The Dark Tower series of books by Stephen King are a fairly important group of novels for me personally. I overcame a considerable amount of snobbishness towards King’s work to read them, and as a result I’ve become a lot less snobby about genre fiction in general, though I am by no means cured.
The thing is, my snobbishness had been born of my university education in the first place, and so rather than guide my tastes towards various classics, my instincts guided me away from reading more or less anything. I can’t stand a lot of what passes for contemporary high fiction, because it’s inherently classist and defined to a great extent by your connections with or attractiveness to the literary aristocracy as it currently stands. People who have degrees in English and think this qualifies them to put their opinions ahead of the opinions of others. Sometimes it does; most often it doesn’t.
So, I had restricted my reading to very little indeed, judging almost everything as not good enough or as too elitist. I pretty much just read Hemingway over and over again for ten years. Clearly, I like Hemingway. But, you know… one needs more.
I had long considered King to be fun, but rather rubbish. I had read The Stand years earlier, and I think the only reason I didn’t find the end of that novel utterly offensive and infuriating was that I had more or less given up on taking King’s writing seriously about eighty pages in to the book. King is guilty of a multitude of sins. Take, for example an admittedly tongue in cheek representation of King’s habits in characterization:
[Character name] was a jumbled collection of overused adjectives and odd cultural references, a clear personification of a standard pop culture stereotype or template (nerd, rebel, neighbourhood pretty girl) or a flat out and specifically referenced allusion to a major pop culture figure.
He lived in Maine.
King also has a rather infuriating habit of not bothering with character development, simply stating relationships and attitudes as facts and moving forward. Therefore, he informs the reader that character A loves character B, that A will be devoted to B forever (or at least for the duration of the novel) and from now on please remember that all dialogue between A and B or events involving A or B will reference this fact. I find this a really jarring experience. Rather than grow with characters or see them gradually intersect and intertwine through shared experience, the reader is told the relationship exists, or at least will exist fairly soon, and goes from there.
These faults (and many, many others) abound in the Dark Tower series. Yet I loved the Dark Tower series. I really, really loved reading it, and will probably return to it before too long. The joy of reading and re-reading, of adventures and of reading being an entirely pleasurable experience akin to the way I read as a child, came flooding back with this series. It was a particularly serendipitous choice for me. I had already decided to make 2011 the year I began to read fiction again, and the Dark Tower series took up the first couple of months of the year, and convinced me where (and indeed, how) I wanted to go next. What was so good about it? A huge number of things, to be honest, not least being the surprise of thinking more of King himself.
One thing the Dark Tower is not, is a fluke. As I progressed through the books, I was continually surprised by King’s mastery of a story that seemed to spin out of control pretty early in the narrative. Three books into the series, I was beginning to wonder how it would all end… if it would even end. At least I knew there was a conclusion to the series; the series’ development must have been a nightmare for those who became invested in King’s saga early and had to wait years at a time for the next installment. Ultimately, although the end of the entire series was contentious for some, I was happy. King wrapped things up. It made sense.
This has gone on long enough, really; I intend to write on each of the books at some point in the next few months. On the whole, though, I’m grateful to the Dark Tower series (and to Meredith for recommending it in the first place!). It made me throw off the pretentious shackles that had prevented me from reading things I wanted to like anyway, and showed me that I could still sit down with a good book and let my imagination run and run, being fed by someone else’s imagination. An experience shared with millions. Yeah, books are rad. As much as I like making fun of Stephen King (and as this post makes clear, I really like doing that) he created a story that transfixed me, that moved me and that inspired me to keep reading. So yes, the Dark Tower books are pretty important books for me.