The Dark Tower (Series) | Study Guide

Stephen King

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The Dark Tower (Series) | 10 Things You Didn't Know


Stephen King's The Dark Tower series was launched in 1982 with the publication of The Gunslinger, which traces the journey of the last gunslinger, Roland Deschain, as he chases his nemesis, "the Man in Black," through a desert toward the Dark Tower. While the series has a Western-like setting, it takes place in a futuristic alternate world that has similarities to the present.

Deschain continues his quest through the next six volumes of the series, gaining followers and fighting enemies. King declared the series finished in 2004, after the seventh volume, titled The Dark Tower, was published. However, he wrote an eighth book, The Wind Through the Keyhole, in 2012. This volume takes place chronologically between the fourth and fifth books. Blending a variety of literary genres, the books have won numerous awards and amassed an enormous and devoted following.

1. A Robert Browning poem was an inspiration for The Dark Tower series.

King was inspired to write The Dark Tower series by one of his favorite poems, "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came," written by English playwright and poet Robert Browning in 1885. King's fascination with the poem led him to pay homage to it in his series' title. Above all, King praised the element of mystery and ambiguity in the poem, stating in an interview:

Browning never says what that tower is, but it's based on an even older tradition about Childe Roland that's lost in antiquity. Nobody knows who wrote it, and nobody knows what the Dark Tower is ... So I started off wondering: What is this tower? What does it mean? And I decided that everybody keeps a Dark Tower in their heart that they want to find.

2. Many of the elements in The Dark Tower series are linked to characters, places, and events in other King works.

As King worked to create his own fantasy universe within The Dark Tower series, he also incorporated characters and narrative elements from his previously published works. For example, Father Callahan, who appears in Wolves of the Calla, Song of Susannah, and The Dark Tower, first appeared in King's 1975 horror novel Salem's Lot.

Some of his self-referential inclusions are more subtle, such as his mention of Keywadin Pond, Maine, in Song of Susannah. This was also a location in King's 1998 novel Bag of Bones (although the lake appears in two different towns in Maine between the novels). The Dark Tower series also features the number 19 as a magical figure—a number that was used as the protagonist's jersey number in his 2010 novella Blockade Billy.

3. King made up two languages for the characters in the series.

King was greatly influenced by J. R. R. Tolkien, who was renowned for creating the Elven language for his Lord of the Rings trilogy. King followed suit, creating two distinct languages for The Dark Tower series: High Speech and Low Speech. Low Speech serves as the common language of Mid-World, whereas High Speech is an ancient, ceremonial tongue of the land. Many of the phrases in these languages are based in English words, but take on their own unique meaning within the context of the narrative. King even created unique greetings for the people of Mid-World, such as "Long days and pleasant nights," to which the correct response is "May you have twice the number." The phrases and distinct wording of High Speech and Low Speech have been cataloged in an online glossary.

4. King wrote himself into The Dark Tower series as a character.

King included himself as a character in the penultimate book in The Dark Tower series, Song of Susannah. In the novel the character Roland journeys to Maine in 1977 and informs a young horror author (clearly King, living in rural Maine) that he must complete The Dark Tower series, or else the world will be doomed. Roland uses hypnosis to accomplish this task, implying that King had no true choice to complete the work, at least within the framework of the narrative. The New York Times praised this element of "metafiction" within the novel, calling it the "most believable element" of the entire series, and noting its philosophical departure from the fantasy-realm of the series.

5. Stephen King was sued in 2017 for stealing the idea of The Dark Tower's main character from another writer.

King's protagonist, Roland Deschain, might not be an entirely original character. In March 2017 the creator of the The Rook comic book series, which ran from 1977–83, sued for a whopping $500 million due to extreme similarities between Deschain and The Rook's protagonist, Restin Dane. Aside from having the same initials, the characters are both presented as "time-traveling, monster-fighting, quasi-immortal, romantic adventure heroes." Both stories also feature a mysterious and magical tower, as well. King has admitted that he did read The Rook comics—although he denies the claims of plagiarism.

6. King began The Dark Tower series because he inherited reams of bright-green paper and wanted to use them.

King's inspiration for starting The Dark Tower series may have had more to do with the type of paper he had at the time than the idea of a particular plot or character. In the afterword of The Gunslinger, King noted that he had recently acquired a ream of bright-green paper from work just before he began writing. He explained:

Those two factors, the challenge of that blank green paper, and the utter silence ... were more responsible than anything else for the opening lay of The Dark Tower.

7. A famous Japanese director inspired one of the novels in The Dark Tower series.

In an interview King credited renowned Japanese director Akira Kurosawa as the inspiration for his novel Wolves of the Calla. King explained he borrowed the novel's plot from Kurosawa's 1954 film Seven Samurai—and its subsequent 1960 Western remake, The Magnificent Seven. Reviewers also noted the similarities between the stories, with one Guardian review claiming that King's novel, "doesn't pack the punch of The Seven Samurai ... but provides the usual twists and thrills." On the subject King explained:

I decided to see if I couldn't retell Seven Samurai, that Kurosawa film, and The Magnificent Seven. The story is the same, of course, in both cases. It's about these farmers who hire gunslingers to defend their town against bandits, who keep coming to steal their crops. But I wanted to up the ante a little bit. So in my version, instead of crops, the bandits steal children.

8. King wrote a children's book inspired by The Dark Tower series.

King isn't renowned for his kid-friendly writing—considering his chosen genre is horror—but that didn't stop him from basing a children's book on The Dark Tower series' universe. In The Waste Lands, the third book in the series, King describes a picture book about an anthropomorphic train entitled Charlie the Choo-Choo. The eerie train is reminiscent of the famous television character "Thomas the Tank Engine," but has an unnerving personality and sinister expression. In 2016 King released a full book dedicated to Charlie the Choo-Choo, writing under the pen name "Beryl Evans."

9. The Dark Tower series includes elements from at least four different literary genres.

King's novels are generally considered to be horror fiction—and The Dark Tower series is often classified as such. However, King has explained that he's incorporated elements from numerous literary genres into the series. The Dark Tower series features narrative archetypes of romance, fantasy, and Western novels (notably the Western-style depiction of the gunslinger) to complement the horror fiction that King is renowned for. King has stated that he's not a fan of the very concept of "genre" in general, explaining:

The thing about genre is, so many people are like little kids who say, 'I can't eat this food because it's touching this other thing.'

10. In an interview King claimed if he could do his life over, he'd only change one thing.

King has expressed no regrets from his life or career, with one notable exception. King appeared in a televised commercial for American Express during their "Do You Know Me?" ad campaign. In an interview King explained, "If I had my life over again, I'd've done everything the same. Even the bad bits. But I wouldn't have done the American Express 'Do You Know Me?' TV ad." After that, everyone in America knew what I looked like." Clearly, King felt as though he "sold out" by allowing himself to be featured in the ad. He once reflected on the experience by asking, rhetorically, "What does it mean when somebody who is a novelist is invited to appear on 'Hollywood Squares'?"

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