I’ve just learned how to gossip.

I mean, not *just* now; in the last few months. I was never much for gossip when I was pupating, because I didn’t really get the point. I guess I still don’t…not *really*…I mean, talking about one another and being concerned about one another is a way to strengthen our pack, certainly. But when that chitchat becomes snippity or mean-spirited, we do serious damage to one another, and that just weakens the shit out of all of us.

And I guess I kind of still feel that way. I’ve learned, however, that most of the time when you tell me something about someone else, I forget it almost immediately. We can have an excellent conversation about so-and-so’s tryst with such-and-such, or X being nabbed for stealing pens (or underpants) from Zellers. But if someone else came up to me after and asked whether you’d said anything about so-and-so, I’m more likely than not to just stare blankly and offer a weak “they’re…very…nice?”

So. Gossip is fun, but I’m just really, really terrible at it.

I have to look at this, though, because there is a point I want to make, but it won’t happen for a couple of paragraphs at least. Why do we do this? I mean, sure, on the surface, gossip is a kind of way to share, which on the surface, like I said, can strengthen our pack. But the seedy underbelly of having a pack at all, or a social network if you will, is that we sometimes find it very, very difficult not to be …well… not to be cunts to one another. And not the good kind of cunts, either. The kind with teeth inside that just rip everything to shreds. (Seriously, if you haven’t read “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson, go do that now. I’ll wait.)

Back? Okay. So this really boils down to the age-old question of why do we hurt one another? What is it that’s built in to our calcined little souls that makes us forget that we’re better than monkeys and lions and talk show audiences? I suppose you can argue that because we are animals, we are *hard-wired* (some would say “predestined”) to the fight or flight response, to a social pecking order…some would say that we do it to protect ourselves and our delicate psyches. We hit back first, in other words.

Any real or perceived threat is handled with a swift and brutal strike, meant to disable or destroy. We say that those with low self-confidence tend to lash out in this manner; that we are horrible to others close to those we’re close to because we feel in some way inadequate, and that we have to establish a place for ourselves in the social strata by tooth and claw. I mean, I think that’s absolute balderdash, but I hear it bandied about all the time.

The truth of the matter is that aside from the blessing of existence (which I suppose you can argue isn’t really a blessing because if we didn’t have it, we wouldn’t know we didn’t have it because we wouldn’t exist and therefore it’s not something that is either good or bad, but instead is simply something that *is*)…aside from existing, humans get to think. We *get* to. This is something we are born to. And thinking is powerful business. We can think ourselves into and out of misery and joy. We can think ourselves into and out of war and love. **We get to choose our own density**. (Yes, I mean destiny.) There is no *mystery* here. Cause -> effect. And why people insist on being surprised when their own actions cause …things… to happen is, frankly, shocking.

ANYWAY. Point one: let’s stop being douchecanoes to one another.

Point two: This is the *actual* point of this post…

I am about a third of the way through George R. R. Martin’s “A Dance With Dragons”, the fifth in his EPIC FANTASY “A Song of Ice and Fire” SERIES about…well…epic fantasy stuff. There are dragons, and dwarves, and castles, and wights, and liches, and krakens, and lots and lots of sex. Oh, and swordfights and battles and jousting and lots and lots of sex. Also, the stories are pretty damned good.


I’ve discovered something.

Reading books four and five (“A Feast for Crows” and “A Dance with Dragons” respectively) is akin to sitting in the kitchen in the church hall after coffee/lunch and listening to the church ladies talk about EVERYONE EVER INVENTED. Seriously. Or go sit with a bunch of seventeen year old girls at a sleepover. YOU WILL HAVE THE SAME EXPERIENCE.

George Martin can be an amazing writer, and this fantasy world he’s made is utterly engrossing. He does that thing that’s awesome where he doesn’t try to coddle you in to believing in this setting; he just goes right ahead and assumes you’re bright enough to figure it out. And you are, of course. So Yay, George Martin! The first two books were a boxer with a speedbag. The last two books are an out-of-shape sixty-year-old who’s strung up his old hockey bag stuffed full of couch cushions thinking that feeble attempts at using a heavy bag are going to either help him deal with his effed up life or get him back into shape. The *intent* is there, and there are story threads that do weave their way through the narrative, but it’s couched so securely in dialogue that you need to be a goddamned spelunker to find it sometimes.


And it’s not about, as they say, “purple prose” (which is a phrase I loathe, by the way. Most people use the phrase to mean “descriptive”, and that’s incorrect. Descriptive is GOOD. You NEED descriptive. But when you’re searching your thesaurus for yet another word for ‘red’, you might be getting so flowery and so effusive that your writing’s pancreas is dying. When your writing’s pancreas dies, you’re using purple prose. Go look up Baron Bulwer-Lytton if you’re unsure about what, exactly, “purple prose” is.). Martin’s writing is descriptive. In a very good way. IT’S FREAKING FANTASY, people.

