A Read of The Dark Tower

Dear Constant Reader: A Confession, and a Wrong Righted. A New Blog Series for Tor.com

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

Immortal opening lines, recognizable to any self-respecting fan of the Stephen King universe. It’s the beginning of The Gunslinger, of course, which in turn is the opening to the Dark Tower series, King’s self-proclaimed magnum opus. The center of his universe. The source of all things Steve.

Okay, let me just toss this out quickly before I hide behind a big flying saucer buried in the woods: I have never read the Dark Tower series. That line I just quoted? Only line I know.

It’s a wrong that must be righted, and I’m inviting you to join me—even if you’ve read all 4,995 pages of the seven-book series and are only reading along to ridicule me as I try to read meaning into the meaningless and miss monolithic symbols along the way. I’ll be posting weekly, talking about it as I read, studiously not reading ahead, and giving you, my own Constant Reader, many opportunities for pointing out my foibles and smirking at my ignorance.

Believe me, you won’t be the first.

If somehow, like me, you’ve managed to not read the Dark Tower story, pull up a chair and join the party. We can flaunt our cluelessness together.

Why would I subject myself to such folly? Because I am a Constant Reader, damn it, despite this glaring omission. I’ve read the novels, the story collections, the Bachman books, the collaborations. I stood in line to buy the expanded “author’s cut” of The Stand before Amazon was a gleam in Jeff Bezos’ eye. For God’s sake, I’ve even read all of the man’s columns in Entertainment Weekly, including the very public dissing of Stephenie Meyer.

(Did you read that? Can you admit you got some kind of wickedly delicious thrill from it, somewhat like the Puritans must have received at a good witch-burning? But I digress.)

So, here’s the deal. We’ll start with The Gunslinger today. After much deliberation I have decided to read the 2003 revised, expanded edition rather than the original 1982 book. My reasoning is simply this: Stephen King had a chance for a do-over, he thought the book needed it, and I’m going to respect that. I mean, it took the man thirty some-odd years to write the books, so the least I can do is read the version he wants me to read.

(Oh, and there is an eighth book, The Wind Through the Keyhole, scheduled for release in 2012. Chronologically, according to the Stephen King website, it will take place between volume four, Wizard and Glass, and volume five, Wolves of the Calla. But let’s not muddy the waters with that yet. We also won’t muddy the waters with the as-yet-undated Ron Howard-directed film and TV series announced last fall, or the truthfulness of rumors that actor Javier Bardem, who won an Oscar for his work in “No Country for Old Men,” has been offered the role of Roland Deschain. But I digress again. It happens.)

The plan is to read The Gunslinger over the next ten weeks. The book was originally published in five installments in Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine, with the first installment comprising about a third of the book. At the end of section five, I’ll announce the reading plan for book two in the series, The Drawing of the Three. I would go ahead and schedule all seven books and umpty-bazillion pages, but then we’d all get overwhelmed and begin gibbering in the corner.

Spoilery, you ask? Well, as I recap each section I’ll be posting spoilers galore so you might as well read along with me. If you’re a seasoned Dark Tower reader and want to discuss future spoilers among yourselves, the nice folks at Tor.com have set up a forum thread for discussion that I, to be fair to the first-reading experience, won’t be taking part in. But also please feel free to tease, humiliate, cajole and discuss non-spoilery things here so I can participate too.

Click the “Next” button below to get started on the first section of The Gunslinger! We’ll cover sections VI through X of The Gunslinger next Monday, with Dark Tower reading installments following every Monday thereafter.

Read with me!


Urban fantasy author Suzanne Johnson is annoyed that she’s far past 16 and still hasn’t discovered her secret powers. Her new urban fantasy series, scheduled to begin with the release of Royal Street in April 2012 by Tor Books, is set in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina. Find Suzanne on Twitter.

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