Monday, April 25, 2011

Book Review: Stephen King's Epic "Dark Tower" Series


“The man in black fled across the desert,
and the gunslinger followed.”


And with those words begins one of Stephen King’s least known works--his epic Dark Tower series. The series is without question, my favorite, probably because it's been with me for so long.  I first read those words over thirty years ago when I was in grade school. The Gunslinger was first published as a series of stories in Science Fiction & Fantasy Magazine, and while it was being run, I ran to the library at our school on a daily basis to see if that month's magazine had arrived yet--I drove poor Mrs. Fisher insane over it.  For a nine or ten year old boy, that story had everything--it was like Clint Eastwood meets J. R. R. Tolkien in a world that reminded me of Planet of the Apes.  I was disappointed when the series ended to say the least.

A few years later, just after I'd gotten my driver's license, I saw Stephen King had published The Gunslinger in book form.  I bought it of course, and re-read it (when I should have selling quality new and used instruments at the mall music store I worked at).  Again, I was disappointed when I finished it.

About the time I got married the first time ('87), I was thrilled to see he'd published a second book The Drawing of Three.  The third, The Wastelands ('91), I read late at night, since I was up anyway, feeding and changing my eldest daughter, Jaclyn.  Wizard and Glass came out during the divorce (about the only thing I enjoyed in '97), and by the time Wolves of the Calla came out in '03, I'd met Valerie, gotten remarried, and started a new life.  The last two, Song of Susannah and The Dark Tower came out the following year finishing the series--an adventure that took twenty-five years to complete.

The Dark Tower series is difficult to describe--it's a hybrid between a fantasy novel and a western novel--along with an epic Tolkienesque quest. The story starts with the Gunslinger following the "man in black" across the dessert, a man that he catches at the end of the first book.  But that is only the very beginning of the gunslingers' quest for the Dark Tower--the mythical center of of his dying world.  We get the idea that the Gunslinger's world is unraveling, and the Dark Tower is the cause of this deterioration, and that perhaps Roland Deschain, our gunslinger, is on a quest to save his world.  Along this quest, he meets a motley assortment of characters that join him, and they face many difficult challenges.  There's nothing else quite like this series.  I highly recommend it.  It's Stephen King's best work--even The Stand pales by comparison, possibly because Stephen King had already written The Gunslinger, and the events that took place in The Stand was related--just a small piece in a much larger puzzle that is The Dark Tower

What's most interesting about the Dark Tower Series are the connections between the series, and many of Stephen King's other books.  If you've read Stephen King for a long time as I have, after you read The Dark Tower Series, you begin to see that Stephen King has referenced that mysterious world in a number of his books--It, Insomnia, From a Buick 8, Rose Madder, The Eyes of the Dragon, many more. It seems that in Stephen Kings mind, everything in his fiction is in one way or another connected back to Roland Deschain's world--and the Dark Tower.

Since Stephen King finished the series in '04, Marvel Comics has been putting out a series of graphic novels called Gunslinger Born--the prequel to The Gunslinger. I've lost track, but I think Marvel is into a second and third storyline as they explore Roland's past. 

And now the news that really prompted me to review these books--Stephen King misled us.  Apparently, the seventh book wasn't the end of the series.  He will be releasing another Dark Tower book (the eighth) titled The Wind Through the Keyhole in 2012. 

If you start reading now, you'll be ready for the new book in 2012.

The Dark Tower Series--check them out!

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