You know what’s really scary? Getting sick while you’re reading the first part of The Stand. Just try running a fever, going through a box of tissues...moreYou know what’s really scary? Getting sick while you’re reading the first part of The Stand. Just try running a fever, going through a box of tissues and guzzling the better part of a bottle of Theraflu while Stephen King describes the grisly deaths of almost every one on Earth from a superflu. On top of feeling like crap, you'll be terrified. Bonus!
After a bio-engineered virus that acts like a revved up cold escapes from a U.S. government lab, it takes only weeks for almost all of humanity to succumb to the disease. A handful of survivors are mysteriously immune and begin having strange dreams, some of which are about a very old woman called Mother Abigail asking them to come see her. More disturbing are nightmares about a mysterious figure named Randall Flagg also known as the Dark Man or the Walkin’ Dude.
As they being making their way through an America almost entirely devoid of people, the survivors begin to unite and realize that the flu was just the beginning of their problems. While some are drawn to the saintly Mother Abigail in Boulder Colorado who tells them that they have been chosen by God, others have flocked to Flagg in Las Vegas who is determined to annihilate all those who refuse to pledge their allegiance to him.
If King would have just written a book about a world destroyed by plague and a small number of people struggling in the aftermath, it probably would have been a compelling book. What sets this one apart is the supernatural element. Flagg is the embodiment of evil and chaos. He's a mysterious figure who has been giving the wrong people the push needed for them to make things worse for everyone, and he sees the plague as his chance to fulfill his own destiny as a wrecker of humanity.
And on the other side, we have God. Yep, that God. The Big Cheese himself. But this isn’t some kindly figure in a white robe with a white beard or George Burns or Morgan Freeman. This is the Old Testament God who demands obedience and worship while usually rewarding his most faithful servants with gruesome deaths.
King calls this a tale of dark Christianity in his forward, and one of the things I love about this book is that it does feel like a Biblical story, complete with contradictions and a moves-mysterious-ways factor. Stories don’t get much more epic than this, and King does a great job of depicting the meltdown of the world through the stories of a variety of relateable characters. (Larry Underwood remains among my favorite King creations.)
One of my few complaints is that this features a lot of King’s anti-technology themes that he’d use in several books like Cell or The Dark Tower series. We’re told repeatedly that the ‘old ways’ like trying to get the power back on in Boulder are a ‘death trip’. The good guys gather in the Rocky Mountains, but if they try to get the juice going so they won’t freeze to death in the winter, they’re somehow acting in defiance of God’s will and returning to the bad habits? Not all tech is bad tech, Mr. King. Nature is a bitch and will kill your ass quicker than the superflu.
Here’s another thing I’m not wild about. When this was published in the late ‘70s, the bean counters at King’s publishers had decided that the book as written would be too pricey in hardback and no one would pay a whopping $13 for a Stephen King hardback. So King cut about three hundred pages.
Around 1990 after it had become apparent that King could publish his shopping list as a best seller, he put those pages back in and released the uncut version. Which I’m fine with. The original stuff was cut for a financial reason, not an editorial one, and there’s some very nice bits of story added in. If King would have stopped there, we would have had a great definitive final version as originally created by the author.
Unfortunately, he seemed to catch a case of Lucasitis and decided to update the story a bit and change its original time frame from 1980 to 1990. I’m not sure why that seemed necessary to him. Yes, the book was a bit dated by then, but it was of its time. He didn’t rewrite the text (Which I’m grateful for.), but just stuck in some references to Madonna and Ronald Reagan and Spuds McKenzie.
This led to a whole bunch of anachronisms. Would students in 1990 call soldiers ’war pigs’? Someone in New York picks up a phone book to look up the number to call an ambulance instead of dialing 911? A song called Baby, Can You Dig Your Man is a huge hit? None of it quite fits together. There's also a layer of male chauvinism and lack of diversity that you can overlook in a book written in the late '70s, but seems out of place for a book set and updated for 1990.
The things that irritate me are still far outweighed by one of my favorite stories of an apocalyptic battle between good and evil.
I’m also glad to get a long overdue audio edition of this book. Great narration and 40+ hours of end of the world horror make for a damn fine listening experience.(less)
The Dark Tower series was one of the great joys of my reading life. However, it also frustrated me to the point where I often wanted to bludgeon Steph...moreThe Dark Tower series was one of the great joys of my reading life. However, it also frustrated me to the point where I often wanted to bludgeon Stephen King with a hardback copy of It.
