The first thing you have to get past is the obvious similarities between Swan Song and The Stand. Both are end of the world novels and tell their stories through the thoughts and experiences of various characters, all of whom are converging upon each other and the intended climax of evil. For me, it stops there. In my opinion, Robert McCammon is a far better writer than Mr. King. He tells a wonderful story, but also speaks volumes about the human heart (as the quotes above illustrate), which is what I look for in everything I read.
This is a story of good and evil. About how circumstances and chance can evoke from each of us abilities and attitudes we are unaware exist within. Our capacity for good (and evil) can be sparked by opportunity. We have the capacity for both and it is often a conscious choice with a myriad of counter balancing elements that contribute to our decision. This is what makes the book so scary. It is not the evil (devil) traveling through the land “recruiting” those who are seeking what he offers and are willing to pay the price. The fear arises from the portraits of those individuals who join. Normal, seemingly harmless individuals, who see an opportunity for retribution, revenge or simply gain. The lengths they voluntarily go to serve themselves (an their new master). The sinister nature that emerges from your next door neighbor.
What makes fiction great is when the story hits upon an essential, undeniable truth. History shows us the brutality regular people can inflict on their enemies. As long as the enemy is clearly defined and the threat made real enough. (Nazi Germany, of course, being the most obvious example). That is true with Swan Song. Slowly, over the course of nearly 1000 pages, an element terror emerges from the known. It is not a monster we fear, it is us. Our ability to choose evil over good, to place our desires over the greater good, to allow resentment, jealousy or hate to linger until opportunity allows it to spill out in action.
Bottom line, we are all capable of anything. The worry is how vulnerable is the line between choosing good and evil. What are the principles, values and experiences that reinforce the good and keep the bad at bay? Are we doing those things? I believe that good rules and always will on a wide scale. Look at events such as Katrina or Harvey, and we see the hearts and wallets of millions of strangers open. We feel, collectively, for those people. Evil occurs on a much smaller scale. It is insidious and grows from thousands of micro decisions. It exists in our we treat those who have less, in our labor and environmental laws, in our economic decisions, in our choice to serve ourselves over the greater good. Ego serves greed and selfishness, it can make us believe in the nobility of our exploitative practices in the name of personal interest. Our believe in our own personal goodness lends a tacit approval to the actions we take (bad can’t come from good, right?) We must be vigilant in knowing that evil can thrive could anywhere if given the opportunity. Good requires nurturing, it absolutely does. Swan Song is a fictional account of this very truth.
Be Strong. Stay Hungry. Walk Tall.