Showing posts with label The Dark Tower. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Dark Tower. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Dark Tower: Gunslinger Born

I finished the Dark Tower book series shortly after the final book was released in 2003. It’s a huge work, flawed at times, but still a brilliant fusion of fantasy, western, horror and metacommentary on fiction itself. It’s a huge work, one that now exists in my head in a kind of apocryphal state, details hazy, but overall impact clear. That makes it an ideal time to read the Dark Tower comic series that just arrived in hardcover, a retelling of Roland’s backstory, starting with his adventures in Hambry, previously chronicled in The Wizard and the Glass.

If I was reading this immediately after finishing the book series, I might have had more issues. There was some stuff that was left out I’m sure, but it’s the big moments that linger in my head, and most of those beats are covered here. I remembered vaguely what happened, but the twists in the story still surprised me. This is one of the best cross media translations of a work that I’ve ever encountered, perfectly capturing the feel of the books, and adding what only comics can do.

I usually approach comics from a writer centric perspective, they are the igniting vision, while the artist just helps bring that vision to life. However, this series demands an artist centric reading. The reason the book exists is to bring a visual dimension to the Dark Tower universe, and Jae Lee and Richard Isanove do an incredible job, creating a moody universe unlike anything else I’ve seen in comics. Lee’s work on Grant Morrison’s Fantastic Four: 1234 was amazing, obscuring details, but conveying so much character emotion.

Here, he gives us a hazy universe that looks like a half remembered dream. Faces are frequently obscured, the backgrounds only sky. There’s not much detail, but in the posing of the characters, and the lines we do see, we understand everything we need to about them. Roland was always an enigma during the series, and the comic doesn’t give too much away. A lot of the problem with making a book into a comic or movie is the fact that you don’t imagine a fully realized universe in your head when reading, it’s more a focus on characters, what they’re feeling with the rest of the world trailing off, not quite filled in. To have a more detailed artist on this book would mean losing that sense of mystery. While some characters don’t look like I imagined, there’s enough room for interpretation in the world to make it your own.

That’s not to say that Lee doesn’t make the world his own. There’s a very specific vibe and feel here, particularly in the early issues set in the castle. You’re dropped into the world of this story, so completely immersed in it, and that’s exciting. It was great to return to this world after so long away, reading the comic does have me itching to reread the books again.

While Lee is the star, I’ve got to give big props to Peter David and the writing team for crafting a style that’s uniquely equipped to convey the feel of the book. In Wizard and the Glass, we heard this story from Roland’s perspective, here we get an omniscient third person narrator who’s explicitly telling us the story. The way I imagine it is that this story became legend in the world of the Dark Tower, and we’re listening in on some old man telling it around a campfire.

The narration uses the language of the series, the ka and thankee sa dialect. I’m not sure how new readers would respond, I think it’s a fairly open, standalone story, but a lot of the power probably does come from my knowledge of the books. The characters have added depth because of what I know they will become. Even if a new reader figured out the language, they might not get what’s special about the story.

But, as a long time reader, this is the perfect form for a new Dark Tower story. There’s a reason that books frequently get adapted into films, not the other way around, once you have a visual conception of someone in real life, it’s hard to go back to them just being a character on a page. That’s the problem with the Buffy comic for me, there it’s not exciting to see the characters in visual form, I just wind up missing the lifeforce the actors gave them. Here, with no previous visual knowledge, it is cool to see everyone on the page.

The other crucial thing to making this work is the fact that it’s not trying to tell the whole story. In a book series this large, you’re not going to capture all the details of the main story. By focusing on this one incident, a legend within the series, they’re able to tell one story that really works. I’m excited to see the future miniseries, which further develop Roland’s backstory and flesh out stuff from the main books. As much as I’d like to see Eddie or Jake in the comics, I don’t think the main ka-tet stuff has a place, we’ve experienced that story in the present moment, by focusing on the background, we get something added to the universe.

As for the story itself, I found it extremely well done. The pacing was fantastic, each issue dense and full of wonderful images and ideas. The villains were nasty, the heroes were likable, even though we know they were doomed, and the love between Roland and Susan really worked. The one misstep is the slightly rushed pacing on the last issue, but the scorching two page spread of Susan on the bonfire was powerful enough to give a strong emotional punch to the ending. I would have liked just a couple more pages, maybe revisiting Roland in the desert, to close things out.