I was baffled by The Gunslinger when I first read it way back in my high school days. It had been an unobtainable limited edition that had popped up in the title card of King’s other books, and when it finally went into wide release I couldn’t wait to snatch it up. But then I couldn’t make sense of it. There was a cowboy in an almost apocalyptic landscape where magic existed, but everyone knew the lyrics to Hey Jude. After scratching my head over it for a while, I decided that King must have hit the bottle a little extra hard that day, and then I forgot all about it.
I was so unimpressed that I didn’t even make an effort to get The Drawing of the Three when it first released. When I finally read it, I got an inkling of what King was doing, and it seemed cool as hell. And since I had delayed reading the second book for so long, I didn’t have a long wait for the third one. By the early ‘90s I had gone from Dark Tower skeptic to hardcore convert. (Little did I know the frustrations that awaited.)
The gunslinger is Roland Deschain, a kind of knight with two six guns instead of a sword and shield. Roland is chasing a mysterious ‘man in black’ across a seemingly endless desert. We don’t know exactly where they are, but the place seems to be in a state of decay. There are occasional remnants of very advanced technology, but things have devolved to the point where Roland’s revolvers are the most high tech thing around. Magic, demons and mutants are also common place in this world.
Over the course of the book, we learn that Roland has been chasing this man for years, and he’s never been closer. He eventually comes across Jake, a young boy whose last memory is of being pushed into the street and killed by the man in black in what seems to be our New York of the 1970s. Roland knows that Jake has been left as a trap to force him into a choice that will further damn his soul (Which is seeming kind of ragged around the edges anyhow.), but he is committed to catching the man in black so he can find the Dark Tower.
After the other books in the series had come out, I would occasionally go back through The Gunslinger and what came later completely changed my mind about this. It went from being a strange book that I didn’t understand or care about to the surreal prologue to a series I was more than a little obsessed with. I started to enjoy the cryptic vagueness and lack of information in the story. It was our introduction to the obsessed Roland, and once we got a bigger look at that world I came to love this book.
However, when King started the series, he had no idea what came next or how it would end, and he never felt obligated to stick strictly to the hints and clues that he littered in earlier books like this one or even his other books that contained bits of the Dark Tower. So there were continuity errors and predicted events that never came to pass. After finishing the series, King decided to update and revise The Gunslinger to get it in line with what he wrote later.
If he would have just stuck to cleaning up some of the continuity errors and revising the prophecy bits to match, I could have lived with that. Unfortunately, King couldn’t resist seeding the entire revised edition with more history and foreshadowing of coming events than in the original version. I liked it more when he stuck to just throwing us in the deep end with this strange world and morally compromised main character. I still prefer my original copy, flaws and all.
However, there’s another factor in play when it comes to this revised edition, but I can’t talk about it without spoiling the ending. My official recommendation for newbies is to read the original version first, then the series and then come back to this revised edition if you feel like it. Call me old school, but I think it plays better that way.
Here’s a bit more about why King gets a bit of a pass for essentially pulling a George Lucas and having Han shoot first. Do NOT read this if you don’t want to know how the series ends.
(view spoiler)[ King gave himself a Get-Out-of-Jail free card with the ending to DT. Since we know that Roland is trapped in loops where he keeps getting to the tower but going back to the beginning of The Gunslinger, King could present an almost infinite number of versions of the story with variations and say that they’re all different cycles. When I think of this updated version like that, as slightly altered because it’s a different cycle than the first time I read it, I like it a lot more.
Thinking about this, King could actually rewrite all the books as many times as he pleases using this idea of it being just another cycle where Roland does things differently. If he wanted to really get the DT fans excited, he could even re-do the series as a ‘final’ cycle where Roland goes back but has the Horn this time, maybe doesn’t let Jake fall and finally walks away from the trap in the Tower at the end. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
“No...moreMid-World General Emergency Room - 9:19 PM
“Step in here, please. What’s your name?”
“And do you have any allergies, Mr. Deschain?”
“And when…..wait a second. Roland Deschain? The last gunslinger? The guy who is on a quest to find the Dark Tower?”
“Wow. This is an honor. I mean, I see a lot of scum and mutants come through here. Especially since the world has moved on and all that, but to get Roland the gunslinger in here as a patient? That’s just crazy! I can’t wait to tell everyone that I actually met you.”
“You’re looking pretty rough, Roland. I guess this questing gig must be a bitch. So what I can help you with?”
“Well, I got my hand and my foot kind of torn up.”
“Holy man Jesus, Roland! That damn hand is mangled, dude! And your foot isn’t much better. What happened? Did the man in black do this to you? Or were you jumped by demons?”
“Actually, it was a creature that came out of the ocean and attacked me on a beach.”
“Was it like some kind of giant mutant magic alligator? Because you are fucked up, son.”