No, my problem is that Martin is so goddamned good at action and plot that when he’s lounging around stirring the whiskey in his snifter with his finger, it’s irritating as all get-out. As I was driving to work and listening to the (at least) eightieth PREVIOUSLY UNINTRODUCED CHARACTER IN A CAST NUMBERING IN THE FRIGGING THOUSANDS, I started banging my head against the steering wheel and moaning.

Please, Mr. Martin.

Well, first, please don’t die before you finish this series. Second, finish the damned series. Third, your setting and cast is rich enough. Really. It’s quite good. Extremely good, in fact. One might say “brilliant”. IT CANNOT GET BETTER JUST BY ADDING MORE STUFF.

Books are not stew or soup. The flavour doesn’t necessarily improve by adding seven different kinds of sea salt and two related, but genetically distinct, kinds of celery. In fact, even in stew or soup, more than one kind of sea salt is just ridiculous. Now, far be it from me, a lowly reader and erstwhile writer, to criticise someone who has written, to critical and public acclaim, more things than I can count. Well, okay, more things than I am *willing* to count at the moment. But I’m doing it anyway.

The series is MORE than worth my time, and yours. I just really want him to focus on what’s been set up rather than getting up some steam on a good long straight bit of track and then hauling us off to fricking Bruges for no good reason. Not that there’s anything wrong with Bruges. I hear it’s all fairy-tale and shit.

Endings are Heartless

I think the key to Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series is at the very end of the very last book. More importantly, I kind of feel like most of the world got completely ripped off with this series, and I’ll tell you why in a minute. One of the things that King says in the “Coda” for the penultimate book in the Dark Tower series (up until very recently, the seventh book in the series, The Dark Tower was considered to be the last book, but another one is slated to be released in 2012):

I can close my eyes to Midworld and to all that lies beyond Midworld, yet some of you who have provided the ears without which no tale can survive a single day are likely not so willing. You are the grim, goal-oriented ones who will not believe that the joy is in the journey, not in the destination, no matter how many times it has been proven to you. You are the unfortunate ones who still get the lovemaking all confused with the paltry squirt that comes to end the lovemaking…you are the cruel ones who deny the grey havens where tired characters go to rest. You say you want to know how it all comes out. You say you want to follow Roland into the tower. You say that’s what you’ve paid your money for – the show you came to see.

I hope most of you know better. Want better. I hope you came to hear the tale, and not just munch your way through the pages to the ending. For an ending, you only have to turn to the last page and see what is there writ upon. But endings are heartless. An ending is a closed door no man or Manni can open.

I tell you this. Should you go on, you will surely be disappointed. Perhaps even heartbroken … There’s no such thing as a happy ending. I never met a single one to equal “Once Upon a Time”. Endings are heartless. An ending is just another word for goodbye.*

– Stephen King, The Dark Tower

I want to tell you this: I stopped reading Stephen King’s books sometime in the late 80s/early 90s. I started getting really tired of reading the same phrases over and over. I got tired of reading the same scare tactics, the same drudgery, the same town, over and over. But what I *loved* were his fantasy stories: The Talisman (written with Peter Straub), The Eyes of the Dragon, the original 1980s EDITED version of The Stand, and the Dark Tower series. Well. I stopped reading after The Drawing of the Three because I made the mistake of a) reading another of his ‘regular’ books and I got pissed off at his formulaic crap, and b) I *hated* one of the three main characters in that book, and so decided the rest of the series would not be worth my rage. I’ve been over how much Detta/Odetta/Susannah bites the wax tadpole, so I won’t revisit it.

But let me tell you this: the rest of the series is SO WORTH all of the shite. These will be hours of your life you won’t WANT to get back. And you can always just flip past all the stupid bad bits with Detta/Odetta/Susannah/Mia, most of the crap with Pere Callahan, almost all of the drivel about Mordred (Worst. Plot device. EVAR), and a goodly chunk of the business with the villain at the very end.

I think in truth, this series ought to have been three books long. Maybe four at the outside. When I remember this series, I will remember it as three or four books long, and I will remember it well. Because the truth is, the good bits stay with us even after the details of the chaff have been blown away by, as King would say (AT LEAST SEVEN TIMES IN ONE BOOK ALONE), “the sough of the wind”. This is also the idea behind a writing technique known as a blank page rewrite, which is terrifying but is also often quite effective.

I don’t want to review the last book in the series. There were good bits in it, and some things happened that had to happen, and there were plenty of bits that ought to have been edited out, or at the very least edited way far down. In fact, I agree with the author that everything after Roland entering the dark tower itself ought to have been left out.

I’ve told you rather an awful lot of what I *don’t* like about this series, and what I don’t like in the last book really mirrors what I didn’t like in the last five books, period. I don’t need to name names. So I want to focus on what I *do* like about this series.

Wait. I’ve talked about that, too. Instead, I’m going to tell you what I think this story is really about.

One of the questions that writers get when people ask them about their work is “where do you get your ideas?”, and another question is, “is your work autobiographical?” The answer to the first is pretty straightforward (the same place you get yours, except I listen to the unbelievable) and the answer to the second is usually “not really”, but I think the answer is really closer to “you can’t get away from being at least somewhat autobiographical, because art is an extension of the self, at least to some degree.”

