The Wind Through the Keyhole is a mere two weeks away, and with it I'm sure there will come a renewed interest in the overall Dark Tower series.
Prompted partly by that, and partly by a conversation I had on Facebook, I decided to take a stab at creating a Suggested-By-Bryant list of what order the Dark Tower books ought to be read in. In order to do that, I first had to figure out which books belong on the list and which don't. It might seem at first glance that that list would be cut-and-dried, but remember, there are several books outside of the series that are rather essential to the overall tale. I always wondered, for example, how anyone who read Book VII without the benefit of having read Insomnia managed to have any grasp at all on what was going on with Patrick Danville. But apparently, people did.
In any case, I've taken a stab at crafting a list of what any true Dark Tower fan needs to read in order to get the full benefit of the series, along with some justifications of why I've placed them in the order I've placed them in.
Let's get started. #1 seems obvious.
#1 -- The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger (2004 revised edition)
I mean, really, where would you start other than at the beginning?
So it's really a no-brainer: start with the first novel in the series, and make sure it's the revised version.
By the way, there are apparently people who don't like The Gunslinger, and there are even people who recommend that you skip it altogether and begin by reading the second book in the series.
Those people are not to be heeded. You HAVE to read The Gunslinger, and you have to read it first. If you should find yourself not enjoying it very much, just stick with it. It's relatively brief, and you'll be done with it before you know it. Then, move on to the second book, and if you get a hundred pages into it and still aren't enjoying it, then quit reading the series, because you will not enjoy anything that comes after it.
#2 -- The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three
Like I said just a moment before, if you get more than about a hundred pages into The Drawing of the Three and aren't enjoying what you're reading, then I would recommend stopping right there. Odds are, The Dark Tower -- and possibly Stephen King altogether -- are not for you.
Overall, this is one of the best books in the series, though, so I find it quite easy to recommend to people.
#3 -- The Stand (uncut edition)
Obviously, this novel is not part of the main series, and it was not evident that it was related to the series in any way until well over a decade later.
However, there is a character in the Tower series who also appears in this novel, and I think it's important that when he shows up in the main series, you already know who he is. With that in mind, I think taking a break between books II and III makes for a good place to slot in The Stand, as well as the other King novel in which that character appeared before he began pestering Roland and company.
And yes, you should read the revised, uncut edition as opposed to the original edition.
#4 -- The Eyes of the Dragon
Without giving anything away in terms of who the character is who crosses over from The Stand, I can just say that he appears here also, and that you will figure it out the second he walks into The Eyes of the Dragon. This is assuming that you don't already know, of course.
The Eyes of the Dragon is a nice, breezy little fantasy novel, and it makes for a decent shift in tone -- as well as in page count! -- from the dark epic that is The Stand. Next up:
#5 -- The Talisman
Written in collaboration with Peter Straub, The Talisman is an epic fantasy novel that introduces a few concepts that would become fairly important to the overall Tower series, although it would not be apparent that they were important for many years after this book's publication.
#6 -- The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands
This is the favorite novel in the series for a lot of people, and I can see why: it's got a lot of great action, introduces a couple of major new characters, and is just generally awesome.
I'm sure a lot of people will be exasperated by the idea that I'm suggesting you read the first two novels in the series, then delay reading the third by first reading three novels that have only mild tangential connections. Well, it's a valid response, but trust me: I know what you need. And I think the sense of time's passage you will gain by taking a break between The Drawing of the Three and The Waste Lands will be of benefit to your enjoyment of the series.
#7 --The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass
Apparently, some Dark Tower fans aren't wild about this book. I may as well tell you new readers now, so that you'll know in advance: the vast majority of the book consists of a lengthy flashback to a tale from Roland's days as a youthful Gunslinger. Personally, I find the insights you gain into his character to be indispensable; others seem to disagree, and while I see where they're coming from, I think they're dead wrong; this one of my absolute favorite books in the series.
#8 -- 'Salem's Lot
We now come to the point in the series where it becomes necessary to take an extended break. There are a number of books which are related to the series, several of which are absolutely essential, and all of which provide valuable insights into the concepts at work within the overall tale.
In my mind, it makes sense to take all of these in -- except for the three we dealt with earlier (those were important because they introduce a character who appears in Book III of the series, and also because of certain concepts in one that are mirrored in Book III) -- at once, and there are several reasons to do this. The most important is that it preserves the experience of reading Books V, VI, and VII of the series as they really ought to be read: back-to-back-to-back. However, there are also insights, characters, and concepts which appear in most of these ancillary books that will be of benefit to anyone reading books V-VII.
With that in mind, I'm recommending that people read all of these ancillary books more or less in the order they were published.
The first of those is 'Salem's Lot, which introduces a character who will become an important part of the final three books in the series.
#9 -- The Mist
The Mist is a novella which can most easily be found in the collection Skeleton Crew. It has no explicit connections to the rest of the series, but anyone who has read it might have a better understanding of at least one scene from Book VII.
Plus, it's damn good, and not very long.
