Back to the tower

I didn’t realize it until recently, but The Gunslinger makes a peculiar bookend for my time here in Japan. The last time I picked it up, it was January 2006, and I was looking ahead, not back, to heading overseas. And now here I am, a couple months to go before I leave for good, and I’m back on the trail to the Dark Tower.

You could say that I didn’t really “get” The Gunslinger the first time around. It’s hard to digest a nuanced story when you’re half-asleep at a security guard desk, and Roland’s adventures make for some odd company on the night shift anyway. I came away bemused, hoping that it would get better, which it actually did. I rolled through the whole series all the way into Japan, and was treated to one of my favorite conclusions to a series ever at the end of a mostly depressing Dark Tower VII.

I found The Gunslinger difficult to judge, though. I couldn’t decide whether it was actually dull and confusing, or if I had just missed the subtleties while reading it at three a.m. But on closer inspection, it seems like The Gunslinger isn’t so much boring as it is the purest example of an emotion that pervades the entire series: loneliness. The Gunslinger is about one guy, the last of his kind, crossing a desert in a world that has essentially ended. You’d better believe that he’s going to be lonely.

Once you embrace that melancholy atmosphere, Roland becomes sympathetic rather than distant. You start to notice all of the little details of Stephen King’s “world that has moved on.” It doesn’t seem quite as clumsy or pretentious as it did before, and it’s easy to understand Roland’s world of broken dreams.

Weirdly enough, it’s the same feeling that I get with Watchmen, which I also happen to be reading right now (nope, not finished with that one yet). They’re both dark, introspective, and apparently intent on showing us the true nature of humanity. They’re also both incredibly difficult pieces to adapt to film, but are getting movies anyway. But if it makes you feel any better, I have more faith in J.J. Abrams’ vision for The Gunslinger than I do Zack Snyder’s for Watchmen. At the very least, I expect that he’ll get the emotions right. And I’m starting to think that the emotions are the most important part of Dark Tower.

In any case, I’m moving on to The Drawing of the Three, the second book in the Dark Tower cycle. This is where it starts to get “good.” Here’s hoping that holds true while my time here in Japan comes full circle.

17 thoughts on “Back to the tower

  1. Nice to hear from a fellow Dark Tower fan. I’d love to share my personal opinion on the series’ ending, but I couldn’t do that without delving into spoiler territory.

    I don’t think I was as satisfied at first with the ending, but it grew on me over time.

  2. I’ve been working my own way through the series for the first time, but haven’t yet made it to the end. Mainly because of the ridiculous self-insertion fanfiction feel of “Song of Susannah”. -.-

  3. King’s insistence to include himself in the “big picture” was a tad disappointing (read: Douche Chills); but, the series finale was one that will stay with me as one of the absolute best in creative fiction.

    I have half a mind to reread the series (playing mind to the skipping of most of Wizard in Glass — zzzzzzzzzzzzz). My brother is three-quarters the way through Gunslinger, and his questions are inciting the old feelings I had for Roland and Jake.

  4. I read the first four books, and then much later the fifth book. In hindsight, I’m not sure I really liked them. I didn’t like them enough to read the last two books, at least (well, not yet). I kind of like all the Roland of Gilead stuff, and not so much the Eddie and Susannah and all that stuff. Wizard and Glass was probably my favorite.

  5. Loved the first four, then he had his damn accident. Fear of dying with it unfinished he rushed it and it was ass. Book five was fairly good, but the last two just horrible.

  6. Six was indeed terrible. Seven had its moments. And as I said, even the King including himself in the overall story arc part was redeemed for me at the end.

  7. For me the series peeked with The Waste Lands (book 3), and everything after that felt a bit forced. King also began reusing/repackaging a lot of earlier plot points in the later books, the biggest one involving Susannah and her “mental problems.” The first 3 books I read when I was a young man in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and the last 4 don’t have that tinge of nostalgia going for them in my mind (which might explain my feelings on them to some degree).

  8. Wizard and Glass is the best thing King has written.

    I like the series, and came to appreciate the follow-ups to W&G, but that’s what I see them as: follow-ups. King said that after his accident, he was scared of never actually finishing The Dark Tower, and I felt the writing and plot felt forced after that. Because the series spans his career, I compartmentalize the books.

    Re-reading The Gunslinger after finishing the whole series is fun, but I always know, in the back of my mind, that all of the connections were ret-conned in.

  9. My friend, thinking I was a fan of Stephen King (actually, I’m apathetic), once got me a Japanese language version of one of these books as a souvenir. I’m never going to subject myself to it (I don’t have time to look up that many kanji), but it makes a nice conversation piece.

  10. Not a King fan myself but I love the Gunslinger and think it is probably the best thing he’s ever written.

  11. I’m trying to be subtle here, but the following definitely constitutes a pretty serious **spoiler**. See if this doesn’t blow your mind: once you’ve read the whole series, go back and compare the first chapters of the original and the revised versions of the Gunslinger. I THINK that we’re to assume there’s a spiraling progress to Roland’s experiences, like the architecture of the Dark Tower, and the difference between the original opening of book 1 and the revised opening points to a theoretical second series that would, for the most part, be a re-hash of the original, only of course this time the ending of the series as a whole would be slightly different. It really is an interesting trajectory. And yes, I know I sound crazy when I say this, but I think it makes sense in context.

    End spoiler. I am so sorry; I just don’t have other people to discuss this with (most of my friends are not so much Stephen King fans).

  12. I’m not sure I want to see movies made, Dark Tower needs to be a HBO series.

    “the man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed”

  13. I enjoyed the whole series. I even enjoyed King including himself in the story, it was a risky move but it really really worked. Everything was suddenly like looking through a hall of infinite mirrors, a feeling I also got after reading House of Leaves.

    As for the ending, (SPOILERS) Roland is doomed to repeat the same story over and over again until people get sick of reading The Dark Tower series. I find that interesting. Poor fella.

  14. SPOILERS regarding the ending, but… I think the message was that Roland was doomed to repeat things until he learned to change and put a value on things beside completing his quest. Hence the presence of his horn at the end/new beginning.

  15. @Wolf:

    Oh I totally agree. I simply believe that it’s an ending completly open for interpretation on many different levels.

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