Series Spotlight: The Dark Tower

By Stephen King

Beginning with a short story appearing in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1978, the publication of Stephen King’s epic work of fantasy — what he considers to be a single long novel and his magnum opus — has spanned a quarter of a century.

Set in a world of extraordinary circumstances, filled with stunning visual imagery and unforgettable characters, The Dark Tower series is King’s most visionary feat of storytelling, a magical mix of science fiction, fantasy, and horror that may well be his crowning achievement.

Because of the nature of this series, where the seven books really equate to one rather long novel, I am reviewing all seven books in one post.

The Gunslinger was my very first Stephen King book! After years of staying away from the master of horror because of my aversion to horror movies and being scared, I finally relented when my friend sent me the first two books in the series. And then I just gobbled them up from there. Like if you’ve been following me on Goodreads and have seen how many books I’ve read recently and how few actually have reviews on this blog, in my defense I have to say it was The Dark Tower. And if you’re my neighbor who’s wondering why I have been missing our writing dates or my boyfriend who wants to know why I’m not starting on the seriously amazing book idea he gave me, I also have to say, it was The Dark Tower.

I wish that excuse worked as well for me as it does for Roland.

~ Here there be spoilers ~

The Gunslinger

In The Gunslinger (originally published in 1982), King introduces his most enigmatic hero, Roland Deschain of Gilead, the Last Gunslinger. He is a haunting, solitary figure at first, on a mysterious quest through a desolate world that eerily mirrors our own. Pursuing the man in black, an evil being who can bring the dead back to life, Roland is a good man who seems to leave nothing but death in his wake.

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I didn’t particularly love this one, but I was intrigued enough to keep reading. I feel like the writing is a little amateurish, but after finishing and reading the book’s forward and end notes, I realized King must have been very young when he first wrote this book. I suppose I can’t hold that against him.

And the book got better towards the end. Loved the confrontation with the man in black and Roland’s relationship with Jake. Aside from a long, semi-useful detour into the past where Roland meets Ali and a weird sexual encounter with a demon, for the most part the story rattles along at a great clip and ends with you dying to get your hands on the next one. Which I already had, which leads me to…

The Drawing of the Three

While pursuing his quest for the Dark Tower through a world that is a nightmarishly distorted mirror image of our own, Roland is drawn through a mysterious door that brings him into contemporary America.

Here he links forces with the defiant young Eddie Dean, and with the beautiful, brilliant, and brave Odetta Holmes, in a savage struggle against underworld evil and otherworldly enemies.

Once again, Stephen King has masterfully interwoven dark, evocative fantasy and icy realism.

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This book really started to show me why Stephen King is one of our best storyteller’s. Eddie and Odetta were both just insanely complex, crazy characters. A junkie mixed up with the mob and an amputee black woman with schizophrenia. I can’t even imagine how you dream up characters like them, but I’m so glad King managed it.

I also enjoyed Roland’s foray’s into “our time” and how charmingly fish out of water he was and also how resourceful. His whole difficulty with figuring out how to get medicine and bullets was kind of ridiculous, but it was hilarious how he overcame his own shortcomings to succeed.

There’s a twist concerning the third person that is “drawn” that is so, so, so good. This and the zaniness of Odetta and Eddie really hooked me on this series. So I bought the third book…

The Waste Lands

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Several months have passed, and Roland’s two new tet-mates have become proficient gunslingers. Eddie Dean has given up heroin, and Odetta’s two selves have joined, becoming the stronger and more balanced personality of Susannah Dean. But while battling The Pusher in 1977 New York, Roland altered ka by saving the life of Jake Chambers, a boy who—in Roland’s where and when—has already died. Now Roland and Jake exist in different worlds, but they are joined by the same madness: the paradox of double memories. Roland, Susannah, and Eddie must draw Jake into Mid-World then follow the Path of the Beam all the way to the Dark Tower. But nothing is easy in Mid-World. Along the way our tet stumbles into the ruined city of Lud, and are caught between the warring gangs of the Pubes and the Grays. The only way out of Lud is to wake Blaine the Mono, an insane train that has a passion for riddling, and for suicidal journeys.

…which was even better than the second and I loved the second!

Although what happens to Jake in book one is revisited in book two, it was book three that really convinced me that the more random parts of book one were necessary after all. Jake comes back. The man in black comes back. Sex with demons comes back. Ali comes back.

It is also in book three that Roland’s “world” really comes alive. Finally, we start getting clues of how this whole place is set up with the twelve points, the guardians, the tower, and the beam.

King also introduced my favorite character in the series thus far: Oy! Oy is just amazing.

In this book the coincidences between things really start to pile up. And again, King proves how masterful a storyteller he is in that capacity. It’s one thing to write a story. It’s another thing to write that intricate of a story.

I feel sorry for anyone who had to wait between books three and four though. I would have gone out of my damn mind if I couldn’t immediately flip to book four and the resolution of the conflict with Blaine the Mono…

Wizard and Glass

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Roland of Gilead and his fellow pilgrims determine to reach the Dark Tower, but their quest is rife with confrontation, conflict, and sacrifice – from a vast computer system which bargains in riddles to Roland’s old enemy Walter and the wizard’s glass.

…which is continued in the opening pages of this book at a hurtling pace. As fast as Blaine the Mono is traveling. And then the pace comes to a screeching halt. Just like Blaine.

So apparently people are of two thoughts about this fourth book: either that the whole story of Susan is one of the most important elements of the whole story because it shapes Roland and starts his quest for the Dark Tower OR it’s a complete waste of time, super boring, about five hundred pages too long, and really takes away from the continuity of the narrative.

