Friday, July 31, 2015

The Dark Tower

tl;dr skip to the end if you want to see my crazy spoilery theory about "the ending" of the series...

Back in high school, I have a hazy memory that I actually ... read... books.
One of the authors I couldn't get enough of was Stephen King. Christine, Cujo, The Dead Zone, Tommyknockers.. I read a whole ton of his work.

And then I came across the Dark Tower trilogy. It was a different sort of story than his usual stuff. A fantasy adventure in a strange world. A twisted Wizard of Oz with "cowboys" and magic doors.
I loved it!

Indirectly, my love of the Dark Tower "trilogy" was forever preserved in my high school yearbook caption, as I (the foolish young nerd) wrote an obscure reference to an RPG character (NERD!) that I had named after Roland (NERRRRRRRDDDDDDDD!)

If you're not familiar with the series, I'm not going to explain it to you very well. I couldn't do it justice. But it's basically the story of the journey of Roland, the Gunslinger, toward.. uh.. The Dark Tower.. which is as mysterious as it sounds. Along the way he is joined by a group (a ka-tet) of traveling companions, mostly from "our world". The story is very metaphysical and self-referential, sometimes weird with strange monsters, magic, and science.. and so hard to explain without giving away some spoilers about the nature of the Tower and ka.

But the ending of the third book.. is so... infuriatingly dangling. Acknowledged by King himself, it was just the place he decided to stop.
Those of you who have not yet read the books (and you should!) do not have to wait the excruciating 5-7 years to resolve the cliffhanger at the end of The Waste Lands. Like binge-watching an old series on Netflix, consider yourself lucky in this regard.

That being said, when the fourth book -- Wizard and Glass -- came out in my college years, I tried to read it. I really did. But... I just couldn't. I dunno why. It starts with a semi-satisfying resolution to the cliffhanger, but is mostly told as a flashback with character background that I didn't appreciate at the time. I wanted to know what happened next, after all this time waiting; not hear about what makes Roland tick!

So I went more than 15 years without picking it back up again. During that time, the 7-book series was concluded (mostly) and I have even spent my fair share of time logged in to a server named after a mystical word that's a central part of the last book. ;)

Just recently, in my wise old years, I decided to start listening to audiobooks to encourage more exercise.
And "just to see how things go", I decided to start this ordeal by listening to the whole Dark Tower series, from the beginning. The first 3-and-change books would be familiar enough that I could sort out the technical details while not having to pay 100% attention to the narrative.

The first book was actually significantly revised when the 5th/6th/7th came out on the scene, to put it more in line with some of the later ideas (but I have a theory about that too. See the spoilery part below). So there were parts where I said "huh. I specifically don't remember this part that I would have remembered." as I listened.
But I made it through the first 3 books again.. and the 4th book which was much easier to tolerate and appreciate this time around. (Still slightly dissatisfying that most of the book was such a tangent to the "current action", but at least I hadn't waited 5 years between books this time, and didn't have to wait another 7 for the conclusion).

And then I heard all-new-to-me parts of the story .. from book 5 onward it definitely gets... weird .... in lots of ways, some which would require a spoiler just to use a single word on how weird it gets. But it's amazing.
And the way the story ends.. I am satisfied with it.

There's apparently a new book that takes place between books 4 and 5, a couple of short stories, and a series of comics, and I might even check these all out.
Also, due to the.. multiversal .. nature of the story, there are lots of other works by King that tie into The Dark Tower, subtlely or not. I don't know if I'd count those in a completionist sense, but it's cool to know those references are there.

I definitely recommend this series, and I kind of regret not keeping up with it as it was being released.
On a general arbitrary review scale, I rate this series a GRRRRR!

Blogger's "spoiler tag CSS" didn't work properly -- sorry if you saw it already. But I've just moved my spoilery comments to a Google Doc. If you're interested in some minor spoiler-ridden commentary, go take a look here: Spoily thoughts!

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