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Friday, 14 December 2012

The Dark Tower series

       The Dark Tower      

My first thought was, he lied in every word, That hoary cripple, with malicious eye 
 to watch the working of his lie
On mine, and mouth scarce able to afford
Suppression of the glee that pursed and scored
Its edge, at one more victim gained thereby.

What else should he be set for, with his staff?
What, save to waylay with his lies, ensnare
All travellers who might find him posted there,
And ask the road? I guessed what skull-like laugh
Would break, what crutch 'gin write my epitaph
For pastime in the dusty thoroughfare,

If at his counsel I should turn aside
Into that ominous tract which, all agree,
Hides the Dark Tower. Yet acquiescingly
I did turn as he pointed: neither pride
Nor hope rekindling at the end descried,
So much as gladness that some end might be.

…….. So say the opening three verses of Robert Browning's poem 'Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came'. It features the medieval knight, Childe Roland who is in search of the mythical  Dark Tower which many before him have looked for but perished in the process. The poem was the the main inspiration for the Dark Tower series of books by Stephen King which totals so far a grand amount of eight novels  totalling well over 4,000 pages which assimilates themes from a plethora of genres, including fantasy, science fiction, western and horror. It tells the story a "gunslinger" and his obsession on reaching a tower, the nature of which is both tangible, allegorical and said to be the nexus of all universes.Throughout the story King uses parallels to our own mythology in his creation.

Roland Deschain is the last living member of a knightly order known as 'gunslingers' and the sole surviving member of the line of Arthur Eld ( the equivalent of our King Arthur and the round table myth). It is a world that parallels our own, some things are the same, some things are similar and somethings are very different. Even the most powerful of countries have been decimated by war, with entire cities and areas vanishing , never to be seen again. In this new world time does not flow in a straightforward manner. Occasionally, even the sun rises and sets in the 'wrong' part of the sky. 

This Mid-world society is arranged in a medieval feudalistic fashion, while at the same time sharing technological and community attributes with the American old West, but it is also magical in nature. However, many of the magical qualities have disappeared from Mid-World, but some sources of an old power remain as do ancient objects and machinery from a long gone technologically advanced culture. Mid-world is said to have "moved on", and it appears to be falling apart at the seams.  As the series opens, Roland's motives, aims and even his age are unclear, though as the books continue, we slowly learn more about these mysteries. 

A couple of interesting asides……(well to me anyway)


Stephen King created a language called  'High speech' for his characters in the Dark Tower story. It is an ancient language spoken by gunslingers and those who remember the time before the world 'moved on'. It is instinctively comprehended by the members of Roland's acquired group, it is suggested that this knowledge is telepathic in nature. 
Examples of this language includes a phrase such as Thankee, Sai ("Thank you, Sir/Ma'am."). In addition King uses the term Ka which is the approximate equivalent of destiny, or fate, in the fictional language High Speech (and similarly, Ka-tet, a group of people bound together by fate/destiny). This term originated in Egyptian mythology and storytelling and has featured in several other King novels, short stories and screenplays over the years.

 The opposite to High speech is the Low Speech, which has a degree of similarity to a polluted form of English. The majority of language and everyday interactions in In-World are in the Low Speech.

Cross over to other Stephen King works

I make absolutely no excuses for my love of Stephen King's work, especially this series of books. In my humble opinion he is often unfairly looked down upon by certain snooty members of the literary brigade, who seem to correlate being popular to being a low quality writer. 
The Dark Tower series -- which stretches through numerous lengthy novels is alluringly complex and peculiar, crossing between different worlds and times. Yes it can be frustrating in its tortured complexity and with Kings habit of catching you off guard when 'letting go' of characters that you have become increasingly attached to. Roland's character arc in particular is beautifully written and designed. We don't always feel comfortable with some of the things we grow to learn about him, but we always have a level of sympathy for his actions.
Another interesting feature is Kings habit of interlinking various characters and sub-plots with some of his other works. For example, Father Callahan, who appeared in 'Salems Lot' crops in this series as tortured as ever….. God grant me the serenity to accept what I cannot change, the tenacity to change what I may, and the good luck not to fuck up too often.

Warning! - There be spoilers ahead…….

The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger (1982)

The first book in the series introduces us to Roland Deschain of Gilead, the only surviving gunslinger of a long-dead dynasty in a dying land. The knight wanders through this wasted world, seemingly chasing a mysterious  "man in black" who can help him locate the Dark Tower. Along his journey he finds Jake, a young boy who died in a car accident in our own world. As his quest continues Roland may be prepared to sacrifice what he holds dear so that his obsession can continue.

