A Return to the Dark Tower – Revisiting My Friends from the Ka-tet of Nineteen

I first read The Gunslinger way back in my college years. It was a strange experience. I’d yet to read any Stephen King at that point. I’d read Lord of the Rings a few times plus some classic science fiction (plus the stuff they force-fed us back in AP English, but I don’t count that). I loved exploring Middle Earth along with the far-out worlds of Heinlein and Asimov.

But this was different. Totally out of my reading experience. King instead gave me a western laced with science fiction and horror.

Like most kids in the 90s, I grabbed up Goosebumps books at the Scholastic book fairs, but I thought of that as a kid’s phase. I thought grown-up horror was just all slasher serial killer stuff and that just was not for me.

But King had hooked me. Over the next year I devoured all seven of the Dark Tower books.

I watched as Roland–the gunslinger on an epic quest against cosmic odds–grew from a gruff and single-minded killer to something more. I watched as his friends–Jake, Eddie, Susannah, and Oy–grew alongside him and rose to meet every obstacle to the quest. And, as the final book wound down, my heart bled as I was forced to let go of these people I had come to love. Over thousands of pages these characters had become part of me.

And then there was the end.

Such a controversial ending. I hated it the first time I came to it.

I was genuinely upset.

Eventually I forgave Sai King. I came to realize this was the only way this series could close. 


Then, I thought, if I liked these King books, maybe I would like others. So, I dabbled.

First, I tried The Shining. Horror, but not just slashy, serial-killer stuff. There was a touch of the fantastic and characters who jump from the page. Maybe I did like horror!

From there I dove in and discovered authors like Mark Danielewski, Laird Barron, and Lovecraft. Totally different styles, but amazing stuff. I loved horror with a feeling of worlds much larger than presented on the page.

There was no going back. Horror was what I never knew I wanted in fiction.

Ever since, I’ve continued my journey through the many flavors of horror fiction. I love everything from the more traditional horror stories of Shirley Jackson, to the cosmic horrors of Laird Barron and Thomas Ligotti, to the depths of The Weird of Jeff Vandermeer and China Mieville. Month to month, I continue to find something new I love, including the occasional slashy, serial-killer horror, a la Stephen Graham Jones.


A Return – One More Journey to the Tower

All these years later, I am now an author of horror fiction and I often find myself thinking about what fiction was formative in my current reading selection and my own writing. I always come back to my initial journey with Roland and his Ka-tet as a major influence.

I missed the time spent with the Ka-tet.

Oy and Jake.

Eddie and Susannah.


It was time to make the journey once again.

But, this time, I wanted to branch out a bit more. Other than The Shining and a couple of his early short story collections, I’d still not read much of King’s work outside the proper Dark Tower books.

It turns out that almost all his work somehow connects back to Mid-world, but not all. After digging around, I found a reading list of King’s Dark Tower(DT) and connected titles. (http://thetruthinsidethelie.blogspot.com/2016/11/a-suggested-reading-order-for-extended.html) There are three lists on this page: first a short list of connected books, next, an expanded list, and finally a completist’s list. I mostly stuck with the expanded list.

So, in 2017, I dove in and re-read The Gunslinger. Then I picked up a copy of Skeleton Crew, an early short story collection which ends with the novella: The Mist.

I did skip a few of the earlier, harder to find titles. But, generally I stuck to the list.

During this new adventure, I learned that not all King is of equal caliber. At least, not all his work is my ‘cup of tea’. I ended up not finishing Eyes of the Dragon and Insomnia. The fable style of Eyes of the Dragon felt completely different from anything else I’d read by king, and it just didn’t hook me. As for Insomnia, it didn’t hold my attention. After 170 pages I gave up. I didn’t think I would make it through all 1000+ pages of the beast. I almost dropped From a Buick 8 as well. I didn’t care for the structure of that one. But it was a quick read, much shorter than most of his other work, so I powered through.

A couple of my favorite non-DT proper books were The Mist and On Writing.

The Mist mostly due to the amazing movie adaption. The ending was very different from that of the book, but it hit hard. One of the bleakest endings (movie or book) I’d ever come across. Plus, one of the evilest villains of King’s oeuvre lurks here, and it isn’t the Lovecraftian creatures prowling the mists. Mrs. Carmody will always be the most terrifying of King’s creations. Leave it to King to come up with a charismatic religious figure to start a cult following among survivors trapped in a grocery store.

On Writing isn’t even fiction. This is King’s book on the craft of writing laced with biographical tidbits. I may not agree with everything about his approach to the craft, but this book has been influential in how I write. Plus, he gives an account of how he almost died after a van struck him. This has particular importance to the whole of the Dark Tower story, but I can’t say much more without spoiling some of the fun of the last three books. I will say that this life event is what spurred him to finally write the conclusion to Roland’s quest.

Of the DT proper books The Waste Lands is my favorite. If you make it this far there is no turning back. The world really starts to grow exponentially at this point. Plus, we get Oy! Everyone’s favorite talking dog-raccoon. Most others love The Drawing of the Three or The Wolves of the Calla.


The Void After the End

 By the time I’d finished all the connected books and entered the home stretch of the final three, I was in for a surprise. I already loved these characters, but I’d forgotten just how much so. The final pages were again approaching, and I did not want it to end. It didn’t matter that I already knew the ultimate outcome, I wanted things to continue. I wanted to go on further adventures with the Ka-tet across Mid-World and beyond.

The last three novels–The Wolves of the Calla, The Song of Susannah, and The Dark Tower–are massive tomes, but they fly by like the wind.

“Ka, like the wind.”

The hardest portions of this trip to the tower, by far, are the final chapters of the final book. It is there we start to say our goodbyes. And with each fresh parting, the knife cuts deeper. Removing pieces of our heart until we believe there is nothing left. Then King takes more and more and more before he stabs the last remnant dead center in the final passage.

The story stops.

The air is gone.

What do I do now?


Myself? I have chosen to move on from King and his worlds, at least for a while. I have no real interest in any of his newer works. I’m sure they are great, but Roland’s tale feels like a stopping point. There are so many other authors out there to discover, and I do a disservice to them all by reading a thirtieth King book. Say Thankya!

So, for now I will leave King’s work for others and continue to search for new and exciting voices in genre writing.

“There are other worlds than these.”