Wednesday, 27 May 2015

2015 Reading Challenge - The Dark Tower

I read a lot of Stephen King during my teens - whatever the library could lend me and whatever the charity shops had on their shelves. I'd about sated myself when Hearts in Atlantis came out, so I haven't read it - in fact, the only of his published since I had read is Lisey's Story. I didn't think it was great, so used it as vindication not to bother reading any of his new stuff and retain my hipster-esque snobbery. I've been told I really ought to get over that, because Hearts in Atlantis is great, as are many of his other more recent works.

I hadn't read The Dark Tower. I'd managed to pick up the third book (and I thought the fourth, but I can't find it), but never the first two so hadn't bothered. My brother and my GM have been among the people telling me I really, really ought to read the series (Roland, the drow gunslinger we ran into in Pathfinder, draws heavily on Roland, the protagonist of the series, and I gather will make future appearances).

My brother leant me the first, which he says has the best first line: "The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed" (as an aside, my favourite first line is in Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle: "I write this sitting in the kitchen sink" - instantly captivating). He then, in quick succession, leant me the rest, whilst our work colleagues chuckled at the sibling lending library.

Anyway, on with the challenge:

The Gunslinger - Stephen King
First published June 1982
Challenges covered 
        - unread book from loved author
        - recommended by friends

The opening line gives an idea of the history and draws you straight into the action, where you quickly get a feel for a world that is different to ours - but perhaps not too different. There is a strong Wild (Wyrd?) West feel, but more modern influences have seeped in: Roland's world feels apocalyptic and frayed. The feeling of spatial/temporal uncertainty is exacerbated with the arrival of Jake, from a world that certainly feels like our world. Not a motif I usually like - I particularly abhorred it in Philip Pullman's The Subtle Knife - but I found it worked well here...

 
The Drawing of the Three - Stephen King
First published January 1987
Challenges covered
        - number in title
        - set in a different country (the 'real world' bits, anyway)
        - unread book from loved author
        - recommended by friends

... which was just as well, because in the next book we're introduced to Eddie and Odetta/Detta, again from a world far more like our own. I actually didn't enjoy this as much - I had been warned I probably wouldnt, not just for my prejudice against real world characters in fantasy settings (I am getting over this and continue to blame Pullman) but also because the general feeling among our group is that it just isn't as well-written. The plot and character interaction is actually pretty good, but it's as though King got lazy with the writing and it isn't as good as its potential.


The Wastelands - Stephen King
First published January 1991 
Challenges covered
        - more than 500 pages
        - unread book from a loved author
        - recommended by friends
        - owned but never read

This is the one I didn't have to borrow from my brother, but rather reclaimed it from the shelf. My brother again warned me I might not enjoy it, but needed to read it because the next two were amazing. I forget whether other people disagreed with him too, but I loved this one, introducing my favourite (and most woefully underused) character - Oy.

I didn't like the made up creature to begin with, but he reminded me so much of my little kitty (right down to the gold rings around the eyes) that I was soon won over - and spent the next several books frustrated that King didn't seem to realise how smart and engaged Oy was. Even when he showed Oy's intelligence and social competence, he still didn't seem to understand it and, most frustratingly, seemed to forget the little guy altogether - we'd have a detailed description of where each character was, with no mention of Oy until he was needed to save a life.

That aside, I really enjoyed this book and was excited by the 'Riddles in the Dark' themed cliffhanger. I'm just grateful I didn't have to wait as long for the next book as those reading as it was written...
 
Wizard and Glass - Stephen King
First published November 1997
Challenges covered
       - more than 500 pages
       - unread book from a loved author
       - recommended by friends
       - with magic (I'm not certain whether it's magic or technology akin to magic, but this was the book where it felt most like magic)

The cliffhanger of the previous results in a riddle-filled train ride in this. The sentient train is crazy and will only let them live if they can give a riddle it can't answer. My favourite chapter in The Hobbit is 'Riddles in the Dark'. I remember a presentation on riddles at my local library. I remember presenting riddles for a 'talent show' at my first school. Riddles have always fascinated me. So I rather enjoyed trying to solve the riddles whilst riding a (fortunately not murderous) train to and from work - it slowed down how quickly I read the book, but felt worth it.

As the book moved on, I felt myself regretting not re-reading The Stand - I could feel many echoes of it, but it's probably 15 years since I read it and I remembered too little to satisfy me as the characters moved through its shadow.

I was surprised to enjoy the reference to Wizard of Oz.

I think my brother particularly loves this one for the background we get on Roland, which I can understand - but to his surprise I preferred the previous book. We both think the next is the best in the series, though.


Wolves of the Calla - Stephen King
First published November 2003
Challenges covered
        - more than 500 pages (500 pages is not a challenge.)
        - unread by loved author
        - recommended by friends 

I've mentioned before that my favourite Stephen King novel is Salem's 'Lot, and that's probably part of why this is my favourite book in the series. The idiom and dialect language spoken by most of the NPC-type characters is natural and infectious, and we learn a bit more about what happened to one of the survivors of the 'Lot. There's a lot of intensity, with secrets and lies threatening to tear things apart, and at times I was screaming at the characters to be more honest with each other if they wanted to survive. It reminded me of barely-remembered theatrical studies and the audience awareness of the brewing inevitability in tragic plays such as King Lear. But there were kind and happy moments too, and I really enjoyed it.

 
Song of Susannah - Stephen King
First published January 2004 
Challenges covered
       - unread by loved author
       - recommended by friends

I'm racing through a bit now because it was several months ago I read the series and I read them in quick succession, so I'm not sure exactly what happened in which. This had some strong moments of interaction between Susannah and Mia, with whom I felt a huge, sorrowful empathy. I also thought the interaction between 'creator' and 'creation' was fantastic (but then, I love Pirandello's 6 Characters in Search of an Author and Season 9 of Red Dwarf), so my hatred of real world characters entering fantasy would seem to be very one-directional.


The Dark Tower - Stephen King
First published September 2004 
Challenges covered
       - over 500 pages
       - unread by a loved author
       - recommended by friends
       - a book that made you cry

To be honest, I was surprised it took until this book for me to cry - I can cry at The Simpsons - but when the series finally got me there it got me hard. I don't want to give spoilers, but the characters' relationships have become very strong by this point and I wept.


Anyway, I'd been warned that I might hate the ending. I didn't. By the time we got to the ending, there were so many things that I knew had gone terribly wrong - so many times when I was going "but that's not how it happened" (as if I knew!) that by the time it ended it felt like the only appropriate ending and actually gave me exactly what I needed.  


  

No comments:

Post a comment