Stephen King Book Club (Major Spoilers)

Fone Bone

Matt Zimmer
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The Gunslinger: The Dark Tower I: Revised And Expanded Edition by Stephen King
There really is no getting around the fact that this is one of King's worst novels, if you count nothing from Bachman. I think even King knows it, and admits in the (badly-written) forward that he always tells people to stick with the saga through The Drawing Of The Three before deciding to give up on it. The last three books of The Dark Tower turned into a meta affair with Roland meeting a fictionalized version of Stephen King who suggests he paused the saga for so long, and refused to get back to it because Roland Of Deschain, the Gunslinger, scared him. He scares the hell out of me too. His actions in this book are pretty much unforgivable. And I think King got that afterwards, and for the most part spent the next six books having Roland trying to and (mostly) succeeding at redeeming himself. But some of his actions here are so troubling I'm having a hard time believing the character should have been redeemed at all.

King essentially rewrote a LOT of the book, not just because it was badly written and hard to read (and although I've never read the first version I've heard it described as such) but because Roland's actions in the first version ARE not something a reader can forgive. I think him killing the entire town of Tull is absolutely disgusting. But King revised part of it so that Allie begged him to kill her. And the sickest thing about the book is Roland's sexual assault and forced abortion of Sylvia Pittson, and King knew it and tried to add additional story reasons for Roland to do it in the revised version. It doesn't help much, but it helps a little. And of course Roland's betrayal of Jake in particular is something King needed to give him a do-over on in later books.

One of the interesting things to me about this fictional world is that when I see glimpses of the Mid-World that was, and Gilead in its prime, I think it is an absolute pit. I think every inch of the pageantry and caste system of Gilead is vile, unfathomably corrupt, vulgar, and patriarchal. The reason a guy like John Farson was able to amass a bunch of followers preaching freedom and independence is because that's what Mid-World actually desperately needed. It is beyond ironic Farson is a malicious, violent sociopath interested in destroying the Universe, and King made him the bad guy. Because the goals of freedom from the tyranny of the Gunslingers and the Eld are freaking sound. Robin Furth mentions in one of the back-up prose stories in The Dark Tower comics that sending failed gunslingers west in the All-or-nothing gunslinger test is also beyond counterproductive, considering how few pass the test. All Gilead is doing is creating a mass of resentful, yet highly skilled warrior-types ripe for Farson's plucking. Maybe Gilead fell and Mid-World moved on because it should have.

I am sincere in saying this is one of King's worst books. And yet part of me refuses to dismiss it entirely. I wouldn't even under other circumstances since it led to greater things. But the truth is there are flashes of brilliance in the book, and descriptions that King uses that he should be DAMNED proud of. "The Man In Black fled across the desert and the Gunslinger followed," is not just the best opening line to a Stephen King novel. I'm struggling to think of ANY story or novel written by ANYBODY with a stronger or more iconic intro than that. And King describing Roland as a man who fixes crooked pictures in hotel rooms is borderline unhelpful, because there is nothing else about Roland's personality to suggest this. Which is why the description is actually the most helpful thing ever. Jake's "Go then, there are other worlds than these," also gives me chills, and the fact that such a grotesque looking woman as Sylvia Pittson is portrayed so sensually is a pretty unique characteristic for a female character at the time. And I can talk smack about the rest of the book all I want. The truth is, the last 30 page chapter "The Gunslinger And The Man In Black" is amazing for the questions it raises, even the questions the saga itself didn't answer (like about the Ageless Stranger). Walter O'Dim saying about the Stranger that "He darkles. He tincts," is both pure nonsense and pure storytelling magic at the same time.

Believe me, I'm as unhappy about what a heel Roland is as anyone. I don't like following a protagonist who before bedding a desperate woman tells himself it won't be so bad because the scar on her face won't be visible in the dark. And Roland the Gunslinger is pretty much ALL moments like that. And it's kind of both cool and unlikely King not only built a solid epic around this asshat, but sort of made every book he ever wrote fit around the edges of this saga too.

