Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Bryant's Thoughts on Some of Stephen King's Thoughts on "The Dark Tower"

Wow.  That is one of THE worst titles for a blog post I have ever come up with.  I may as well have titled it "Bryant Is Dumb and Has No Good Thoughts Tonight LOL."  Technically, it's not too late to do that, I guess, but let's soldier on, bravely, like people did in olden times.

Speaking of olden times, back in April I reviewed Bev Vincent's book The Dark Tower Companion, which I found to be a delight.  One of the book's many highlights is a brand-new six-page interview with King in which Vincent asks several terrific questions.  In that initial review, I promised that I would at some point write a sort of review of that interview, and give some thoughts on some of the revelations that came up in the course of that interview.  

So here we are!

Now, my inclination would be to just sort of post the whole thing and go through it point by point, but I can't in good conscience do that.  I suspect I also cannot legally do that, but it's a moot point, and therefore not worth worrying about.

Instead, let's just hit some high points.  Where possible, I'll summarize, rather than quote directly.




The very first question Vincent asks is one he may as well have plucked directly from my brain: the extent to which the author is involved with the Marvel Comics based on the Dark Tower novels.  King answers that at the beginning, he "monitored them really closely."  He goes on to say that "after they went off on their own," he "didn't want to junk up my head with their story lines."  He specifies that the comics are Robin Furth's take on the Dark Tower mythos, and speculates that there could theoretically be more books after the next one [The Wind Through the Keyhole, which had not been published at the time of the interview]..."but if there are, they won't be influenced at all by whatever's going on in the comics and indeed might run contradictory" to Furth's stories.


Later, he addresses a specific event by saying that the one Mid-World tale he might yet want to tell would be the story of Jericho Hill.  This was the subject of an entire arc of the Marvel comics, and King implies that he has not read, and does not know, Furth's version of the story; "I really didn't want to read that," he says, "because if I went back to Roland at all, that would have to be the story."

Alright, so let's stop there and chew our dinner for a while before taking the next bite.

At some point in my future, there is going to be a whopper of a series of posts that confronts the Dark Tower comics directly.  I've got a lot of thoughts about them: what elements worked, what elements didn't work, and what elements struck me as being near betrayals of the source material.  Without getting too in-depth, I can say now that the first few arcs were mostly good, and occasionally great, but that the series faltered -- in my eyes, at least -- massively when it came time to tell the story of the fall of Gilead and the subsequent battle of Jericho Hill.  
  
For Dark Tower fans, these were highly anticipated events, and as I read them, I did so with a sinking feeling.  What I was reading did not in any way feel like it had been penned by Stephen King.  That was understandable, considering that King did not, in fact, write the comics.  However, my assumption about the comics up until that point had been that he was, at the very least, signing off on everything; that he wasn't writing it, but was at least giving it a rubber-stamp approval of sorts.  But as the "Fall of Gilead" and "Battle of Jericho Hill" arcs concluded in what I felt was an unsatisfying manner, I felt strongly in my gut that King cannot have possibly had any involvement in what was going on.

No interview I read ever addressed the issue, though.  The closest thing I got to confirmation was the fact that in The Wind Through the Keyhole, what King tells us about Cort's status flat-out contradicts what happens to Cort in the comics.  When I realized that, I breathed a sort of sigh of relief, because it felt to me like King reasserting ownership of that era of the Tower mythos.

Vincent's interview not only confirms this, but it does so with a hint that King would, theoretically, like to write a book about that era of Roland's life at some point.  Apart from saying that he'd already completed the novel and it'll be out soon, that's just about the best news that this Dark Tower fan could hear on the subject.


"The Wicked Witch of the East" by Dave McKean [from Wizard and Glass]


On to the next topic: Vincent asks King if we might meet Rhea again at some point.

To this one, King gives an interesting answer: "I don't know.  I don't know anything about this stuff."  This is a statement that calls to mind similar statements he has given in the past about his writing process, which he has compared to unearthing an object buried in the ground.  He has said he typically has no idea where a story is going; he discovers that as he writes.

So on the one hand, it might sound mildly unbelievable for King to say he doesn't know anything about what happens with Rhea; but it's very consistent with King's approach to storytelling (i.e., it is a process through which he uncovers a story, rather than merely reciting one he already has worked out).




Vincent points out that there was a stretch during King's career when The Dark Tower seemed to pop up in nearly everything he wrote.  (He is referring to books like Insomnia and Rose Madder and Hearts in Atlantis, which have tie-ins of one sort or another with the Tower books.)  He then asks King is he still feels that happening.

