My Complex Adventure in Reading "The Dark Tower"

Three months ago, I saw the first trailer for "The Dark Tower," and my dad and I leaned toward each other in the movie theater whisper-declaring it a "toss up." The great cast and sense of adventure were points in its favor, but the knowledge that it was based on a novel by Stephen King gave us pause. Too often, films with tag lines that begin with "based on the novel..." end as disappointments. And, apparently, this film turned out to be no different. 

"The Dark Tower," which had a disappointingly low $19 million opening weekend, was described as being too different from the books to please fans of the novel and too shallow to explain the story's complex world to casual audiences. With a story that was an amalgamation of several books in the series, but with only a one and a half hour runtime, everyone was asking "who was this movie made for, anyway?" 

I've heard pundits and critics alike call "The Dark Tower" books a "beloved, hit series" for months, so when I saw the poor reviews of the film centering around weak storytelling and thin characters, I decided instead to read the first book in the series, "The Gunslinger." And now I am more confused than ever.

At 251 pages, "The Gunslinger" only took me a few days to read, and when I finished I had infinitely more questions than answers, with the most pressing being "did I not understand it, or did I just not like it?" 

I am not a fan of horror, and I only like the movie "The Shining" because the first time my college roommate and I watched it, we thought it was hilarious, counting how many times Wendy Torrance had to swing that baseball bat. That being said, I have never read a Stephen King book before in my life, so, while "The Gunslinger" is not horror, this was my first introduction to his writing style.

But whether it's due to style or substance, I have never been more confused reading a book than I was during the first 100 pages of this one. And it didn't get too much clearer as it went along. I still ended the book yelling to the skies "Who the deuce is Susan? Show me Susan!" This is definitely a novel that you are dropped into the middle of and expected to figure the rules out along the way. Maybe I'm just a big old dum dum, but I just didn't get it. 

"What exactly is a gunslinger?"

"What happened to Roland Deschain's hometown?" 

"Why does he feel the need to find The Tower?" 

So many questions and so few answers. 

But I think my central complaint revolved around the relationship between Roland and Jake, a boy he meets and invites along on his quest to catch the Man In Black. We are told multiple times how much Roland loves Jake and how much Jake loves him in return, but this pseudo-father-son relationship just occurs without warning or preamble. You don't really see them grow to care for each other, you are just told that they do, and this, in my opinion, makes the climax of the book devoid of any emotion. I just don't care about these people. 

This could be due largely to the fact that, as we are repeatedly informed throughout the novel, Roland Deschain is a man without imagination. So perhaps the harsh coldness and distance that infuses the entire story is a byproduct of his main character status. 

I am by no means saying "The Gunslinger" is a bad book. Thirty-five years worth of praise would counter that idea. It is definitely well written. But I am saying that, for the first time in my life, maybe I just didn't like a book in a "beloved, hit series." Maybe I have to acknowledge that just because something is objectively well-crafted, it wasn't crafted for me. 

Or maybe it all comes together after reading book two. 

Have you read "The Dark Tower" series? What do you think of the novels? Should I read the second book, or is it more of the same? Let me know in the comments below!