The Dark Tower Series

Having just finished the Dark Tower series by Stephen King I wanted to jot down some of my thoughts about it while they are fresh in mind.

First off I am glad I waited to read the series after the series ended. The main part of the series the first seven books were released over a twenty-two year period.  A couple of them had cliffhangers that quite upset fans of the series as Stephen King relates himself. Overall I reading all the books back to back was an enjoyable experience and I can now easily see what fans of this unique series raved about.

My own entry into the series was aborted once and came close the second time.  It is extremely rare that I stop reading a book before finishing it, yet I remember that I had done this with the first novel “The Gunslinger”. Reading it now to the end I can understand why I had done so.  The first book introduces Roland the Gunslinger in what seems like a future Earth but one reminiscent more of spaghetti Westerns than anything.  The problem that I had with it was that it was interesting and filled with mysteries, but nothing to really sink your teeth into.  The first look at Roland as a character was also not very pleasing and initially as a anti-hero not really even a likable anti-hero.  His quest for the Dark Tower drives him and you get that he would sacrifice anything for it, but you only get the idea of a quest and not why the quest is important.  I could easily have given up on the series at this point, but since I had heard so much about it I though I would try out the second one “The Drawing of the Three.”

“The Drawing of the Three” had what the first book did not. Companions to Roland that not only spiced up the plot, but characters you could come to like and really care about.  Like Roland most of his  companions had their serious flaws, but they were overcome during the series. At first glance the flaws of these characters did not seem to make that likely, but by the end of the series I was totally invested in them.  The reason behind the overriding quest starts to become tangible and the action certainly picks up.  Plus totally unlike the first book, I was then totally committed to the series to see how everything works out.

As a long series with some quite large books in it there is much more room for character development and exploration of their backgrounds than in most of Stephen King’s books.  Almost every time there is in opportunity for a characters backstory time is made for it.  So there are plenty of stories within a story and sometimes the backstory can take up most of a book.  In fact the latest novel in the series “The Wind Through the Keyhole” goes back to tell a story between the 4th and 5th book and the backstory of another event in Roland’s younger years is told.  That book did not advance the quest to the Dark Tower in any way or really fill in any missing information, still it was enjoyable in the story it told.

Along with the character development there is a lyrical quality in this series I found fascinating and there was the interesting way stock phrases in the series were used and repeated that was endearing.  The Western vocabulary at times was almost like a running joke like the use of the word “palaver”, but it still brought a smile when used.  Other phrases like “The face of your Father” provided a deepness and realism in the way they were used.

I can also see why people were not happy with the ending in “The Dark Tower.”  I did not find it a very satisfying one myself and I get the feeling Stephen King didn’t either.  Before the ending he talks about it being the journey and not the destination.  In the afterword King even recommends the reader close the book at this point before Roland enters the Dark Tower.  Whether he meant this seriously or not it was somewhat appropriate.  I didn’t hate the ending and it made sense in the context, just not the expected ending to a quest story.  Truly though I did enjoy the books because of the journey and I was more enthralled with the character developments than the plot ones.

You have to wonder how conceited an author is when he includes himself as a character in his own books?  Yet he manages to pull this off rather well and it provides some story telling opportunities that advanced the story.  It also provided a vehicle for the series to cross paths at points with some of his other novels to make you really wonder what going on.  The fallen whisky-priest from the novel Salem’s Lot comes into the story at one point as a major character and I liked the redemptive direction this took.  Stephen King can sometimes write the most stereotypical religious characters possible – kind of like an atheistic Jack Chick.  For example every single Christian in the book “Under the Dome” was the worst hypocrite  possible.  This became so obvious that you knew if a character mentioned Jesus that they were an evil character.  Of course the women preacher who had lost her faith was cast in a good light. I don’t mind an author using deeply flawed Christians as characters since that is real life, but the bigotry in “Under the Dome” was excessive.  The Dark Tower series for the most part did not have these stereotypes and presented a whole range of people flawed and virtuous.

I listened to the audiobook versions of the series and they included some notes from the author.  It was fascinating to discover the ideas behind this series and why they came out so slowly over time.  There was not master outline of the series book by book and it seems Stephen King was as surprised by them as his readers were to some extent.  The plot line that includes himself in the series kind of plays on this.

Over all I put this series of books high in my list of favorites from this author.  The Stand still tops my list.  There aren’t many of King’s books that I intend to reread.  But now having the audiobooks for this series, God permitting I can easily imagine listening to them again at some future point.

The last book in the series – the one released this year – was read by the author himself.  There is something quite cool when an author reads his own books.  Though I think in King’s case he should resist the temptation.  The other books in the series were read by talented voice actors and this is not King’s ability.  Plus there is something really annoying in a series of books to have different people read them.  They get so use to the character voices that you can only imagine them being done that way.    I really loved Frank Muller who read three of the books as his character voices were quite excellent.  I was quite annoyed at first that the last books in the series were read by George Guidall, who while quite capable was not as good as Muller to my ears.  This annoyance lasted until I found out Muller had been hurt in a motorcycle accident and Stephen King mentioned this in the author’s note.

Hmm, I had intended to jot down just a few things, but really a good series wells up things inside of you that want to get out.


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