“No, it was kind of a weird lobster/prawn/scorpion creature.”
“That’s nasty! How big was it? Like the size of a horse? Bigger?”
“No, like a dog.”
“Just dog sized? How big a dog?”
“Uh…I’m not sure. Like a good sized collie, maybe?”
“Well, I’ll bet there was a bunch of them, right? Like a couple of dozen?”
“No. I mean, there’s lots of them on the beach at night, but it was just one that did this.”
“One lobster monster did all this? Why didn’t you just shoot it?”
“My guns and shells got all wet and wouldn’t fire.”
“Oh, that explains it. You must have been like in the ocean fighting off a giant squid thing or sea mutants or pirate demons, right? Then your guns got all wet and when you dragged yourself out of the water, this damn lobster-whatever came up on your blind side, right?”
“Uh, not exactly. I fell asleep on the beach and then the tide came in. That’s when my guns and bullets got soaked. Then when I was trying to wake up and get out of the water, the lobster-whatsis came over and started biting me.”
“Let me get this straight. You’re Roland, the last gunslinger. The baddest mother walking Mid-World. A guy who has slaughtered entire towns and hordes of evil mutants. The man we’re counting on to get to the Dark Tower (whatever the hell it is) and save us all. But you got your ass handed to you by one dog sized creepy crawlie because you fell asleep on a beach and let your guns get wet? Is that what you’re saying?”
After the strange introduction in The Gunslinger, this is where the series really hooked me. Roland has enough answers to get on the path to the Tower as he's reached the ocean, but he's badly injured after being attacked by a psycho lobster. Following what he was told in the last book, Roland manages to travel up the beach and locates literal doors to another world, our world. (Or at least a version pretty close to our world.)
Behind one door is Eddie Dean from the ‘80s, a heroin junkie in big trouble with the cops and the mob. The second one has Odetta Holmes, a rich black woman in the early ‘60s who doesn’t let the loss of her legs prevent her from being involved in the civil rights movement. But Odetta has a pretty big bat in her belfry. The final door unlocks a person with a sinister dark side. The increasingly sick Roland will have to hop between worlds to save the ones he’s been told will be his new companions that he’ll need to reach the Dark Tower.
While the first volume had kind of a dreamy and surreal quality to it, this second book is all tense action with a more grounded vibe thanks to the trips to a world the reader recognizes. What really stands out in this one is that we get another idea of just how committed Roland is to reaching the Tower. Injured, sick and dying, Roland pushes forward on sheer willpower and the extent of his obsession frightens the people he meets.
Even a junkie like Eddie can see that Roland is hooked worse than he is on a different kind of drug:
“There are people who need people to need them. The reason you don’t understand is because you’re not one of those people. You’d use me and toss me away like a paper bag if that’s what it came down to. God fucked you, my friend. You’re just smart enough that it would hurt you to do that, and just hard enough so you’d go ahead and do it anyway. You wouldn’t be able to help yourself. If I was lying on that beach there and screaming for help, you’d walk over me if I was between you and your goddamn Tower.“
This book contains the biggest lie a writer ever told me. It‘s in the Author‘s Note at the end:
The fourth volume in the tale of the Dark Tower should...moreThis book contains the biggest lie a writer ever told me. It‘s in the Author‘s Note at the end:
The fourth volume in the tale of the Dark Tower should appear - always assuming the continuation of Constant Writer’s life and Constant Reader’s interest - in the not-too-distant-future.
It took six years for the next book to come out.
Six. Goddamn. Years.
Six years may not seem too bad to fans of authors who only release a book every decade or so, but there’s a couple of factors that made this false statement particularly bitter. The Waste Lands ends on a nail biting cliffhanger. I literally yelled aloud in frustration the first time I read this back in 1991 and realized that I’d have to wait for the next book to learn the fate of Roland and his friends.
Still, after some reflection it didn’t seem that bad. The next volume would appear ‘in the not-too-distant-future’, right? Besides this was Stephen King, the writer who churned out 1000 page books like McDonald’s makes Big Macs. No big deal. I’d be reading it by ‘92. 1993 at the latest.
Five goddamn years later, and I’d gone from Stephen King and Dark Tower fan to the kind of crazed fury usually reserved for jilted lovers. It didn’t help that King was cranking out big fat books including some utter shit like Insomnia and Rose Madder. Yet no fourth Dark Tower book, and every now and then I’d reread the first three volumes and dream of the day when I’d finally learn what happened next.
The odd thing is that it still kind of pisses me off even now that the series is finished. I get that same sense of frustration when I read this remembering the six goddamn years between books while seeing all kinds of other King novels come out. It’s too bad because this was my favorite of the first three books until frustration turned it into an irritating loose end.
