A Journey Through Stephen King’s The Dark Tower Universe – Part 1
With The Dark Tower movie coming out very soon, I figured it would be time to finally post Part 1 of my past Summer journey through the land of The Dark Tower. It all started when I picked up the Stephen King book The Bazaar of Bad Dreams. The book had a nice mix of good and not so good stories, but one tale, in particular, stood out titled ‘Ur’. The story involved a future predicting e-book that had significant connections to The Dark Tower universe. When I finished the story, I knew I had to read the series. So, that is what I did, starting off of course with The Gunslinger.
The point of this article is to go through each book and provide some thoughts, so be prepared for massive spoilers. It isn’t meant to go over all the events of the series, but to touch upon certain items of interest and to foster a conversation. If I’ve missed anything or you have more to add, please comment and let me know.
Now, having said that, let’s get the show on the desert road.
The Gunslinger – The Dark Tower I
Ranking in as the shortest of the series (next would be The Wind Through the Keyhole), The Gunslinger reads incredibly fast. The opening line “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed”, is one that is memorable for many reasons and will certainly come back into play near the end. It takes a bit to get into the story, as you are thrown into the action right away, with little to no background information provided. However, as the chapters unfold, you start to learn a bit more about Roland Deschain and his quest to hunt down The Man in Black, also known as Walter O’ Dim and many other names. Also introduced in this novel is the young Jake Chambers, who becomes a central character in the later novels.
The book was eventually released years later with a revised edition, fixing some of the continuity mistakes that were introduced when the new novels came out. I have yet to read the new edition, but I can say that reading The Gunslinger, continuity issues or not, was a treat. It sets up characters that you will eventually fall in love with and establishes that there is more to Roland’s quest than just a dark tower in the far, far distance.
The Drawing of the Three – The Dark Tower II
After turning the last page on The Gunslinger, I dived right into the next one, titled The Drawing of the Three. Things start off pretty much where Roland was left off in The Gunslinger, on a beach. It doesn’t take long, though, before Roland is attacked by some creatures known as Lobstrosities and loses two fingers on his right hand and some toes to go along with it.
The purpose of this novel is to introduce the main characters into the fold, or Ka-tet, and to establish that Roland lives in a land that is not exactly Earth, but pretty much right next door. The method in which Roland travels through his world into ours is through the use of floating doors. As he walks through them, he enters the mind of the person he is meant to bring back into his world, who will join him in his quest to reach The Dark Tower. The first mind he enters is Eddie, a drug dealer/user. At first, I wasn’t sure if I was going to like Eddie, but as the series went on, I warmed up to him.
The next person he brings into his world is Odetta, who later becomes known as Susannah. Her character is a split personality and let me tell you, the writing is borderline racist. It’s hard to get into, but thankfully Stephen King dials it back as the story goes on.
The last door he enters has to do with the reason Odetta is a split personality and in a wheelchair. It isn’t until the next book (The Wastelands) that we finally get the complete Ka-tet, with Jake Chambers entering the story. (I didn’t mention it before, but Jake dies in The Gunslinger, as Roland chooses the Tower over him. Thankfully, there are other worlds than these, which allows Jake to come back.)
The Drawing of the Three doesn’t exactly progress Roland’s journey to the Tower any further, but it does bring in a lot of characters to help with his journey in the later novels. For that, it’s a solid read.
The Wastelands – The Dark Tower III
The Wastelands primary purpose is completing the Ka-tet by bringing Jake back. From there, the group travels ever closer to The Dark Tower. The book features an excellent showdown in a rundown City known as Lud and an epic fight with a robotic bear named Shardik, a guardian of the beam. Yeah, things are pretty crazy in the wastelands. I haven’t even mentioned the crazy being known as Blaine the Mono, whose sole interest is tricking people with its hard riddles. (Be sure to pick up Charlie the Choo-choo for even more Blaine craziness.)
The Wastelands turned in an exciting story, with the group making some excellent headway in their journey. We also get Walter/Man in Black/Randall Flagg showing up in the book, which was fun. The ending lands on a big cliffhanger, which some people may find disappointing.
Wizard and Glass – The Dark Tower IV
Wizard and Glass is most likely the novel that divides fans down the middle. Things start off excellent, with the group defeating Blaine. As they leave the train, they realise they have ended up in an alternate universe where the events of The Stand went differently (the year is 1992, instead of 1990 and looks like the Captain Trips virus wiped out everyone). Once nightfall comes, Roland sits down and tells the group about his past life and his first love.
Having the fourth book take place almost entirely as a flashback is a pretty ballsy move, but I ended up enjoying it. I’ve invested a lot of time with Roland and getting to know his past was very much welcome. It’s a tragic love story, but it had a ton of excitement to get the reader invested.
However, once the flashback is wrapped up, we get a wacky Wizard of Oz ending. I understand King’s desire to inject all sorts of pop culture references into his Dark Tower series, but this stuff just felt out of place.
