Song of Susannah, by Stephen King / ****

This is the fifth full entry in my re-read of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, following my reviews of The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the ThreeThe Waste Lands, Wizard and Glass, and Wolves of the Calla (with a side stop into “The Little Sisters of Eluria”). As a reminder, I’ll be reviewing the book on its own terms in the review; after the review concludes, I will be discussing the book’s connections to the rest of the series to come in the section entitled “All Things Serve the Beam.”

Also, this time I’m going to have a special book-only spoiler section called “The Clearing at the End of the Path,” because there’s one aspect of this book that I wanted to discuss at length, but didn’t want to spoil for people who hadn’t yet read the book. (If you’ve read it, you probably know what it is.)


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As I approached Song of Susannah in this re-read, I’m not going to lie; I was a bit anxious. Over the years, Song of Susannah has been held up as the nadir of the series – a mess, the point at which the meta commentary became too much, the book where King’s ambition stretched too far. And in some ways, I’ll grant some of those points. There’s no denying that Song of Susannah sometimes feels like too many books in one, nor that it feels…well, weird. And that’s saying something, given how strange this series is already, and how disjointed the books are almost by design. But more than most, Song of Susannah swings for the fences, going between the surreal to the action-packed, from the nightmarish to the esoteric, often without even a hint of a change coming. And that doesn’t even get into the main thrust of the narrative, which somehow has to explain a truly baffling pregnancy that…well, I can’t even begin to explain this one to you, because King doesn’t quite either, despite the number of pages he devotes to trying to hash it all out.

And yet. (Come on. You knew an “and yet” was coming.)

And yet, by god, broken down to its individual pieces, Song of Susannah WORKS. There’s no denying that King’s ambition cranks up dozens of notches here (and I’ll have lots to say about the major one – and the most controversial one – in a book spoiler section below, before I get to series spoilers), but it’s easy to forget how much King has a way of making even the most bizarre and dysfunctional concepts somehow work when you’re lost in his worlds. On paper, most of Song of Susannah shouldn’t work, but as we immerse ourselves into the heart and soul of these characters, and King brings his worlds to vivid, intense life, it’s hard to remember your complaints while you’re carried along.

More than that, Song of Susannah has some truly great scenes waiting for you, most notably a climactic section that may rank as one of the most disturbing, horrific things King’s ever written – no small feat, that. But it makes sense, because King’s horror usually has at least one foot in the real world, one foot keeping things grounded. But in the world of the Dark Tower, all bets are off – there’s no reality to keep it tethered. And what results is genuinely horrifying and disturbing, with some of the darkest, grimmest images I can remember King writing – an ending (setting aside the coda, which I’ll address in those book spoilers) that leaves you dying for more in a great way. More than that, even with the weird, sometimes disjointed approach that finds us sometimes leaping from scene to scene, King retains that command of momentum and pacing that makes him one of the best writers around – and that goes double here, as King barrels us toward the ending of this series.

But maybe what I really love most about Song of Susannah is the way that it makes King’s ambition for this series plain, crystallizing something that’s been a theme for some time. Song of Susannah, in other words, is the book where it becomes most clear that in many ways, this is King’s most ambitious and career-defining work, in his own mind, and that the book is as much as about him as an author as it is these characters. It’s something that’s been a part of the series since the beginning (if you remember, it’s one reason why I advocate for the original cut of The Gunslinger, because it makes King’s evolution as a writer part of the text of the series), and even more so over the past few, as the ideas of story and storytelling has become more and more intrinsic to the plot of the series as a whole. The idea of stories – why we tell them, how they inspire or define us, how they motivate us – is only more and more relevant as the Tower series progresses, and Song of Susannah starts turning that from subtext to text, as characters grapple with their roles in stories that they had no idea they were a part of.

Does Song of Susannah spend alternately too long on some explanations (Mia/Susannah, I’m looking at you) and not enough on others (how Susannah knows the importance of a street preacher, for instance)? Undoubtedly. Does it suffer from “middle book” syndrome a bit, bridging between the setup of Wolves of the Calla and the payoff of The Dark Tower without sometimes knowing how to define itself? Most definitely. And is there a bit of me that resents spending so much time in this penultimate book of a great series on one of its weirdest, most nonsensical plot threads, to say nothing of the fact that most of it is devoted to maybe my least favorite member of the ka-tet? (Again, I’ll get into why in the spoiler section below.) Yup.