And I’ll confess something that makes me a small, petty person. Deep down in my shriveled black soul, I’m resentful and jealous of anyone who reads the series now or who started reading it when the last three books were coming out like clockwork at the end. They didn’t suffer like the ones who read this and waited six years. Then read the fourth one and waited SIX MORE GODDAMN YEARS FOR THE FIFTH ONE. YEAH, THAT’S RIGHT! BETWEEN 1991 AND 2003 STEPHEN FUCKING KING, ONE-OF-THE-MOST-PROFILIC-WRITERS-I’VE-EVER-READ, MANAGED TO WRITE JUST ONE GODDAMN DARK TOWER BOOK AND IF THAT MINIVAN HADN’T VERY NEARLY KILLED HIS PROCRASTINATING ASS, I’D PROBABLY STILL BE WAITING!!
*ahem* Excuse me. I’ve still got a few unresolved issues with old Steve about this series.
And what about the story in this book? Roland is training Eddie and Susannah to be gunslingers, but he’s going crazy from a paradox he created in the last book by time hopping to our world and changing an event that altered his own timeline. They also find a creepy old decayed city filled with a murderous mob and have to deal with a monorail that is criminally insane.
It’s terrific, but I think the waiting drove me a little mad. And now King has been making noises about possibly doing another book that would fill some of the SIX GODDAMN YEAR GAP between #4 and #5. You’ll pardon me if I don’t hold my breath. (less)
Stephen King ended the third book in the Dark Tower series on a wicked cliffhanger in 1991. By 1994 my patience had grown thin, especially after King...moreStephen King ended the third book in the Dark Tower series on a wicked cliffhanger in 1991. By 1994 my patience had grown thin, especially after King had delivered 787 pages of pure crap with Insomnia. Even worse was that he actually had the nerve to tease some of the DT stuff in that overstuffed abomination. I was relatively sure that King was sitting on pile of money somewhere and laughing at me as he wrote page after page that was NOT the fourth DT book.
So in October of ‘94 when I read that King was going to make an appearance in Manhattan, Kansas, as part of a cross-country motorcycle tour he was doing to promote independent bookstores, I scored a ticket and then drove over two hours to confront that rat bastard. However, my plan to demand the next book in a fierce voice of righteous indignation was derailed when one of the first things King* said was that he’d save someone a question, and that he was very close to starting the next Dark Tower. He also told us that it would definitely be a tale of Roland’s past. The crowd cheered. Three years later after suffering through Rose Madder and Desperation, we’d finally get Wizard & Glass.
* King’s appearance in an auditorium on the K-State campus had several hundred people in it, and it took place on a foggy night. When he took the stage, King noted that it was spooky weather, like one of his novels. Then he started speculating that it was the kind of night that a homicidal escapee from a mental asylum might be running around in. The crowd laughed. King continued that the maniac was probably out in the parking lot, checking cars to see if any were unlocked. The crowd loved it. Stephen King was telling us a creepy story on a foggy October night. How cool was that? King kept talking, adding details about the maniac and the knife he picked up somewhere. The crowd grew a bit uneasy but was still chuckling.
Then Uncle Steve started in on asking us if we were sure, REALLY sure, that we had locked our cars. You thought you did, but do you actually remember doing it? By then, the crowd had fallen silent. By the time King described the maniac finding an unlocked car, everyone was on the edge of their seat. Say what you will about the man, he took a brightly lit auditorium full of laughing cheering people and creeped the living shit out of everyone in it in about two minutes. And when I left, I checked my backseat before getting it, and I wasn’t the only one in the parking lot who did.
So I was more than a little anxious to read this when it was finally published in 1997. I was delighted that King delivered a thrilling and satisfying outcome to the cliffhanger that had me on pins and needles for six goddamn years. I was even more thrilled when the gunslingers crossed from Mid-World to Topeka since I’m a Kansan, and we don’t get a lot of fiction set here. The idea that a Dark Tower novel was going to at least partially take place in my neck of the woods had me bouncing in my chair as I read. It was even cooler when the Topeka that Roland and company were in was apparently the Topeka from The Stand, my favorite King novel.
When Roland and his friends headed east on I-70, I remembered the ‘94 tour, and I realized that King had very probably been inspired by his motorcycle ride after that appearance when he had told us that he’d be starting the new book soon. I theorized that I’d seen the man himself the night before he’d taken that drive and probably come up with that scene. It felt like I’d been near the blast zone of his inspiration, and I got a remarkable kick out of that.
And then the whole book went to hell.
