King's Highway pt. 50: The Shining (the movie)

The last blog (KH49, The Great Lost McBlog of 2012) was supposed to be the foundation-stone for this and the next one; I'd defined-my-terms so I wouldn't have to keep defining them, I'd referenced the relevant quotes, I'd parsed the reviews for the direct-quotes-to-which-I-planned to respond... tough to reconcile myself with having to do it all over again.
But, You go back, Jack, and do it again.
This may be a little on the long side. Don't forget to change your jacket before the fish and goose soiree...

Much has been written about this film (here's a great review, one of thousands out there), and even more about Kubrick-the-man/ Kubrick-the-auteur. Additionally, much ink has been spilled by King fans who seem to view the book-vs-film discussion as their own personal Roe v. Wade. I'm not going to get into any of that. Frankly, a) it's stupid. This isn't a case of "Everybody Comes to Rick's" vs. Casablanca, or more specifically to Kubrick, Burdick-and-Wheeler's Fail Safe vs. Dr. Strangelove. Both the novel and the film are well-recognized masterpieces. b) It may be instructional to discuss how they differ (and I don't dispute this) but there are enough side-by-side comparisons and reviews out there that I feel no need to add my voice to that chorus, and c) I'll save King's specific criticisms of the film for next time, as they definitely inform my personal bias against the mini-series.

And as if all the above wasn't enough, there are so many different interpretations of the film that they warrant their own film (Room 237). So, what I'll do here is just focus on only two of the interpretations.

Before I get to those, a couple confessions: 

Kubrick is my favorite filmmaker, and The Shining in particular is one of my favorite films. Let me get that bias out in the open straight away. Much has been made of Kubrick's alleged "coldness," lack of human empathy, over-cerebralness, etc. Reviews of The Shining in particular mention this often, but one finds the same reaction to most of his other films, as well. I've confessed my bias, sure, but... give me a break.Kubrick's work is filled with deep emotion. If you failed to be moved by the end of Paths of Glory, when the German girl (Kubrick's eventual wife, incidentally) is thrust onto a table and bullied into singing for the French soldiers and whose simple, innocent song shames the crowd, or by the tortured cries of Private Pile after he's savagely beaten by his platoon-mates and the one friend he thought he had in Full Metal Jacket, or by Alex's improbably heartwrenching post-rehabilitation eviction from his parents' flat in A Clockwork Orange, or by the bedside father-and-son moments during the latter's death in Barry Lyndon, or the comeuppance of the title character, or by roughly three-dozen other such moments from across his films, there's little chance you'll identify any which filmmakers are "cold and cerebral" and which ones aren't.

Anyway, there is more speak-directly-to-your-soul emotion in The Shining via musical-choice alone than there is 90% of other movies. Literally, 90%! I've done the math.

Another of my biases is towards the casting of Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance.

I'll get into this more next time when I address the casting of Steven Weber and King's reservations, but let me just say that this is one of my all-time favorite performances, ever.

Granted, so's Bruce Campbell's in Evil Dead 2, so take it with a grain of salt, if you must.
Consider this, as recounted (among many other places) here:

"Stephen Spielberg tells a story about talking to Stanley Kubrick about The Shining. Spielberg felt that Jack Nicholson went over the top. Kubrick asked him to name his top five greatest actors. Spielberg named people like Spencer Tracy, James Stewart, Clark Gable and Cary Grant. Kubrick noted that he hadn’t listed James Cagney. Spielberg realized this was true and Kubrick pointed out that even though Spielberg liked Cagney he didn’t consider him to be in the top five greatest actors of all time. Kubrick did and it’s why he doesn’t consider Nicholson’s performance to be too much. It made sense to Spielberg and does to me too."

When I defend Nicholson as an actor to my friend Alex, whom I bring up only because we talked about this over pitchers of beer for like three hours the other night, he always counters with Gary Oldman. I love Gary Oldman; Gary Oldman's the man. But to expect a Gary-Oldman-like performance from Jack Nicholson is like expecting Wade Boggs to pitch a no-hitter. Different actors, different approaches. And although I don't think much of Nicholson's acting after a certain point in his career, when he was on, back in the day, he was on.