I’m more in the first camp, but I also found the story of Susan super painful to read because you already know there’s no happy ending here, though you don’t know exactly what happens, and then you find out and your heart is absolutely crushed beyond belief.

Seriously, I have hardly been able to tear myself away from the series and I had to give myself a few hours to recover from the horror of it.

But I did, so here we go to book five…

Wolves of the Calla

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Roland Deschain and his ka-tet are bearing southeast through the forests of Mid-World on their quest for the Dark Tower. Their path takes them to the outskirts of Calla Bryn Sturgis. But beyond the tranquil farm town, the ground rises to the hulking darkness of Thunderclap, the source of a terrible affliction that is stealing the town’s soul. The wolves of Thunderclap and their unspeakable depredation are coming. To resist them is to risk all, but these are odds the gunslingers are used to. Their guns, however, will not be enough….

So after the detour back to Roland’s youth, we’re finally back in the main timeline with Susannah, Jake, Oy, and Eddie (yay!)

We get a confirmation on that Susannah pregnancy (ugh) and that it’s a demon baby (double-ugh). The ka-tet gets drawn into the fight at Calla Bryn Sturgis because Pere Callahan has something they need: Black 13, another of those mystical orbs like the pink one that caused so much trouble in the Susan story. Apparently, there are 13 of these things (one for each point on the beam and one for the Dark Tower itself) and they all have strange abilities. Black 13 has the ability to help them open doors into other world’s which is important because they’re trying to save the rose that Jake found in New York.

So, they end up helping the Calla fight the Wolves who steal one from each pair of twins and send back that twin stupid and “Roont”.

Along the way, we hear the story of Pere Callahan, a character from Salem’s Lot who seems poised to join the ka-tet on their journey to the Dark Tower.

But before they can continue to the tower, the ka-tet has to chase after Susannah, who has been abducted by yet another personality from her delicate psyche. A personality that also decided to steal Black 13, because you know, nothing can ever go right in this quest.

The Wolves of the Calla also hearkens back to Book 3, The Wastelands, because it further establishes the coincidences and connections that seem to undercut this entire world. This book is super lengthy (almost 950 pages!) so it’s definitely an event to get through it, but like all the books in The Dark Tower series, worth the read.

In addition to the story of Pere Callahan and his vampires, and more strange robotic creatures like The Bear, we get introduced to the Manni, a group of almost mystical holy figures that I am itching to learn more about. It is they who discovered a door in a cave and it’s through that door the ka-tet will go….

Song of Susannah

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To give birth to her “chap,” demon-mother Mia has usurped the body of Susannah Dean and used the power of Black Thirteen to transport to New York City in the summer of 1999. The city is strange to Susannah…and terrifying to the “daughter of none,” who shares her body and mind.

Saving the Tower depends not only on rescuing Susannah but also on securing the vacant lot Calvin Tower owns before he loses it to the Sombra Corporation. Enlisting the aid of Manni senders, the remaining katet climbs to the Doorway Cave…and discovers that magic has its own mind. It falls to the boy, the billy-bumbler, and the fallen priest to find Susannah-Mia, who, in a struggle to cope with each other and with an alien environment “go todash” to Castle Discordia on the border of End-World. In that forsaken place, Mia reveals her origins, her purpose, and her fierce desire to mother whatever creature the two of them have carried to term.

Eddie and Roland, meanwhile, tumble into western Maine in the summer of 1977, a world that should be idyllic but isn’t. For one thing, it is real, and the bullets are flying.

These are the simple vectors of a story rich in complexity and conflict. Its dual climaxes, one at the entrance to a deadly dining establishment and the other appended to the pages of a writer’s journal, will leave readers gasping for the saga’s final volume (which, Dear Reader, follows soon, say thank ya).

 This was the first book I felt had moments of actual “creepiness”. Nothing so far in this series has been unsettling to me, but the climax of this one was.

This book has a lot of revelations in it (you would think by book 6 of a 7 book series we’d be done with revelations and waiting for the final confrontation, but no). About Mia, about the chap, about the dark tower, about Castle Discordia, about the Crimson King, even about Stephen King himself.

The most insane thing about this book to me was that the author wrote himself in as a character. That’s not breaking the fourth wall, this is something else entirely, breaking the fifth wall maybe? The end notes are an awesome read for Stephen King fans and I can’t help, but shiver that he aligned the birth of the chap with the exact date he gets hit by a car. We also learn the greater significance of the numbers 19, 99, and 1999.

And so we go onwards at last to The Dark Tower…

The Dark Tower

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The seventh and final installment of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower saga is perhaps the most anticipated book in the author’s long career. King began this epic tale about the last gunslinger in the world more than 20 years ago; now he draws its suspenseful story to a close, snapping together the last pieces of his action puzzle and drawing Roland Deschain ever closer to his ultimate goal.

This book me the most time to read out of the whole series. Partly because I had a lot of things going on and partly because I was hesitant to end my journey to the dark tower.

What a series this was. What a series indeed. I’m so, so glad I read this.

I have little to say about this book because it would just be too many spoilers, but this is a heartbreaker for sure. But so worth the read.

That ending is still endlessly debated by Dark Tower fans. I’m still sorting it out for myself and it’s been a week since I finished the series.

 

If I haven’t convinced you to read this series yet, I don’t know what it will take. Oh yes, perhaps that there’s a movie dropping in February 2017. So you better hustle if you want to read it all before you see the movie!

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