“Would’ee speak a word of prayer first, Roland? To whatever God thee holds?”

“I hold to no God,” Roland said. “I hold to the Tower and won’t pray to that.”

The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three (1987)

"The Drawing of the Three" begins on the same after the first book ends. Sickness has overcome Roland, and being pursued by man-eating monsters - 'lobstrosities'. In desperation  he succeeds in transferring his consciousness into our world -- and into the minds of drug addict and smuggler Eddie Dean, and legless civil rights activist Odetta Holmes (and her evil other personality, Detta). Roland succeeds into bringing Eddie and Odetta into Mid- world. immediately putting at risk the quest for the Dark Tower by Eddie's abolition and Detta's hatred.

The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands (1991)

The book begins with Roland mentoring Odetta/Detta - who is now known as Susannah,  and Eddie in the ways of gunslingers. Eddie and Susannah are now married, and the couple are quickly becoming more skillful and knowledgeable in their new roles in the group (or Ka-tet). However, Roland is now suffering as a result of the reality-paradox he created when he rescued the young boy Jake, his mind and sanity is beginning to collapse. Meanwhile Jake's mind is also deteriorating in New york.  In order to save Roland and Jake from insanity, the group pulls Jake away from our world to Mid-world. But no sooner has he become part of the Ka-tet when they find themselves a disintegrating city, with an psychotic mono train and a ominous figure seemingly tracking them...

The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass (1997)

Once again the story begins just where the last book left off.  Roland and the rest of the group escape from one world and slipping into a different plane. And it is there that Roland recounts to his friends a story, one that details his discovery of something even more elusive than the Dark Tower: love.  It is majestic and expansive, a story worthy of any folk-tale which pulsates with an almost suppressing ambiance, and aching with the shattered reminiscence  of a past romance with his only true love.  The book charts Roland's journey to his own tortured past, to a time when some of lives harshest lessons awaited him, lessons of loyalty and betrayal and destiny.

The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla (2003)

Roland Deschain and his collective are are making their way slowly through the forests of Mid-World on their odyssey towards the fabled the Dark Tower. Eventually they find themselves on the outskirts of a town, Calla Bryn Sturgis. At first, all seems peaceful and tranquil in the secluded town. However, beyond in the hills lies the for boding darkness of Thunderclap, the origin of an appalling ailment  that is destroying the soul of the town. The wolves of Thunderclap and their abhorrent ravaging are on their way again. Roland and his Ka-tet are determined to resist them, even if it means putting their quest in peril.

The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah (2004)

This is a story rich in complexity and quite possibly my favourite instalment of the series.
To give birth to her "chap," demon-mother Mia has taken over the body of Susannah Dean and used the energy of Black Thirteen to transport them to the city of New York in the summer of 1999. Now Susannah Dean is possessed, her body an organic repository for the demon. The thing that is growing inside Susannah is something dreadful. Meanwhile, Eddie and Roland find themselves in the US state of Maine in the summer of 1977 - and this world is very real and very violent. It is also inhabited by a certain well known horror writer who turns out to be as stunned by their arrival as they are by his existence.  

The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower (2012)

The stunning final volume sees Roland on an ever-changing combination of electrifying rejoicing and sorrowful despair in his unremitting attempt to reach the dark tower. Roland's band of friends are still united, though no longer together. Susannah-Mia has been taken away to New York to give birth while Jake, Father Callahan and Oy try to follow her.
Roland and Eddie are still in Maine, looking for the place which will take them to Susannah. The tower is getting ever nearer,  but every step of the way Roland is followed by a terrible and sinister aberration. The last few miles to the tower may have to be faced alone.

The Dark Tower: The Wind Through the Keyhole (2012)

Kings return to the series…...There is no synopsis here because the simple fact is that I haven't read it yet - though I know for a fact that Santa may well have bought it me for Christmas in a couple of weeks…….. can't wait!


  1. Kimberly Weinberger14 December 2012 at 09:48

    Love it! Santa is bringing me number 8 as well. Your summaries are ideal. Just enough information to start them wondering. Just what I was hoping for! Thank you do much for putting that divine mind of yours on this task!

    1. Why thank you lovely Kimberly - Its a fine line between reminding people who've read the series just how good the books are and not spoiling the journey for those who the quest is yet to begin. :-)