#10 -- It
I debated not putting this on the list, because -- like The Mist -- it has no explicit connections to the series. However, there is an important scene toward the end of the novel that includes a character who ... well, that character doesn't appear in the series, but the idea of that character becomes crucially important during Book VI.
Additionally, it is possible that a certain character in Book VII is, in fact, a character from It.
This is a very, very long novel, but it's one well worth reading, and while its connections to the Tower series are somewhat brief, they are also important.
#11 -- Insomnia
Another long novel, but this one isn't as long as It, plus it is of vital importance to Book VII of the series. At least two characters who are important to the series make their first appearances here, and in one scene, a character even has a dream about Roland!
This one is essential.
#12 -- Rose Madder
I may as well tell you: I'm not a fan of this novel. However, it does feature some mild connections to The Dark Tower (specifically, to Book III), and some concepts that feature into the series. Also, Stephen King includes it on his official list of books related to the main series.
Who am I to dispute Stephen King?
#13 -- Desperation
This novel has some major echoes in the Dark Tower novella "The Little Sisters of Eluria," and it also informs some of the concepts introduced in the final three books.
#14 -- The Regulators
This novel was published simultaneously with Desperation, and the two of them serve as Twinners of each other (that's a reference to The Talisman). With that in mind, if you read Desperation you also need to read The Regulators; I tend to think of them as two volumes of the same book. And yes, Desperation is Vol. 1, simply because that's the one King published under his own name. (The Regulators was published under his "Richard Bachman" pseudonym, and I figure that if that one was the more "important," it'd be the one to be published under King's name and not Bachman's.)
#15 -- "Everything's Eventual"
This is a short story, which can be found in the collection of the same name, Everything's Eventual. The story introduces a character who will appear in Book VII.
#16 -- Bag of Bones
I debated leaving this one off the list, but, like Rose Madder, Stephen King says it belongs.
The connections to the series are tenuous, but they are there, and one character from Insomnia puts in a brief appearance. Plus, it's a good novel.
#17 -- "The Little Sisters of Eluria"
|Michael Whelan's artwork from the anthology Legends|
Well, this one is a no-brainer, because it's a novella about one of Roland's adventures. It takes place before The Gunslinger, but after the flashback which comprises the bulk of Wizard and Glass.
It's good stuff, and elements of it are of minor importance in Book VI.
By now, you'll be very appreciative of spending a bit more time with Roland. The novella can most easily be found in Everything's Eventual, but made its original appearance in a collection of novellas titled Legends.
#18 -- Hearts In Atlantis
One of the main characters in this strangely-structured -- but outstanding -- novel will be extremely important in Book VII.
#19 -- Black House
To say this novel -- which is a sequel to The Talisman -- is important to the overall series would be an understatement.
#20 -- From a Buick 8
This is another one I would have omitted from the list if not for the fact that King included it on his. Its connections are tangential at best. However, it is a good novel, and relatively short, so you may as well give it a go.
#21 -- The Wind Through the Keyhole
This is an actual Dark Tower novel, so its inclusion is a must. Chronologically, it takes place between Books IV and V, and I'm going to suggest that it be read immediately prior to Wolves of the Calla. (As you may or not be aware, this novel was published over eight years after Book VII of the series was published; some people say it's best to read it after you've finished the rest of the series; I leave that decision to you, but personally, I feel it fits in extremely well between IV and V.)
#22 -- The Dark Tower Book V: Wolves of the Calla
This begins the three-book finale.
#23 -- The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah
This middles the three-book finale.
#24 -- The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower
This concludes the three-book finale. And a grand conclusion it is.
#25 -- The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger
I'm going to recommend that you conclude your journey by locating a copy of the original version of the first novel and giving it a look-see. Perhaps not immediately, although reading it that way will certainly bring up interesting associations when read in conjunction with Book VII...
I omitted several titles from the list which I considered including. These are:
The Tommyknockers: This novel arguably has an interesting connection to The Talisman, but the connection is brief, and the novel is otherwise unrelated to the series.
Needful Things and Storm of the Century: These books -- one of which (Storm) is a screenplay for the movie of the same name -- could theoretically be said to feature characters who (a) are the same character who appears in several other King novels, including several in the Tower series or (b) are related to that character. However, the connections are not even implied; they are only possible if you choose to look at them in that way. King has never said that they are, and really, until he does, there is no reason to include these two stories.
The Plant: Zenith Rising: This serial novel is (a) not in print and (b) incomplete. That's reason enough to leave it off. The reason to put it on is that one character seems to be using a language that is used in certain part of the Tower series,but is most prominently used in Desperation.
Dreamcatcher: The only connection here is that the novel is arguably set in the same reality as It. That's not much of a connection. Plus? Not a very good novel.
11/22/63: King has said this book is not related to the Tower books, but I'm convinced that it is. You should listen to Stephen King, but either way, you should read this novel, because it's a good one.
And, finally, I debated listing the Marvel Comics Dark Tower graphic novels at the end, but that opened up a can of worms that I'm not currently prepared to address. Since they are not written by King, I feel fine in excluding them from this particular conversation.
I hope this was of some use to you! Happy reading!