“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed”
I like to read. Always have, even though there have been many periods in my life when for one reason or another I have drifted away from it for various lengths of time. Reading is very grounding. A strange mix of escapism and remaining totally focused on the present. It takes intense concentration to remain attentive on a story without slipping away into personal day dreams. I need to remain attentive! Without a single point of focus my mind goes very chaotic at a chaotic pace (how I deal with this is the motivation for, and underlying focus of this blog).
June 2016 –
I found myself struggling to divert my attention from the constant flow of self-destructive bullshit ploughing through my consciousness. Usual routines and rituals that help pull me back from periods when this cuts deep just weren’t going the distance. It started to feel like I was in for a long bus ride. Accepting this I made a decision and a commitment to start reading an epic story described as the author’s ‘Opus Maximus’… that story is ‘The Dark Tower’ and the writers name is Stephen King!
7 volumes weighing in at a massive 4500 pages it is the story of Roland Deschain, the last Gunslinger of the mystical City of Gilead and his quest to reach the Dark Tower. It was written over a 30 year period, starting when King was 19 years old and a relative unknown author. By the time it was finished he was a household name, regularly topping the New York Times Best Sellers List. The tale nearly went unfinished, much to the despair of the cult following the story has attracted. King was hit by a drunk driver whilst out walking and spent a period in a near death coma. He discusses this in more detail in later volumes during the ever present Prelog every book in the series starts with – ’19’. In this he reminds himself and the reader who he was and how he saw things at that point in his life when this literary marathon was first started. Updating on each occasion how that differs since the publication of the previous volume. There was many years in between the writing of certain episodes of this wonderful chronicle. Years that King spent on other works but always returning to this, his real love!
The legend begins on the edge of a desert as our friend Roland closes in on The Man in Black. Their part in the whole story is intertwined throughout the complete saga. In this first instalment “The Gunslinger” – we are given a brief description of why these two characters’ destinies are entangled, a little back story and a portrayal of Roland’s incredible skills with a gun. His ability to survive whatever deadly situation unfolds before him and how that ability has cost him so much more than his own life on many an occasion. All this is outlined in this early novel and unfolds in much more depth and weight with masterly detail before the whole tale concludes.
At only 280 pages this by King’s standards is nothing more than an introduction to an unfolding epic. The amazingness of this majestic story that twists and turns, engages the reader, and develops at a beautiful pace doesn’t start to become apparent until the second novel “The Drawing of the Three”.
Roland and the Man in Black (Walter) sit around a campfire at the edge of the desert and ‘Palaver’. Walter deals the Tarrot Cards explaining what is waiting for Roland ahead as he continues on his journey to save the Tower. Roland’s world has ‘Moved On’ since the fall of Gilead many moons ago.. hard to judge how much time has passed as time is different now. The Tower is under threat as the beams that protect it have started to break. So are all the Worlds that revolve around it because the Tower is the axis of the Universe and all things are connected by ‘Ka’ a mystical force. Our World and the appocalyptic ‘Moved on’ World of Roland’s are central to this connection. If the Tower falls the Universe will disapear. As we find out as things unfold, maybe thats exactly what somebody or something wants..
In the second instalment “The Drawing of the Three” Roland pulls three new characters from our world. New York City to be precise. All from 3 different decades of the 20th Century. Introduction to these incredible characters is really where the whole story takes off and the development of their relationships, struggles and love for each other is probably the most ingenious peice of writing Mr King has ever delivered. Ka-tet is how they are named and Rolands quest for the Tower becomes theirs, to the point they will risk everything and die if neccassary in helping him achieve his impossible goal.
Through the remaining books the plot thickens, twists, jumps back and forward in time, between our worlds and back as they hurrtle from one disaster zone to another facing unbeatable odds all the time encountering incredible friends and formidible ingenious foes. Driving forward towards a date with destiny Roland has dreamed of every night in full colour vision since childhood. In the 4th instalment “Wizard and Glass” the majority of the book is dedicated to what happened before the first. As the Ka-tet sit and listen Roland tells them of his upbringing and training as a ‘Gunslinger’. The adventures he and his young training companions / brothers in arms had embarked on after his father Steven Deschain (King of Gilead) sent them away for their own safety as he figured out the Man in Black’s (Walter has lived long with many guises and names) next move. How their death in a battle that brought about an end to everything Roland held dear had hardened his heart, and left him on a single handed mission to halt Walter and save the Tower.
So much happens throughout this series of page turners. Each book adds more and more both to the overall excitement of the fantasy (part sic-fi, part spaghetti western, part horror and part thriller) and to the depth of the characters and their interactions. Its impossible to give a good enough short description other than to say if you are ever looking for a story of a lifetime then look no further. Its a challenge to read but extreamly difficult to put down. I found myself picking up each instalment at every available opportunity whatever the surrounding circumstances of my daily life. Im so glad I started reading this after the series was compleated. I could pick up the next book as soon as I had finished the previous.
At the end I felt like I had been on a journey of my own with the characters whom I felt a deep connection with, like the villans throughout the tale, you get to know them so well its as if they are almost real. This is a masterful peice of storytelling – start to finish!
Exhausted by intense emotions as the end came round, I know this series of books dragged me through an experience… one that I had to remain present with throughout. The Tower called.. and with Roland, Jake, Eddie, Susannah and Oy I answered. It reminded me that no matter how important the destination, the Journey and those we take it with will forever remain the real focus.
“All things serve the Beam” ~ Roland Deschain.
D&O in Fresno