Wolves of the Calla: The Dark Tower V
We start to move the story along and bring in some connected universes with Wolves of the Calla, the fifth book in The Dark Tower series. The priest from Salem’s Lot, Father Callahan shows up to help the Ka-tet protect the town of Calla against a hoard of enemies that have come to steal the town’s children. This is also the first book when we start to see that Susannah is pregnant with something potentially evil and dangerous, which will be the big focus in the next book.
Getting to read about what happened to Father Callahan after he fled the town of Salem’s Lot after his duel with Barlow was exciting and helped strengthen the story of Salem’s Lot.
My only problem with this book was the Wolves, a pack of Dr Doom mask wearing, lightsaber wielding, Harry Potter snitch throwing baddies who don’t come into play until the very end, and the battle turned out to be short. I waited for the battle showdown the entire novel King, and you end the big fight in 50 pages!
The focus of Song of Susannah is the rescue of Susannah after she disappeared at the end of Wolves of the Calla. She has arrived in New York, ready to pop and give birth to the demon child inside her. The Ka-tet is broken up, and Jake and Father Callahan are looking for Susannah and Eddie and Roland have landed in Maine and are looking at seeking help from author Stephen King. Yep, we have truly broken the fourth wall with The Dark Tower series.
There were hints of breaking the fourth wall at the end of Wolves of the Calla, as Father Callahan found the Salem’s Lot book in the cave. Obviously confused, he demands to know why there is a book writing about his life. Roland and Eddie confront Stephen King and realise that King is receiving the story from somewhere mystical and transcribing the events down. He is in a way the father of all the characters, and if he dies, the world of Roland goes kaput!
As we already know, Stephen King was struck by a car in 1999 and that comes into play at the end of the novel. It’s fascinating mixing in real life events with fictional ones and certainly makes the story interesting, albeit head-scratchingly confusing at times. Song of Susannah ends with the upcoming birth of Mordred (a King Arthur nod), who turns out to be a hybrid spider thing that has two fathers, the Crimson King and Roland. Yeah, it’s complicated.
The ending of Song of Susannah sets up a lot of stuff for the next and “final” chapter in The Dark Tower series. This one is a must read to appreciate the last book.
The Dark Tower: The Dark Tower VII
The last big book in The Dark Tower run is simply named The Dark Tower. Things don’t take long to get going as one character is killed off within the first 20 pages of the book. It seems Stephen King wanted to clean house a little bit in this one. Susannah is now a mother of Mordred the spider thing, and Jake is fighting for his life against a hungry horde of creatures and vampires.
Meanwhile, Roland and Eddie show up after an adventure in Maine, and the group are reunited. Their next quest is to stop the breakers of the beams which hold the Dark Tower together, and with the help of a character from the book Insomnia, they just might succeed. However, not everyone is going to make it out alive.
My favourite part in the last book was the connections to Stephen King’s It. As the group venture along to the Dark Tower, they came across an old man, who invites them into his home. Unbeknownst to them, the man is a shape-shifting entity named Dandelo. Although the creature called Dandelo wasn’t Pennywise, he is a relative of sorts. He feeds on laughter and manipulates the environment to fool you into a false sense of security. The robot, who shows up at the same time as Dandelo, with the name Stuttering Bill is yet another nod towards the book.
The biggest issue I have with the final book is the death of Randall Flagg and the showdown with the Crimson King. Flagg’s death is so anticlimactic; you can’t help be disappointed. Stephen King built up this massive villain, whose presence is felt throughout many of his other books, and King goes and wipes him out in a page or two. What a waste, but maybe Flagg isn’t truly dead, as evil can’t be killed. We can dream, can’t we? As for the Crimson King, I never really felt like he was the one evil behind everything that he was made out to be. The final showdown seemed like it was over before it started.
As for the ending of the entire series? I can’t say I didn’t see it coming, but I do like what King did overall. Ka is a wheel and things are changing for Roland, even if it seems like he is doomed to repeat. Remember, the horn of eld, which was lost during the Battle of Jerico, is now in Roland’s possession, which means things are changing. As for the rest of the Ka-tet, they are going to live happily ever after, even if they don’t remember much of their former lives. You couldn’t ask for a better ending.
The Wind Through the Keyhole: A Dark Tower Story
The Dark Tower wasn’t over for me, as I quickly started reading The Wind Through the Keyhole, a Dark Tower story. The story takes place in between books 4 and 5 and is yet another flashback tale involving shapeshifters and tigers in another land. It’s a simple story that hints at upcoming events and brings the original Merlin (the father of Randall Flagg) into the story.
The book was a quick read, and although it doesn’t provide much to the overall story, it does bring back favourite characters for one final tale. This one is a must read as well.
Well, that’s it for Part 1 of this long, exciting journey into the world that has moved on. There are plenty more connections to the Dark Tower, and you can look forward to reading those in my future Part 2 article. For now, let’s hope and pray that the movie will be at least half as good as the book series.
If you’ve read the series before, I would love to hear what you think and what your thoughts are on the upcoming film. Leave a comment below.