As Good As It Gets, while certainly not terrible, is  from that period of Jack's output of which I don't think too highly, but it's absurd not to notice Nicholson's spot-on portrayal of a man with OCD-symptoms. Yes, he's playing Jack Nicholson. He's also playing a spot-on man with OCD.
Take this bit of physicality of Nicholson's performance in The Shining, as one of many examples:

After being accused of hurting Danny, Jack storms off down the hall...
As Ager points out in his analysis (which I'm getting to) nearly all of the ghostly-interactions Jack has are accompanied by mirrors or reflective surfaces. In this sequence, Jack's reflections in the mirrors as he walks by them is immediately followed by...
spasms of physical anger. He is clearly exhibiting the classic body language of someone in denial, disgusted with himself.
I defend wholeheartedly the casting of Nicholson as Torrance, despite many opinions to the contrary. (Not the least of which is King's, himself.) Personally, I agree with Kev's:

“As early as the opening line – “Jack Torrance thought, officious little prick.” – Torrance comes across as adversarial. He is a damaged man whose deep flaws have damaged others. A recovering alcoholic, Jack is given to fits of temper and rage; addiction seems less a cause than a symptom of his deeper character issues… Alcohol is not necessarily a trigger for these outbreaks, merely an accelerant.”

And as Karina Wilson writes: “There have been many literary portraits of drunks, but it’s unusual to see a dry drunk in all his glory. Jack’s a textbook case: full of anger, denial, self-pity, blame, grandiose ideas of his worth to society, and prone to secrecy, self-isolation, and blaming others for his failure, all without a drop of liquor having passed his lips in fourteen months.”

So, to the charge that the audience identifies Nicholson as wackadoo/violent too early on, I can only say, verily again and again, the barely-restrained-rage/simmering-anger is self-evident to me from the novel's first chapter. It's compartmentalized in the film, but it's not a mistake.

You can take issue with the absence of last-minute-redemption in the book ("Go. And remember that I love you." before smashing his own face to smithereens with the roque mallet) - actually, take issue with whatever you like, of course. Go forth and blog the gospel. But for me, the death of Jack in the film is as engaging and mythological (perhaps even moreso) as it is in the book, and I have little reservation with the changes made. That said, I can certainly understand King's being upset at the omission of his carefully-constructed backstory/ motivations for Jack Torrance in adapting the novel to film (all the stuff with his Dad is gone, the agonizing over his beaten-former-student, etc.), but it is simply incorrect to say the character changes all that much. Different flavors of the same cola. 

One last thing - go up to anyone and say "Heeeeeeeere's Johnny." (Go on. I'll wait.) Ask them where it's from/ who said it. Most people answer "Jack Nicholson, The Shining." Not that it really proves anything, but it's telling of how deeply Nicholson's performance has permeated the collective unconscious. As some-review-I-read-but-lost-to-the-Blogger-ether pointed out, Ed McMahon said that (his catchphrase/ introduction of Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, for those young'ns in the audience) roughly a million times, night after night; Nicholson said it just once.

Okay, so on to the two interpretations I wish to discuss. The first is Rob Ager's "Gold Room" analysis. It's worth watching all 4 parts of, trust me (and quite fun), but I'll summarize:

1) The film, like Cronenberg's Naked Lunch or the Coen Brothers' Barton Fink, must be viewed as a story-within-a-story. What we see is partially the story of the Torrances at the Overlook and partially the imagined-story within Jack's novel, or both, as mixed-as-metaphor-for-writers block.

This is most-explicitly expressed in this next shot, where we see Wendy-and-Danny "emerging" from Jack's typewriter:

It's an intriguing idea. As he notes, the original draft of the screenplay - as seen in the Kubrick archives - ends with a close-up of the Overlook scrapbook, where Jack's story is laid to rest, and an unidentified hand closing it. Suggestive, to be sure, but does this alone prove the whole thing is or was at-least-once-conceived-as a story-within-a-story-within-a-story?

Ager argues that many of the continuity errors throughout the film are also meant to convey this. I forget who said it, but when a hack makes a continuity error, it is proof of their hack-ness; when a great artist like Kubrick does, then verdammt, it must be a clue.

