The Dark Tower (2017) Review (as written by a Tower junkie)

Finally, after years of waiting, we have the first adaptation of Stephen King’s magnum opus. But how well does it succeed for this Tower junkie?

Let me make one thing clear about the new Dark Tower movie: it’s not the books. It’s certainly not the first volume, The Gunslinger. And if I’m honest, I never really thought it was going to be.

Compared to so many other fantasy epics out there, The Dark Tower was always going to be harder to adapt than most. It’s not just because of the larger scale, or the fact that the author himself shows up once or twice in the story. There’s also the way it’s told.

With The Gunslinger, we’re introduced to Mid-World directly through the gunslinger’s own eyes. It’s a bit of a strange world already, but that perspective adds some distance between that world and us as the audience. Mid-World is almost abstract in that first volume.

It’s not really that surprising that The Gunslinger is seen by some fans as one of the weaker volumes of the series. It’s not terrible, far from it. There’s a great spaghetti western feel to that opening volume. But things definitely picked up in a major way with The Drawing of the Three. As I’ve written before, that was the volume that actually changed my life.

What’s interesting about the new movie is that it avoids telling either of those stories, at least directly. The Dark Tower uses particularly strong elements from The Gunslinger, it has to be said. But it also uses a lot of characters and places from later volumes, too.

This film essentially lets you know right from the very beginning of how different it is compared to the first volume by presenting Jake Chambers as the key perspective. This isn’t that surprising, really. Since he’s actually from our world, Jake makes a natural choice for giving the audience a key point of view on this strange universe. So it’s a change that makes sense.

Mythology: how much is too much?

In fact, the whole film is like that. There are a lot of changes from the original source material in terms of the story, but there’s a lot of key mythology that still feels the same.

Actually, that brings me to one key criticism I have for this movie. It isn’t that it changes the mythology of the original novels, but rather, that it arguably uses far, far too much of it for a ninety-minute movie. This movie features portals, the Breakers, “Low Men”, and a lot more. At the very start, it explains exactly what the Dark Tower is via a very unsubtle caption. By comparison, the novels didn’t fully explain what the Dark Tower was – or even why Roland was trying to get to it – until the third volume!

I’m not saying we should’ve had to wait for the third film to get the full explanation, but there were a lot of moments where the exposition got a bit heavy handed. I really wish this film had been given just another half hour, just to flesh things out a little better.

The ideas that King had in the novels, they weren’t original ones. Psychic kids, fantasy worlds, monsters from beyond, these had definitely been done before. However, along with a rather interesting mix of these ideas, King was also able to flesh them out and give them so much depth. That’s what made both the world and the story so appealing. Which is easy to do in a novel, but not in a movie, especially in a relatively short movie. So a lot of these concepts that I’ve adored in the novels have the risk of coming across as generic in the film adaptation as a result.

Trying to cram in too much mythology in one go were problems that were shared by the Stallone Judge Dredd movie and the Paul McGann Doctor Who movie, which were also both adaptations and fresh introductions to stories that were important to me. Once again, I’m given another example of how “less is more”.

However, that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy The Dark Tower at all. Far from it, really. In fact, now that I’ve got my key criticism out of the way, I’ll go into what I did enjoy about the film.

Great performances

First, there are the main characters. For the Gunslinger and the Man in Black, this movie gets them exactly right.

Roland is absolutely spot-on. He’s not given too much dialogue, which is what you expect from his character. But even better, he’s given moments of humour. I don’t mean that he’s suddenly joking and pulling witty one-liners before shooting up some bastards. That would definitely be the wrong way to do it.

But there are nice moments with Roland in our world where he really clashes, and the humour comes from those scenes. This was something that worked with the character in the novels, particularly when he was in New York with Eddie Dean. (One of my favourite smartasses of all time.) So it’s nice that the film at least doesn’t take him too seriously, even while Roland takes himself seriously, at least.

Elba’s performance is also great. When I was reading the novels again a few months back, I was picturing what his version of Roland would be like. I could actually see Elba saying these lines I was reading and how he would say them. And he didn’t disappoint. Seeing him in the film was exactly what I had imagined.

If there’s one performance that overshadows even Elba’s, however, it’s definitely Matthew McConaughey as the Man in Black. In the original volume, he’s less interested in killing Roland than he is pushing him to breaking point, and comes across as more of a force of nature or a mystery than a man. In later volumes, he’s much more clearly out to kill him by any means necessary.

