In the course of re-reading (or re-listening to) The Dark Tower series of books by heavy-hitting writer Stephen King, I’ve been finding some really persnickety little things that I’ve found bothersome. It could be because when I first read the series, I was a fledgling editor (read snot-nosed teenager who knew the difference between ‘there’, ‘their’, and ‘they’re’), and now that I am more …seasoned? May I say seasoned here? Of *course* I can; this is my bournal, for Pete’s sake…now that I am a more *seasoned* editor, getting closer and closer to ‘professional’ designation, I notice little things like this that I would flag (if you’ll pardon the Dark Tower pun there) for the writer to revisit and/or explain because it seems incongruous.
I’ve come across some “continuity errors” that for some reason are really sticking out in my mind. Some of them seem like the sort of mistakes that an editor would catch if they weren’t tasked with the job of editing a big-name writer like Stephen King. Some of them seem like the sorts of things that might pop up after, as we say in the gaming world, “retconning” something (which means, in short, changing the original narrative to make subsequent stories more cohesive). Some of them, I think, are just me and my overactive thinker causing problems.
I do know that the original version of The Gunslinger, which was published in 1982, was changed in subsequent publications so that it would “fit” with the rest of the series. This pisses me off on many levels, the least of which is that parts of The Dark Tower series is about *time travel*. So you’d think that, for example, something like Jake Chambers being 9 years old in the original Gunslinger book would be fairly easy to explain his then being 11 in subsequent books. References to the fall of Gilead having taken place in the last generation were changed because later in the series, it’s revealed that Roland is “extremely old”, “hundreds of years old”, and “maybe as many as a thousand years old”; again, in a series in which time travel is possible…and in fact, is a fairly major part of the plot…it doesn’t make sense that he didn’t just use the concept of the world having ‘moved on’ or time having ‘softened’ or any number of time-travel/parallel worlds explanations for these phenomena.
Did King think his readers wouldn’t *get it*? Did he think that we would find it *less* mysterious if two different “bad guys” were actually the same guy, even though at least one of those bad guys had been killed in a previous book? In these books, *people change the past*. Numerous times, we’re told about all of these multiple worlds, and parallel universes, but for some reason, although King provides this sort of information for his readers, he doesn’t seem to trust that we could suspend our disbelief *just as far* in this regard.
When I began listening to the audiobooks, I was frustrated because some of these details were different. I thought I was simply misremembering them, but then I looked it up, and sure enough, Stephen King pooped around and made the ridiculous decision to change stuff in The Gunslinger. You might not much care about stuff like this, but it seems to me that if you’re a writer, and you’ve a story to tell, and that story should take place over the course of multiple novels, you should figure out a way to work with what you’ve already done rather than go back and muck about with what was *already really good*. And stop underestimating your audience.
Then there’s this really brilliant opening to The Drawing of the Three, where Roland gets attacked and munched upon by some local fauna. In this scuffle, he loses one of his boots. Well. He knows where it is; it’s in the belly of a monster. I may have just missed it, but somehow, this issue becomes less of a problem. And by ‘less of a problem’, I mean either his boots magically reappear or he managed to find new ones. On a beach. In the middle of nowhere.
Later in the same book, he has ripped his shirt to threads. But somehow, he is not shirtless later in the same story, although he has not had the opportunity to reshirtify. Again, maybe I missed the Great Reshirtification of Roland of Gilead. The boots bother me much more than the shirt, for some reason. ALSO stemming from the third book is that Roland names the monsters who et his boots (and most of one of his hands) “lobstrosities”. The passage says something like, “the creatures Roland had come to think of as lobstrosities”…but later, characters who had never been on that beach, characters to whom Roland had never previously spoken, either refer to “lobstrosities” or they immediately seem to understand what “lobstrosities” are, even though they’ve never seen them, or even been to the Western Sea. And I’m not talking about the Bad Guy, who seems to be somewhat omnisicent; I’m talking about other characters….characters who really should have no reason to know this word or what it means somehow do. That, to me, is just lazy.
Granted, ‘lobstrosity’ is a fabulous word, and it is *absolutely perfect* for what the creatures are. And if the explanation for this is that somehow, the things that Roland thinks up somehow mysteriously become canon, that would be REALLY COOL. But instead, it just kind of comes off as something that has happened for no reason, with no explanation…which is the sort of thing that beginning writers sometimes stumble with; particularly if their editors miss things. Like a really cool word being mystically adopted into everyone’s lexicon for no reason.
I think ultimately what’s really bunching my knickers is that in being careless like this, in revising the first book, in missing little big things like the boots and the shirt, King underestimates, and therefore undervalues, his audience. On the one hand, he’s taken us by the hand and has said, “look! See? This is magic I have made. This is something wonderful.” But on the other hand, he’s saying, “just don’t invest yourself in it too much because it’s just a veneer”. If I thought that he’d done that *on purpose* as some kind of allegory, I might be impressed. But I really don’t think that’s the case. I’d be extremely surprised if that was the case.