There are a couple of things you should know about me before I tell you this story. The first is that I’ve been a fan of Stephen King for as long as I can really remember. I think my first of his books might have been Needful Things, and from there I would borrow as many as I could from the library, heaving home huge stacks of those doorstops with their black covers and lurid fonts. The second thing is that I have a terrible tendency to read things in the wrong order. It’s not a deliberate quirk—more that I have a relaxed attitude to sensible chronology. I think this was also something I picked up from being a big borrower of library books; I would take whatever book happened to be on the shelf at the time, regardless of whether it was the next one I was supposed to read or not.
Now I must take you back to 1997. My mum had gotten into the habit of buying me two things at Christmas: whatever hardback Terry Pratchett book happened to be out, and whatever hardback Stephen King book happened to be out. That year, it was Wizard & Glass, which my mum merrily bought and popped under the Christmas tree, not realizing that it was the fourth volume in King’s The Dark Tower series. And let’s be fair, it didn’t worry me too much. I was, after all, the person who started reading The Sandman with The Kindly Ones. I was a maverick. A loose cannon.
If you haven’t read Wizard & Glass, it’s actually quite an unusual entry in King’s strange fantasy/horror/Western series, as it mostly takes the form of a lengthy flashback to the main character’s youth. Roland, the last gunslinger, knight errant and total badass, is suddenly 14, and we are introduced to his first companions, and his first (and only) true love. This being Stephen King, terrible things are afoot, and the climax of the story is a heady mixture of tragedy, violence, and weird magic.
I loved that book, and of course I went back then and read the rest of them, including The Drawing of the Three, which went on to be one of my favorite books of all time. Years passed, I left school, went to art college, and we saw the publication of Wolves of the Calla and Song of Susannah—but more significantly for me perhaps, I finally persuaded my mum to get a dial-up internet connection. It was a new century, and I had discovered these fancy new things called “internet forums.” On them, people gathered together to argue violently about the things they really loved. It was great! Full of enthusiasm, I immediately signed up to three: one for people with crushes on animated characters, one for fans of Samurai Jack (I’m sure those two aren’t linked), and one rather sprawling forum for people who wanted to discuss Stephen King’s masterpiece, The Dark Tower series.
I look back on those days very fondly. Forums don’t seem to be as lively now, possibly because we already expend so much energy on things like Twitter and Facebook, but back then I would be up all night on the forum, embroiled in arguments over how the series would end, who should play Roland in the film (years away at that point), or exploring all the possible clues sown throughout the rest of King’s books. I made a lot of very close friends, and as with all forums, experienced a fine array of ridiculous dramas and flounces. Twitter dramas are all well and good, but I miss the days when people would make a banner for their profile featuring some underhanded reference to a long-running argument.
It was the first time that books had brought me to an entire community. It wouldn’t be the last, of course, but I’ll always remember the Dark Tower books, and specifically Wizard & Glass, with particular fondness—it was my first real experience of discussing books with lots of other rabid fans, and I’ve no doubt it deepened my experience of Mid-World, with all its attendant weirdness.
The vast majority of users posting there were American or Canadian, with just a handful of British members. Inevitably perhaps, our little handful of Brits ended up bonding, and I even agreed to meet up with one chap in actual fleshspace. Back then, even relatively recently, meeting someone “off of the internet” felt like an especially wild thing to do, and I vividly remember waiting for the rain to stop at Charing Cross station, wondering if I were about to meet a serial killer. Well, twelve years later, I’m pleased to report I’ve yet to find any dismembered bodies scattered about the flat—although admittedly it could be difficult to tell—and we are very happy indeed, thank you very much. Although the question of who will play Roland in the film version has now finally been answered (woohoo Idris Elba!), for old time’s sake we do occasionally revisit that old discussion—he still insists it should be Pierce Brosnan, to my unending horror.
This article was originally published in January 2017 as part of our “The One Book” series, in which authors discuss a work that is particularly meaningful to them.
Jen Williams lives in London with her partner and their cat. A fan of pirates and dragons from an early age, these days she writes character-driven sword and sorcery novels with plenty of banter and magic, and she has been twice nominated for a British Fantasy Award. The first two books in The Copper Cat trilogy, The Copper Promise and The Iron Ghost, are available now from Angry Robot. Jen is also partly responsible for Super Relaxed Fantasy Club, a social group that meets in London once a month to celebrate a love of fantasy. The Ninth Rain, the first book in a new trilogy, is due to be published in the UK in February 2017, and she is partial to mead, if you’re buying.