A Beginner's Guide to Stephen King's The Dark Tower

The Dark Tower EW Image Banner

After many years of waiting, fans of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series can finally look forward to the saga making it to the big screen. Set to be released on February 17, 2016, The Dark Tower movie (if well-received) will form the cornerstone in what has the potential to become a lavish tapestry of movies, tied into a TV series, tied into books, tied into comics…and on it goes.

However, for those not familiar with King’s work, The Dark Tower can sound rather confusing. What is it, for a start? Who’s in it? Why should we watch it? Well, starting with the basics, The Dark Tower series, written by King over a number of years, is primarily made up of seven novels, centered on the Roland Deschain and his quest to reach The Dark Tower. Who (or what) waits there is unclear, as is what will actually happen when Roland does get there, but his journey is driven by fate - known in his world as “Ka.” While on his journey, Roland encounters many different characters, timelines and worlds, and we’ll attempt to break it all down for you in this guide. Read on for more information, but be warned that you might come across mild spoilers about The Dark Tower books and movie.

The Characters

The Dark Tower - Matthew McConaughey as The Man in Black
Matthew McConaughey as The Man in Black

Roland Deschain: The Gunslinger. Roland is the central character in The Dark Tower series, and he’s being played in the movie by Idris Elba. Roland is the last in a long line of Gunslingers, who embody the trope of the old Wild West Cowboy - think quick draw pistol fights and world-weary wanderings from one run-down town to another. Roland is serious, dark, dangerous, but ultimately he does have a heart. While in the novels he talks quite a bit, King himself has asked for much of Roland’s dialogue to be cut for the movie, because Elba can convey the character well enough non-verbally. Roland will stop at nothing in his quest to reach the Tower, which causes many issues along the way, not least because of…

The Man in Black: To be played by Matthew McConaughey in the film. The Man in Black goes by many names and appears in many of King’s novels including The Stand, where he is primarily known as Randall Flagg. The Man in Black is essentially the essence of all evil that lives inside of us. He enters Roland’s thoughts and torments him almost to the point of madness, but he is also a very real, very tangible figure. The Dark Tower is partly based on the first book in the series, ‘The Gunslinger’ and in this, The Man in Black and Roland have a very important conversation which sets up the rest of the saga. While Roland is chasing The Man in Black toward the tower, The Man in Black is chasing….

Jake Chambers: Jake’s story is a complex one, and one that could well be explored further with subsequent movies and the TV show. Jake is a young boy, lost in Mid-World (the land in which Roland lives). However, Jake arrived in Mid-World by dying in our world. Roland happens upon Jake when he’s in hiding from The Man in Black in the middle of the desert, and something compels him to take Jake with him on his journey. Jake and Roland are connected by “Ka,” and their relationship forms the final part of the triangle that exists between these three central characters. The role of Jake will be played by newcomer Tom Taylor, and let’s hope he’s quite the talent, since Jake is set to feature heavily in The Dark Tower and any subsequent projects.

The Dark Tower - Jake Chambers

Other Characters:

Here’s where it gets a little confusing. Those who have read the books will probably be wondering who has been cast as the other members of Roland’s Ka-Tet. A Ka-Tet is a family brought together by fate; they’re powerless to alter the course of events that bind them. In the second book of the series, The Drawing of the Three, Roland enters our world, during various points in time, and meets Eddie and Odetta. The pair end up back in Mid-World with Roland and, eventually, Jake.

The exact plot to The Dark Tower is being kept under wraps for now, but is said to draw influence from across all of King’s books in the series. It makes sense, though, with this potentially being the first in an unlimited number of films, that The Dark Tower will draw mostly from the first book, ‘The Gunslinger,’ meaning that Eddie and Odetta won’t appear. That said, both King and director Nikolaj Arcel have said that they will appear if the movie franchise continues, which is great news for Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul, who has publicly asked King if he can be in the film, via Twitter.

