Greetings, and welcome to the Church of the Cosmic Turtle. You know what I’m talking about: Maturin the turtle, Guardian of the beam, who stands sentinel at his portal, opposite the giant robot bear, Shardik. Now, if all of that made perfect sense to you then congratulations, you’re in the right place.
If you read that and thought maybe I was having a stroke while typing, I can only assume you have not read Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, and I must warn you that this blog can and will be spoiling everything that happens across all eight novels starting now.
I will give you the same choice Sai King will inevitably give me when I reach the end of the year: keep reading if you really want to—if you must—but don’t blame me if you regret it. I will be spoiling the story if you have not read it yet, so my advice is to leave. Or read the books and take your first pilgrimage to the tower. We’ll be here for you when you get back. Until then, go. There are other blogs than these.
Now that I’ve given fair and final warning, allow me to explain exactly what this project is and what I hope to achieve with it. Starting today—9/19/2020—I will be setting forth on my fifth trip to the Tower, breaking down the epic saga into 90-page weekly readings, putting me on track to finish a year from now—9/19/2021. After each week’s reading, I’ll be chronicling my thoughts here.
Why, you ask? Why would I read an almost 5,000 page fantasy series five times? Why would I spend my time writing weekly blog posts about it like it’s 2005? Why would I buy a new box set of trade paperbacks when I already own at least one copy (or as many as five copies) of each book?
I’m doing it because storytelling is the closest thing to a religion I have. I worship at the altar of narrative and I pray to the Imagination God (or Gan, if it do ya). Make-believe has always been the lens through which I see and relate to the world. I truly believe that a good story, well told, has the capacity to save a person’s soul, save a person’s life, or even save the world. Now, when the world seems like it needs saving—like it’s on the verge of moving on—I feel myself leaning on my “religion” to get through it, and for a religion based on the power of storytelling, there is no better sacred text than the epic saga of Roland and the Dark Tower.
Of course reading one long story over the course of a year is not a new idea. After all, what is the Old Testament if not a good story, well told? In Judaism, the Torah is read all the way through, once a year, and when they reach the end, they go back to the beginning and start it all over again. Like a wheel, one might say.
As a young Jewish kid being dragged to Synagogue by his parents every Saturday, I was enamored with this concept; a story so epic that it takes a year to tell, and so exciting that when you’re done you’re already eager to read it again. Unfortunately, for little pre-teen me, the Torah did not meet that standard. Perhaps if it had been read in a language I actually understood I would have enjoyed it, but I don’t speak Hebrew, and no matter how well told the story might have been, it never captured me.
I found Synagogue boring, and I was not good at hiding it. I took up the habit of bringing paperback novels with me to Temple and hiding them behind my prayer books. Everyone could see what I was doing. The Rabbi saw, and even called me out one Saturday. But I got the sense he wasn’t really mad, but was having fun giving me shit for it. It seemed to me that he could see I was on to something. Like he knew that whatever I was failing to grasp in Exodus and Leviticus, I was discovering it in The Hobbit, and Ender’s Game, and of course, the works of Sai King.
Or maybe the Rabbi was super pissed and I totally misread his whole vibe. It’s a definite possibility.
Synagogues won’t begin reading the Torah over again until October 10th, a holiday called Simchat Torah. But today happens to be another Jewish holiday. Based on the the Hebrew calendar (a lunar calendar that uses the 19-year “Metonic Cycle” by the way), today is the first day of a new year. And of course, according to the Gregorian calendar, today is 9/19 (9 + 1 + 9 = 19). Personally, I can’t think of a more appropriate date to begin this journey.
But before I open that unfound door yet again, and join Roland in the Mohaine Desert, there’s something I must do. I need to to make a few apologies. First: to my readers (if I have any). I cry your pardon, for I really have no plan here whatsoever. This project I’ve decided to take on has not been thought through; there’s no outline; there’s no cache of pre-written posts; there’s no predetermined thesis. There’s only a deep passion for the text and a desire to engage with it in thoughtful discussion. All that is to say, I’m shooting from the hip here—sorry if I miss.
Second: I apologize to Stephen King. Thankee Sai. You have given us all a great gift, a rich story that has provided me hundreds of hours of entertainment, and introduced me to characters I now consider close friends. And I have repaid your gift with selfish fandom. When it came time to say goodbye to Roland and leave him to his tower, I got greedy. I demanded more narrative and I read the Coda to the final book, as I’m sure we all did. And in so doing, I have doomed your stoic cowboy-knight to another turn of the wheel.
Which brings us to my third and final apology: to Roland Deschain, Son of Steven. I cry your pardon, Gunslinger. You might be Sai King’s brainchild, but from the moment I started reading The Gunslinger you have lived inside my mind as well as inside his. After all, a story needs an audience as much as it needs a storyteller. In On Writing (p.103-107) Sai King describes writing as an act of telepathy, in which a writer (transmitting) and a reader (receiving) both work together to create a scene in the reader’s mind. By this logic, we—Sai King’s Constant Readers—are just as responsible for Roland’s existence as he is. And if we are responsible for his existence then we are responsible for his fate as well. We are complicit. And for that I feel deep remorse and shame.
And yet, I cannot stop myself from setting him along his path yet again, bound for pain and loss. Perhaps next year I might be strong enough to heed the warning and I won’t read the Coda this time. Maybe I won’t read it this time. Maybe I’ll let my dear friend Roland rest for a while. Maybe.
Then again, maybe not. I never could resist a good story, and none have ever affected me like the story of The Dark Tower.
If you’d like to keep up with the readings, next week’s post will be covering pages xi-xxvii & 1-91 of The Gunslinger. All page numbers on this blog will correspond with the trade paperback box set from Scribner seen below (available here). If you have a different edition, that translates to Chapters 1-i through 2-ii, stopping at 2-iii.