totally remembered this thread being about the road, which is not similar to the hunger games at all. uhg….i am keeping this post and my ignorance up here for all to see because i am excited to see jacob reading king and think everyone should read the road.

  6. tom says:

    Oh Yeah: “Fastest crap eva”. Classic. Was it Collie Parker? Or the dude with the scar, ray’s buddy (name eludes me)?

  7. Rio says:

    It’s Garraty. Raymond Garraty. 🙂

  8. Rio says:

    And his friend is McVries. I forgot who made the fastest crap ever. :))

  9. Marius Smith says:

    I loved the Long Walk when I was growing up, and I was surprised that more people didn’t make the link when the Hunger Games was released – as you say, other King books – especially Running Man – got more attention. The Hunger Games seems to marry the showmanship of Running Man with the dystopian destruction of the Long Walk, but thematically it’s closer to the latter in my opinion.

    Even though it borrows heavily from its predecessors, I think the Hunger Games trilogy is an impressive achievement. A fantastic coming of age story for the Young People.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Ray Garraty is the main character not stebbins, who eventually becomes the 2nd last walker but he isn’t the protagonist.

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