King answers that he definitely felt it happening in the writing of 11/22/63, and mentions that when the yellow card man shows up and tells Jake that the universe is in danger of collapsing if he continues along his path, he had an opportunity to link that novel to The Dark Tower but consciously side-stepped doing so.  "I wanted the book to kind of stand apart," he says, but he admits that people who have read the Tower books "will say that this is certainly a Tower-ish situation at the end of the book."

This, to me, is priceless.  I remember reading 11/22/63 and being convinced that it had to be related to the Tower in some way, especially given (as King mentions) the partial setting in Derry.  As I recall, my specific theory was that Jake saving Kennedy must have prevented Henry Dean from being scarred by his Vietnam experiences, which is turn kept Eddie Dean from being a degenerate junkie, which in turn kept him from joining Roland's ka-tet.  Thereby leading to the imminent collapse of the Tower.  Alternatively, it could have caused either Odetta or Jake to be unavailable to Roland.  None of that is present in the book, of course, but once my mind came up with the idea, it could not shake it.

Regardless of my own fan-wank-type pet theories, it is good to know that King, too, feels 11/22/63 to have connectivity with the Tower universe.  And apart from that, it's good to know that that mythos is still calling to him.  I'd say that that makes the odds of getting another novel in the series at some point fairly good.


John Farson


While discussing the character Marten Broadcloak, Vincent mentions that another character who seems to be one of his aspects is John Farson, the rebel whose anti-establishment efforts evidently helped lead to the downfall of the Gunslingers' society.  In answering, King is definitive: "Farson has nothing to do with Marten Broadcloak," he says.  King goes on to say that there could be stories about Farson, but that he has never known how to write them because Farson doesn't have any interaction with Roland.  He does, however, seem to hold out the possibility of Farson figuring into the potential Jericho Hill story, and mentions that he is sure Farson is a minion of the Crimson King.

Again, this is fascinating information.  Farson is scarcely present in the novels at all -- hell, does he ever even make an appearance? -- but in the comics is a major figure.  For me, this is another instance in which the comics made a major misstep.  Their take on Farson is to make him interesting and intimidating primarily on a visual level; he wears an interesting mask.  Apart from that, he does not strike me as being special in any way.  The implication of the novels, as I saw them, was that there must have been something special about Farson.  In what way?  Beats me.  But in order for him to engineer the destruction of Gilead and the Gunslingers, old boy had to have some sort of leg up on everyone else who we can assume must have opposed the Gunslingers over the centuries.  Right?  In order for the story to be dramatically satisfying, that kind of has to be the case in some way, I'd think.

In the comics, this does not come across.  Farson is just a dude in a fright mask, one who does not seem to be special in any way.  That, for me, doesn't work.

King, obviously, has not uncovered that part of the story for himself.  Having not done so, he wisely opted to simply hint at it and leave it off the page.  In attempting to answer questions King has not, the comics blundered, and badly.




Vincent also asks if King still plans to go back and revise the rest of the series in the manner of the revised edition of The Gunslinger.  King answers by saying that he's not sure it's a project anyone would care about.

If he did, he says, "I know that I could do work that would please me as an author," but he then says that he feels that a lot of buyers would feel the changes were merely in service of selling them the book a second time.

On this subject, I can only speak for myself: I'd be interested in seeing this happen.  I don't need it to happen; the continuity errors don't bother me, because I'm able to read the novels as a series of disparate works that were written over the course of four decades.  But at the same time, I think it would be cool for them to be polished into something that could also be read as a single sequence, with a unified style and a lack of errors.

Also, frankly, I think doing that would be a great way to put the series in the public eye again.

So my vote (to the slender extent to which I get one) is a yea; I'd buy those new versions, and pleased as punch to do so.


an image from the series finale of The Sopranos

King also answers the question of when, approximately, he knew how the series would end: "from probably Wolves of the Calla or Wizard and Glass," he says, adding that there was always a question of what would happen once Roland reached the Tower.  (Note that he does not indicate that there was ever a question of Roland not reaching it at all; that seems to have always been in the cards.)

"One possibility," he says, "is that we would never know.  That he would blow his horn and go to the Tower and that would be the end of the series."  He adds that he's never had much patience for that sort of thing.  He doesn't mention the finale of The Sopranos, but based on context, I can guess how he would probably feel about how that series ends.