Dear @StephenKing,

How goes it my friend? So, about these Dark Tower rumors. What are your thoughts? Could you put in a good word for me?


— Aaron Paul (@aaronpaul_8) 9 March 2016

So, no Eddie and Odetta, but Abby Lee (Mad Max: Fury Road) is set to play Tirana, a minor character in the books. The strange thing is (apart from the sizable increase in her role) is that Tirana doesn’t crop up in the earlier books. Likewise, Jackie Earle Haley plays Richard Sayre, who also doesn’t come up until much later in the series. Another sign that The Dark Tower movie will pull from all of the novels, but a confusing one, given that Eddie and Odetta- much more substantial and important characters- don’t appear.

We can certainly expect Alain, Cuthbert, and Susan Delgado to be at least mentioned in the movie. Alain and Cuthbert are childhood friends of Roland’s, and the three served as apprentice Gunslingers together. Susan was Roland’s true love. Often referred to and thought of by Roland, these characters come to the fore in the fourth book, ‘Wizard and Glass,’ which predominantly details Roland’s past. This book will be the focus of The Dark Tower supporting TV show, which is probably the first time we will meet these characters, along with a younger Roland.

One other character which could possibly feature is Charlie the Choo-Choo. Yes, it’s a train, and a creepy one at that. Charlie is the subject of a children’s book that Jake reads, and the train then goes on to play a part in the novels. Given the timeline of events in the novels, it did seem pretty unlikely that Charlie would feature, but…King has just released “Charlie the Choo-Choo” as a children’s book, under the pseudonym Beryl Evans, the author of the book that Jake reads. Is that King giving us a clue to what could unfold on screen?

The Plot, Timeline, and Future

The Dark Tower is not likely to feature Roland in our world at all, since Eddie and Odetta aren’t in it. That will probably be saved for later instalments. After all, King created such a massive, elaborately detailed story that there is more than enough material for several more movies. So it seems safe to assume that the whole film will take place in Mid-World. It’s similar to the Wild West towns of old; think tumbleweed and saloon bars, but there’s also a strong element of the supernatural too.

Mid-World is a parallel universe that runs on a similar, but not exact - timeline to our own. Roland talks of his world ‘moving on’ a lot, and there are a lot of flashbacks to a previous time, when gunslingers were prosperous and held in high esteem. Throughout the course of the novels, Roland also enters our world, and at one point interferes with Jake’s timeline, altering his future. All timelines and universes are connected to ‘The Beam’, kind of like a great cosmic power, and the beam leads to The Dark Tower. So as long as the series of events follow that beam, we can expect time and universe changes aplenty throughout the cinematic and TV series.

The Dark Tower TV show based on Wizard & Glass

Roland’s quest to reach The Dark Tower is long, arduous, and varied. At one point, The Horn of Eld comes into his possession. The horn has the power to reset the cosmos, kind of like a giant do-over, restarting the journey but with a number of changes which could be big or small. In the books, Roland acquires the horn toward the end of the series however, in the film, it seems as though this is in his possession from the start, as previously released pictures have shown it in Roland’s bag. Given that The Dark Tower draws influence from all seven books, could it be that Roland has already used The Horn of Eld, and what we are watching is, in fact, a ‘reset’ version of King’s original work? It’s certainly something to think on.

For fans of King’s work, The Dark Tower finally making it to the big screen, and with such a stellar cast list, is tremendously exciting. The film will need to reach a wider audience, though, in order to be successful enough to warrant further movies in the franchise. In that regard, Arcel has a hard job ahead of him; quickly and concisely setting up a complex storyline so that audiences can easily follow and become immersed in it. Will he manage it? Well, King has said time and again that he highly approves of this film version, though he’s not exactly known for taking shortcuts himself. Still, it’s his story, and if he’s happy with how it will come across on screen, it bodes well.

Key Release Dates
  • The Dark Tower (2017) release date: Aug 04, 2017
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