What I really liked about the film’s interpretation is that there’s a really nice balance between the two. McConaughey comes across as pure evil as Walter, and he has fun with it without taking away how sinister or deadly his character is. Again, how the character is written for the film also helps. One of my favourite moments includes the words, “Hello, there!” It’s a perfectly evil scene that gets this sheer force of evil exactly right.

I’m not gonna lie: I really enjoyed the climax of the film. It’s really cool to watch, and storywise, it’s pretty satisfying. I’m wondering if it will divide the fans though. To be honest, I’m wondering that about the whole of the film.

The Dark Tower is far from the worst possible adaptation of its source material, but its frankly far from the best, too. It gets a lot right, and it gets a lot wrong. Overall, I liked it and took it for what it was.

I do think it could’ve been made more accessible for a general audience, however. I can’t help but think that this is going to be a film that will appeal more to the fans of the existing source material than for newcomers, and for a blockbuster film, you definitely need to be able to appeal to a wide audience.

It hasn’t been very receptive to critics so far, but time will tell whether it makes enough to earn a sequel, at least. If a sequel is made, let’s hope that it builds on the strengths and drastically irons out the weaknesses of this opening installment.

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Toronto #19

I’ve got a confession to make: I’m in a real Stephen King mood lately. Kind of fitting as I’m now on the nineteenth Toronto post. (For those of you who are unaware, 19 is a major number in The Dark Tower series.) As I noted last week, it’s partially to do with revisiting his Tower novels, but there’s also another key reason: he’s so damn good at what he does.

Last week, I had finished re-reading Black House, a particular favourite of mine. Well, one of my many particular favourites, anyway. Afterwards, I began reading the sixth Dark Tower volume ‘Song of Susannah’. Today, I finished it before making a slight start on re-reading Hearts in Atlantis. And, once I’m done with my third Tower read, I’m itching to re-read some of my other favourites, including The Stand and IT. Huge epics to read, despite the fact that I have many other King books to check out. (Not to mention that I still need to finish off George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. But then again, so does he, so I’m not too fussed about that.)

Throwing myself into these books has reminded me of something. Not just of how great a writer Stephen King is, but more importantly, how reading his books really made me want to become a writer, way back in high school when I read the second Dark Tower volume, ‘The Drawing of the Three’. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed reading his first volume, but it was the second volume that truly grabbed me, and in some ways changed my life, although I didn’t know it at the time.

(For more on my thoughts on how much I love these books, see here for a thought piece I did a couple of years back, the first (and currently only) post in my “Writers That Make Me Think, ‘Damn, I Wish I Could Write Like That'” series.)

Of course, that was considerably over a decade ago, and in the case of the writing department, I’ve finished fuck all. I’ve had plenty of ideas, but a lack of confidence as well as frustration has lead to a lack of actual development.

Very recently, there are two key things I’ve realized about myself. Firstly, I’m someone who prefers clear, visual results when it comes to my work. More than that, I like consistent levels of clear, visual results. I think this is one of the reasons why I went into accounting as opposed to, say, an English Literature degree, or something that could’ve helped me to focus on my creative writing.

Oh don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret going into my AAT studies. To be frank, I’m not sure I’ll ever have what it takes to make it as a writer, and even if I did, I certainly wouldn’t earn enough solely through it. At least with my AAT studies, or at least my experience in finance, I’ve got a decent day job to help me through with that if I did want to take writing more seriously.

The second, and this is going to sound ridiculous, but it’s true, is that I hate being wrong. To an extent, that’s true of all of us, but I actually physically loathe it. There’s hardly anything that I’ve hated in this world so much as being wrong. To help me cope with this problem, I’ve usually taken the easy way out by avoiding the possibility altogether. This has taken in the forms of, in chronological order:

  • Selective mutism (because seriously, how can you get a question wrong, or even ask a dumb question, if you don’t say anything at all?)
  • Putting in so much effort into learning that it becomes actually impossible to fail. Of course, that plan, ironically and unsurprisingly, inevitably failed. Which of course lead to:
  • Not making any effort whatsoever. After all, how can you fail at all if you don’t even try? (This attitude was best summed up by George Lass in the opening scene of the brilliant television series Dead Like Me, and it really does perfectly sum up how I was back then. See below a clip of both the speech and a great story about how death came into the world.)