I don't necessarily buy this. While Kubrick's meticulous attention to detail is a legend in the industry (and for good reason), I'm of the opinion he was not a perfection-machine. Even 2001 was the result of a five-year ongoing collaboration; he preferred to find the subtext in the filming-of-it. So, I don't see disappearing chairs in the background or mismatched carpet-colors to indicate anything other than what Jan Harlan (frequent Kubrick collaborator) said when asked about them:

"Kubrick, he explains, was always intent on pushing the form, on leaving the work open to multiple interpretations, like the French impressionists or the Cubist painters that went before. 'A straightforward horror film was not what interested him,' Harlan insists. 'He wanted more ambiguity. If he was going to make a film about ghosts, he wanted it to be ghostly from the very first to the very last. The set was very deliberately built to be offbeat and off the track, so that the huge ballroom would never actually fit inside. The audience is deliberately made to not know where they're going. People say The Shining doesn't make sense. Well spotted! It's a ghost movie. It's not supposed to make sense.'"

That may be too glib for some, but to me, it fits Kubrick's approach. (Incidentally, a disappearing-blue-sweater in 2001 is referred to on-screen by an intercom voice-over. Ager uses this as evidence that Kubrick would in no way not be aware of any continuity errors. I tend to agree, but I see Harlan's explanation, above, as more probable.)

The second part of Ager's theory is that the entire film is a metaphor for monetary history of the twentieth century, something a) definitely happened "offscreen" or hidden away from surface-level-history, and that b) Kubrick was unarguably interested in/ knowledgeable of. (There is some fun evidentiary support for this in Michael Herr's Vanity Fair piece on Kubrick, something Ager curiously doesn't reference.) He devotes considerable screen-time to said history. I won't get into it, but to back up this point, he references the famous photo that closes the film:

In Ager's view, the man with his hand on Jack's arm is "undeniably" Woodrow Wilson...

(aka the President who signed The Federal Reserve Act into law) You tell me.
Ager seems to identify several other financial luminaries in the photo, such as Benjamin Strong; apparently, the architects of America's shadow government are all hanging out with Jack in the Gold Room. These personages are visual indicators (i.e. things puzzle-makers insert into their puzzles to encourage people they're on the right track) to the audience that what we're seeing here is Jack (i.e. America's) seduction by a financial apparatus above and beyond all laws of man or charity.

"You are passionate, Mozart," says the Emperor in Amadeus, "but you do not... persuade."
I'm quite entertained by this view, but ultimately, I'm not convinced. Even if the people in the photo are who Ager says they are, what of it? The Overlook has hosted "all the best people," from celebs to Presidents to rich folks of all variety, both in the film and in the book. He goes into this much more than I am, here, and for all I know, he is 100% correct; if indeed the people in the photo are who he says they are, it certainly does suggest Kubrick is saying something about the personalities involved in unleashing what G. Edward Griffin describes as "The Creature from Jekyll Island," i.e. the Federal Reserve.

Your money's no good here, Mr. Torrance. (But your credit is excellent.)
Further to Ager's read are the shifting physical parameters of the Gold Room, indicating the deception over America's gold reserves:

But I think Harlan's explanation about deliberately playing tricks with the viewer's perception re: its proportions, etc. covers this.
and the "Midnight, the Stars, and You" song, which accompanies Jack's joining-the-party in the Gold Room, as well as over the final reveal that he has been subsumed into the Overlook:

"Midnight and a rendezvous" - referring to the top-secret trip to Jekyll Island to hammer together what became known as the Federal Reserve system, "your eyes held a message tender," i.e. tender=currency, and "saying I surrender..." loss of American sovereignty over its own monetary supply/ gold reserves.
As mentioned above, Kubrick was well-known for coming-at-a-topic in such a roundabout way. Strangelove and Lolita most particularly; the former can be read as the farce of male sexual anxiety (as can Eyes Wide Shut, but much more Freudian-ly, although this is an essay/ discussion-over-pitchers for another time) and the latter (both in the film and in the Nabokov novel) as the intellectual-European's "seduction" by this young, nubile language/ perspective, i.e. English. (Don't take my word for any of this, by any means; I certainly didn't, when these ideas were first floated by me.)

All of that said... I think this is a bit of a stretch. Also, it doesn't quite line-up with how Kubrick revealed to be approaching The Shining, i.e. as his "mainstream" film. I'm not saying he didn't put in any such subtext; I am saying, though that if he did, it's odd no trace of it exists in his archives, where he provided volumes of evidentiary support for all of his work. (Even his never-made work, like Napoleon.) What exists in the archives for The Shining is Jack's scrapbook, which does indeed detail various goings-on of the banking class of the Jazz Age, but no real "I was trying to talk about the Federal Reserve" smoking-gun.

