“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” The Gunslinger (1982).When Stephen King published his seventh and final book in his epic Dark Tower series in 2004, you could almost hear an audible sigh of relief from his fans. The series is considered King’s Magnum Opus and truly spans his entire career, considering the fact that he began writing the first book in 1970. After he recovered from life threatening injuries from being struck by a van in 1999, he was surprised at some of the comments he would get at book signings. “I’m so glad you’re okay,” one fan told him. “I thought you wouldn’t be able to finish the Dark Tower series!”
The premise is simple enough: a gunslinger must make his way to the Dark Tower and discover its meaning. Inspired by Robert Browning’s poem “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came“, the actual telling of the story took over thirty years and continues to be sculpted and modified to this day. Stephen King himself sees the seven books as a “first draft” and plans to rewrite them, George Lucas style, at some point in the future. In fact, referring to the series as complete in seven books is not entirely accurate either. King wrote a novella set in the Dark Tower universe called “The Little Sisters of Eluria” and most recently has published an eighth book in the series called “The Wind Through Keyhole” taking place between books four and five of the series. I guess you could call it Book 4.5.
Like most epic fantasies, The Dark Tower series develops its own lingo and phrases. For example, “ka” stands for destiny, and “ka-tet” is a group of people put together for some purpose. A favourite greeting of the Gunslinger is “Long Days and Pleasant Nights”. Throughout the series, Roland the Gunslinger builds his ka-tet with Jake, Eddie, Susannah and Oy. “The Wind Through the Keyhole” will meet up with the ka-tet at its height, and so it should be interesting to spend some time with those characters again.
In addition to the books themselves, a number of spin-offs have popped up. Most importantly is Robin Furth’s Concordance of the Dark Tower series. This two-volume set is an excellent source for learning more about the people, places and things of Mid-world, not to mention being able to keep straight some of the more complicated twists and turns along the way.
Beginning in 2007, Marvel Comics have been adapting the Dark Tower story in graphic novel form. These stories take a more linear approach to the gunslinger’s story than do the books, beginning with Roland as a youth. Written by Peter David based on plots by Robin Furth, the first 30 issues were illustrated by Jae Lee and Richard Isanove.For as long as I can remember, there has been talk of a “Dark Tower” movie or T.V. series. I won’t go into the details of how many times this has been rumoured to be in development only to hear that the project has stalled or died completely. I will say that the most recent news is that Warner Brothers are in talks with Ron Howard and his people to develop movies and an HBO series. I’m not sure how well transitioning from movies to TV will work, but HBO’s current series “Game of Thrones” might be a template for how it could look. This website is keeping tabs on the project as it develops.
Finally, for those who can’t seem to immerse themselves enough in the gunslinger’s world, there is now Discordia, an online game that you can play for free at stephenking.com. The game takes place in the Dark Tower world, and as you move through the scenarios you’ll encounter some familiar places and people, and meet some new ones too. This game has Stephen King’s blessing and is supervised by Concordance writer Robin Furth, so you know it’s legit.
I haven’t had a chance to read “The Wind Through the Keyhole” yet, and I have mixed feelings about entering the Gunslinger’s world again. I’m happy to spend some more time with Roland, Jake, Eddie, Susannah and Oy, but I feel like I have to go and “cram for the exam” before I pick it up. It’s been eight years since I read the last Dark Tower book, and I’m not sure how well I’ll fit back into that world. On the other hand, it’s a new Stephen King book, and that is something to celebrate no matter what. Long days and pleasant nights, people!