I’ve mentioned before how, through a combination of that last attitude plus long term unemployment (although in hindsight, it really did come down to having that attitude, more than anything), I went through a bout of depression, which I won’t go into here. All I can say is that my fear of being wrong has held me back over the years, or rather, allowed me to hold myself back.

Fortunately, many things have helped with almost overcoming this problem. First, there was getting back into studying and actually passing my studies. Then, a few years later, there was getting into improvised comedy. Trust me, nothing helps you face being forced to be wrong like fucking up in front an audience that usually consists of your friends and family.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, there was deciding to move to Canada for a couple of years on my own and hoping for the best. I’ve recently realized that it’s now already just over a year since my application for a work permit was approved. It’s hard to believe that, after actually putting in the effort and taking one of the biggest steps in my life, I’m actually here, 1 year later. I think, as a result, it’s beginning to make other daunting decisions seem easier.

Take Stephen King’s non-fiction book On Writing, for example. You would’ve thought that, as an aspiring writer who was hugely inspired by the great sage and eminent author himself, that I would’ve read a book where he actually gives tips on actually writing much, much sooner. But I never did buy it, and I think I’m only just beginning to realize why.

Like I said, I hate being wrong. Reading a book by one of my heroes and having the risk of knowing that my method has been completely wrong? Hell no! No way I want to face that! Better to just ignore that book altogether and try it on my own. Or, you know, just put the writing to one side and don’t worry about it.

But rediscovering what made me want to write in the first place has proved to be too much to ignore that impulse to write anymore. And right now, I’m definitely not as afraid of finding out where I’m going wrong as I used to be. Which is why I finally purchased an eBook copy of On Writing today.

I had also planned on buying a decent journal to write down thoughts, ideas, or just the first fucking thing that comes into my head about anything. Another key thing I remember from improv was when my tutor told me that one of the problems I have, when it comes to making shit up on the spot (which is essentially what improv is) isn’t a lack of ideas, but having too many of them at once and not being able to pick one on the spot.

If I can have something to jot those down and find a way of organizing them – or simply just vomit them on the page – then it’s possible that it could really help. However, as of right now, I don’t really have that much money, so better to wait until payday before getting a journal that’s decent enough to write my thoughts in.

So that’s this week’s blog post. Not really much to do with life right now in Toronto, I know, but it did cover some of the things which lead me here, so I guess it’s kind of relevant. I’ll let you know how the writing goes in my next post.

In the meantime, I’m just going to make a film recommendation that’s been on my mind. There’s a movie from a few years back called Stuck in Love. The trailer makes it look a lot like Crazy, Stupid, Love, (which I also enjoyed,) and I’m not gonna lie, in some ways, it is a lot like that. But one thing I like about it is how it’s focused on a family of writers, with one of the characters being a big Stephen King fanboy. For fans of not just good romantic comedies but also writing and Stephen King, it’s definitely worth a watch.

Toronto #18

As the first month of the year draws to a close, I thought another blog update was in order.

I will admit, as far as my personal life is concerned, things are rather quiet right now. With a lot of focus on saving for the next few weeks, my main focus has been reading. After finishing ‘Wolves of the Calla’, I re-read the whole of Black House, a novel co-written by Stephen King and Peter Straub and the second in their “Territories” series. (Here’s hoping King and Straub are still working on the third book in the trilogy that began with The Talisman.)

I’ve been in a real Stephen King mood lately, what with the long awaited Dark Tower movie coming out this year, and it’s reminded me of not just my love of reading, but also my dreams of writing, too. So, since I won’t likely be heading out to Cherry Cola’s this month (seriously, as great as that place is, drinking is definitely one activity that gets expensive real quick, and too expensive when you’re on a budget), I’m thinking focusing a little more on my own writing is in order.

There’s one story I started working on this year, and another that, well, I’ve been trying on and off for far too long. I’ll let you know in next week’s blog how that goes. I’ll also try and see if I can get my hands on Stephen King’s On Writing. Something tells me that’s one book I really need to track down and read if I want to start taking creative writing even remotely seriously.