In other words, there's some party here...

but the guests have all gone home. If you're into this sort of thing, though, here's another one. Like The Shining, The Wizard of Oz lends itself well to multiple interpretations.
The second interpretation I'd like to discuss is Bill Blakemore's theory that The Shining is about the murder of Native Americans and the consequences of that murder for the American psyche.

"If you are skeptical about this, consider the Calumet baking powder cans with their Indian chief logo that Kubrick placed carefully in the two food-locker scenes. (A calumet is a peace pipe.) Consider the Indian motifs that decorate the hotel, and the way they serve as background in many of the key scenes. Consider the insertion of two lines, early in the film, describing how the hotel was built on Indian burial ground.
"Not only is the site called the Overlook Hotel with its Overlook Maze, but one of the key scenes takes place at the July 4th Ball, (a date with) particular relevance to American Indians. That's why Kubrick made a movie in which the American audience sees signs of Indians in almost every frame, yet never really sees what the movie's about.
"Ullman says, 'The site is supposed to be located on an Indian burial ground, and I believe they actually had to repel a few Indian attacks as they were building it.' This bit of dialogue does not appear in Stephen King's novel.
"The film is about how the all-male British military establishment, itself forged in bloody empire-building, passed on to its offspring continental empire, the United States, certain timeworn army-building methods... yet we never meet an actual Indian. But we do get to know, and like, and then see murdered, a powerful black character, Chef Hallorann,, the only person to die in the film other than the protagonist, villain and victim, Jack. The murdered black man lies across a large Indian design on the floor, victim of similar racist violence.
"As manager Ullman says in the opening interview, 'It's still hard for me to believe it actually happened here... but it did.' The type of people who partied in the Overlook included 'four Presidents, movie stars...' 'Royalty?' Wendy asks. 'All the best people.' (Ullman responds) King's novel has nothing to do with any of these things."
"We never hear the rushing blood (that gushes from the elevator shaft). It is a mute nightmare. It is the blood upon which this nation, like most nations, was built.
White man's burden, Lloyd, white man's burden.
"As the credits roll, the soundtrack ends, and we hear the 1920s audience applaud, and then the gabble of that audience talking among themselves - the same sound the crowd of moviegoers itself is probably making as it leaves the theater.
"It is the sound of people moving out of one stage of consciousness into another. The moviegoers are largely unaware of this soundtrack, and this reflects their unawareness that they've just seen a movie about themselves, about what people like them have done to the American Indian and others.
"The opening music, over the traveling aerial shots of a tiny yellow Volkswagen penetrating the magnificent "West" wilderness, is the "Dies Irae." (i.e. REQUIEM)
"At the end of the movie, in the climactic chase in the Overlook Maze, the moral maze of America... in which we are chased by the sins of our fathers ("Danny, I'm coming. You can't get away. I'm right behind you.") Danny escapes by retracing his own steps (an "old Indian trick") and letting his father blunder past." i.e. (Bryan again) You are the caretaker here; you have always been the caretaker here...
"The Shining is explicitly about America's general inability to admit to the gravity of the genocide of the Indians - or, more exactly, its ability to "overlook" that genocide."
It's a fun theory. (Well, as "fun" as anything looking genocide square in the face can be) But does it work?

My problem is mainly with its inaccuracy. Kubrick didn't invent the "Overlook" as the name of the hotel. The novel (as discussed in the blog lost in the Phantom Zone) can be read as an overlook of personal alcoholism ("I was the guy who wrote The Shining and didn't realize I was writing about myself," King says in On Writing, something which should not be taken to indicate Jack Torrance is a stand-in for King-the-author, but as an externalization of King-the-father's fears? Probably.) but also the father-murders-child myth of countless-origins/ losing-control/ anger. Also, King might not mention Indians but the "Do you see the Indians in this picture?" motif is used more than once when describing how the ghosts may or may not be there. 

Additionally, to Blakemore's charge that the "all the best people" bit was invented by Kubrick, that is not so; the Overlook as indicative of a certain 20th-century-American-character is explicitly mentioned by Jack in the novel.

(Also, is "covering your tracks" really an old-Indian-trick? I'm pretty sure I've seen it elsewhere, in stories well-predating Columbus. The Minotaur from Greek Mythology, to name but one.)

