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


  1. "A little heavy on plot summary," indeed; it was a LOT heavy on plot summary for my tastes. Despite that, it was an extremely entertaining and illuminating read; he's got a new Dark Tower companion book coming out next year, and he can rest assured that he will sell one to me.

    Nice to see "Th Wind Through the Keyhole" ranked so highly! My own list shakes out much differently, but the bottom line is that I love all eight books, and "The Little Sisters of Eluria," too. Warts and all!

    1. I debated whether or not to rank Little Sisters in here but decided it to keep it to just-novels. (If I did, though, where would I put it, you ask? Probably between 5 and 6.

  2. Before moving on, here some final thoughts on the Tower series.

    I must be in the minority when I say the author intrusions didn't bother me. I've said this elsewhere, however I view the story of Roland and the Tower as an elongated version of Unmey's Last Case.

    It's really the story of how an author's apparent belief in his story in some way makes it come to life, and NOT therefore about any Tower in time and space....Sorry.

    The matter of the Crimson King. King said if he would have made Randall Flagg into a sort of used car salesmen type if he thought he could get away with it. His point being that he wanted to illustrate the ultimate power of evil.

    As for the nature of the CK, my thought is really this quote from an archived wiki entry on the character:

    when the Crimson King is finally confronted at the very end of the Dark Tower series, he is an insane old man who has fled his own castle only to end up locked out on a balcony at the top of the Dark Tower, limited to flinging hand-held seeking grenades (called 'sneetches' here) at the Gunslinger and his companion Patrick Danville. The character was received as a particular letdown by some fans due to the fact that the majority of his final conversation with Roland consists of high-pitched, guttural shouts of "EEEEEEEEE!" They felt it difficult to resolve the incongruity between the Gunslingers' greatest foe being reduced to such a pathetic state

    Others see things differently (I'm one). While the Crimson King projected the image of omnipotence in some stories and was certainly powerful, his omnipotence was in some sense the product of distance and fear. Like Randall Flagg, his weapons were fear, intimidation, illusion and ultimately the power to convince others to do his will. In particular, The King was never shown to be completely sane. The goal of all his plots after all was the nihilistic desire to bring down the tower and destroy the multiverse. As the gunslinger drew nearer to the Crimson King, the truth of his kingdom was revealed. He was an old man surrounded by weak-willed followers using the last pieces of failing technology from the past to work his will through others. Broken in spirit by the failure of his plot to bring down the tower, he attempted to take it for himself only to fail and end up trapped.

    I don't ask anyone to agree, it's just my agreement with someone else's two cents


    1. One final thing, this was sort of the one thing that really bugged me about the series. I don't mind the author intrusions, there was however one aspect of how King wrote it that somehow felt off.

      It's when he mentions other titles he's written. In other words, he admits within his own fiction, that his other books are in fact make believe. that's all fine except, in order to keep continuity within the series, I'm convinced King should have simply had the fictional version of himself coexisting in the same world as It, the Shining, Needful Things, Desperation, Green Mile etc. it makes much more sense and gives all his book a coherent overall collective unity.

      To me, it just seemed unfair to put yourself in a fiction while admitting you're other books are fiction, as it robs characters like the the Loser's Club and Danny Torrance of all their hard won victories and achievements.

      This might sound like disappointed fanboyhood, and can be left at that. However, it's not so simple. I've watched Kingdom Hospital, and in one episode a character mentions events that sound "Like a Stephen King Horror Story!"

      This line is later repeated in the episodes "Butterfingers" and "On the Third Day" (originally aired as The Passion of the Reverend Jimmy. Don't like at me, Gibson was releasing at the same time as broadcast). It gets worse, part of the opening scene to the episode "The West Side of Midnight" takes place in, get ready, Castle Bloody Rock!

      And yet in the Tower books, it's asserted that Castle Rock and Derry are just fictions that King has made!

      It gets worse. Kingdom Hospital makes another appearance in Lisey's Story, which is once more set in, care to guess, CASTLE ROCK! AND...Derry is mentioned in passing, along with Mike Noonan, scenes from Dreamcatcher, even a Firestarter reference for heaven's sake. And don't forget Salem's Lot, which was claimed to be fictional in the Tower series.

      I hope all Marvel True Believers and continuity geeks are paying attention. WE HAVE A MAJOR SERIOUS CONTINUITY ERROR HERE, PEOPLE.

      This is the one aspect of the Tower books to which I would take the Editor's Pen and rewrite to bring more in line with Kingdom Hospital and Lisey's Story. That way it could be how a story comes to life on a writer and priest in Maine, and how it shapes both their lives.

      Just some final two cents there.


    2. Chris, thanks for your thoughtful comments. I think the problems you bring up in your second post are exactly the problems I have with the "meta." Tho, admittedly, it's not a dealbreaker for me. I don't think the accident scene works in Dark Tower; bringing Bryan Smith in as an agent of the Crimson King just explodes the conceit for me to the point where everything unravels. (For me) It just brings up too many problems (most of which you detail). It brings too much pressure to bear on the load beams.

      I don't, however, enjoy how the CK ended up. Nor really how he was taken out (i.e. the Daffy-Duck method). He's just another version of the Tick-Tock Man, when it comes down to it, which metaphorically is fine, but drama-wise, felt (again, to me) as a letdown.

      Does it ruin the book for me? No. I just think if the main villain of the series appears only off-camera and then is seen only in long-shot and dispatched in such a Looney Tunes way, it robs the confrontation of any real drama/ danger. I had that problem overall with the last book, actually, even with the deaths of most of the ka-tet; there was never a time I didn't "see" SK hanging around, waiting to save them or guide them or resurrect them, much the same way I knew he wasn't going to get killed by Bryan Smith.

    3. Well, I don't know if this helps any, yet in a way it seems to me, going strictly be internal evidence within the book itself (if that even makes any sense) that King is trying to brace his readers for the final reveal of the King by pointing out many of the flaws contained in Insomnia.

      It's like King is saying through that passage, "Yeah, I know, I goofed up. If I were to do Insomnia now I wouldn't have made the guy (CK) so damned impressive and made him more in line with Flagg from the Stand."

      At least that sounds like part of what he's trying to do here. Again, I don't know if that helps. I also don't know about the idea of the CK controlling Bryan Smith. However, if it's anywhere in the book, I can see as how it makes a kind of sense in the idea of the power (albiet limited) that fiction has to reach out and touch lives, but that's just one opinion.

      One final piece of two cents. I always wondered how King could say retaking up each book in the Tower series was like coming home, effortless etc. Then I remembered him saying somewhere in Danse Macabre that nearly all Sword and Sorcery was like a great big exercise in power fantasy, the ultimate expression of geek empowerment in other words.

      Now to be fair, I'm sure writer's like Tolkien would disagree with that assessment, nonetheless those words may be revealing as to why King finds it so pleasurable to return to Mid-World, power to the powerless, or at least who feel that way. Just thinking out loud.

      I am looking forward to your take on The Shining.


    4. All fair points, to be sure.

      Hope I don't disappoint on The Shining - trying to corral that one together as we speak/ type...