Outside of my personal life, let’s be honest – it’s been a funny old month, hasn’t it? Trump’s first week as President of the United States was even less than I had hoped for, especially with the ban. Last week, the brilliant acting legend that was Sir John Hurt passed away. And over here in Canada, we had the horrific shootings in Quebec.

As shit as 2016 was, it’s very possible that 2017 could be so much worse. Especially now that Trump’s actually in power. Who knows what could happen this year? Maybe we’ll lose twice as many heroes. Maybe Trump really will reveal the full extent of his insanity in the worst way possible.

For the moment, the only thing we can do is take what we can and enjoy what we can. 2016 was a crap year in general, but personally, if I’m being honest, it was a gloriously life changing year for me. After so many years of making plans and having ideas and just not going through with them (writing a novel only being one of them), I was finally able to make not only my boldest plan, but to actually go through with it. And it’s definitely been one of the best decisions I’ve made.

So whatever it is you want to do – actually really fucking want to do – my best advice is to go through with it. Even if you fuck up, you get the satisfaction that you tried, at least. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that when you really want something, something that will make you actually happy, you’d be surprised at how far you’d go to get it. There’s a lot of shit going on in the world right now. For many of us, the best we can do is focus on what’s really important and distract ourselves with our own personal challenges.

Toronto #17

OK, so it’s still slightly late (I usually like to type these up on a Sunday), but I still want to keep this as a regular thing. Especially after a week like last week.

First things first, an update on my job. Whereas last week, I said that it didn’t look like I was going to be in my current placement much longer, it was barely a day later when I found out that my contract had been extended – by two months! At the very least, that gives me plenty of time to save and prepare for at least a brief period of unemployment, if needs be.

Having said that, I still plan on getting out as much as possible for the slightest excuse of enjoyment. Which is why I headed down to The Royal cinema twice. First was to catch the Black & Chrome edition of Mad Max: Fury Road. It was quite the experience. While some moments made me realize how wonderfully colourful the original version is, there were definitely plenty of scenes where the black and white works beautifully, especially the night scenes. It was definitely worth the watch.

The other film I saw was The Dead Zone. I’ve been in a Stephen King mood lately (which I’ll get to in a moment), so finally seeing this on the big screen was perfect for me. (What also helped was the trailer the Royal showed for it before Mad Max: “On the most terrifying day of 2017, watch a political lunatic get taken down…by Christopher Walken!” Times like this that make me seriously glad I came to Canada.)

I’ll admit, I have yet to read the book, but the film was great. Shot in wintry Ontario, the film tells the story of Johnny Smith, a man who, after a car crash, spends 5 years in a coma before waking up to discover he has psychic abilities. The film explores not just how he uses these powers, but also how he adjusts to a life that has moved on without him.

Christopher Walken was brilliant in the lead role, and the story was surprisingly sweet, considering it was directed by David Cronenberg, during his early days of visceral shocks and body horror like Scanners and Videodrome (the latter I really am itching to see). Don’t get me wrong, the film did have some horrific scenes, (one of which involving a pair of scissors that even I couldn’t bear to watch,) but overall, it also included some really great drama in there, too.

It was also surprisingly episodic, with the film’s plot broken into 4 parts – there’s the “origin” of the lead gaining his psychic powers; there’s a murder mystery; there’s a focus on his personal and professional life; and finally, there’s the climax where he makes a difficult but important decision. It all flowed together really well, and watching it, I could see how it could’ve been adapted into a TV series.

Overall, it seemed to be a solid Stephen King adaptation. I’m even more curious to read the book, and if I’m honest, check out the TV series, too.

Also this week, I’ve gotten back into my 3rd read of The Dark Tower series. I was in the middle of volume 5, ‘Wolves of the Calla’, when I put it aside months ago. Partly to focus on moving to Canada, as well as other things. This week, I finally picked it up again, and read the rest of it in a couple of days. So good.

‘Wolves’ is a great mix of Magnificent Seven tribute, horror, sci-fi, and even ‘Salem’s Lot sequel (the last of which I appreciated even more, having finally read what is currently one of my favourite vampire stories since my last read of the Tower). All of which given that distinctive Stephen King spin. I must admit, ‘Wolves’ has grown to be one of my favourites, after the second volume, ‘The Drawing of the Three’. (Now there’s a life changing book for me if ever there was one.)