This was several years before George Lucas would impart his painful lesson to all of us regarding prequels, and King made some of the same mistakes first. Fifteen year old Roland has been sent out of Gilead to a rural community called Majis by his father along with his friends Cuthbert and Alain after passing his early manhood test. We’d already gotten glimpses of a very young Roland in The Gunslinger so setting a tale shortly after this didn’t really tell us anything new about Roland's history.
Plus, King decided that Roland needed a tragic love story in his background so most of the book is filled with the young passion of the gunslinger and Susan Delgado, a beautiful girl who has agreed to be a kind of concubine to the mayor. Roland and his friends stumble across a conspiracy among the locals to help John Farson, the leader of a the opposition of a civil war that is distracting everyone to the larger problem of how time and space have started going adrift in Roland’s world.
If King wanted to do a flashback novel, I would have much preferred to get more information about any of the many other numerous events that he only touched on or teased in the rest of the books. (Like the Battle of Jericho Hill for example.) Instead, we get a drawn out cat-and-mouse game between Roland and a failed gunslinger as he and Susan sneak around to see each other on the sly.
I probably wouldn’t have been quite so disappointed if King hadn’t gone and done the one thing I can’t forgive: he incorporated The Wizard of Oz into the ending.
I HATE the goddamn Wizard of Oz.
It’s a Kansas thing. When you’re from here and particularly when you had a job where you traveled a lot and every single freaking person you meet has to say things like, “Oh, I guess you’re not in Kansas anymore! Yuk yuk!” or “Where’s Toto? Yuk yuk!” and then you spend a couple of nights in jail for punching some of those fucktards in the throat…. Well, let’s just say you tend to flip through the movie when you see it on TV.
So my Wizard and Glass experience went kind of like this:
- “It’s finally here!
- Wow, that was awesome!
-Holy shit! It’s Topeka!
- Holy shit! It’s Topeka from The Stand! Even better!
-Oh, flashback time. We’re going to see younger Roland whip some ass and get some answers.
- Back to I-70 outside of Topeka. Maybe this is getting back on track.
- Wait…. No… Seriously. The Wizard of Oz??…. Really? I mean, I know it’s Kansas, but that’s all you could come up with….For fuck’s sake you aren’t really going to have the goddamn dog put on ruby shoes too are you? Oh, you are. Suck my….”
And then I had to wait another six goddamn years for the next book.(less)
*sniff* Oh, you surprised me. Is it time for the review? Just a second. What? Crying? Me? Don’t be ridiculous. I was just ….uh…chopping some onions….....more*sniff* Oh, you surprised me. Is it time for the review? Just a second. What? Crying? Me? Don’t be ridiculous. I was just ….uh…chopping some onions…..and I’ve got a cold….then somebody broke into my kitchen and pepper sprayed me….I certainly wouldn’t be shedding a few manly tears over a Stephen King novel, would I? Oh, fine. You spend almost twenty years reading this series and tell me you got through the conclusion without a lump in your throat. Liar.
Roland and his posse of gunslingers have to wrap up their business on Earth so they can get back to Mid-World. In our world, they’ll have to safeguard the rose in New York by founding a corporation dedicated to its protection, some of them will have to battle a very nasty nest of vampires and low men, and Susannah has to give birth to something that is supposed to be the end of all of them. The ones who can make it back to Mid-World will have to launch a desperate attack against overwhelming odds to stop the Crimson King’s breakers from destroying one of the last Beams holding the Tower and all of reality in place, and if they survive that, there’s a Very Important Person who still needs saving.
The Dark Tower series was written in fits and starts by King from the time he was in college to wrapping up the whole thing in a three book burst following his close encounter with a minivan. He didn’t always know where it was going, he littered many of his other books with DT tie-in stories, and he famously claimed for years not to know how it would end. So the series as whole isn’t the most tightly plotted thing you’ll ever read, and at the end King focused on delivering on the emotional journey rather than trying to wrap up every loose end he had hanging out there.
He chose wisely.
I consider this King’s flawed masterpiece. Some have focused on the ‘flawed’ part of that. I chose to dwell on the ‘masterpiece’ side of the equation. I’ll go a little more in depth on that in this spoiler section, but for any newbies not reading that, I’ll just say that all the years waiting between books turned out to be worth it.
The biggest let down to me in this was that the whole Modred thing was so anti-climatic. His birth was a huge focus in the final three books, yet in the end all he managed to do was send poor Oy to a grisly death.
In fact, there’s precious little satisfaction to be found in any the endings of the major villains. Modred was dying of food poisoning anyhow. Oy spoils his attack and Roland dispatches him with ease. The Crimson King is just crazy old man on a balcony throwing bombs around, and he gets taken out by a pencil eraser wielded by a kid with no tongue.