But for all of that, so many of the individual pieces of Song of Susannah work so well that I can overlook that. Any book that features that horrific sequence in the Dixie Pig, the fantastic shoot-out, that eerie scene where they meet a sort of god, and our first glimpses at what lays in the blasted lands near the Tower…when your book has all of that and more, I’m okay with the weaknesses, especially because all of them work so well thematically, and they’re so well told. And more than anything, when a book leaves me this ready to jump into the final volume, even after I’ve already read it…well, it’s doing its job, isn’t it?

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The Clearing at the End of the Path (book spoilers follow – no series spoilers) Continue reading “Song of Susannah, by Stephen King / ****”

Wolves of the Calla, by Stephen King / *****

This is the fifth full entry in my re-read of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, following my reviews of The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the ThreeThe Waste Lands, and Wizard and Glass (with a side stop into “The Little Sisters of Eluria”). As a reminder, I’ll be reviewing the book on its own terms in the review; after the review concludes, I will be discussing the book’s connections to the rest of the series to come in the section entitled “All Things Serve the Beam.”


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And finally, after decades of writing and an near-fatal car accident, Stephen King brought us into the home stretch. I still remember the excitement when Wolves of the Calla was released – not just the excitement of a new Dark Tower book (though that was no small part of it), but the realization that the end was in sight – that within the next year, we would have the final novel in the series in our hands, and that King was focused on the Tower in a way he had never really been before. More than that, all of the various threads and hints that King had been tossing out – from Insomnia to Black House, from Everything’s Eventual to Hearts in Atlantis, King had been building to this in almost every book he’d written as of late, and I was eager and ready to see what came next.

What came next was an absolute crackerjack adventure story, one with a heavy (and acknowledged) debt to Seven Samurai/The Magnificent Seven, and yet one that was undeniably a King tale, and even more specific, a Tower tale. More than that, it’s the most focused Tower novel since The Gunslinger – the first since the original to have a single, clear, focused throughline. Yes, there are diversions and sidetracks, and there’s setup for the two books to come, but by and large, Wolves of the Calla is simple: a village needs help, and Roland and his ka-tet will aid them. The details are more complicated, of course, with mysterious hooded raiders, children who are kidnapped and returned as shells of themselves, and a mysterious cave that might be the key to saving a singularly important rose, but really, this is a tale as old as Kurosawa…or King Arthur.

But still, this is a King tale, and he’s at the top of his form here, immersing us into this community and its population, investing us in their fears and worries, and ratcheting up the tension and the pacing slowly but inexorably until you’re rocketing through pages to get to the fight that we’ve been simultaneously dreading and awaiting for hundreds of pages. Does King manage to do this while still giving us rich character depth and development, moving the quest ever forward to the Tower, and creating a rich world? Of course he does.

And, as usual, it’s the details that stick out so much – the rich patois of the local villagers, the odd behavior of Andy the “useful” robot, the strange unease around the number nineteen…all of it works, giving the book detail and depth that makes it even richer than it would have been otherwise. Even the sidebars are rich here, with one characters’ long backstory being every bit the equal of the rest of the book, as he narrates a story of supernatural vengeance, shadowy roads, and low men in yellow coats. (Indeed, some parts of that story may be the best parts of the book.)

It wouldn’t be right to call Wolves of the Calla the calm before the storm – there’s plenty of storm here – but there’s a sense that, by book’s end, we are plunging into the endgame more quickly than we realized. But in Wolves, King gives us a sense of what this quartet – quintet, if you count their furry friend Oy – was capable of. Just as Wizard and Glass let us see Roland in his youth but at full capacity, Wolves gives us a glimpse of what a world with gunslingers could be – a world of violence, yes, but one of justice and honor, even in the face of horror. It’s a welcome entry in the series, and one of my favorites to date.

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All Things Serve the Beam (series spoilers follow) Continue reading “Wolves of the Calla, by Stephen King / *****”

“The Little Sisters of Eluria,” by Stephen King / ****

6356190A Dark Tower novella released in the long period of time between Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Calla (and ultimately collected in King’s Everything’s Eventual), “The Little Sisters of Eluria” is hard to pin down. It’s a Dark Tower story, but it’s a prequel to The Gunslinger, taking place while Roland was still hunting for the trail of the Man in Black. That means…well, it means a lot of things. It means there’s no ka-tet to be found, but also no Cuthbert; this is Roland, alone and already hardened by the events of Wizard and Glass. It means that the world has moved on, but not as much, and that Roland hasn’t made it to the wastes of The Gunslinger, though he may be near the edges.

