Five reasons to read The Dark Tower series

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Hile, Gunslinger.

If you recognize these words, we are very well met along the path of the beam, you and I. We are members of a fandom that can’t be identified by outward signifiers like Starfleet uniforms or tweed. We know what a billy-bumbler looks like and that popkin is just another word for sandwich. Ours is a fandom that has started to spread, but hasn’t yet reached the cultural zeitgeist of Game of Thrones or Doctor Who. We are Dark Tower fans.

If your familiar with the name Stephen King, then you probably know him for his horror fiction. His prolific writing in the genre has cemented him firmly as America’s bogeyman. What many don’t realize is that King has written an epic fantasy on par with Lord of the Rings in breadth and scope. A continuing story, that not only spans eight core books, but overlaps with almost every book he’s ever written. The Dark Tower cycle is a mix of genres: horror, science fiction, western, but perhaps most importantly epic fantasy. The core story is one of good versus evil taking beginning in a place called Mid-World (a mix of the old West and medieval Europe) and continues through different dimensions in reality. The core eight books feature a protagonist named Roland, a gunslinger on a quest to find the Dark Tower, a central hub that holds all of existence together.

For those who have managed to stick with me, my reason for bringing this up is because The Dark Tower will eventually come to the screen (whether it be silver or small). It’ll happen, just wait and see. Eventually Game of Thrones will end and network executives and viewers alike will be jonesing for a new show that fills the epic-fantasy-shaped hole left on television. There will be no more dragons, no more nudity, no more double-dealing, backstabbing and violence. No more Westeros. It’s inevitable. It’s also highly likely that that the show will end before author George R.R. Martin finishes his novels, forcing those who crave resolution to the series to enter their local library to find it. Come to think of it, isn’t that from where most of our brilliant entertainment comes?

Why wait for AMC or HBO? Why not start the series right now? You can get all of them for free at a place called a library. Still not convinced? Below are five reasons why you should read The Dark Tower series right now.

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1) It’s eight books long and has a “definitive” ending (it’s complete…more or less)

While everyone is waiting for George R.R. Martin to “write faster”, in order for us to see how all of Westeros is crushed ‘neath the frozen boot heel of hubris and the White-Walkers, you could be reading a series that is already complete. A good fantasy series is worth its weight in gold and The Dark Tower is a series of epic proportions. Filled with gun fights, demon possession, alternate dimensions The books take the form of a Lord of the Rings-style quest. While there is certainly some side tracking that happens in the series, these little side quests always build character or tie back into the main plot. But because the last book was published in 2004, you don’t have to wait to see how it ends.

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2) Remnants of the Dark Tower mythos are found in many of King’s other books

This means that when you run out of Tower books to read, you can continue to explore the “many worlds” created by picking up books like Salem’s Lot or Needful Things to get your fix. Characters found in The Dark Tower series cross over into other books. The world of The Stand makes an appearance in book four and Gunslinger mythology appears in Needful Things. There are at least twenty-eight books and stories that have tethers to The Tower. Not a all of these books may be to your taste, but it’ll be a while before you find yourself begging Stephen King to “write faster.” “Go then, there are other worlds than these.”

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3) World Building!

When we first meet Roland, he’s pursuing a dark magician called “The Man in Black”, which brings him to the town of Tull. Tull looks like a western town you might see in a John Ford film, we’re clearly in the late 1800s, right? Except for the fact that the piano player in the saloon is playing an “old ballad” called “Hey Jude”. The early books are peppered with these anachronisms, indicating that Roland’s world is much like our world…or a version of it. Mid-World’s western landscape is also littered with the remnants of modern cities, including things like monorails and robots. But we also learn of the great society of gunslingers who lived in the capitol city of Gilead, a castle and city not unlike Camelot. King’s books are filled with bits of language and writing, riddles and traditions that create a “lived-in” universe. Through the eyes of Roland and his companions, we get to remember how the world once was and gaze upon the fallen landscape as it is now. If you get into the series and want a more expansive experience, you could pick up Robin Furth’s The Dark Tower: A Concordance. It’s an encyclopedia cataloging everything from the constellations found in Mid-World to the language of High Speech.

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4) The art

If you read The Dark Tower series, I highly recommend you pick up the illustrated editions. King’s stories stand on their own, but each book’s beautiful illustrations will certainly enrich your experience. The first and last book, The Gunslinger and The Dark Tower respectively, features work from Michael Whelan who is considered the artist most closely tied with the series, he presents Roland’s world with pairings that echo Louis Lamour book covers and the work of Frank Franzetta. However, other artists have contributed some fantastic work to the series as well: Phil Hale’s gorgeous portraits show a reality that is is beginning to bend, Ned Dameron paints the adventures of Roland as grand an beautiful fantasy, Dave McKean (known for his Sandman cover art) gives outstanding surreal pieces for Wizard and Glass. Eight books and seven wonderful artists all following in the grand tradition of hand painted art for genre fiction. Give them a flip through to see what you’re missing.

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5) When they inevitably make the movie/TV show, you can say you read the books first

Okay so Dark Tower nerds are no different than Hunger Games fans or Harry Potter devotees. We spend forever trying to get our friends into these books and it’s only when these books become shows or movies that our friends return to see what they’ve been missing. We love to discover things and share them with others (that’s what makes us geeks/nerds). Hollywood will eventually turn this series into a movie or show and don’t you want to get in on the ground floor so you can be the nerd hipster that tells everyone that you were a Tower fan before it was cool?*

 

*It was never NOT cool. The Dark Tower has always been awesome!

 

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Robert Walker
Robert Walker 152 posts

Rob Walker is a writer and filmmaker in Colorado, and is creator of the comedy web series Victorian Cut-out Theatre. He loves horror films and comic books (American Vampire, Jonah Hex, The Flash, Planetary). Rob has been a Sherlockian since the age of ten, is a Dark Tower junky and believes that Indiana Jones is the greatest cinematic hero ever created. You can follow him on twitter at: @timidwerewolf and see his other writings and videos at robwalkerfilms.com