Monday, August 25, 2008

It's The End Of The World As We Know It

Even though I consider myself to be a HUGE King fan, I was apprehensive about embarking on the Dark Tower quest. I was a freshman in college when I finally broke down and read King's collaboration with Peter Straub, The Talisman. I thought that I wouldn't enjoy it as much as his other work because he wasn't the sole author. Talisman will be saved for a separate post, but it was the book that led me to the series. Why? Because Talisman was the first book that first showed me a glimpse into Roland's world. 

The Dark Tower is an epic dark fantasy/horror series that is basically a hero's quest. Roland Deschain exists in a world that is parallel to ours. It has been ravaged by war, nuclear holocaust, monstrous technology gone bad, human evil... It's very much a post-apocalyptic world, though. Roland, the last gunslinger, has been chasing his nemesis, the man in black, for a long time. He is eventually joined by three (and a half) companions in his quest to find the dark tower and reset the balance of his world.

Of course there's much more to the series than that. In fact, entire books have been written about the series over time. 

I began to read them just after book four, Wizard and Glass, came out in paperback. I can tell you The Gunslinger did not hook me initially, but I trudged through. It's a very western style novel, much different from King's other work. Originally published in 1982, it took King 12 years to finish this opening book to the series. 

Book 2, Drawing of Three, was slightly better. Published in 1987, it is here that Roland first meets the members of his party. This one was still a little rough for me. I can't explain why now, but I do remember it had a very 80s feel to it. Seeing as how it was only book 2, it was also still the beginning of the journey.

No, it wasn't until book 3, The Waste Lands, that I was really and truly hooked. The party is on the move and the action has well and truly begun.

Book 4, Wizard and Glass, is the most heavily fantasy based installment to the series. They begin right where book 3 leaves off (one of my favorite parts, but I won't ruin it). You also learn more about Roland himself in this book.

Book 5, Wolves of the Calla, finds the group working with actual people left over in this crazy land. They also meet up with Father Callahan from Salems Lot. Father Callahan reveals some quite interesting information about his own story - things that occurred after SL takes place.

Book 6, Song of Susannah, finds the group faced with some tough decisions about one of their own. They must travel between the dimensions in order to complete a series of tasks to help them along the way. A meeting with their own creator actually takes place and makes for some great reading. 

Book 7, The Dark Tower, completed 22 years after The Gunslinger was published. The final book to the official series, and you will see if they will be successful. I love the ending. It was the cause of some complaint from readers, but I thought there couldn't possibly be a better one. 

I hope that I haven't given too much away for any of you. It's an epic series and is amazing in so many regards. You can really see how much King's style has changed over the years. The entire set was rereleased in hardcover and I replaced all of my old paperbacks at the time. The funny thing is, with so much time passing between books, King himself decided that Gunslinger needed a bit of a revamp when the new edition came out. I've not reread the series in the time since finishing it. One of these days I will, though.

Interestingly enough, many of King's other titles tie into the series. Once you begin to read the books you begin to make the many connections. I hope that even though the series is through, that we will be able to revisit the world occasionally through short stories and novels to come. 

My essential Dark Tower reading list:
Eyes of the Dragon
Little Sisters of Eluria (Everything's Eventual)
The Talisman
Dark Tower books 1-4
The Black House
DT book 5
Low Men in the Yellow Coats (Hearts in Atlantis)
DT books 6 & 7

In my mind, these are the essentials and this is the order in which they should be read. Some might not agree, but Eyes and Little Sisters are most definitely preludes to the series. Talisman will get you interested in the world. Black House is the sequel to Talisman and the unofficial book 5 (before book 5 was out). Father Callahan plays a big role in book 5 and so it is a good idea to read Salems Lot right before his intro, and there is a character in Low Men who plays a pretty big peripheral role in the final showdown. 

Other tie-ins are:
The Stand
Bag of Bones
Rose Madder
Cell (reportedly)
From a Buick 8
Desperation (directly tied to Regulators)

There's at least one other short story that I know ties in, but I can't recall the title at this exact moment. Both of the guides outline all of the ties in full, however. 


bookfool said...

I read The Gunslinger years and years ago, and really didn't like it, so I never read anymore of the series. I love The Stand though, one of my favorite books, you know the kind, the ones you read more than once....

Becky LeJeune said...

I've heard that a lot. It's easier to get into if you've read Eyes of the Dragon or Talisman, but only a little. I'm glad that I stuck it out, it was well worth it.