Maybe worst of all was the ending of Randall Flagg a/k/a Walter a/k/a Martin. This one was especially galling because not only had he been Roland’s nemesis, he’d been a boogeyman in King’s books for years. Yet he gets eaten by Modred the baby. That sucked.
I’m still not sure about King writing himself into the story either. I don’t think he did it out of ego because he made himself look pretty awful overall, but at some point after his accident, I think he couldn’t separate what he’d gone through from the story it inspired him to finally finish. It didn’t ruin the series for me, but I kind of wish he’d come up with something else.
Having gotten that out of my system, let’s proceed to:
I loved the whole concept of the Tet Corporation, and I continue to hope that someday King will give us a book detailing its war against N. Central Positronics and Sombra. I could have read several more chapters regarding that piece.
The character deaths were incredibly well done and still painful the third time through this. We’ve known since Roland let Jake fall into the abyss in The Gunslinger that this quest to find the Dark Tower would cost Roland dearly, but I was not prepared for how high the price turned out to be.
Which brings us to my favorite part, the ending. The idea that Roland has been stuck in an endless cycle of climbing the Tower only to find himself back at the beginning of the series seems kind of obvious in retrospect, but caught me completely by surprise. As King noted in the afterword, it’s not a happy ending, but it’s the right ending. I agree with that. Roland’s ultimate damanation wasn’t that he sacrificed his friends to get to the Tower, it’s that he risked the Tower again by pressing on to satisfy his own obsession to see it after it had already been saved that puts him in his own personal hell.
I also like how that sneaky bastard King made us all complicit with Roland’s fate. By offering us the chance to opt out and leave the book knowing that Roland reached the Tower and that Susannah was reunited with Eddie and Jake in another version of New York, King made us all Roland by proxy. We couldn’t resist. We had to know what was in the Tower. And when we find out, we all share Roland’s fate of going back to the beginning. (hide spoiler)] ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
If someone would have told me back in the ‘90s that the way to get Stephen King to finish up the Dark Tower series quickly was to hit him with a miniv...moreIf someone would have told me back in the ‘90s that the way to get Stephen King to finish up the Dark Tower series quickly was to hit him with a minivan, I would have been on my way to Maine to rent a Dodge Caravan before you could say ’Bango Skank was here.’
Now don’t just read that, chuckle and think, “Oh, that silly Kemper is bitching about how long it took for King to write the Dark Tower series again.”
Hear me on this. Hear me very well.
I am not kidding. I would have mown him down with no more regret than running down a pedestrian in a Grand Theft Auto video game. This is a man who has done me no physical harm and provided me with countless hours of entertainment over the years, and yet I would have flown to Maine, rented a van, sat outside his house, waited until he went out walking and then run him over with a smile on my face. In fact, I probably would have backed up and used him as a speed bump again and then yelled at his bloody broken body as I drove away, “That’s for putting that Wizard of Oz bullshit into Wizard & Glass! Now get to work!”
I confess this not to do more complaining about the long suffering years waiting on some advancement in the Dark Tower books, but to illustrate how utterly obsessed and frustrated I was with this goddamn series. Then King nearly came to the clearing at the end of the path but instead recovered and cranked out three books like they came off an assembly line to finish the whole thing. Before that, I had pretty much given up hope on ever getting another book, never mind seeing an end to it, and King wasn’t doing much to make me change my mind with no news about him even working on another DT book.
And then came the minivan.
Ka works in mysterious ways….
Wolves of the Calla had a lot of things to accomplish. It needed to get the story rolling again after years of it laying fallow. It needed to set up the end run of the series. It needed to be a satisfying book aside from moving the overall arc forward. And most importantly, it needed to answer the burning question all Dark Tower fans had: Whatever happened to Father Callahan from ‘Salem’s Lot? Oh, wait. I had never asked that question. Oh, well. I found out anyhow and it turned out to be a pretty good part of the story.
Roland and his crew have been moving along the path of the Beam towards the Tower, but they seem to have been in a kind of timeless funk. (One of the things I love about the series is that the decay of the Tower has caused both time and space in Roland’s world to become soft and drift. It’s also a nice metaphor for the limbo that characters are in between books.) Just before entering the nastiness of End-World, they find Calla Bryn Sturgis, a farming town with a big problem.
Almost all the children born in the Calla are twins. Every twenty years or so, dozens of creatures the townsfolk call Wolves come on horseback and steal one from each set of twins. They take those kids back to Thunderclap, a place the gunslingers have already been warned about, and eventually return them as almost mindless husks who grow to jumbo sizes before dying young. Try to fight or hide your kids, and the Wolves kill everyone who resists instead of just taking half the kids. The Wolves will arrive in a month, but some in the Calla want to fight back this time if the gunslingers will help.
