I’ve been a Stephen King fan as long as I can remember. Much of the reading that took place (and I was a Constant Reader) between the Beatrix Potter books and my reading of King’s book The Stand has faded into distant memory.
The Stand changed my life, because it was the first book I’d ever read that made me an evangelist. I’d preach the merits of this book to anyone who’d listen…and still do. Asked one of those endless “What’s your favorite book of all time” questions authors tend to get, I always say The Stand. It made me fall in love with characters. It made me fall in love with big sprawling stories with high stakes. It made me think. Love. Hate. It’s all there.
Over the years, I’ve read most of Stephen King’s work, with varying amounts of enthusiasm. It is the scariest. The Dead Zone stopped me in my tracks with the thought: How would the world be different had someone been able to go back and alter history—if Hitler had never come to power, or if JFK had lived. The Shining made “red-rum” part of my permanent vocabulary and eternally made me fear hedges trimmed in the shape of animals. Needful Things made me consider the things we want versus the things we need.
But I had never, ever read The Dark Tower, considered the crowning achievement of King’s long career. I thought it was epic fantasy, and I don’t like epic fantasy (sorry, Tolkien, you’re an exception and not a rule). I thought it was a western, and despite my love for “Cowboys and Aliens,” I don’t do westerns.
But when the folks over at Tor.com began looking for someone to do a “slow read” of the Dark Tower series, I volunteered. I knew King’s work. I had some time to kill between May of 2011 and the publication of my first novel, Royal Street, which wasn’t due to come out until April 2012. It hadn’t occurred to me that a “slow read” would take three years.
So since May of 2011, I have read a chapter or two a week of The Dark Tower (a seven-volume monolith), posting every Monday to offer up my theories on what’s happening, grousing when it bores me or when King throws me a cliffhanger. I just finished book six, Song of Susannah—my least favorite of the series so far—and am heading with much trepidation to see where it all will end in the book called The Dark Tower, thousands of pages after beginning book one, The Gunslinger.
It is SO not what I thought, this series.
So, here’s what the Dark Tower is and isn’t.
- It isn’t epic fantasy. Part of it is set in different versions of our world, and a world either far ahead or behind ours. The hero, Roland Deschain, is the last descendant of King Arthur (or his world’s version, Arthur Eld), and that’s about the only real tie with epic fantasy except the quest trope.
- It’s not a western, at least not in any sense we’d think about westerns. Sure, Roland is a gunslinger, but not in the way you might think. There are ghost towns and deserts and saloons, but not the ones you’d expect.
- It’s not urban fantasy, although there are vampires and demons. (No, not sexy vampires or demons—this is Stephen King, after all.)
- It’s post-apocalyptic. Something has happened to our world, or a future version of our world. Yeah, there’s time travel…a lot of it.
- It’s not horror, at least not in the way we tend to think of horror. Yeah, there are monstrous lobsters that eat a guy’s face off, and some scuttling spiders with eyes on stalks. (This is Stephen King, after all.)
- The romance is kinda pathetic (this is Stephen King, after all) although there is a love story.
- It’s pretty damn awesome.
Have you read The Dark Tower series? Are you a fan of sai-King? Leave a comment to win a copy of The Stand. It might change your life!