Tale of Two Dark Towers
The Dark Tower Series
Looking back at the time frame, I can't honestly say I remember the exact day I saw the commercial for The Dark Tower. It was a trailer of the film being released on the 4th of August 2017, and it starred all the right faces. Handsome and talented Matthew McConaughey as the Man in Black and the dreamy British Idris Elba as the Gunslinger. But it wasn't the heavy-hitter actors that caught my eye. Instead, the blurb towards the end of the trailer that said it was based on a Stephen King book.
My interest was now entirely piqued, and I did what I usually do when I find out there is a book attached to something interesting. I hunted down the title, found out it was a series and purchased the first three books on an app. I know this is no way to enjoy a good read; there is no comparison to turning a crisp page between your fingers. Or how you subconsciously watch your place in the book start from the first pages and all the stops it makes in its journey to the climactic end. But nothing beats the convenience of always having your book on hand no matter what, and I've become spoiled. Sue me.
The number of books in the series intrigued me; it sported a whopping nine books written just over twenty years. I had already read Harry Potter and the Twilight series (don't judge me). Most of the Anita Blake and the Meridith Gentry series (I think I smell that judgment again) were read during my young adult years. I'd read the Hunger Games in their entirety and The Maze Runner series, which gave me insight into the different ways people created dystopian realms. I'd even somehow survived the lengthy read of the Game of Thrones pentalogy. While waiting for George R.R. Martin's next book to be released, I figured I could squeeze this series in without interruption. Oh, the irony and bitterness brought on by writing that last sentence, but I digress.
I say all of this to say that I have read many books and feel that this series has yet to receive its figurative roses and actual moment to shine. Though loosely based on The Dark Tower series, the movie should be considered a quick synopsis of the series rather than the story's movie equivalent. Like cliff notes written by someone who only skimmed the back of each book before slapping together their version of events.
However, the written series is a work of dystopian brilliance that only the great Stephen King could produce. To add to the genius of its work, you can find remnants of this world and its inhabitants weaved into nearly every story he's ever written.
The story starts with Roland Deschain, a man driven just short of mad by his mission/ obsession, ultimately saving the Dark Tower. (The omnipresent centerpiece that binds all of the realms of King's brainchild omniverse together.) This husk of a supreme being with the deadliest fingers you've ever seen is plagued by the kind of madness tainted with nobility and duty. The kind of responsibility that leads him down the dark path of a hard decision oh too frequently. King doesn't just expose you to the genuine anguish that motivates his main character in the first book. No, he's the classy kind of writer that likes to give you the hero of the book and all the grittiness of his depth. He paints a vivid image of the kind of man that's lived a multitude of times with only one weighty purpose motivating him. It is only later on in this tale where we find the humanity of our main character with the help of his group members. Characters that weren't even mentioned in the movie this is a tragedy I have to rectify. So let's briefly meet them.
First, Jake Chambers is seen in the movie played by the talented Tom Taylor. He's depicted as a kid whose major complaint is that his stepdad and mother are convinced he's lost some of his marbles. Lightwork compared to Jake Chambers of the books, who DIES to get to the world the Gunslinger is in, Mid-World. Not just some slightly dangerous trip to a haunted house guarded by a demon so he could gain entry through a portal. The kid was murdered! Dark, yes, I know, but how could they not put that in there? To make things worse, he's forced to remember the tragedy, which leaves this kid shaken. He's not ok mentally, and he has to travel with this certified knight/ killer on his immortal mission. I respect this masterpiece, so I'm trying my best not to give spoilers that count; you'd hate me for it, I'd hate me for it, and I can't live with that, so let's move on.
Along with the series, you meet Eddie Dean, a heroin addict in too deep with drug trafficking, which eventually leads him to the wrong side of the typical goon squad. You know, the aye yo boss-type you can see in almost any mob movie. What I like to call divine intervention done King style sees Eddie the druggie pulled into the west shores of Mid-World. Imagine trying to kick a drug as toxic as heroin, cold turkey with a crazy noble ancient gunslinger as your companion and AA counselor. It's the kind of tense that only King can deliver... Can you say awkward? Either way, it works, and you see in Eddie Dean the kind of turnaround that a select few people in real life can achieve. Before your eyes, with every turn of the page, you see the addict become a talented and apt gunslinger with a heart of gold. Not surprising to me but maybe surprising to you, King truly knows how to hit the action/gore junkie in the soft spots from time to time. It makes you all warm inside, and then he brings you right back to the nightmare again. You have to admit it's a talent.
Finally, Susannah Dean is a woman with her own unique set of odds stacked against her. First, as a child, she has a brick thrown down on her head, a wound meant to kill that leaves a fissure no one expected. Then later in her life, she's violently pushed in front of a subway train, leaving her missing her legs from below the knee. Her unique pre-Mid-World history leaves Susannah battling darker forms of herself on more than one occasion while traveling with the group. Despite her setbacks, this woman proves that broken but not beaten can be the best mantra in this superhero gang of screw-ups.
If all of that sappy character growth and inner light finding isn't your cup of tea, I can confirm that there are equal parts action, gore, and perilous terror. The group comes across a mountain of insane adversaries while traveling Beam paths to the Dark Tower center.
Along the span of books, this group or Ka-tet of Gunslingers encounters man-eating demons, mutants (loads of them), and people driven mad by the apocalypse of their world. There are giant tunnel monsters, a train, and robots with artificial intelligence that give their cautionary tale of the things we leave behind once they've been created. Animatronic bears rotted and driven insane, a giant turtle, a field of roses where one sings a song of the universe. Hell, you even meet Stephen King in one of the books before being rushed away to a prison-like camp for children with the shine. And every time you think this Ka-Tet has made the ultimate sacrifice, survived the ultimate battle, another trial begins. Even if the good guys do evil things along their paths, this tale is still the story of how love and light triumph overall, even the ultimate evil.
No matter how epic it was or was not, one movie could not possibly do the magnificent collection any justice. For this reason alone I implore you to pick up the books, sit down for a read and enjoy.