But most importantly, “The Little Sisters of Eluria” differs from the main Tower books in two key ways: that it’s a novella, which reduces the scope, and that it’s a horror story – the only truly single-genre piece of the series. And given that King has a gift for short form horror, that’s all the more promising.

And luckily, though “Little Sisters” is inessential other than for Tower completists, it’s a gloriously unsettling little tale, one where King can take advantage of his fantastical world to give us a glimpse of the dark shadows lurking at its edges. The result is a lot of fun – a unique take on a classic monster archetype, as a wounded Roland tries to recover from a mutant attack in a hospital where patients seem to disappear rather than leave. There’s no huge shocks here – it’s clear early on what kind of creatures we’re dealing with, but that’s okay, because the details are what matters. And as King reveals the doctors that have been healing the patients, or follows the Sisters on their feedings, or as he turns the knife for a nicely nasty ending, “Little Sisters” is constantly weird, unsettling, and gripping. Nothing profound, nothing deep, but a solid horror gem nonetheless.

For all of that, it feels like a Dark Tower story only vaguely – almost more of a side story in this world, one that happens to feature Roland. Nonetheless, there’s something compelling about seeing more of Roland’s world, especially parts that are further from the Beam and the Tower. It reminds us that this isn’t just a world of one man; it’s a world in ruin, and as it’s collapsed, darkness has found its way into the cracks. And, as always, a solo Roland is most compelling when he’s wounded and less capable; to watch this unstoppable powerhouse forced to think his way out, instead of shooting his way out, is always interesting to see.

Is it a true Dark Tower story? Not of the main arc, and even fans may find themselves forgetting it when they think of the whole saga (I certainly had). But it’s a great little horror story, and a nice tale of Roland beyond the boundaries of his quest. What more do you want to tide you over while you prepare for the home stretch?

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Wizard and Glass, by Stephen King / ****

This is the fourth entry in my re-read of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, following my reviews of The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three, and The Waste Lands. As a reminder, I’ll be reviewing the book on its own terms in the review; after the review concludes, I will be discussing the book’s connections to the rest of the series to come in the section entitled “All Things Serve the Beam.”


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I remember being a bit let down with Wizard and Glass upon its release back in 1997. It’s not that the heart of the book – which revolves around Roland’s coming of age, both in terms of becoming a man and becoming a gunslinger – is bad by any means. Indeed, for many people, that story – an extended flashback that takes up probably 80-90% of the book – is one of the best sections of the entire Dark Tower saga. And as I re-read it, I came to agree with them to some degree, even while I also remembered what frustrated me about the original book.

Essentially, most of Wizard and Glass is the story of 14-year-old Roland Deschain, fresh off of his testing with Cort, and sent into his first mission in an effort to keep him and his friends safe from a world in the process of “moving on”. But rather than ending up with a quiet, easy job to do, Roland and his friends find themselves in a dangerous, volatile situation with threats on every side, from a town increasingly hostile towards the Affiliation to a failed gunslinger who’s the match of all of them, from an unclear conspiracy to a demented witch with a dangerous artifact. And once you add into the mix the fact that Roland falls in love with a young woman who’s to father the mayor’s child, an already tense situation gets even worse.

There’s a lot to love about this story, but one of the best things is getting to see Roland’s world as it was, not as it is; we see how society worked, get an ear for the patter and conversations and rhythms of the world, and a feel for the traditions and beliefs that helped shape Roland to become the man we know. More than that, we see Roland not as the hardened, ruthless figure we met in book one, but as a young man desperate to prove himself – and more capable of failing than we’ve ever known him to be. That it does all of that while telling a gripping, compelling story and bringing to life dozens of rich characters is just icing – and that doesn’t even get into the action sequences and pacing King brings out, every bit as good as he’s ever been. In other words, the story here could be a novel all on its own, and it would be a knockout – exciting, richly characterized, fleshed out, and surprisingly moving.

And almost as good is the opening section of the book, which provides a fantastic resolution to the last book’s cliffhanger and tosses us into a strange new world that may bear some familiarity for the true Constant Reader. It’s a surprising move, and one that throws all of the characters off kilter, putting everyone on unfamiliar territory and making the reader realize that, in the world of the Tower, the boundaries of reality aren’t as firm as we might think. It’s a great start to the book, and one that was worth the wait.