My tastes can tend to run a bit more to the esoteric.  Personally, I loved the ending of The Sopranos, and if The Dark Tower HAD ended with Roland blowing his horn, going inside, and nothing else, I quite probably would have loved it.  But of course, the ending the saga has now is fairly esoteric, too, in some respects, a fact King seems to accept.  He points out that a lot of people didn't like the way the series ended, but also says that given how he'd written extensively about the idea of ka being a wheel, he doesn't see how anybody could really have expected anything different.

Here, I'm in complete agreement.  The ending of Book VII...boy, that thing hit me like an electric jolt of some sort.  I can't swear that my hair didn't literally stand on end.  I actually still had a decent amount of hair then, so it might well have done.

Vincent follows this topic up by asking King if he knows what changes Roland needs to make in order to redeem himself.  This answer, I think I'd like to transcribe in full:

"Sure.  I do.  I know exactly what he's got to do.  You have to go back to the first book and look at that and then you'll know the answer."

 Oh, Sai King; you are a tricksy devil, you are.  What could the answer to this riddle possibly be?

The obvious one that springs to mind is that he needs to not let Jake fall to his death.  Thing is...if that doesn't happen, then does Roland ever meet Eddie and Odetta?  If he doesn't, then does his ka-tet ever form fully enough to get him to the Tower?  To be honest, I'm not sure it does.  So what would that version of the story possibly look like?

This is not an invitation to compose fan-fiction, by the way.  Let's leave it as a rhetorical scenario; it seems more satisfying that way, somehow.

*****

There's more in the interview -- including a one-word answer on whether King would like to expound on a statement he made to Vincent once about Roland having a brother and a sister ("Nope" is the word) -- but those are the highlights, for me.

Great stuff, and an invaluable addition to the Dark Tower mythos.  Bev Vincent did great work with the book in general, but this interview in particular is gold.  Gold, I say!

I'd initially intended to write a second piece similar to this one, in which I would examine some of the book's insights -- via numerous interviews -- into the comic books.  However, I think that that post is probably best saved for some intangible Later Date.

The next thing you'll read on this blog, I suspect, is a review of the soon-to-be-released remake of Carrie, which opens on Friday.  I also still owe you guys an extended, spoiler-filled review of Doctor Sleep, and I've also recently seen Room 237, which is well worth a lengthy review.  So all of that is on the way.  Plus?  It's about time to revise my worst-to-best rankings of the books and movies.  And on the radar for reviews of older books, I've got my sights set on both Four Past Midnight and Tabitha King's Small World.  I'm not sure which of those I want to hit first.  Choices, choices!

No matter which I go with, it'll be fun for me.  Hope to see you there!

12 comments:

  1. Interesting comments from King about what Roland might have to do to "break the loop", so to speak.

    I personally don't see how saving Jake would hurt his chances, but then again, this is not a part of the story I've given the most thought to.

    I'd hope someday King might give the full answer.

    The funniest thing though is that, well the question of what Roland could do different was sort of on the tip edge of my mind earlier.

    I was listening to this song I'd heard that's from a Breaking Bad promo, "Line of Fire", by Junip.

    As I was listening to the sound and the lyrics, it all just somehow put me in mind of "Ol' Tall, Dark and Ugly."

    I could easily imagine this song playing during that final climb, I could even imagine it being piped through a speaker system lined along all the floors and halls of the Tower.

    Yeah, it's a bit much, and wouldn't work anyway (it would also raise the confusing question of whether of not the Tower is actually talking to him).

    Still, the song is very good though. It can be listened to here (apologies for the crappy music vid attached to it, best to scroll down till the viewer is out of sight and take in the lyrics and tune :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8mCNzqppSM

    ChrisC

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    1. I like that song! It's got a certain...repetitive quality that certainly has some relevance to the end of the DT series. That video kinda freaked me out, though. Maybe that's the appropriate response.

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  2. Revised rankings! Come onnnnn, Duma Key! :-) And a Room 237 review, to boot. Nice.

    Great stuff. Got my head buzzing for Dark Tower stuff.

    I wondered about the Yellow Card Man. That's kind of cool that he opted to keep it distinct and separate.

    How I'd wish they make a Further Adventures of the Tet Corporation tv show... the concept lends itself so well to a standalone series, I think.

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    1. The irony is I'm way ahead of you. I thought Discordia might work as a tv series.

      I even had a rough idea of a pilot. This guy who's an all-American success story until somehow he and his wife lose their kid.