I may make a start on volume 6, ‘Song of Susannah’, in a couple of weeks or so. Currently, I’ve decided to re-read Black House, another Stephen King book I’ve enjoyed (co-written with Peter Straub), and which has major Dark Tower connections. Certainly, I plan on finishing the current read of the Tower before the film gets released in a few months time.

Am I excited about the film? Well, I’m certainly keeping an open mind about it. From what I’ve read, it sounds radically different to the books in terms of its plot, but considering how meta and complicated the books get, that’s understandable. Even more understandable given that the film’s less of a straight-forward adaptation and more of a…well, I won’t spoil it for any who’ve yet to read the novels. All I’ll say is that Idris Elba, while not exactly who I pictured as Roland, is someone I can still see playing the part really well.

I think I’m more excited about Matthew McConaughey as the Man in Black. He looks really cool in the role, and I can definitely see him playing it really well. I just hope we get a trailer soon (and a proper one this time, not one that was leaked online before the effects were even finished).

Now, away from fantasy and books and back to Toronto. I’ve found out that my current favourite place (well, possibly joint favourite, next to the Royal,) Cherry Cola’s, is thankfully still open. I headed down there Saturday night, where I proceeded to have plenty of drinks while enjoying some really great live music. Yep, that place really is my kind of pub.

Afterwards, and despite it being so late, I decided to watch The World’s End when I got home. Because when you’re drunk and have listened to great music, watching a film about people getting drunk while fighting robots to a soundtrack that kicks off with Primal Scream’s “Loaded” has such massive appeal, I’ve gotta say.

Well, that’s it for this week. I don’t know whether I’ll have much to write about in my next post (with the possible exception of how awesome Black House is), but I’ll try to keep it interesting. For now, here are some words from Christopher Walken:

 

Writers that make me think, “Damn, I wish I could write like that” #1 – Stephen King and The Dark Tower novels

As long as I don’t get distracted (which, admittedly, happens a lot), this will hopefully be the first of quite a few blogs about writers I not only admire, but have particular styles and ways of storytelling that have made me both wish and even start to attempt to be half as good with my own story that I’m writing. Keep in mind, these blog entries won’t just be about authors – some will be about comic book writers, tv writers, film writers, hell, even video game writers. Writers with ideas and visions so great that they’ve influenced my own, sometimes subtly, sometimes heavily. I hope to write a few of these blogs over time, admittedly more for my benefit than anyone else reading them. It might be a good way of really reminding myself what made me love these writers and their stories – and great stories in general – and make writing possibly just a little bit easier. If it doesn’t, well, I’m a self indulgent sod, and I always love fanboying in general, so there’s that.

So, enough babbling: time to go into detail about Stephen King, and how one particular series of books of his changed my life. Which sounds more than a little bit exaggerated, but let me explain.

Now, the funny (and let’s be honest, more than a little understandable) thing about Stephen King is that, more than anything else, he’s more than often labelled as a ‘horror writer’. Now don’t get me wrong, he is someone who is, needless to say, very, very excellent at writing horror. No, let me re-phrase: Stephen King is an excellent writer in general whose most famous novels – including Carrie, Salem’s Lot, The Shining and It – come under the horror category. (Although in that last case, there’s definitely far, far more to that story than just horror, that’s for sure.) But it wasn’t until towards the end of high school that I realised that.

For the longest time, I wasn’t someone who had much of an interest in horror. I was a boy who was scared very easily, and I had no interest in watching or reading a story that was more than I could handle. I was more than happy settling for Doctor Who for anything approaching a horror fix (ironically, the stories I loved the most were the ones most heavily influenced by adult horror, but I’ll go into more detail on that for another blog). Writers like Stephen King were pretty much the kind of writers that I avoided.

And then along came 2004. It was my final year of high school (before sixth form, at least), and I was looking for something new to read. I then spotted a series of 7 books by Stephen King that, oddly enough, didn’t look like horror novels at all: a series called The Dark Tower, each volume’s cover showing an image of the Tower in the distance, getting closer and closer, until the final volume had the viewpoint looking up at it. Everything about the covers, from the logo to the covers to the Tower itself, screamed epic Lord of the Rings-esque fantasy with more than a hint of Western atmosphere. The idea of a ‘horror’ writer like King writing such a series intrigued me, to say the least. So, on the day that me and my parents first saw Shaun of the Dead (perhaps not a usual choice for a family film, but still one we definitely enjoy watching together), I bought the first volume, The Gunslinger.

