How To: Read The Dark Tower Series
The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed. –The Gunslinger
I’m an unabashed Stephen King fan, as listeners of the podcast are surely tired of hearing. Half my library is devoted to his books because while I prefer to do almost all my reading on Kindle these days, I can’t help but collect King books.
I am always surprised when I find that most people have read King but haven’t heard of The Dark Tower series. Most people have read IT or The Stand but few seem to realize that both of these books are tied into an epic masterpiece of world building that begins with a book called The Gunslinger and ends… actually, I don’t expect it will end until the author himself is gone. Maybe not even then.
What I like best about The Dark Tower work is that, if you’ve read it correctly, you get the very real sense that each story King writes is interconnected with all the others. In his mind, and now in mine, lives a rich, complex universe–spanning dimensions, worlds, and millennia–any of which could bleed through to another at any time.
Remember the weird part of IT? The part after the sewer walk, when they encounter the thing that’s been terrorizing them, and then… weird shit happens with turtles and tongues and space? Turns out that all of it, even the weird parts, makes sense in the context of the wider world, the one where the Tower acts as a linchpin for all possible universes.
Go then. There are other worlds than these. –Jake Chambers from The Gunslinger
All of this can be quite overwhelming to contemplate. Diving into the Dark Tower universe (which now spans short stories, novels, and comic books) is like toeing into the Pacific Ocean with the intent to swim the entire thing. How do you know where to start? And how do you know what you’re reading, and whether it’s part of the bigger picture.
As such, I asked my go-to Dark Tower bro @12thPresidentzt to help me with a reading list. He went above and beyond and sent me two–one for people who have no fear of reading long books and one for those who want a quicker path to the Tower. I’ve added some stuff and rearranged some stuff, because I’m writing the article and I can, but many can be read out of the order I’ve provided if you prefer.
A person’s never too old for stories. Man and boy, girl and woman, we live for them.–Roland Deschain
So here, with no further ado, are two ways to approach the Tower:
Approach One: The Long Walk
- The Gunslinger–book 1 of the Dark Tower Series. There’s two versions of this book now; King went and “retconed” some things just before he finished the series in 2004. @12presidentzt suggests you start with the original, I disagree and suggest you start with the new version, published in 2003. I think you can totally skip the original at this point unless you’re a purist.
- The Drawing of the Three—book 2 of the Dark Tower Series. When all is said and done, this one is my favorite.
- The Eyes of the Dragon–King said he wrote this book because his children asked him to write one they were allowed to read. It’s not part of the “official” series, but an important glimpse into some of the characters.
- The Stand–trust me. Read it again if it’s been a while. You’ll want the refresher. Also, if it’s been a very long time you may discover that there’s been a new edition published. He released an “uncut” version in 1991. Now that I see the date, I feel terribly old. Cool.
- The Waste Lands–book 3 of the Dark Tower Series (and say thankya you do not have to wait as long as I did for the next one in the series. What a cliffhanger!)
- Wizard & Glass–book 4 of the Dark Tower Series.
- The Little Sisters of Eluria—a short story found in the collection Everything’s Eventual. This collection is great. King is at his absolute finest in short form fiction.
- ‘Salem’s Lot–You’ll see. Again, do a refresher if you’ve read this already.
- Wolves of the Calla–book 5 of the Dark Tower Series.
- Low Men in Yellow Coats–novella in the collection titled Hearts in Atlantis, but the whole book is worth a read.
- Insomnia–critical read.
- The Talisman–a book co-written by Peter Straub. This one has very little to do with the Dark Tower (at least, not directly), but it’s one of my top 5 King books and you need to read it before you read…
- Black House–Sequel to The Talisman and has everything to do with the Dark Tower and Thunderclap.
- Everything’s Eventual–short story from the collection Everything’s Eventual.
- Song of Susannah–book 6 of the Dark Tower Series.
- IT–Turtles and all.
- The Dark Tower–book 7 of the Dark Tower Series. Bring Kleenex.
- After you’ve rested, stared at the wall, and generally been overwhelmed by the whole journey, come back one more time for The Wind Through the Keyhole–book 4.5 in the Dark Tower Series. This book came out in 2013, and this Constant Reader found it to be an absolute delight. It’s best read out of order when all else is done.
- 11/22/63–not as such a Dark Tower novel but it feels like it belongs in the group–the sense of worlds within worlds is very real in this novel. Also, I needed to have 19 for reasons.
We are going to go, Eddie. We are going to fight. We are going to be hurt. And in the end we will stand. —Roland Deschain, The Drawing of the Three
Approach Two: Short Pier
(see the explanations above)
- The Gunslinger–I have been told that the audio books are beautifully done, so if you would prefer to listen while driving or do the Whispersync thing, I say go for it.
- Drawing of the Three
- The Stand–Instead of reading the book, watch the miniseries that came out in the ’90s. Or, wait because they are making an insane four movie series, apparently.
- The Wastelands
- Wizard & The Glass
- Wolves of the Calla
- Hearts in Atlantis–This was made into a movie as well, which can substitute for the novella.
- Song of Susannah
- Everything’s Eventual–both short stories in the collection, won’t take long.
- The Dark Tower
- The Wind Through The Keyhole
Not mentioned in either list are the comics, which are set around book 4’s flashback and The Gunslinger and are absolutely beautiful. Many of them contain extra tidbits and explanatory, wiki-like writings at the end.
If you like fantasy novels, long-winded tales, westerns, science fiction, time travel, and/or horror, these are the best examples I know. Come walk with me on the path of the beam, won’t you?
I do not aim with my hand; he who aims with his hand has forgotten the face of his father.
I aim with my eye.
I do not shoot with my hand; he who shoots with his hand has forgotten the face of his father.
I shoot with my mind.
I do not kill with my gun; he who kills with his gun has forgotten the face of his father.
I kill with my heart.
(Image from The Dark Tower book cover, illustrated by Michael Whelan)