      The result ends their marriage and he's about to spiral down the drain when somehow he gets caught in a crossfire between the Low Men and Tet.

      From there it would be about his recruitment and going on an assignment for Tet, the idea being along the lines of Fantasy Island, where a character gets his self-respect back.

      Keeping in lien with the Fantasy Island type premise, when the guy next goes back to Hammarskjold Plaza, Tet isn't there, and no one in the building can ever remember an office with that named being lodged there (in other words like real life).

      The twist is that the only returning protagonist would sort of be the Tet company itself, along with Mid-World and it's inhabitants, and each show would feature a new protagonist with a different story and how each has their lives turned around briefly by Tet.

      If that sounds lame, it's better than thinking "Wouldn't it be funny if the Noah Hathaway character from Never-ending Story were to go out riding one day, get lost, and run into Flagg (as well as the kids chasing him from Eyes of the Dragon)?

      ...I'll go take my meds now.

      ChrisC

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    2. I like every last bit of that. Hell, combine the two - make the Neverending Story extension the first season finale that only becomes evident as a Flagg tale at the end, right before the cliffhanger. With the Borg!

      Okay, maybe not the Borg. But that's a fun approach to a Dark Tower series. Nicely done. I'd watch.

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    3. Me too.

      And yes, the great Tet vs. Sombra conflict is an idea that absolutely deserves to be explored at some point.

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  3. I bought Bev's book but I only read this interview so far. I was going to ask Bev if he knew what part Steve was saying could fix everything but I guessed it was in the book somewhere. I guess that's not in the DT Companion? Hmmmm.
    I always thought Roland's punishment/atonement for killing his mother was him having to save the Tower for eternity. But there might have been something in the Wind and The Keyhole that debunked my theory but I can't remember.
    I'm thinking it has more to do with the time when Roland was young rather than anything later on.
    -mikeC

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    1. That's an interesting idea. Roland's matricide was one of the primary factors in shaping his hardened personality, that's for sure.

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  4. Speaking of Revised Rankings, Bryant, here's a question I've been meaning to ask for some time.

    How or where would you rank this music video King collaborated on (co-writing credit) way back in 97?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YS1olsjtkFc

    Also, what, if any, place do you think it should or shouldn't have in the King canon?

    ChrisC

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    1. Would you believe that to this day, I still have not watched that video? I've got a copy of it downloaded, though, so I think I'll dump that into the folder of things I plan to watch on Halloween this year. Thanks for the reminder!

      Everything I have ever read about the video indicates that King's contributions were fairly minimal in terms of the finished product, although a piece King wrote for the 7/10/09 issue of Entertainment Weekly makes reference to the author having written a script for the short film.

      So, to answer your question: I'm really not sure.

      Since King unquestionably worked on the film, and contributed at least SOME ideas, I'd say "Ghosts" certainly deserves to be listed somewhere within King's canon. Probably as either an adaptation (i.e., a much-altered adaptation of whatever King's original script consisted of) or lumped under some sort of "other projects" heading.

      Which reminds me: I need to get back to work on that ongoing "King's canon" project, too...

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  5. My initial reaction on first viewing was I guess pretty much the same reaction a lot of people today have of a Jackson project:......Whuuuhhhhhh?????


    Looking over it a second time, I now realize there is at least one King element in the show, the same one that runs through Christine, Carrie and the Stand, namely the misfit outsider.

    This time, however, the theme seems inverted, with at least something of happy (?) ending and everything. This would sort of make it the fairy-tale version of King's outsider theme.

    I have no idea if that's on the mark at all, though, and I'm not sure whether or not the show succeeds, or whether Jackson's antics aren't sort of a hindrance. There's even one seen with a mirror that I can't help wondering if that shouldn't have been reserved for the analysts office, instead of the camera, but otherwise, I'm not sure much is happening on screen.

    Regardless of where it belongs on the King canon, ranking, on it's own I'd say it's mildly entertaining enough, and it's there for the curious, however I'd say the Thriller vid is still more entertaining.

    ChrisC

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    1. The "Thriller" video is more entertaining than a LOT of things. What a classic!

      You're kinda making me think I want to watch this and review it for Halloween.

      I've also been considering doing a week-long marathon of the "Friday the 13th" and "Nightmare on Elm Street" movies. (I usually take a week's vacation around Halloween and spend the majority of it vegging out, watching horror films.) I probably won't blog about that, but you never can tell...

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