So, if all of that is so good, why was I disappointed then, and a little bit now? It’s because of the book’s finale, which indulges some of King’s favorite tropes (letting pop culture allusions slowly become literal and ominous) without much purpose. It’s a threatening ending, yes, and one that lets our heroes realize that their quest is being watched…but it’s also more than a bit over the top and silly, and ultimately feels like it’s unworthy of the book before it. Is it truly bad? Not entirely…but it definitely ends the book on a weaker point than any other part, and you never want to leave the reader on your weakest point – especially when you’re going to leave them hanging for almost another decade. Add to that the realization that the book we’d been waiting for for so long amounted to the end of a cliffhanger and a lot of backstory, and not much progress at all, and you can imagine some of my frustration.

Even with the ending and the lack of momentum, though, Wizard and Glass gives the Dark Tower books something it wasn’t even obvious they were missing: it gives them heart and soul, and more importantly, it humanizes Roland – and clarifies him – more than perhaps any other book before. And although the forward momentum of the quest doesn’t get us very far this time, it would be hard to imagine the series without this extended flashback, this glimpse into the world that was and the choices that helped define Roland as the man he would become.

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“All Things Serve the Beam” (series spoilers follow) Continue reading “Wizard and Glass, by Stephen King / ****”

The Waste Lands, by Stephen King / *****

This is the third entry in my re-read of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, following my reviews of The Gunslinger and The Drawing of the Three. As a reminder, I’ll be reviewing the book on its own terms in the review; after the review concludes, I will be discussing the book’s connections to the rest of the series to come in the section entitled “All Things Serve the Beam.”


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In a lot of ways, I’m glad The Waste Lands was already out when I started reading The Dark Tower. Yes, the strange, alien nature of The Gunslinger is intriguing, and yes, The Drawing of the Three immerses us into its cast of characters incredibly well. But for my money, it’s really here, in the third volume of the series, that it feels like the quest for the Tower truly begins. The players have assembled; the ka-tet is formed; and now, the march to the Tower truly begins in earnest.

That makes it sound as though nothing has really happened in the past two books, and that’s not the case at all; it’s just that the first two books are largely about immersing us in this world and letting us get to know our cast of heroes (maybe “protagonists” is a better term). But in The Waste Lands, we finally begin moving along the path of the Beam, and we begin to see what’s left of Roland’s world – and what he means when he says that it’s “moved on”.

The Waste Lands, more than either of the previous two novels, taps into King’s strengths as a horror writer, whether in a harrowing sequence set in a malevolent house or introducing us to a machine that’s lost its mind somewhere in the past centuries. The book absolutely pulses with unease and tension, pushing our heroes more closely together and making the threats more palpable. In The Gunslinger, we felt that Roland could pretty well take care of himself, and we had few worries. But now, there are bonds of friendship and love, and even Roland has been wounded by this world – and we’re early on. King uses that tension and unease masterfully, forcing our heroes to fight for their survival and become active participants in this quest and the fight to survive this mad, broken world that they find themselves in.

More than that, though, The Waste Lands is King’s best effort at world-building to date in the series. It’s the first time we get a sense of what this world is truly like, with discussions of some of its mythology, people reacting to the sight of the last gunslinger with awe and unease, and a sense of some of what’s happened to this world since its peak. We see huddled colonies of elderly, marauding gangs of bandits, and desolate, horrifying wastes warped by some unimaginable conflict. It’s the book that truly began to build what I think of as The Dark Tower for me, and in many ways, it’s the one that made me truly love the series.

But it’s also the first book in which King starts to build the complex cosmology and mythology of the Tower, establishing not only the links to “our” world in more explicit ways, but introducing some of the threats that are pursuing Roland on behalf of darker forces. It’s here that we learn the importance of the Rose, or start realizing who the Ageless Stranger may be, or realize just how important this quest is going to be.

Mind you, The Waste Lands does all this while telling an exciting, rocket-paced story. The first half largely revolves around the completion of the ka-tet and the rescue of a lost friend; the second finds the group moving along the path of the Beam into the broken city of Lud and into the Wastes beyond. There’s a lot that happens here, and it’s a welcome reminder of how well King writes action/suspense pieces, especially as he cuts back and forth between different parties, using their perspectives off of each other masterfully and leaving us in doubt sometimes about the accuracy of their beliefs. The Lud section especially is absolutely fantastic, giving a sense of dread and insanity that leaves you uneasy for chapters at a time, even before you meet the chief villains of this place.

