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The Dark Tower 8-Book Boxed Set

de Stephen King

Séries: The Dark Tower (Omnibus 1-8)

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For the first time ever in a single boxed set, all of Stephen King's eight Dark Tower novels--one of the most acclaimed and popular series of all time--soon to be a major motion film starring Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. Set in a world of ominous landscape and macabre menace, The Dark Tower series features one of Stephen King's most powerful creations--The Gunslinger--a haunting figure who embodies the qualities of the lone hero through the ages, from ancient myth to frontier Western legend. As Roland crosses a desert of damnation in a treacherous world that is a twisted image of our own, he moves ever closer to the Dark Tower of his dreams--and nightmares. This stunning, must-have collection includes: The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger; The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three; The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands; The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass; The Dark Tower: The Wind Through the Keyhole; The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla; The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah; and The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower. The perfect keepsake for Stephen King fans, The Dark Tower 8-Book Boxed Set is the most extraordinary and imaginative cycle of tales in the English language from "the reigning King of American popular literature" (Los Angeles Daily News).… (mais)
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Tackling the Dark Tower over this last year has been both a pleasant surprise and a disappointment. It’s awakened a love for Stephen King’s writing I never felt before, but it’s also been a constant reminder of all the issues I’ve taken with his work since first picking up Carrie (1974) at 13 years old.

The Dark Tower is Stephen King’s conscious attempt at a magnum opus — at creating a work of art to compete with Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, going down in literary history as an adventure with few peers. Published between 1982 and 2004, it’s a seven-book quest — eight if you count 2012’s the Wind Through the Keyhole, a sidestory squeezed in between the fourth and fifth books — spanning roughly 5,000 pages:

[N.B. This review includes images and a detailed ranking of the whole series, and was formatted for my site, dendrobibliography -- click for the review or ranking. The ranking tends to focus on more of the good points. :)]

Equal parts horror, sci-fi, western, fantasy, thriller, romance, and post-apocalyptic pulp, it does each genre well, but rarely mixes them with as much success…which is where the novel’s (for it really is one novel) faults come into focus.

Excepting perhaps Song of Susannah and the Dark Tower, the series never feels like a single, overarching story. Each book is largely isolated in its plotting, its genres, its supporting characters, etc., and rarely do they fit together into the big picture. There are references and recurring pieces (and the destination’s always the same), sure, but the myth structure is disregarded between each novel — which means the Dark Tower never naturally flows as a single story, but more akin to seasons of a TV show.

(There are also far, far too many plot points driven by a mysterious feeling to grab a seemingly-irrelevant object: "Why are you wasting time looking at that book?" "I don't know. I just have a feeling it's important." King himself regularly complains about this as a bad writing technique on Twitter, yet it's something I find in nearly every one of his books multiple times.)

Despite this criticism, I was enthralled with Mid-World and the mythology’s King’s created: I always felt the urge to see what came next, whether I’d recognize any heroes or monsters from the rest of his books, whether we’d uncover more about North Central Positronics or their guardians, the doors between worlds, the meaning of the wolves, or Sayre’s goals in our world(s) — the Dark Tower builds upon its mystery very effectively. (It’s clear shows like Lost owe a lot of Stephen King, beyond just using his novels as physical props.)

Roland and his ka-tet never connected with me much as heroes, however. Their characterization, while holding depth, highlights some of the problems I have with many Stephen King books: He tends to recycle personalities, regardless of how well-drawn they are, regardless of what complex background traumas they’ve undergone. You can tell the baddies from a mile away literally based on their physical descriptions or a few lines of dialogue — they’re fat; they have pimples; are physically repulsive; they’re obnoxiously religious; they fart a lot and are constantly horny; they’re shallow, sexist, racist pigs.

The heroes often fall to similar tropes. His writers are the same writers; his ayuh-spewing geezers the same as any other; his psychic 10-year-old never faltering from the established stereotype.

Roland’s great, but never likable: I never once rooted for him. He’s interesting, though, and the closest to human: full of conflicting ideals and cognitive dissonance. He lumbers around with a superiority complex one minute, then toots out a line about what an idiot he is the next. The sheer weight of his problems and his self-awareness — especially with his backstory in Wizard and Glass — make him fascinating despite his often vile personality.

The rest, however, were harder to appreciate. Eddie remains a shallow joker start to finish. He cracks one-liners constantly, and, in keeping with Stephen King’s usual lack of comedy, he’s dreadfully unfunny. (Perhaps King is funny in real life — probably so, even — but his sense of humor hardly translates to the written word.) In the last few books, we’re occasionally told — literally, via narration — that Eddie’s maturing as a character. But that’s never true; he always reverts.

I loathed Eddie with every line.