But, on the whole this is a really amazing piece of work. I had almost forgot the series was even made until I saw the hardcover in the comic shop, so it was a great bonus when I found out the series was actually quite brilliant. It’s a near perfect example of how to translate a work into another medium and simultaneously maintain the essence of the original, and add in what only the new medium can do.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Dark Tower

A couple of days ago I finished reading the last book of Stephen King's The Dark Tower series. This is a 3500 page, seven book tale, one that he began in 1970 and finished in September of last year. I read the first book around 2000, and over the past few years have gradually read the rest. It was a great series of books. one that was consistently entertaining and had some really interesting ideas throughout. The series was always at least partially about the nature of storytelling, making it fitting that the ending of the series should be a meta-comment on the nature of the text itself, an ending that I found really fulfilling. Spoilers are obviously below.

In the thirty years and seven books, Roland's world has changed dramatically, but the one thing that has always remained constant is his desire to get to the tower. That is the thing that drives him, the thing that keeps him going after losing his old friends, losing Jake, losing Eddie, losing Jake again and even losing Susannah, he has one thing driving him forward and that is his need to make it to the dark tower. Throughout the book, we have the vague idea tha the tower is the nexus of all realities, and therefore plays a crucial role in preventing the world from collapsing. However, we never learn exactly what its purpose is, and what it is that makes Roland so drawn to it. After they fix the beam midway through book VII, they've essentially accomplished their task, the world is saved, and there's no reason to go on anymore, except Roland's need to see the tower for himself, to accomplish his goal, the one thing that has driven him above all others.

One thing I found interesting was the way the ending was structured. The main book ends with Roland walking into the dark tower, and I was like, did I miss something, where's my resolution with what the tower is? And then there's the piece about Susannah which was good, and then there's a little note from Stephen King about the fact that it's the journey that matters, what happens on the way to the tower, not the tower itself, and that ultimately every ending is something of a let down. But, thankfully after that, we go back to Roland his ascent up the tower.

So, when he finally does reach the tower, he finds that is sort of a summation of his life, each level corresponds to events that occurred to him, and in ascending it, he views the entirety of his life. Then at the top of the tower he is sucked through time and returns to the beginning of his journey, right before the first sentence of The Gunslinger. I love this ending because it follows up on what King was talking about with the journey being the point of things. Nothing he finds at the top of the tower could satisfy the reader, and I think this is the best way to the end the book.

A lot of people have been knocking the idea of the loop, but I think to do that is to ignore one crucial thing, the presence of the horn when he begins his next journey. What this implies is that with each journey he's doing things better, and it's implied that his one failure this time is the fact that he didn't pick up the horn at the end of the battle in Wizard and the Glass, so now he has it, and I get the feeling that this next journey will be his last time, and then he will find peace at the top of the tower.

I love the quasi-dreamlike memories Roland has of things when he is spit out the end of the loop. All throughout the book you get the feeling he's been on this quest forever, and his past is so distant from who he is now. That's something that's reaffirmed by this ending. He has been on this quest forever, and he's become ageless, moving through an infernal hell.

If I had to guess, I would say that when Roland finally does reach the top of the tower, and do things right, it will be something like what happens to Susannah at the end of her journey. I get the feeling that Susannah got everything right this time, and even if she was consigned to a loop before, she won't be now. She got her happy ending, reuinted with everyone in the clearing at the end of the path. When Roland completes his mission, he will probably find the same happiness, but until then, it is his burden to forever be seeking the tower.

The ending also brilliantly plays off the fact that the universe didn't really end, you can pick up the first book and start all over again. Throughout all the books, the series has flirted with meta-fiction and this ending references that without being excessively gimmicky or self reflexive. If the horn wasn't there, it might seem like too much of a downer, but this way you still have hope. I like the symmetry of placing the 'Childe Roland' poem at the end of the book, with the implication that this poem depicts Roland's final journey to the tower, because it was also the impetus for the creation of the entire world. So, it both opens and closes the series.

I'm really satisfied with the ending and I think it stands as one of the great stories ever told, full of so many memorable characters and events. The books frequently refer to the fact that they aren't so much being written, it's more King tapping into another universe and bringing the story back from there. That's what it's like to write, and thus, both the writer and the reader are like Eddie or Susannah, taken from our world to Roland's world for an adventure outside of the everyday.