And of course, no discussion of the book would be complete without mentioning the introduction here of Blaine the Mono, one of my favorite characters of the series – the mad train whose insanity and malice makes him instantly horrifying, even without a true physical presence in the book. That King uses Blaine to set up the infamous cliffhanger at the end of the book works only because Blaine has instantly solidified himself as a threat, both mentally and physically, to our characters; the fact that the cliffhanger is so maddening is even better, even though I would have disagreed with it while I was waiting for the next volume.

In short, it’s one of my favorite entries in the series – it’s exciting, engrossing, moves the story along, and deepens both the world and the mythology of the series. And more than anything else, it’s the one that truly hooked me into the world of the Dark Tower.

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“All Things Serve the Beam” (series spoilers follow)

Continue reading “The Waste Lands, by Stephen King / *****”

The Drawing of the Three, by Stephen King / ****

This is the second entry in my re-read of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, following my review of The Gunslinger. As a reminder, I’ll be reviewing the book on its own terms in the review; after the review concludes, I will be discussing the book’s connections to the rest of the series to come in the section entitled “All Things Serve the Beam.”


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One of my least favorite tropes in sci-fi and fantasy novels is the idea of characters showing up in the “real” world. I’ve always hated that sort of “fish out of water” story, with its wacky misunderstandings, vocabulary clashes, heavy-handed moral lessons that often result, and so forth. And maybe that’s part of why I had never really liked The Drawing of the Three as much most of the other Dark Tower fans – that instinctive dislike of that genre and its shortcomings.

And so it was sort of a relief to re-read Drawing of the Three and remember how little of that element there is to the novel. Yes, Roland has a few moments where he comments on the weirdness of this “modern” world; yes, there are a few silly misunderstandings (the neon tower sign is the one that bugs me more than the others); but for the most part, The Drawing of the Three is anchored in its characters – not just Roland, but those who he is drawing – the three deeply flawed characters drawn into the orbit of our deeply flawed hero.

As he did in The Gunslinger, King populates his fantasy series with characters who inhabit a wonderfully murky, grey moral area. Even with the first figure drawn from our world, King gives us a co-dependent heroin addict who’s smuggling drugs – not exactly a standard fantasy figure. And that pattern repeats with each of the next drawings, where King gives us broken, even horrific people, and tries to give us empathy and feeling for each of them. They – along with the coldly ruthless Roland, still willing to do whatever it takes to stay alive and to succeed in his quest – are our protagonists, and it’s another sign that King’s mythic fantasy quest isn’t going to be like many others.

But what makes The Drawing of the Three a strong second entry in the series is the reminder of how great King has become at storytelling since that young, inexperienced man wrote The GunslingerThe Drawing of the Three feels like multiple books shoved into one, mixed wildly together – there are thrillers and dramas, crime novels and fantasy worlds, all shoehorned together into a strange, alien world that doesn’t always give us answers. (Indeed, one of the best things about the book is how little explanation is there for the drawing and the mechanics that surround it.) But no matter where the story is taking us, King makes it move, constantly ratcheting up tension, shifting the stakes of the conflicts, leaving us to question what it will mean to survive and succeed. Even better, he makes the characters’ evolutions intrinsic to the plot, making the drawing part of the shaping of their lives and their destinies.

None of which is to say that The Drawing of the Three is perfect. There is absolutely no denying the weirdness and discomfort of King’s racial choices when it comes to Detta Walker; while King makes the exaggerated caricature a conscious choice and has the characters themselves comment on the awfulness of it, it doesn’t make it less distasteful. (There’s a sense that, if King were to revise this one as he did The Gunslinger, he might make more of an effort to explain exactly what has turned Detta into such a hateful stereotype – there’s an explanation there, but it’s never made concrete in this novel.) And while it’s generally a good choice to lean into the inexplicable, alien nature of the doors, the way King uses them to resolve one character’s arc/dilemma ultimately feels a bit odd and shoehorned in – again, a rare case when a tiny bit more exposition might help things out a little bit.

For all of that, though, I think I better understand The Drawing of the Three‘s appeal for so many fans. I still don’t love it the way I love the rest of the series – it feels like a transitional book, and a stage-setting one at times – but there’s little denying that after the bleak, strange atmosphere of The Gunslinger, this second book feels like momentum is building in the series, and gives us characters we can more easily identify with than our strange, stark protagonist.