Susannah is interesting in concept, but never struck me right. I still can’t put my finger on why. She’s wheelchair-bound, her legs cut off at the knees, and she holds three — later four — personalities in her body. One’s a demon, another’s a racist caricature she invented in response to racism. This is a recipe for originality, but in the end she’s mostly boring. Partially, it’s because her lead personalities are too passive, too nice. When Detta Walker, the racist caricature living inside her, isn’t spouting off obscene one-liners about honky mahfahs, Susannah just doesn’t have much to say. She’s a passive housewife, weirdly contradicting the feminist intent.

Jake is every 12-year-old from every other Stephen King novel. He’s impossibly wise beyond his years — easily the sharpest of the gang –, has psychic abilities, is the most thoughtful and empathetic: He’s innocence incarnate by way of Buddha by way of the Man with No Name. He’s not unlikable, just bland and unbelievable.

Oy is amazing, even if he’s largely there to tug at our heartstrings and get us giggling. I love Oy.

I feel like there’s a problem if the pet is the best character. Of the four humans, one’s execrable, another forgettable, and the last two somewhere between interesting and bland. It’s hard to say this crew is worth 5,000 pages, but the world and its stories certainly are.

It’s easy to get sidetracked by the frustrating King-isms that show up in most of his 700-page beasts. His characters often feel cut from the same cloth, and not quite real — like a narrative variation on uncanny valley — but he often devotes absorbing, rich backstories unique to each one. King himself evokes a lot of his personal experiences into those characters he drags through the gutter, which can get uncomfortable. As King famously lived with drug addictions that devoured his family and work life throughout the 1980s, his characters’ forays into substance abuse, and the stupid bullheadedness in which they — Eddie from this series, Paul Sheldon from Misery (1987) — seek to feed those addictions is all too real, too uncomfortable.

King’s writing has been pulling readers into his alternative vision of (mostly) Maine for decades. Even under the weight of his many small issues, the towns of Castle Rock, of Derry, of Jerusalem’s Lot et al., have held readers spellbound for decades. Each book’s added to the connected, centuries-long histories — practically a civilization in itself. This is why Stephen King is a bastion of American writing, and why he connects with, well, everyone. We’re all players in the Dark Tower.

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7. The Drawing of the Three (II: 1987)

Given my issues with the characters, it’s no surprise this is on the bottom of my list. The Drawing of the Three ain’t bad, but it’s also 650 pages devoted to introducing one unlikable character after another. Following the whiplash pace of the Gunslinger, I was raring to race into Roland’s quest. I didn’t want to squat on a dreary beach, slowly rolling through three separate stories, each introducing a separate character. Eddie’s as awful as always, and the introduction of Susannah / Detta / Odetta is a repetitive, exhausting drama. The lobstrosities were cool, but I still felt like we made no progress in the quest for the Dark Tower.

6. Wolves of the Calla (V: 2003)

Wolves of the Calla was just bloated: A bloated re-telling of the Magnificent Seven and Seven Samurai in Mid-World. As we’re coming closer to the series’ end, Wolves is steeped in references to the coming adventures and to the Dark Tower itself, but the main quest of defending a small town against ‘wolves’ — robots that kidnap children while wielding lightsabers (Star Wars) and exploding snitches (Harry Potter) — feels completely isolated, and like another roadblock. Most of the book is spent standing around, talking to and impressing townsfolk, making and losing friends. The subsequent books attempt to explain the importance of the ‘wolves’ within the lore, but it doesn’t stick. This story just feels unimportant to the greater narrative, made worse by not being very interesting.

5. Song of Susannah / The Dark Tower (VI & VII: 2004)

Song of Susannah is the least-favorite of most readers. It doesn’t stand on its own at all, and reads as a 500-page prologue to the events of the Dark Tower. I feel like I have to take these two as a single, monstrous final novel. (That, or the first 300 pages of the Dark Tower should have gone to the prior book.) Song‘s mostly set on Earth, our world, and it doesn’t have much in the way of a quest arc. Stephen King, the character, is introduced, and Mordred’s tale is kicked into high gear. Despite not having its own story, I loved the atmosphere — moving from Mid-World to ’70s and ’90s NE USA was great. Contrary to popular opinions, I loved the inclusion of Stephen King as a character. I found him neither obnoxious or self-important, but rather self-deprecating: The real King’s way of criticizing himself for his shortcomings as a writer, and for not finishing the series earlier, for disappointing so many people (including himself).

