Mon
May 16 2011 10:30am

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.

A Read of The Dark Tower: index | next ›
18 comments
Emmet O'Brien
1. EmmetAOBrien
I am attached to this series as only someone who started reading at the age Jake is in the first book and finished at (at least according to darktower.net) the age Roland is in said book can be, but I really disliked the revisions to the first book, largely on pacing of information grounds; I suspect trying to remember what information is revealed where with that new version will be merry hell for me, so probably won't post much early on in this reread, but I'll be reading the posts.
Jason Denzel
2. JasonDenzel
Ohhhh. This will be fun. Looking forward to it.
Kate Nepveu
3. katenepveu
Huh.

I refuse to read the revised/expanded version on principle , though I do know the changes he made, but I'll be interested to see if it works as a seamless thing to a new reader.

I believe that published stories exist in a space between the author and the reader and that rewriting history, rather than straight-up retconning, is a betrayal of what the reader brings to that experience. (Yes, I know, melodrama. The Dark Tower series brings it out in me. You should've seen me at the end of book 7.)
SuzanneJohnson
4. SuzanneJohnson
@katenpveu -- I knew those who've read and loved the series would have preferred me to go with the original release, and I dithered back and forth on it a while. As we go through, I hope you'll tell me what's new and what changed from the original!
SuzanneJohnson
5. mdunnbass
Yay! This is great. Three of my all-time favorite series, all being read or re-read on Tor.com at the same time!

Good luck with the series, I hope you're in the camp that loves it as much as I do.

My only possible quibble/gripe about announcing a read vs. a re-read is that I would totally love to have someone who has gone through the series as anally as Leigh Butler has the WoT, so they can point out to me things like, "Here's where King brings in things from Insomnia", or "If you've read Rose Madder, you know XYZ", and so on. I get the awesomeness of a first read blog, as Leigh is doing with ASOIAF, so no complaints on that aspect. Any chance of doing a tag-team? Or should I just look forward to the spoilery thread instead? I suppose.

Anyway, looking forward to it!

-Matt
Marcus W
6. toryx
Awesome. There sure are a lot of read/reread goodness on this site these days.

I read the original Gunslinger a million years ago and then bought the revised version a little after it had been published while doing a re-read to prepare for the final volume of the series. It is my opinion that the revised version is much better. I hadn't cared for the original nearly as much.

Anyway, looking forward to the discussions to follow!
Kate Nepveu
7. katenepveu
Suzanne @ #4, I'm not sure I'll be able to read along, because I fall into the camp that hates loathes and despises the ending of the series, and it's really hard for me to think about going back to it in light of that. We'll see.

But more significantly, I suspect pointing out differences would be intrinsically spoileriffic.
Chuck Holt
8. conspiracytheorywackadoodle
Urk! This is one hell of a way for me to find out that there's a revised and expanded version of this book.

Why wasn't I paying attention?
SuzanneJohnson
9. SuzanneJohnson
@mdunnbass...Yes, I realize the re-read would be popular (spoilerific comment thread, anyone?). I hope I pick up on a lot of the cross-references with other Sk works and will point them out when I do. And you guys can remind me when I miss them!

@toryx ... I've heard both sides on the revised version of Gunslinger, and really went back and forth on which one to read. In the end, though, I figured Stephen King would tell me to read the revised one. Yeah, maybe I miss some of the "purity" of the original, but we shall see :-)

@katenepveu..Well, I hope you can check in now and then if you're not reading along. The end of the series is so far down the road, I can't even imagine reaching it at this point!

Ah, @conspiracytheorywackadoodle ... it might be a conspiracy, ya think? From reading SK's introduction to the revised edition, there are apparently about 50 pages of new material, and a few revised scenes. How much difference that will make in the reading I have no clue.
Paige Vest
10. paigevest
I love that you're doing this and I'm looking forward to reading along! While I own the revised book, I've only ever read the original release (only about a gazillion times!) so there will be some new-to-me stuff, too! I hope you love it, this is one of my all-time favorite fantasy series by one of my all-time favorite authors. Happy reading!
Chuck Holt
11. conspiracytheorywackadoodle
@SuzanneJohnson said:
>Ah, @conspiracytheorywackadoodle ... it might be a conspiracy, ya think?

I'd like to be able to blame my lack of awareness on unknowingly being thrust into an alternate universe where the Gunslinger has been revised and expanded, but I can only blame myself. I've read all 19 books in the series, after all.
SuzanneJohnson
12. SuzanneJohnson
@conspiracytheorywackadoodle. LOL. Hey, wait, I only agreed to read seven of them. Okay, eight if you count the new one. I was cheated!
Cathy Mullican
13. nolly
I assume the Dorothy Parker reference in the headline is conscious, and of course she wrote a great many reviews, but whenever I see the words "Constant Reader", I think of the memorable line from her review of A House at Pooh Corner: "Tonstant Weader fwowed up."

Not that I have any reason to believe The Gunslinger is particularly nauseating (I haven't actually read it myself yet), but the phrases are inextricably linked for me.
SuzanneJohnson
14. SuzanneJohnson
Actually, "Constant Reader" also is the phrase with which Stephen King always addresses his readers in his frequent, often lengthy, book introductions....so it seemed appropriate here. He, no doubt, stole it from DParker :-)
SuzanneJohnson
15. Dawn Chartier.com
Count me in, Suzanne.
I've never read them either. lol
SuzanneJohnson
16. Jenny C.
I'm a fan of story, to rip off King's own words in the introduction to The Sandman: At World's End. I think a story should be allowed to be the best story it can be, just for the sake of the story itself. So I'm all in favor of revised and updated works. Every new iteration gives me a new chance to see the story at its best, or more options to synthesize in my mind a story in between the author's attempts if that's what it takes. (Why limit your perception of a story to that part of it which is published?)

Oh yes, I was also going to point out there's a Dark Tower comics adaptation directed by King and published by Marvel,if you want more things with which to not muddy the waters.
SuzanneJohnson
17. Spooky Mizu
Well, since I just finished reading the first book for the first time (original version), I guess I'm in.

I love that Tor.com does this! I'm rereading the Robert Jordan series and following it on the site. I'm on the fifth book of the Aubrey-Maturin series and I'm following it on the site. Now the Dark Tower series.

How perfect!
Heather Olver
18. Arila
I've just recently discovered these reads here at Tor - I have been struggling (in vain!) to catch up to the WOT re-read, but two years behind when I want to read all the comments too means I think they are actually gaining on me. I liked the Dark Tower series as well, and I think I have more chance of catching up and then being able to participate in the comments here.

I have seen some other fans mention they didn't like the last 3 books. I wonder if it's like the WOT, where people start feeling more let down by the books they had to wait the longest for?

I also didn't read the books for the bleak world they presented, but it does make the good parts all the better for the contrast. See you in Book 2 shortly! :)

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