Warning: This article contains major SPOILERS for The Dark Tower movie & books
The Dark Tower, the long-awaited big screen adaptation of Stephen King’s epic series of novels, is out now in theaters. Fans have been waiting for this moment for a long time and, despite the poor reviews, the movie is still worth checking out – if only for all the nods to the “Dark Tower” series, as well as King’s other works. However, one of the movie’s biggest flaws is that it doesn’t explain enough of the background story, or where exactly the movie fits in its timeline, resulting in confusion from both those who have read the books, and complete newcomers to the franchise.
Whatever your opinion on the movie, though, it should be remembered that King is one of the most prolific, talented, and respected living authors. His body of work is vast, and though many would associate him with the horror genre, “The Dark Tower” mostly belongs to the fantasy genre. If you thought J.K. Rowling had created an epic universe with Harry Potter, it’s nothing compared to “The Dark Tower”. King describes the series as his magnum opus, and with good reason. The story comprises seven full-length novels, published between 1982 and 2004, with an eighth novel (which sits chronologically between volumes four and five) published after the rest of the series. Together, the eight books are more than 1,300,000 words long.
Telling the story of Roland Deschain, the last gunslinger from Gilead, in Mid-World, “The Dark Tower” is a battle of good versus evil, and while primarily a fantasy series, it dabbles into the sci-fi, Western, and horror genres as well (it is Stephen King, after all). The series is based off of the poem “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came,” by Robert Browning and The Dark Tower opens with one of the most classic lines in modern literature: “The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed.”
The Man in Black (played in the movie by Matthew McConaughey) is on a mission to reach the Dark Tower and bring about its destruction. The Tower sits at the center of all existence, with eight beams flowing from it, each keeping a different world in balance. If the tower falls, then so too does all of existence. The Man in Black serves The Crimson King, who wants to rule in the chaos that will follow the destruction of the tower. Meanwhile Roland (Idris Elba) is both chasing The Man in Black, to try and stop him reaching the tower, and being chased by him. In his past, The Man in Black had an affair with Roland’s mother, Gabriella. When Roland found out, he ended up killing his mother by accident instead of the Man in Black. As such, both men want to avenge her death, and Roland has the added burden of trying to stop multiple worlds being destroyed.
During the course of the novels, Roland brings others on his journey, forming what is known as a ka-tet; a telepathic family who are all then set on the path to the tower and unable to resist its call. First, Roland meets the young Jake Chambers, who has died in New York City in our world, and is now in Mid-World. Roland then travels to New York in another point in time, and meets Eddie Dean, a drug addict, who manages to get clean while traveling with Roland. Finally, at another point in time, he meets Susannah Walker, a paraplegic woman. There was much confusion when it was revealed the movie wouldn’t introduce Eddie and Susannah; they form an integral part of the books, and it’s nigh on impossible to tell Roland’s story without bringing them into it, not least because Susannah ends up giving birth to Mordred; a shape-shifting being that is fathered by both The Crimson King and Roland.
While “The Dark Tower” focuses mainly on Roland’s future, the books also spend a lot of time in his past. In fact, the entire fourth novel, Wizard and Glass, is more or less a flashback to Roland’s formative years, and will be the subject of the tie-in Dark Tower TV series. Alain and Cuthbert are Roland’s two closest friends, and the trio embark upon a long adventure together, where Roland meets the love of his life, Susan Delgado. While Alain and Cuthbert wouldn’t necessarily feature in the first movie, they would be expected to feature in the TV series, certainly. This then begs the question: where does The Dark Tower movie fit into King’s series of novels?
In fact, The Dark Tower is neither a prequel nor a sequel, nor is it a retelling of one book or more. In the final novel, The Dark Tower, Roland reaches the eponymous tower, only to find that his story will start over again. This is not properly explained or examined in the movie, but the Horn of Eld plays a big part in the continuous cycle. The horn has been handed down through generations of gunslingers, the last of which is Roland. Roland entrusted the horn to the care of Cuthbert, who used it to rally the last of the gunslingers when he needed reinforcements in battle against John Farson (one of the many iterations of the Man in Black). He blew and blew, but no help came, and Cuthbert was killed. Roland hid among the dead bodies until it was safe to emerge, and left the horn on the battlefield in his haste to pursue the Man in Black.
When Roland’s tale begins again in The Dark Tower, he has the Horn of Eld by his side, hinting that he picked it up from the battlefield this time, and is a little closer to getting the perfect retelling of his tale, and that, in essence, is what The Dark Tower movie is; another retelling of Roland’s tale, with similarities and differences. The idea being that Roland’s story will begin again and again for all eternity. So to truly fit the movie into canon, you’d need to watch it after reading all of the books. Depending on your reading speed, though, that could be a long way off.
Page 2: Other Books to Read
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