King’s epic The Dark Tower to become Hollywood fodder [filed under: oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, please don’t fuck it up]

Dark Tower cover, J. Scott Campbell - Eldelgado

Stephen King’s The Dark Tower blew my fucking mind.

Unless my worryingly patchy memory is misfiring, I think I first read The Gunslinger (prime instalment of the seven-book epic tale) during a summer of effective unemployability. A time in which I drifted between will-sapping part-time agency jobs and waited for an eccentric millionaire to stumble across me in the street, recognise my awesomeness and sponsor my desired life of creative decadence. This never happened. What did happen was a short and brutally tedious stint performing menial data entry work for Bookpoint – a national book distribution service and a jobs behemoth in the Didcot area, swallowing many thousands of young lives over the decades (some unfortunate ones never did escape). This was possibly the worst job I’ve ever had. But as with all painful experiences, I sought some slight slither of light to sustain me through the darkness. My options for enjoyment were few, however; just about the only resource I had at hand was an extremely long list of books.

Rather fortuitously, it was this never-ending inventory of novels (and their damned ISBN numbers) where I found my salvation. Disassociated titles tickled my mushy brain pipes and gradually sparkled my imagination. None more so than The Dark Tower; in particular, The Gunslinger. I suppose most readers pick books based on word of mouth, favoured authors or heavy marketing. With shying away from all things King in the past, no prior inkling of the series, and, even now, never meeting a single other human being who has read any of the books, this is a rare example of purchase by mental attrition. Unable to resist, I went and bought The Gunslinger from WH Smiths. And then I bloody well read it.

I’ve said this was during the summer. I can’t say with certainty that’s true. I do distinctly remember a warm, ochrey backdrop to my life during that short period, but this may have just been me channeling The Gunslinger’s world into my own. It had that much of an effect on me.

King’s first steps into forging his own Lord of the Rings (mine would have more elven porn) began when he was 21, although the version I read had been rewritten by a writer, far older and presumably far wiser. The book was perfect. Even the introduction, On Being Nineteen (And A Few Other Things), had me completely enthralled (and, incidentally, compelled me to bother reading the introduction notes of every novel I’ve since come across – just in case). The tale of the world’s last gunslinger, Roland of Gilead, was, and I believe still is, unlike anything else I’ve ever read. The Gunslinger is raw, wild, free… In the aforementioned introduction, King writes about a popular novelist writing for the audience. Possibly that’s true of the later (arguably more polished) books in the series, but number one strikes me more as a passionate eruption of talent, magnificently unfettered and unrefined. The mystery, the knowing references, the uncompromising progression… It’s the kind of don’t-give-a-fuck story any aspiring writer would want to pin down onto paper. If I may again refer to the introduction, King repeatedly references a “mean-ass Patrol Boy”. This guy wants to knock you into line and take a baseball bat to the shell of spirited enthusiasm you wear in your youth until it becomes a broken husk of its former self, in a process commonly known as growing up. I wonder if he looks back at The Gunslinger, compares it to the still excellent but somewhat more domesticated later novels, and has as much fondness as I do for the work of King, the Pre-Patrol Guy version.

I write all this after reading an article on The Guardian’s film blog, revealing plans for a The Dark Tower movie, directed by Ron Howard. This could be an absolute disaster. Ron Howard’s directed some great films and can beckon some excellent actors (though he had better not cast Russell fucking Crowe as Roland), but I worry he met his Patrol Guy a long time ago. There’s talk of producing “compelling television” with some “cool twists and turns”. For sure, Stephen King as a pop novelist is definitely geared towards those type of movies and The Dark Tower has plenty of moments which would be cinematically awesome. But I honestly can’t see how a film could capture what makes people love The Dark Tower so much and still appeal to a wider audience. Honestly, the ending alone, while, I believe, is perfect considering the nature of the story, would satisfy just about nobody. If you know the ending isn’t going to work, why even bother starting from the beginning?

And that question leads neatly on to my biggest concern. A multiverse-jumping epic spanning seven books squeezed into three movies? A hell of a lot is going to need to go (and let’s hope they don’t shove in any wargs). I have a feeling The Gunslinger, as I know and love it, will be mercilessly culled. I’ve read a review on Amazon suggesting newcomers to The Dark Tower series actively skip this book. It’s true that much of what takes place in The Gunslinger has little bearing on future events. And I can envision how the bits that are vital to the story could be incorporated in different ways. Although I understand all of this, to cut it out would still be a tragedy. Roland’s evocative first outing frames the epic in its entirety – even as the heroes dip in and out of different worlds, timeframes and realities, that warm, ochrey glow still flickers in the background, reminding us about who Roland really is when the shit’s about to hit the fan and there’s no-one to turn to ‘cept his twin revolvers and wits. The Gunslinger is the beam that holds the other books together. Get rid of it and the story becomes nothing more than a quartet of weirdos fighting robots and walking long distances (note: this is massively understating the sheer awesomeness of what actually happens in books 2 through 7 and I feel guilty for playing them down… but I hope any Dark Tower fans reading this understand what I’m getting at!).

Like the pic at the top? I’ve got a sprinkling of more Dark Tower fan art on my Tumblr blog.

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