Roland's group has other problems too. They’ve been making dream-like excursions to New York in the 1970s and found that the special rose growing in a vacant lot there is in terrible danger. The rose is a key manifestation of the Tower in that world. Roland is convinced that if the rose is destroyed, the Tower falls in his world, too, and there goes your ballgame for all of existence. They have to find a way to get to New York in person and save the rose from those threatening it by protecting the owner of the lot.
The gunslingers also meet Callahan, a former Catholic priest last seen in the King-verse fighting vampires in ’Salem’s Lot. Callahan has an incredible tale to tell of years spent traveling between worlds and being chased by vampires and other nasty agents of the Crimson King before he wound up in Calla Bryn Sturgis.* Callahan has been hiding an evil object that terrifies him, and he wants Roland to get rid of it by taking it with him when they leave.
*(Anyone reading the series who wants some more info about who was chasing Callahan and other bits that come into play here should check out King’s ‘Low Men in Yellow Coats’ story in his ‘Hearts in Atlantis’ collection.)
If they didn’t have enough on their plate, Susannah’s previous encounter with a demon has left her a little bit pregnant, and her personality is being taken over by the baby’s ‘mother’, Mia. Pregnant women are known for strange food cravings, but let’s just say that Mia’s are even worse than usual.
I love this book partly because it’s the one that got the Dark Tower story back on track and set up everything for the end run to the last book. I also love it just because this is Dark Tower at its best for me. It’s a mash-up of westerns, fantasy, horror and sci-fi. It’s like The Magnificent Seven if Yul Brenner and Steve McQueen had to make multi-dimensional trips and deal with robots and vampires as well as protect the town with their six-guns.
Another thing I like about this one is that Eddie, Susannah and Jake are now full-fledged gunslingers and not just apprentices. And King expands on exactly what a gunslinger is. They’re not just killers, although they do that pretty damn well. They’re also diplomats and protectors of the defenseless. It was fun to see Roland’s manipulative political side come out when dealing with the Calla folk. The pregnancy storyline didn’t do much for me in this, but it becomes a key driver of the plot of the next book.
All in all, this is one of my favorite of the DT books, and it was King’s clear statement that he was done screwing around and ready to finish this mother. Too bad it took him nearly getting killed to get it done. (less)
“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 th...more“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.”
Damn, I love that line. It so perfectly sums up Roland, his quest to find the Tower, what it’s cost him, and how he knows he isn’t done paying yet.
For years, it seemed like Dark Tower had been walking in aimless circles during the long breaks between the third, fourth and fifth books. We knew that King had finished the final three volumes after losing a game of chicken with a minivan, and he’d gotten the story back up and striding briskly in the right direction with Wolves of the Calla including ending that one on a pretty wicked cliffhanger.
Still the pace of this one took me by surprise. It’s like King suddenly pulled out a whip and started cracking it over the heads of the DT fans while screaming, “Run, you bastards! You gotta run if you want to find out what happens! BWAH-HA-HA-HA-HA!”
And he didn’t even let us stretch properly first. That’s how you end up with a pulled hamstring.
Susannah’s demon pregnancy led to her being taken over by the personality of Mia, and she fled Mid-World to New York in 1999 via the Doorway Cave. As Susannah wrestles Mia for control of her own body and learns more about the Crimson King, Roland and Eddie plan to follow and save her while Jake and Callahan also come to our world to protect the rose growing in a vacant lot which is actually a critical incarnation of the Tower. But when things go off the rails, all of the gunslingers will have to scramble to try and save not only Susannah, but their own lives.
This is essentially a set-up book that preps the way for the conclusion in the last one, and it doesn’t resolve a helluva lot on it’s own. Still, I like it for its breakneck pace and the sense of urgency that King worked into this one. The breaking of a beam in Mid-World before the action moves to New York was a great reminder of the stakes here. The lines of force holding reality together are being subverted by the Crimson King’s breakers, and the so-called beamquake when one snaps is a stark warning to Roland and company that they are quickly running out of time.
Unfortunately, while the Susannah pregnancy story makes for a pretty good hook to drive the urgency of the story, it ends up being kind of unsatisfying overall once you know how the whole series ends. Plus, the conflict between Susannah and Mia reminded me a lot of a very similar plot that King had done in Dreamcatcher shortly before this book was released. So it didn’t feel all that fresh.
Overall, there’s a feel of desperation in this one that takes us nicely into the final volume, and the cliffhangers here had me on the edge of my seat the first time I read this.
