I enjoyed the Dark Tower series quite a bit. Although it took me a few weeks to read it, it has a much longer history in the crafting. Stephen King wrote the series over decades, starting with the first book published in the 80s, through to a seventh volume published in 2004.
Overall, it’s a good read. The series tells the story of Roland Deschain, a gunslinger, as he journeys after a mysterious man in black. Along the way he acquires companions: Jake, Eddie, and Susannah. They have adventures, battling a range of enemies, learning from Roland to be gunslingers, as they make their way to the Dark Tower.
The story feels like a mixture of fantasy stories, Western, and apocalyptic dystopia. They travel between universes, into far-off futures where technology runs amok, and through agricultural communities eking out a living. Throughout, King tells a story that lets us connect with the characters, to fear for them and feel their excitement as they overcome challenges.
In turn, that carries the series through the gaps in the internal consistency. Part of this has to do with the drafting. Roland starts as a figure wandering across the desert, slaughtering an entire village gone mad when they try to attack him. Later, he becomes a father figure to the band he gathers with him; although to be fair, throughout he is a cold, distant figure; part of the joy of the series is seeing him slowly warm to those around him.
The other thing that I found difficult was the … bizarre nature of the multiverse the book inhabits. It felt hard, at times, to spot the internal logic or system that overhung everything. At the end of the first book, Roland is given cards that indicate who he’ll find from a series of portals he’ll encounter. He’s given them by his antagonist, the man in black. Why is he given them? How do they connect to anything else? I certainly don’t know. In one of the books, they encounter an enormous castle, a reference to the Wizard of Oz. There is no real event here; they simply wake up, far away from the castle. What happened? I don’t have a clue.
You’ll see a lot of references to how The Dark Tower series ties in to King’s broader fictional universe. As someone new to King’s writing, this wasn’t something I knew a lot about. It perhaps added to the sense of incoherence that hangs over the broader story.
For all that, this is a really fun series. It’s well written, and it carries a story delightfully over several thousand pages, with crisp action and warm characters, in a universe that’s fascinating because it is so warped, so beyond simple understanding. Well worth a read.
Quotes from the fictional parts of the Dark Tower series:
Eddie looked at him with love and hate and all the aching dearness of one man’s dying hopeless helpless reach for another man’s mind and will and need.
The idea was intoxicating, all the same: an enclave of civilization in this dangerous, mostly empty world; wise old elf-men who would tell them just what the fuck it was they were supposed to be doing.
His heart leaped up and although he didn’t know it then, it was how he would remember her most clearly for ever after – lovely Susan, the girl at the window. So do we pass the ghosts that haunts us later in our lives; they sit undramatically by the roadside like poor beggars, and we see them only from the corners of our eyes, if we see them at all. The idea that they have been waiting there for us rarely if ever crosses our minds. Yet they do wait, and when we have passed, they gather up their bundles of memory and fall in behind, treading in our footsteps and catching up, little by little.
… folk tales are, at best, generally no more than lies set in rhyme.
These weren’t lies, exactly, but little propaganda capsules that sounded like answers.
‘Anger is the most useless emotion,’ Henchick intoned, ‘destructive to the mind and hurtful of the heart.’
Do any of us, except in our dreams, truly expect to be reunited with our hearts’ deepest loves, even when they leave us only for minutes, and on the most mundane of errands? No, not at all. Each time they go from our sight we in our secret hearts count them as dead. Having been given so much, we reason, how could we expect not be to brought as low as Lucifer for the staggering presumption of our love?
No community is easier to govern than one that rejects the very concept of community …
They tell tales because they’re afraid of life …
… the body had a way of forgetting the worst things, she supposed, and without the body’s cooperation, all the brain had were memories like faded snapshots.
And will I tell you that these three lived happily ever after? I will not, for no one ever does. But there was happiness. And they did live.
You say you want to follow Roland into the into the Tower; you say that is what you paid your money for, the show you came to see.
Quotes from forewards and afterwards:
More than anything else I wanted to get inside my readers’ defences, wanted to rip them and ravish them and change them forever with nothing but story.
Then I realized that I had one more thing to say, a thing that actually needed to be said. It has to do with my presence in my own book. There’s a smarmy academic term for this – ‘metafiction’. I hate it. I hate the pretentiousness of it.