The tying together Indian massacres with American racism thing, though, does provide a satisfactory frame around one particular image of the movie, which was Kubrick's invention:

A shot I've never been able to explain to myself satisfactorily, although it could just be color-coding. (No pun intended)
You get the idea. So, while ultimately I feel both theories above are not quite kosher, they are fun to think about. Personally, I agree with James Smythe's review in The Guardian: "(Both the novel and the film) are stories about hidden evil emerging when the snow sets in; when a family is isolated and broken, and when a man with buried darkness finally collapses and becomes what he was always, inevitably going to be."

"Symbolically," writes Kev, again, "the Overlook's preoccupation with its violent past mirrors Jack's destructive personality. Mistreated as a child by his father, Jack is unable to break the cycle of anger and abuse. (His) discovery of the hotel's scrapbook allows him to wallow in the hotel's past without being aware of its hold on the present, or is effect on his son; the scrapbook becomes a clouding addiction as destructive as his own alcoholism."

The mini-series (God help me)


King's Highway pt. 49: The Shining (novel)

You will remember what your father forgot - Tony.

And that, my friends, is all that remains of my original blog entry.

I published my finished-blog for this earlier today, and then - as usually happens with blogger - noticed the spacing/ formatting came out completely (and inexplicably) differently than how it looked in edit-mode. So, I went in to tidy things up, somehow hit "revert to draft," then as I tried to ctrl-Z backwards, it erased the entire blog, then auto-saved before I could do anything else.

I tried a bunch of different things to recover it, but to no avail. Seems to be gone forever. After whimpering helplessly for about twenty minutes, (the horror of all those hours of work receding into oblivion was perhaps the worst, though replacing that hard-won sense of "job well done"ness with the blank-screen of blogger-glitch was a close second) I posted a s.o.s. to the Google Groups board; maybe someone can tell me how to find it.

If so, well, see you then. But, to hang all my hopes on that is too much, so I'm just going to move on.

Rather than attempt to re-create it - because I think the attempt would be so discouraging that I'd give up the entire King's Highway project altogether - I can only say... well, I guess the Overlook got this one. Subsumed into the unholy terror of Room 217, or something. Add "King's Highway pt. 49" to the scrapbook in the boiler room.

(If it was the film, I'd say "Add me to the picture of the July 4th Ball at the end," but since that doesn't appear in the novel, it wouldn't be jake to mention here.)

I thought about trying to piece it all back together from my notes, but... it's just too much. Not only time-wise, but emotional-investment-wise. Also, I rarely keep my handwritten notes once I start saving the blog-in-question to Blogger, so I don't even have the particular passages from the text that I marked as noteworthy, nor my general outline. Too bad.

Here's a laundry list of what I remember, but it of course is not the same: I wrote about child abuse, cultural-colonization of adult over child a la Inventing the Child by Zornado, Disney, and Grimm's Fairy Tales, the Torrance family drama as classic dark mythology/ perfect symbolic representation of America in the 20th century, and what I considered a pretty good argument for The Shining as King's best novel. I talked briefly on the forthcoming Doctor Sleep and King's relationship with the book, then and now, how he psychoanalyzes himself and externalizes his fears in print, what it means to tell this tale when you're a young man with small children vs. as a grandfather with his own boiler-in-the-basement well-tempered and trials endured/ bested.

I focused only on the novel. The film will be next time; that one is still saved, thankfully, just got to finish it. If that one gets erased, I will take this as proof of the hotel not wanting me to write about it. Anyway, I didn't like how every review of the book I read mentioned the film. Understandable, of course, but I wanted to write one focusing only on the book.

Anyway, the labels - slim as they are - still exist from the lost version, and here now are the pics I used, robbed of context and caption, but as a mysterious road-map to a world taken unfairly from us. Look at them as the King's Highway equivalent "Croatoan" written in the trees. RIP, entry 49, Lost At Sea.

If the blog-gods be willing, Stanley Kubrick's The Shining


King's Highway pt. 48.5 Dark Tower (Special Features)

Bev Vincent's The Road to the Dark Tower is a fun way to cap off the Dark Tower series. Sort of like the end-of-summer dinner at camp, when the campers are gone and the cabins are cleaned and unspoken goodbyes are in the air. The nostalgia is still to come, but everything is still fresh in mind.

In addition to his own fiction, Bev writes the News from the Dead Zone column for Cemetery Dance magazine. This is only one of his books on King's work. Here's a fun interview with him. He once wrote a novel while listening to nothing else but the complete works of Supertramp. Hile, Sai Vincent!

