The coronavirus outbreak is causing a lot of panic online. Surprisingly, this has made a lot of people revisit popular culture that depict pandemics, from films to books, as a coping mechanism.
Internet sleuths think that The Eyes of Darkness, Dean Koontz novel from 1981, might have predicted the virus. Another iconic book to receive this conspiratorial attention is The Stand, an epic horror-fantasy by Stephen King. The first part of King’s book concerns the outbreak of a super-flu nicknamed Captain Trips, which people on Twitter have realised bears some striking similarities to coronavirus.
To put the book into context, the current Covid-19 virus seems like weakling (so far) when compared to King’s fictional super-flu. Covid-19 currently got an estimated fatality rate of a bit above 3 per cent, which isn’t much higher than seasonal flu and well below previous coranovirus outbreaks such as SARS or MERS.
But the fictional Captain Trips flu is far nastier. It sweeps away 99.98 per cent of the world’s population.
King's death virus sets up a struggle between good and evil among the survivors in America. The novel's ultimate “bad guy” is Randall Flagg, an accomplished sorcerer and servant of the “outer dark”, who has made an appearance in at least nine of King’s books. As the book has become a topic of conversation again, some people have taken to speculating about who the present day iteration of the demonic figure, who made his debut in The Stand, might be.
We can think of a few good candidates, some of whom hold very high political office…
42 years on from publication, King’s book is still a masterpiece that feels eerily relevant to the challenges we face today. He says himself in the novel's introduction that he "wanted to write a fantasy epic like The Lord of the Rings, only with an American setting”. We can only hope that in the case of coronavirus, just like in Tolkein’s classics, humankind lives to fight another day.