But there is no question in my mind the first Dark Tower book is a dud. A fascinating dud, to be sure, (and with flashes of magic) but a dud nonetheless. *.
 

the greenman

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I read the first four DT books. Didn't do a dissection or anything. Loved science fiction and fantasy in all forms, and this fit in fine for me. I never thought of Roland as anything but a heroic version of King himself. The man in black? Was essentially the things capable of defeating him (us as well) mainly drugs, alcohol, whatever. Him having that palaver spoke to me in that way.

Okay maybe I was overthinking it. I think Jake was King's son. Eddie was yet another archetype. Man, now I want to reread those books.

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Fone Bone

Matt Zimmer
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I will take that advice.

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Few final pieces of advice.

The Stand is a bear of a book but I believe reading it will give the third, fourth, and seventh books added context. It's not actually necessary, but it will make the experience better.

I would however strongly advise you to have read 'Salem's Lot before the fifth book. I hadn't when I first read it and I'm kicking myself in hindsight. Trust me. It will make it awesome.

The Wind Through The Keyhole is set between the fourth and fifth books but it's actually unnecessary to the story at large, and I would advise reading it last, if only because some of the narrative of Tim Stoutheart confuses some of the issues of the other books regarding Roland's knowledge of North-Central Positronics, as well as Our World.

The Eyes Of The Dragon seems to be related to Mid-World in some way, but longtime Dark Tower expert Robin Furth believes it takes place on a different level of the Tower in the King Multiverse and I think she's probably right. It can be read afterwards with no real problems. It's an amazing book in my opinion.

There are additional major Dark Tower elements in The Talisman, Black House, and the Gwenddy's Button Box trilogy. These books too can be read after the saga. In fact I would encourage reading Gwenddy's saga after to avoid potential spoilers from the last book. For the record, I believe Black House is amazing too. But The Talisman is only all right and it's a direct sequel to it so it must be read after.

The Collections Hearts In Atlantis and Everything's Eventual are great things to read beforehand. There is an additional Roland Deschain story in Eventual, and Hearts is simply a wonderful read in general. Both collections also introduce the reader to major characters from the last book in the stories Low Men In Yellow Coats from Hearts, and the title story from Everything's Eventual.

The short story Ur (from the collection The Bizarre Of Bad Dreams) should be read afterwards.

Insomnia seems like a great side novel for the future of The Dark Tower. But it's incredibly misleading. Although the fact that it's misleading is actually a plot point in the final novel.

It, the novel, has some interesting context for the background of The Turtle Maturin (one of the Guardians of The Beam), but it's a crappy 1000 page book that isn't worth the bother. Plus, the ending will piss you off like nothing else. I would skip it.

Some of the other Dark Tower related books are only related in superficial ways and can be easily skipped before (and even after). I would put From A Buick 8, Skeleton Crew, The Outsider, Desperation, The Regulators, Rose Madder, and Bag Of Bones in this category . Out of these, the only one I'd really recommend reading is Bag Of Bones, not because it's necessary, but because it's a damn good read.

There are other Kings books that are either referenced directly or indirectly like Carrie, The Shining, The Dead Zone, Pet Sematary, and Cujo (among others) although they are NOT considered official Dark-Tower Related books. And although it is not officially considered a Dark Tower-related book, I think the short stories from Night Shift Jerusalem's Lot, One For The Road, and Night Surf, have more to do with The Dark Tower than anything from Bag Of Bones, Rose Madder, Desperation, The Regulators, The Outsider, or The Mist from Skeleton Crew. Although I'd read these after both 'Salem's Lot and The Stand.
 

the greenman

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So I have read the first three Dark Tower books. I have read Hearts in Atlantis, I can't remember if I read Eyes of the Dragon, but I know that involves Flagg again.

Book four is where I left off and did not finish it. Too much of a Western. Remember seedlings of a young Roland.

I think I read King said the Shining connected as well, and he mentioned Hearts in Atlantis which makes sense. Didn't know if Green Mile connected, if not it should.

Oh forgot, did read Talisman. Kinda mini-dt there.

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the greenman

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