(I have a feeling certain Dark-Tower-isms are going to be tough to give up. I apologize in advance to everyone, everywhere.)

Although a little heavy on plot summary, it's a good companion for the series, with excellent appendices (timeline, glossary and plenty of footnotes. These last were especially fun to pore through.) He got to read the last three volumes before the rest of the world - quite a real pleasure and privilege - and he draws on his personal correspondence and friendship with SK to complement the overview of all the Dark-Tower-related works.

Some fun tidbits from his book:

- "Odetta Holmes lost her legs under the A train at the Christopher Street station. The only problem with that is the A train doesn't go to Christopher Street in Keystone Earth, the 1/9 does. That little detail is small comfort to Odetta, legless in spite of King's error." Much like Eddie's Co-Op City moving from the Bronx to Brooklyn. It must be tempting for King to think of "fixing" these in planned re-releases; I hope he doesn't. For one, he's already worked in/ covered for these little gaffes. But mainly, I just don't like when artists tinker with work previously-dubbed-finished. In one of his 70s interviews, John Lennon mentioned he wanted to re-record all of the Beatles songs. I have a feeling if he lived long enough, he would have; who was going to say no to the guy? We'd have a John-and-Yoko version of the catalog, which is about nineteen times worse than Greedo Firing First.

(Though I do like the re-tinkered Gunslinger, so go figure. Didn't read the original version, BV's Road  has a good list of the differences between it and the revision.)

- "The digits in Donald Grant's zip-code add up to nineteen." Donald Grant publishes out of New Hampshire now, but when the series got started, he worked out of Kingston, RI.

Which is where I lived 1992-1993, so I remembered the zip code without benefit of usps.com. 0+2+8+8+1 = 19. Synchronicity!
I wonder what other numerical gems await discovery, intentional or unintentional?

- Back to future editions: I hope King doesn't tinker too much with the material, either for the main books or the supplemental ones, like Insomnia. (Unless Insomnia 2.0 features an extra section giving me The Adventures of Dorrance Marstellar.)

- The low man who is friendly with Ted Brautigan (not that that prevents Ted from taking him out with a mind-spear when the killing begins, which for some reason my mind is presently replaying to me as 'Let the can-toi hit the floor! Let the ta-heen hit the floor!!') at Devar-Toi named Trampas. This is the name of the character from The Virginian by Owen Wister, one of the books on the shelf Calvin Tower and Eddie carry into the Doorway Cafe.

- "How Eddie planned to tote the collected works of Stephen King across Mid-world defies understanding."

- Peter Straub refers to the "meta"-ness of the series as "literalized storytelling." I like that. One of these days, I really have to read Straub's work. (And K.C. Constantine's, ever since King's description of his PA-state-trooper novels from From a Buick 8. Not enough time in the day, as ever. I could use a few of those forty-hour-days sometimes-common to Mid-World.)

And so on. There's lots more - ye Dark Tower fans, you could do worse. It makes a nice shelf-mate to George "Path of the" Beahm's The Stephen King Companion. And would to Robin Furth's Concordance, as well, if I had that. In my mind's eye, I see all three on my shelf, aglow, warbling like mini-thinnies, looking out at the world like rectangular gargoyles made of ink, paper, and pulp.

The Dark Tower McRankings

Because what would a wrap-up/ coda be without a list? Madness. So, here we are, from least favorite to most favorite. McGrading System (with some help from here): C = Commala-'meh.' Not bad. B = Not-Quite-Nineteen. Varying Shades of Good. A = Trig Delah. Varying Shades of Great.

8. Song of Susannah

I've made my objections to this one. I think they're fair, or at least an honest assessment of my own reservations. I like the second half much more than the first, and I do enjoy Roland's and Eddie's palaver with 1977 Stephen King. (Blogwise, I like my Amish/Quaker and Creed jokes. Self-entertainment is key in this life.) McGrade: C +

7. The Dark Tower

When it came time to make this list, I knew what my least and most favorites of the series were going to be, but everything else required some actual consideration. I chose this as second-from-the-bottom not because I don't like it, overall, but because of the non-Song-of-Susannah Dark Tower books, it has the most amount of material I would excise were I in the probably-unenviable position of editing Stephen King. My blogs for this are still warm (pt. 1 and 2) so I'll leave them there, to cool. I still think it's a very satisfying end to the series, just wish certain parts had been re-considered. McGrade: B

Entries Six through Two are more or less neck-and-neck, and I'll probably shuffle them around based on whichever-one-I-read last, in the years to come.