It was an interesting read, to say the least. It had a fantastic spaghetti western feel to it, especially in its early chapters, while also having hints of something more fantastic and more epic along the way. At times, it was a little strange, surreal, and almost low-key, but it was an intriguing introduction to the series, especially the hints that Mid-World, the world of the protagonist, gunslinger Roland Deschain, and our world were in some way connected. However, I didn’t get around to reading volume 2 of the series until a few months later, when my parents got me The Drawing of the Three as a Christmas present. Out of all the presents they’ve given me, both for Christmas and for birthdays – the ones I’ve begged for, the ones I screamed for, the surprise gifts that I didn’t ask for but absolutely loved – this present, one I added to a list of suggestions for them to pick, is one of the best they’ve ever given me. Hell, it’s one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.

Because while I really enjoyed reading the first volume, it was the second that really blew my mind. Not just in a way that made me think, “Oh, so that’s what all the fuss about King is about!”, but in a way that changed me on a fundamental level and made me a Tower Junkie (a term that even King uses to describe fans of the Tower books) for life in a crucial way that the first book didn’t, and it’s really hard to explain why. Perhaps the best way to explain is by giving key examples of how the first and second (and even subsequent) volumes were so different.

With the first volume, even King admitted that he was very, very young when he started writing it, and perhaps due to over-ambition or just a little less experience, the first book comes across as rather strange and surreal at times, less because of the setting and any ‘magic’ that happens, but more because of its characters and the actions they take, including its protagonist. However, I think that owes more to its spaghetti western influence than anything else. Something else that makes The Gunslinger stand out compared to subsequent volumes is that each of the five chapters were originally published as individual short stories in The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and even in the revised edition I read, the episodic nature of each chapter really showed.

Keep in mind that I’m not saying I didn’t like or even really, really enjoy reading The Gunslinger. Just that it didn’t have the massive pull on me that The Drawing of the Three did, right from the opening prologue. Now, I’m not gonna spoil anything for anyone who hasn’t read it, but the first time I read that, it shocked me so much that I knew the rest of the book was gonna be something special. And oh boy, was I right.

One thing that made it so different to The Gunslinger was when it was published: 1987. Now, it’s less because of the time itself that’s important and more the fact that it had been 10 years since the first chapter of the Gunslinger had been published. So during that time, King not only wrote more great, great novels (including 2 of his all-time greatest and most epic, The Stand and It) and thus gained some great, great experience writing, to say the very fucking least, but he also had time to work out exactly where to take his magnum opus. Not that I’m saying these are definitely the key reasons why Drawing was, in my humble opinion, much more successful at hooking myself and many other junkies, but I think it more than likely that they helped, at least.

Something else that also helped, however, is that unlike the first volume, DOTT really was written as a novel, rather than individual, heavily linked short stories. The book is still divided into key chunks, but overall, there’s much more focus on the kind of story that King wants to tell, and overall it really does flow better.

What probably helps most of all is that the book is almost twice as long as The Gunslinger (which at only a little over 200 pages, it’s a slim paperback, especially by King’s standards). Ironically, the length helped me to read it that much faster than the first volume. Sometimes, authors write long books for the sake of it, at times feeling like nothing but padding. With King though, a lot of what makes The Drawing of the Three so great – and in fact, as I would discover later on, many of his greatest books – is that he has a real knack of adding an incredible amount of depth to his world. He’s able to flesh out his characters and their places and make them feel like real people, even the ones who only appear for a couple of pages at a time. He gives little details and little glimpses into the lives and minds of all his characters, both major and minor, and it’s a level of depth that really helps sell his stories that much more. Especially stories that concern worlds as fantastic as the ones in The Dark Tower.

This, I think, is probably the key difference between the first and later volumes. We see quite a number of characters in the first volume, but we don’t find out much about many of them, not really, and you can tell that it’s intentional, that for the beginning of his story (and that’s essentially what The Gunslinger is, not a complete story by itself but a 200+ page starting point), he wanted to create an air of mystery for his world, even for the boy Jake, someone who’s clearly from our world but doesn’t remember much from his previous life before Mid-World.