The final novel mostly stuck with this. Algul Siento — a town in control of the Crimson King’s minions, and the setting for roughly 20% of the novel — was poorly-realized and I hated every minute there. The real-world setting is mind-bending, as always. Randall Flagg’s end is immensely unsatisfying. The Mordred story peters out across a barren wasteland, but provides some gut-wrenching scenes anyway. We lose a lot of friends. The White Lands of Empathica and the creature Dandelo provide some amazing (and amazingly-weird) scenery. A deus ex machina is introduced in the last 100 pages as a deus ex machina, ruining the thrill of the final approach to the Tower. The Crimson King himself is, well…I can’t say I expected him to be an old man chucking bombs and screaming obscenities in all caps from a balcony. He was more like Donkey Kong than a clever or interesting villain. There was no need for the Coda (in which Stephen King, the writer, warns the reader they are about to be disappointed by a disappointing ending, and please stop reading here — unless you’re one of his hardcore readers that just has to know, in which case keep reading, but please don’t complain to him about it after you’re inevitably disappointed) that creates an infinite time loop for Roland’s story. I get it: Stories are eternal. It still doesn’t make much sense in the lore, and seems downright lazy.

4. The Gunslinger (I: 1982 / rev. 2003)

The Gunslinger is sharp. It’s amazing that Stephen King wrote (or at least conceptualized) much of this at 22 years old. (It was heavily revised in 2003 to fix that youthful naivete. This placing is for the current edition, which is, I’m told, leagues ahead of the original mess.) It’s the purest mixture of western and horror. Shootouts, desolate wastelands and dying farms, mines full-a mutants — all of this takes place in a mere 250 pages, with Roland hunting the longtime King villain Randall Flagg. No distractions — no bloated scenes — no words wasted. ‘The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed,’ Roland’s story famously begins.

3. The Waste Lands (III: 1991)

The Waste Lands exemplifies my love-hate relationship with Stephen King over the years. The city of Lud — a post-apocalyptic, mutant- and monster-filled vision of New York City –, the mythology around the guardians of the beams, and the whole psychotic AI angle are highlights of the entire series, but the pacing of these stories is garbage. The first third of the Waste Lands — long before we meet Blaine — is a pain. After a short prologue featuring Richard Adams’ bear-god Shardik (one of the guardians of the beam), we’re thrust into another isolated character introduction for young Jake Chambers. This entire, bloated section of the novel feels out of place: It feels, quite honestly, like Stephen King simply changed his mind about not drawing Jake Chambers into the story in the Drawing of the Three, and doubled back on that novel’s boring structure to introduce yet another character. It’s awful. But everything before and after represent what makes this series so addictive.

2. The Wind Through the Keyhole (IV ½: 2012)

The Wind Through the Keyhole is, like the Gunslinger, like Wizard and Glass, like the best of Stephen King, tightly structured and bloat-free. This tale — being a story within a story within a story (within, in the greater scope of the series, yet another story) — is almost John Barth-like in its scope and playfulness. This is a campfire yarn: While waiting out a storm near the setting of Wolves of the Calla, Roland recounts a meeting with shapeshifters that nearly ended his life, and within that story, recounts a folkloric tale about a young boy who must go on an epic adventure to save his family from a drunken, murderous lout. Along the way, we meet dragons, swamp monsters (& swamp men), ancient magicians, etc. About the only issue I take with it is the excuse that it belongs nestled between the Dark Tower‘s fourth and fifth books. Forcing the frame narrative with Susannah et al. sitting around yet another campfire (the entirety of Wizard and Glass, the preceding book, took place around a campfire) really kills the flow of the Roland’s urgent quest, particularly since it’s never referenced again.

1. Wizard and Glass (IV: 1997)

This book changed my views on King. I prefer sci-fi; I prefer horror; I prefer even literary fiction, but the fourth Dark Tower novel is the highest class of fantasy fiction. Wizard and Glass is the backstory of Roland Deschain and his lost love, Susan Delgado. A 750-page diversion for backstory had me nervous — we already had a diversion with the second book, so readers are raring to get into the meat of Roland’s quest. Even though this novel’s a beast, even though it’s 90% backstory (and a romance, at that), it carries a breakneck pace, and nothing seems out of place. The ending’s twists and turns are superb, telegraphed since the novel opens. There’s no insane deus ex machina or spider aliens or what-have-youse: Wizard and Glass is perhaps the tightest novel King’s ever written, and I loved it dearly. ( )
2 vote tootstorm | Apr 27, 2017 |
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For the first time ever in a single boxed set, all of Stephen King's eight Dark Tower novels--one of the most acclaimed and popular series of all time--soon to be a major motion film starring Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. Set in a world of ominous landscape and macabre menace, The Dark Tower series features one of Stephen King's most powerful creations--The Gunslinger--a haunting figure who embodies the qualities of the lone hero through the ages, from ancient myth to frontier Western legend. As Roland crosses a desert of damnation in a treacherous world that is a twisted image of our own, he moves ever closer to the Dark Tower of his dreams--and nightmares. This stunning, must-have collection includes: The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger; The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three; The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands; The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass; The Dark Tower: The Wind Through the Keyhole; The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla; The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah; and The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower. The perfect keepsake for Stephen King fans, The Dark Tower 8-Book Boxed Set is the most extraordinary and imaginative cycle of tales in the English language from "the reigning King of American popular literature" (Los Angeles Daily News).

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