Book Notes: The Dark Tower, by Stephen King

The man in black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed…

If that sentence is familiar, then you’ve read the Dark Tower, or at least the first book. I recently finished reading this seven-volume fantasy series by our century’s Dickens, Stephen King. Fantasy? Well, technically; King imagined it as a fantasy series, akin to Tolkien, but there are no elves, magic spells or wizards. There are some strange things in the stories, but much of what happens is caused by men and women. Okay, there are time shifts, magic doors, and very, very strange creatures (such as a sentient monorail), but it’s a kind of fantasy borne of westerns, not faux-medieval societies.

For several reasons, I’m very tempted to re-read the books. (And if you’ve finished the series, you’ll probably know why.) It’s one of the richest series of popular fiction I know of. It’s full of interesting characters, ideas and events, and King’s writing throughout sparkles. (I’m a big fan of King as a writer, even if many of his books don’t turn me on.) It’s set in a post-apocalyptic world – that of The Stand, a novel King wrote in the late 70s. But it’s set in other worlds as well – “Go then, there are other worlds than these.” Reading these books, one gets attached to the characters and their ka, or their fate.

King wrote this series over a period of some thirty years. He began writing them in the late 70s – around the time of The Stand – and didn’t finish until 2003. He wrote the first four books, then took a long time off; it was, in part, the fans who wanted to see more of the story who prodded King to continue and write the final three books. When he did, he went back and tidied up the first four books to make everything fit with his new vision.

In addition to these books, there are comics that extend the story (such as The Gunslinger Born, and a few books about the series, including a “concordance”, or a sort of encyclopedia. The world depicted in this series is rich enough for all this, but it’s the books themselves that count: they are a pleasure to read, and the length of the series only makes them better. If you’ve never read this series, and are even slightly a fan of fantasy, I strongly recommend you read them. The first book is short, and you’ll know quickly whether you want to read more. May you have long days and pleasant nights.

Buy books one to four in a box set from Amazon