Childe Stephen to the Dark Tower fumbled
Stephen King spent more than 20 years writing a fantasy series he called The Dark Tower. He only just completed the 7-book cycle in 2004. The series technically began and ended his career, although Carrie was published before The Gunslinger, and he has continued to write and publish since “retiring” with the release of the final volume, simply called The Dark Tower.
There are three things I would change about the series: Book 5, Book 6, and Book 7.
In 1999, King suffered a near-fatal accident when he was hit by a van during a morning jog. Understandably, it fucked him up something mean. Not just physically, although after he managed to not die he was still confined to a wheelchair for almost two years after the accident. But psychologically, emotionally. 1
The first thing he wrote post-accident was non-fiction, a book on writing cleverly titled On Writing. It took nearly three years to get back on the horse with Book 5 of The Dark Tower, Wolves of the Calla, in 2003. The previous volume, Wizard and Glass, had been published in 1996.
The bitterness about his experience was clear even in unrelated projects. 2 When King wrote the teleplays for the miniseries “Kingdom Hospital” in 2004, which was a remake of Danish series “Riget (The Kingdom)“, he added a painter character as the main character, who was admitted to the eponymous hospital after…getting hit by a van during a morning jog. Unsurprisingly, the man driving the van is not cast in a sympathetic light.
But the bitterness was not only directed toward the man who caused his pain; it’s present in his feelings towards his fans, who were not as sympathetic as perhaps he deserved. When he got back to writing The Dark Tower, he spoke in interviews about how fans at book signings, etc, would come up to him and tell him that they were glad he didn’t die — not for his own sake, but because if he had, the Dark Tower series would have been left unfinished.
It seems to me that this attitude — which was, he implied, not the minority — engendered in him a resentment towards the story and towards his so-called “fans”, with the painful realization that none of them really cared about HIM, only about the work.
I personally believe it was this that prevented him setting back to work on the series for a few more years. I think he spent some time wondering if he even should. “Fuck me? Fuck you, guy. Fuck all of you. You’re not going to get the end anyway, how do you like that?”
But then he got back onto it. And when he did, he wrote FAST, turning the final three books of the series out within 18 months.
So what changed?
Well, he realized that, even though he created the story, it was bigger than him now. He had a responsibility to the story whether he liked it or not. The unfortunate part is, he decided to write that into the story.
It is established in the first three books — the very first, in fact — that the world of the Dark Tower has a close, direct link to our own. It’s also established that many of his works tie into the Dark Tower mythos, with references to other stories or DT terminology. But in Wolves of the Calla he takes it further. The book includes a priest character, Father Callahan, from his novel ‘Salem’s Lot, and throughout the book they travel between the two worlds, ours and theirs. At the end, they bring back a book from our world that Callahan finds upsetting — ‘Salem’s Lot, by Stephen King.
It just goes on from there. Basically the main characters discover and accept that King is their author, their creator, but he has stopped writing their story and they will fail in their quest to reach the Tower unless they get him going again. So in Book 6 they actually pay King a visit and demand that he finish the story. The book you’re reading is about the characters telling the author to write the book you’re reading. And in Book 7, they intervene in his accident, making what would have been a fatal accident into a near-fatal one instead.
Metafiction, huh? Good times. As someone with a degree in English, I can appreciate the fact that he basically wrote an essay to the reader. A “this is how it is. The story commands me now. This story, and its need to be told, ultimately saved my life.” But unfortunately, and ironically, he sacrificed the story in order to tell us how important the story is.
It’s like meta-metafiction. He managed to take the power back from the story, by telling the story of the story telling him to tell the story, and all I wanted was the story itself goddammit, and that managed to go mostly UNTOLD!
I get upset.
Anyway, I’ll get to the actual point of all this in my next post. For real.
- You would, perhaps, think that someone like Stephen King would already be about as fucked up as it was possible to be without actually going out and eating peoples’ intestines. But not so. Storytellers and creative types in general do tend to be a little bit fucked-up by their nature, that’s what makes their work powerful. But people who write horror fiction are, for the most part, surprisingly well-adjusted. They do, after all, get to vent their inner psychotic safely, and on a regular basis.↩
- Although, when speaking of King and the Dark Tower, one can make the argument that very few of his projects are “unrelated”.↩