There’s one controversial piece to this part of the DT story. (view spoiler)[ A lot of fans don’t like that King wrote himself into this, and I was hesitant about it myself the first time through this when I wasn’t sure how the story would end. At the end of Wolves of the Calla and into this one, I was worried that it was going to turn out that the Dark Tower was Stephen King himself and that its fall was his ‘death’ due to the minivan accident.
Knowing the ending now and rereading this, writing himself into the story doesn’t bother me as much. If he’d portrayed himself as some kind of all-knowing creator, I might have hated it too, but he didn‘t. He’s a pawn with a role to play. A role he kind of screws up by not getting off his ass and finishing this series sooner.
I like that the power behind the Tower is the force of creation itself, and that the Crimson King and the other baddies are agents of chaos and destruction. I think of it as the Tower was saving itself by creating a story of a hero on a quest, and it needed someone to write that story. Enter King, who actually made himself look kind of crappy in the process.
It’s not my favorite part of the series, but it didn’t ruin it for me either. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I read this a few years back and felt the urge to revisit it after Lev Grossman cited it as a big influence on The Magicians. I’d forgotten how funny...moreI read this a few years back and felt the urge to revisit it after Lev Grossman cited it as a big influence on The Magicians. I’d forgotten how funny and sad it is at times. And I’d really forgotten how Mr. Norrell made me completely nuts while reading about him.
I’ve read books with evil characters who were serial killers or rapists or tortured small animals, but I don’t think anyone bothers me as much as Norrell. I mean, the guy buys all the freaking BOOKS and won’t let anyone else read them. And it’s not even that he’s trying to ban books. HE wants to read them, he just doesn’t want anyone else to see them, and keeps them locked away from everyone else. That should be a crime against humanity.
I’m impressed with this alternate history of England as fantasy with the inclusion of the magical Raven King as a historical reality, and the efforts of Mr. Norrell and Jonathan Strange to bring back ’good English magic’ long after the Raven King had vanished. It’s got a great and inventive use of magic, and the overall storyline of Norrell and Strange as first master and pupil, and then rivals is a classic one.
The details of a day in the life of England circa 1800 seem very plausible, and the depiction of the class differences are very well done. If I’d have been a ‘gentleman’s’ servant in those times, I don’t think I would have lasted ten minutes without punching one of the prissy, uptight pompous jackasses right in the throat.
However, I was a little disappointed in the climax, and it seems like the story could have been much shorter. Maybe it would have lost some of the depth, but I found the constant going back to horrible plight of Stephen and Lady Pole overkill. And did Strange have to go to war twice?
Still a great read with memorable characters and a unique way of approaching magic and the supernatural.(less)
A quick and easy way to describe this would be to call it Harry Potter for adults. There's a magic school and a lot more sex and booze than poor old H...moreA quick and easy way to describe this would be to call it Harry Potter for adults. There's a magic school and a lot more sex and booze than poor old Harry ever had. But that doesn't do it justice because this was an extremely original and unique twist on the notion of what it would be like to actually live in a world where magic and fantasy realms exist.
Quentin Coldwater is a bored teenager getting ready to apply for college but is already seriously disillusioned with his life and wishes things were more like his favorite fantasy novels set in a land called Fillory, which is essentially the author's stand-in for Narnia. However, Quentin quickly learns that he's got magical talent, and he's suddenly attending a training academy called Brakebills.
Quentin is the kind of guy who after finding out he won a huge lottery would instantly start bitching about how bad the taxes will be. Even though he's always longed for a world closer to his Filory novels, he never sees the adventure he's living by learning magic and all the things that go into his training. Learning magic and even falling in love don't make him happy, and he holds onto the childish idea that there's some 'next place' that will finally make him complete.
To make matters worse, once he and his friends graduate, they learn that there's no real need for magic since there are no big magical threats so they use their talents to live fat and easy while partying too much and trying to entertain themselves. Until an old classmate appears with the news that Filory is real.
There's three big things at work in this book. The idea that magic is real, and the author put a great deal of effort into developing the idea of magic in the real world with specific rules. The second is that the idea of journeying to a magical land on some kind of quest would be a fun adventure is actually pretty naive when you consider how actually bloody and insane the kind of things described would be. (Think about what it would REALLY be like to have some kind of half-human/half-beast run at you with a sword.) The third (and most interesting) is that a young man with a world of possibilities in front of him would find himself disappointed with life because it isn't like an adventure story and his stubborn refusal to realize that life will never be like a fantasy novel even if he eventually makes it to an actual fantasy world.
Fast-paced, funny, sometimes tragic and always entertaining, this was a book that I really enjoyed for it's offbeat way of looking at magic and fantasy stories.(less)