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“All Things Serve the Beam” (series spoilers follow) Continue reading “The Drawing of the Three, by Stephen King / ****”

The Gunslinger, by Stephen King / *****


Introductory note: It’s been a little over a decade since the release of the last novels in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, and every bit as long since I’ve read them. In fact, setting aside my reading of the revised edition of The Gunslinger, it’s been probably 15-20 years since I’ve read some of the Dark Tower books, despite my deep love for the series. So, with the release of the film later this year, I’ve decided to do a re-read of the entire series, as well as The Wind through the Keyhole after I read the original seven. It’s an undertaking I’m looking forward to, even though I’m worried that the series won’t live up to my love and affection for it.

One more key note: after each main review, I’ll do a section headed “All Things Serve the Beam,” in which I’ll discuss some spoilers for the series as a whole for those like me who’ve read it all or know how things turn out. I’ll mark it pretty clearly, but don’t read that section if you’re not wanting the series beyond this book spoiled for you.


the_gunslinger2The Gunslinger is a strange book, by any standards. That goes doubly if you’re reading the original version (which I recommend), but even if you’re reading King’s revised version that came out, The Gunslinger doesn’t quite feel…well, like a Stephen King book, yes, but really, it doesn’t feel like much else.

But for me, that’s much of what drew me into the world of The Dark Tower, and that goes doubly for King’s original version of the book, which is starker, less polished, and less familiar. It’s undeniably the work of a younger author, one who hadn’t honed his craft yet, and yet whose imagination and mind are truly like little else out there. Mixing together Sergio Leone, King Arthur tales, horror novels, and post-apocalyptic fiction, The Gunslinger puts us into a world that, as so many characters repeat, “has moved on.” This is not a vivid or rich world; it is a world that is dying, and dying rapidly.

And yet, the gunslinger – Roland Deschain – exists, and stays true to his quest. Despite the death of the world, despite the fact that he’s a forgotten relic of a bygone time, he clings to his quest – and there’s something primal and archetypal in that for me, a story of a knight on a pointless quest that has echoed into modern books I love like The Last Policeman or The Devil’s Detective, and no doubt, some of it started here.

Except, of course, that Roland isn’t a typical hero. It’s something I hadn’t considered entirely until this read, but King didn’t just borrow the style and grandeur of Leone’s spaghetti Westerns; he borrowed the amorality of its hero, giving us a hero who cares about his quest first and foremost, and finds all other attachments ultimately expendable. Roland is not the brightest character, not the warmest, not the most noble – but he is dedicated, and there is something fascinating about that, to no small degree. (King’s revised version seems to make Roland a little softer around the edges, and it’s my least favorite aspect of the revisions; Roland is a cold-blooded son of a bitch, and I think the original version of the novel stays true to that more clearly.)

The Gunslinger is a short book; it’s a foray into a strange world, an introduction more than a true entry in the series. And yet, there’s something so strange, so alien, so haunting about it that I still love it, all these years later. And while I understand King’s desire to revise the book (more on that in a moment), I love the stilted, uncomfortable nature of the original, and its rawness. It’s a magnificent first entry in a unique series, and a microcosm of what’s to come: not always perfect, but always unique and off-kilter, and the product of a mind incapable of doing the expected.


rehost2f20162f92f142f9bdfb44b-07d8-4df9-88d7-f78648933abeThe Revised Edition: After reading the original draft, my plan had been just to check out some of the edits, but I ended up reading the revised version the day after I finished the original. King’s choice to revise the novel is entirely a sensible one; his argument, that he always goes back and revises the openings of his novels to fit the work entire, is a logical one, and there’s little denying that the revised version of the book better fits the tone of the series as a whole. More than that, setting aside the numerous continuity fixes, the revised version feels more like the author we know, and the author who concluded the series – for better and for worse. There’s a better sense of where the story is going, and how it fits together, and who Roland is. More to the point, there’s a far better sense of who Jake Chambers is; his portrayal in the revised version is far richer and more interesting, turning the character into someone who feels out of place in Roland’s world and not just of a piece with the strangeness.

For all of that, though, and even though I’ll concede that the revised Gunslinger is no doubt a better sell for the series for new readers, I can’t deny my preference for the unpolished, rough edges of the original novel. The Dark Tower is as much a snapshot of where King was as an author and a person over the course of the many years that went into the pieces, and there’s something magical about seeing King’s talent in its original form. More than that, the strange, alien feeling of the original text is more haunting in many ways than the more fully-realized version that we get in the revised. Is the revised more true to the series…but it’s the original that made me a fan.

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All Things Serve the Beam (series spoilers follow) Continue reading “The Gunslinger, by Stephen King / *****”