It took me four years to read seven books that I can honestly say are the best fantasy books I have ever read. I probably would have gotten through them much sooner but I had university and work to contend with at the same time. These books are incredible and go beyond themselves in ways I couldn’t have imagined before I opened the first one. I’m talking about Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series and the only regret I have is that it took me so long to read them all and that I waited so long before starting. For me, they go beyond Tolkien and Pratchett and that’s saying something, as they have been my biggest influences for fantasy stories to date.
There are seven books in the series, with an eighth story more recently and more short stories besides this. My next goal is to find all of these and read them to get a better understanding about the series before reading them again. The seven books in this series are: The Gunslinger, The Drawing of The Three, The Waste Lands, Wizard and Glass, Wolves of The Calla, Song of Susannah and The Dark Tower.
It’s not as simple as that, though. After finishing each book, it is easy to see that King’s other works tie in to this universe he has created for The Dark Tower series. There are names, phrases and characters in his earlier works that all make appearances or are referred to throughout the series and the consistency in which this is done is staggering. If you read his other stories first, you won’t even notice them, never mind the importance they hold for this series. After reaching them throughout the series, you can’t help but wonder at the amount of thought and planning that must have gone into these points. It links everything King has done to this one series.
The books follow Roland, the last Gunslinger, on his quest to reach the Dark Tower. He encounters many people and finds his own followers that become his family. We are told of his long journey before we join him but the passage of time is complicated in Roland’s world. It is impossible to predict and at times, seems to have no meaning to the story whatsoever. This is hard to accept as everything we do is governed by time and its logical flow.
We change worlds too. We see worlds and time periods we can recognise, regardless of our age. Thanks to the digital era we live in, it is not hard to find out about what life was like in the past and diehard fans will look into what King shows us. At no point are we ever told if the characters come into contact with our world. There are important worlds and others with little bearing on the story but the reader will take from it what they want. If they want to believe that one of these worlds is our own, it has no bearing on the course of the story.
King takes the time to give us enough history of the world and Roland’s past to make us really feel for him. He is a cold and calculating character who is capable of warm emotions but his quest has taken its toll on him. We keep our distance from him as a reader because we can’t accept such a cold hero. Even when he first starts to show some humanity, we are wary. A glimpse into his past gives us an understanding of why he is who is he, and it’s easier to accept what comes next in the story.
If you a fan of stories where everything works out and there are plenty of happy endings, this may not be for you. There is plenty of happiness in this story, but there is an equal amount of hardship. Chapters end on dark notes in a world that is uninspiring and where it seems everything is against you. In a way, it is. Reaching the end of the story is just one step to understanding what King has created.
In all honesty, I found the ending to the series devastating. It was not what I expected at all, but on reflection, is the only ending that could have worked for such an epic story. I won’t spoil it at all but I was angry, upset and I even felt a little cheated when I first finished the story. Thinking back on all the books, on everything I learned about the universe King created, there was no other way to do it that would do it justice. I feel like I should have seen it coming, but that’s what makes this story so fantastic. Just because you think something should happen doesn’t make it so. This isn’t a story that bows down to convention or the demands of the reader. It is King’s story and he has written it masterfully. There is no other way to describe it.
If you are a fan of any kind of fantasy books, then this is an epic tale that isn’t to be missed. Ever.