‘The Man in Black fled across the desert and the Gunslinger followed.’ I’ve heard that it’s the greatest line Stephen King ever wrote and even if you disagree you’ve got to admit that it’s up there — and it makes a helluva opening line. It tells so much about the story without saying anything. It would usher an anthology of seven books pushing forward, a little rocky at times, until it reached its terminus — not unlike The Gunslinger’s journey toward The Dark Tower itself.
Hear the tale of the last Gunslinger, Roland, as he makes his ways to the locus of reality, The Dark Tower, to save it and us from grizzly destruction.
The Dark Tower is a series of books written by Stephen King with the first being published in 1982 and the last being published in 2004 — not including the spin-off book The Dark Tower: The Wind Through the Keyhole which was published in 2012. He originally saw the stories as being too niche for a widespread audience but later released them in mass-market formats. He would also return to revise The Gunslinger after having finished the final installment to tweak Roland’s dialogue to better match the voice King had for him by the end of the story.
The Dark Tower also has a series of — not required but appreciated — spin offs including comic books and even a text based game, Discordia, which can be played for free on King’s website.
The release dates of the Dark Tower Series books are as follows.
- The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger (1982)
- The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three (1987)
- The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands (1991)
- The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass (1997)
- The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla (2003)
- The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah (2004)
- The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower (2004)
- The Dark Tower: The Wind Through the Keyhole (2012)
As the years draw on I find it more and more difficult to relate to my older relatives. Between the relentless march of technology and the many ways our world moves on I find I share less and less with them. Culture is losing its touchstones — not everyone reads To Kill a Mockingbird anymore and so on. And so it becomes more and more important, in my mind, to seek additional and yet hold on to the ones I have. My Father and I read this series in Tandem starting when I was 16. He always one book ahead and me one behind. We will always have our conversations about the journey of Roland and his friends, we will always have this between us
Alright, time for a super short, nearly spoiler free summary that tells ya’ll everything you need to know. Roland is a Gunslinger descended from a long line of pseudo-Arthurian knights — but with guns — who have kept the world safe for generations. In his quest for The tower he acquires companions by a myriad of mystical means who are Susannah, a legless black woman with a schizophrenia fueled temper, Eddie Dean, a silver-tongued lanky guy, Jake, a tweenish boy — who under rules of the Stephen King character game is legally obliged to have mild psychic abilities — and last but certainly not least, a dog/squirrel hybrid creature named Oy who can speak a broken kind of english. All of whom, save Oy, are from New York City but from different points in time.
They’ve all gotta gallivant to the Dark Tower and they’d best do it on the quick because an evil emperor calling himself the Crimson King means to destroy it and along with it shatter all of reality and all of the other realities that have, will, or are currently in existence. In short, shit be wack and these guys gotta fix it.
Since humans have questioned the existence of a divine power I think they’ve questioned whether there is such a thing as fate. Mid-World is a place in which fate truly exists and its name is Ka. Scholars, in the story, have spent centuries learning about its rules and how to influence it and for the large part their methods seem more scientific than not. Yielding results from their lifetimes of experiences, passed on to Roland. It creates a story of stories in which coincidence and heroic achievement are sort of built in qualities to Mid-World.
The Dark Tower also is part of King’s expansive canon. All of his books contribute to this story in some small way — and a few very large ones — and as such our world is one that Roland and his friends occasionally visit. Mid-World is a mystical place but even so it occasionally must ask aid of its technological sister planet, Earth.
Mid-World has a wonderful sort of slang language to it. With such terms as Ka-Mai — meaning Ka’s fool — or how they use Sai as a suffix of respect in the same way we might use sir or madam. It makes the world come alive with centuries of linguistic history.
There are so many mystical and I would dare say whimsical — though dark — moments in the story that have almost nothing to do with the quest for the Tower. The one that sticks out in my mind is a rippling of the worlds in which a series of mutants come from portals out of Mid-World into ours to die in a world that has not moved on. They all just sort of scamper off but King goes into great detail into the nature of their mutations and how Roland and Eddie respond to their incursion.
I love all of Roland’s companions, most more than I care for Roland himself — not gonna lie, Roland can be really stick in the mud boring (Eddie goes as far to refer to him as Tall, Grey, and Ugly when Eddie is upset with him) — but Roland never fails to surround himself with colorful characters, no matter the setting. My favorite of which being…
Two Words, Eddie Dean. My favorite of Roland’s colleague’s, without a doubt, is the fast-talking, wood carving, shaggy haired New Yorker by the name of Eddie Dean. He’s introduced to the Gunslinger as a slave to the demon Heroin. Described by his brother, the eminent junkie Henry Dean, as ‘being able to talk the devil into lighting himself on fire’. Despite being the slowest on the draw of Roland’s companions he’s the only one who has a confirmed kill with a dead baby joke.
This series suffers from big dumb ending syndrome. Don’t get me wrong, I actually love it. But in my mind there’s a giant botch right before it where King breaks the 4th wall and pleads the reader to stop. To let the brutal weight of the true ending’s implications remain unknown. I’m not sure if it’s a genuine warning — in which case, don’t worry Mr. King, I’m a big boy, I can handle it — or if it’s some sort of jeering taunt like, ‘I could barely handle writing it, you probably can’t handle reading it.’ No matter what, it rubbed me the wrong way.
The Wizard and Glass is a book that, when rereading the series, I generally skip, preferring to read an abridged summary. I absolutely do not suggest dismissing it, there are parts of its story that are vital to understanding who Roland is. But I find it to be the definite weakest part of the series.
I’m a pretty big fan of this work and would definitely recommend reading it from beginning to end. If you’re not a big fan of King’s stuff I’ve known others who have similar tastes but find this series to be the exception. So, head on down to Amazon or your local book store and pick ’em up, they’re like 10 bucks apiece. Alternatively you can track down some hard cover versions with full illustrations and soil your choice of garment with glee at the quality of the art.
Next Week: Nuclear Throne