What We're Reading

What We’re Reading: All Things Stephen King

the-standIn May of 2011, I began a new book, not realizing that almost two and a half years later, I’d still be a thousand pages from completing it. But first, a little background.

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!

13 thoughts on “What We’re Reading: All Things Stephen King

  1. I haven’t read the Dark Tower series! In fact, I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve only read On Writing and Joyland. I plan to read The Shining so I can read Doctor Sleep.

    • I haven’t read Joyland yet–it’s on my TBR pile, along with the 11-22-63 novel and Under the Dome and Full Dark, No Stars…um, I think I’m behind! I’d like to read The Shining again so I could get the movie out of my head. It seems to be just me, but I HATED Jack Nicholson in that movie.

  2. I read the first book of the Dark Tower series–can’t really say it was one of my favorites. But The Stand is a different story. I had a total bonding moment with my roommate at the time, watching The Stand miniseries every night for a week. I bet the book is even better!

    • Yay! Yes, the book of The Stand is ah-maz-ing. Just awesome. I thought they did a decent job with the miniseries. I even thought the casting was well done. There keep being rumors about a new theatrical big-budget version of The Stand being done. If so, I hope they do it justice.

    • Maybe so, Lisa (and yes, Pet Semetary is scary!). I do like Dark Tower, which has surprised me. The only one of the six I’ve read so far that I didn’t like is #6, Song of Susannah, and I think part of that is because there was this totally unbelievable instalove between Susannah and one of the male characters, Eddie, that happened a minute after they met. I was like, Steve, dude, don’t even go there with the romance.

      • My hubby’s only complaint was int he Dark Tower series, Flagg and the Crimson King had been built up over the years in many other stand alones even to be these HUGE powerful characters and he thought they were too easily defeated in the Dark Tower, but otherwise, he loved them… Funny that insta-love doesn’t seem to bother guys… Maybe they’re wired different! LOL

    • It’s a very strange book, Samantha (but great to find another fan of The Stand)–the Walkin’ Dude is a major character in Dark Tower, and the DT characters even travel for a while in a version of our world that’s at the time of The Stand, where all the abandoned cars are sitting on the roadway in Kansas. The save for me is Stephen King’s ability to create characters I care about (as long as he doesn’t try to write romance into it–LOL).

  3. I haven’t read anything of his in years but I’m definitely a fan. I loved the Shining. Read it when I was a kid and it inspired me to write my own horror stories. I also read The Stand as a youth and it *totally* freaked me out. Bravo, Stephen King, bravo.

  4. I haven’t read much of Stephen King. To be honest, it scares the bejesus out of me. But something about Dark Tower is alluring. I might have to put on my big girl pants and take a venture!

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