6. The Drawing of the Three

The only thing that really keeps this one from ascending higher in the McRankings is the discomfort I feel with Detta Holmes. Which, as covered previously and perhaps ad-nauseam, makes a certain amount of sense in the telling of this, but it makes it less fun to read. That discomfort is definitely an intended effect, so I can't say it's a fault of the novel, but I received the same conditioning and indoctrination as any other 90s and post-90s English major, so recommending this series to people will require a bit of "caveat"-ing on account of stuff like this. It doesn't, however, interfere with the sincerity of my affection for Susannah as a character, Detta's place in the book, or the book itself. Start-to-finish engaging, and if I have to take Eddie's and Susannah's love connection a bit on faith, that's okay. McGrade: A-

5. The Waste Lands

Part of me is raging against the decision not to place this one higher, since I enjoy it so damn much. But I think it might drag just-a-little from after when The Bear is destroyed until they get to the outskirts of Lud. That's basically my only reservation, and it's a very minor one. Even those sections are filled with great details and action; it's just that the Bear/ Beams revelations at the beginning and everything that happens from Lud-on is so high-voltage. I even love how it ends on a cliffhanger. The questions I had in my original review amuse me now; the lack-of-proper-annotation to the fan-art featured, less so. Best use of ALL-CAPS (for Blaine the Mono's dialogue) since Herman Hesse's Steppenwolf. And best use of "Velcro Fly," probably, period. McGrade: A-

4. The Wind Through the Keyhole

I enjoyed this on first read-through and grew to love it upon reflection and the-blogging-of-it. I did not particularly enjoy the attempt to engage certain members of the Stephen King Forum community on the topic of narrative-voice-for-the-central-"Keyhole"-story, but so it goes. (Incidentally, if a revised edition of any of the first 8 books covers for this (with a single sentence to assuage any confusion as to why Roland or Roland's mother would include details they don't have an across-the-boards-reasonable excuse to know), that would be an exception to my please-don't-Lucasize-these-upon-republication rule.) I can only imagine how cool this must have been to read for any who progressed through the series books as-they-were-published. To see the ka-tet together again and (relatively) untroubled after the events of the last book(s), not to mention just getting another Dark Tower book altogether, must have been grand. May there be more, please. McGrade: A-

3. The Gunslinger

A book that frequent-AV-Club commenter Kirk Cameron Left Me Behind refers to as "like Finnegan's Wake with a fever. Underwater." Although he meant this disparagingly, I actually find that not only somewhat accurate but also the kind of blurb that would get me to pick it up. My original review was cautious. In retrospect, it stands out by being so narratively-different from the others. The voice of books 2-6 is pretty consistent, but the series is book-ended by two very different (from one another and from bks 2-6) narrative-voices. Here, Roland is more remote, (as is Walter, who is less playful and more austere in speech), the landscape even-more-mysterious with none of the context sketched out, (not a NCP or Lamerck Industries decal in sight) and Jake's other-worldliness is palpable. The ending palaver with the Man in Black is enjoyably (and appropriately) cosmic.

Too bad we never see Roland do anything with any jawbones again. (Well, besides shoot them off people's faces.) McGrade: A

2. Wolves of the Calla

I'm as surprised to see this occupying the #2 spot as anyone. My general impression other lists I've looked at is that it doesn't rank very highly in anyone's. I don't know if I had so much fun reading this because I am such a big fan of The Magnificent Seven and Seven Samurai, because I just-like-anything-that-references-Doctor-Doom, because I just-enjoy Father Callahan, or what, but I think this is (with the exception of my #1) the most satisfying stand-alone book of the series. There's really nothing in here that bothers me. McGrade: A

And our top spot goes to...

1. Wizard and Glass

Definitely the high-water mark of the series for me, start-to-finish gold. Loved the characters, the action, the settings, the blend of sci-fi and magic, the post-apocalyptic-ness of it, the first inklings of the story spreading out across the King-verse re: Captain Trips and Flagg et al., and the emergence of "meta" at the very end. Roland's backstory (both in Mejis and in Gilead) is engaging, tragic, and fascinating. This is where the ka-tet truly comes together for me.

And I really hope we someday hear the story of when Roland eventually catches up with Rhea.

With the Dark Tower is in the rear-view, we now return to the highway. Seems as good a time as any to cover...
The Shining