Does this change in the second volume? Regarding the world of Roland itself, only partially. There’s a lot of questions by the end regarding Roland’s quest for the Dark Tower that still remain unanswered, including why he’s truly looking for the Tower in the first place. Essentially, like The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three is only another part of the beginning.

However, one key difference between the first and second volumes is that while The Gunslinger hinted that there were connections between our world and Mid-World, in TDOTT, those worlds clash, in big and dramatic ways. So we get a lot more great characters and stories in our world (my favourite being Eddie Dean, a character I adored reading from the first page), but at the same time, even Roland is fleshed out: in volume 1, he’s something of an enigma, a character heavily influenced by Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name (in fact, for the longest time in the first volume, he’s only ever referred to in the narrative as ‘the gunslinger’), but in volume 2, he’s much more fleshed out, partially due to being seen through the eyes of Eddie and Odetta, and partially because of what happens in the prologue when…well, the Tower Junkies know what happens, anyway.

This level of depth and the kind of world that King had created was like nothing I had ever read before, and the more I read in the series, the more of a junkie I became. It was the first time I had read a novel or a series and thought to myself, “Fuck, I wish I could write something even half as good”. Oh, I had enjoyed many, many great books before. But there was something about The Dark Tower – that level of ambition and scale, that bizarre combo of fantasy and western – that was so original and so different to anything else I had read. It proved to me that not all fantasy series were about sorcery or sword fights, wizards or warriors, or at least, not in the usual sense. There are many classic fantasy concepts within the Tower books, but done in such an unusual way as to feel completely original.

Just as awesome though was the fact that the universe of the Tower wasn’t just limited to those 7 (now 8) novels. I soon began to realise that many of King’s books, even his most popular novels, connected to the series in many ways, sometimes tiny, sometimes colossal. In Salem’s Lot, there’s a priest, Father Callahan, a relatively minor character in the book who later grows to become a far more major player in Roland’s quest for the Tower. There’s a passing reference in The Drawing of the Three to another King fantasy novel called The Eyes of the Dragon, particularly its villain. There’s a ton of others that I’m not even going to begin to list (other than the two I’ve just listed, of course,) because it really is such a big universe, and it’s great how one author is able to tell so many completely different stories in completely different genres in one particular universe.

I’m not gonna lie, I’d love to write anything with that sense of scale. To have that skill of telling completely different stories – stories on Earth, stories on other worlds, fantasy stories, horror stories, love stories, fucked up stories (especially fucked up stories) – and yet still have them take place in one universe or even multiverse, through connections big or small. Lately, I’ve been thinking that’s probably more ambitious than I should be aiming for. To be honest, there’s only one (maybe two) stories I have in my head right now, and the one element that’s been influenced by the Dark Tower the most (i.e. the genre of epic Western fantasy), I’m mildly considering just throwing out for a slightly-tighter focus. Which, considering that I originally aimed to do a very British take on something as wonderfully American as The Dark Tower, would be a little bit ironic, but so far, the much smaller focused writing in ordinary England is much, much easier to write than other world strangeness. For the moment, I think it’s definitely easier if I just concentrate on character creation and development and make each of them feel as believable and grounded as possible. Because that’s the real hook for me with King’s writing: his wonderfully written characters.

One more thing I need to say: how this series changed my life beyond the writing itself, and in a big way. Almost 6 years ago, I joined a message board, thedarktower.com (now thedarktower.org), which as you could probably guess, was a message board for fans of the Dark Tower books to discuss them. Well, it’s partially that, anyway. More often than not, I’ve discussed a ton of other shit: TV shows, films, other books, life/Doctor Who and much more shit. I’ve signed up with a few message boards in my time, but the Tower message board is the only one I use on a regular basis, and that’s entirely down to having one of the greatest online communities out there. I’ve not only made so many great friends on that board, I even had my first serious relationship because of it, and while things didn’t work out, I’m still grateful that it went as well as it did and that we’re still friends.

There are times when being a fan is difficult because other fans can ruin the experience for you. They can get overly possessive, they can be pretentious sods who think newbies don’t even count as fans, become ridiculously aggressive over alternate interpretations or particular points of a story that others love etc., and it can really ruin the experience, at times. My fellow Tower junkies however always restore my faith in both fandom and, frankly, humanity in general by being the most awesome guys to know.

I love you guys!