In this series, King does more than that. He writes himself into the story. I was told I would hate this, and at the beginning, I did. I thought it was self-serving, egomaniacal crap. But then I started really listening to how King characterised himself: lazy; frightened; unwilling; reluctant; disbelieving; self-absorbed. At first, I thought, ‘well, yeah. You are. Anyone who casts himself as God in his book is being more than a little pretentious’. But then I really focused on what King was saying about writing. About storytelling. And therein, I found something beautiful.

In the story, Stephen King finds himself almost taken hostage in his kitchen, when two characters out of a novel he wrote fifteen years earlier show up and tell him that he has to finish the story. He (the character Stephen King) reacts about as you would expect a newly-famous writer to react, particularly one with substance abuse problems. But then, through the course of the story, it becomes clear that Stephen King is *not* God, nor *a* god, nor even really a prophet. He’s just a mouthpiece. And he’s being used.

When you write, or paint, or compose, or dance, or *create*, it’s as if a force flows through you. When you hit a really good stride, you cannot ignore this creative force; you cannot will it away. You fall before it, and it takes hold of you and fills you with such ideas, such feelings, that to keep it all in check would drive you mad. You become a mouthpiece, and although you are the creator, that which you create is something *other* than you. It’s bigger than you. When it’s good…when it’s *really* good, it becomes…real. And this is difficult to explain, but I’m sure that even as a reader, you know when something is *good*, because you smell the dust in the air, and you hear the train whistle blowing across the prairie, and you feel the heat bearing down on you even after the sun has dipped below the horizon. You can taste your own sweat, and imagine what a drink of cold water would feel like on your parched throat. You *live* it, when it’s good. When it’s really good.

And that, I think is what this series is about. It’s about being a writer. It’s about telling a story. Because even though Roland is a gunslinger, he’s a storyteller. And he’s more than a storyteller. He’s a god. And he’s less than a god; he’s a man. He’s a Christ-figure, and he’s a King-figure, if that makes any sense at all. And I see where King has written aspects of himself into the *good* characters in this series.

He’s there as Jake. I certainly see the author in Eddie and in Cuthbert. He’s in John Cullum, and of course, as Stephen King. I don’t think as much, though, in Roland. I think Roland is someone very dear to King, though. And I think the whole point of this series is to talk about what it means to tell a story. About what it means to be a writer. Particularly considering the ending of the soon-to-be-penultimate book.

And this is why I’m willing to forgive King his many, many, ma-hany peccadilloes (some of which are far greater, I think, than small indiscretions); because the *nub* of this story is important, and brilliant, and enduring, and heart-rendingly beautiful. Stephen King has created *entire worlds*, as do all writers, and Roland gets to explore them. If King is a mouthpiece for the god of creative exploits, then Roland is his prophet, his messiah. It makes sense.

In this manner, I don’t think King writing himself into the series is “deus ex machina” as he claims it is when Roland and Eddie first visit him in Song of Susannah. I think it’s much more of a commentary on the creative process, on what it’s like to be so compelled by characters you meet during the course of writing a story.

When I used to host a radio show about books and writing, I often heard writers talking about what it’s like to hear voices in their heads, and to find out that they didn’t know anything about such-and-such a character when they started out, or that the character they pictured or dreamed of turned out so vastly different that it was essentially a completely different person. Psychiatrists *medicate* people for this shite! But as writers, we give rise to characters, places, scenes, and entire worlds that we have no control over.

So ultimately, to borrow a form of usage from this series, Stephen King, you say true; I say thankya. If you want to know what it’s like to be a writer, read the Dark Tower series. I know that King has written a book about writing; I think it’s called On Writing, and from all accounts, it’s a good read. That one *is* autobiographical as well, and it comes at things from more of an historical perspective. But I think the Dark Tower is really about what it is to BE a storyteller; a writer. It’s also just a hell of a good story.

A Little More About That Series I’m Re-Reading

This will be a short post.


That is all.

Not sure I’m ready for this

Okay, THIS post is going to be short. Seriously.

If Stephen King had cropped out 95% of the priest’s story from Wolves of the Calla and 95% of the garbage he wrote about Susannah in Song of Susannah and combined what was left into one book, everything would have gone much better for the Dark Tower series.

Seriously. The guy prattles on for, what, TEN CHAPTERS about a woman in labour. No, longer than that. Half the goddamned book. I totally “got it” after the first scene in Susannah’s “Dogan” (snicker) and did not need to be beaten about the head and neck with it any further. I don’t know if King figured that he had to throw “more stuff in there chix would dig”, or if he really thought that page after page of repetitive dreck was *appealing* to his readers (I’ll reserve my comment about a large part of what he’s produced in the last ten years being repetitive drivel), or if his publisher just said, “Steve, this is good, but we’re going to need another 150 pages to market it to all those people who like the series but who want to get their money’s worth if they’re going to spend thirty bucks on a paperback”. In short, I don’t know what happened there, and I don’t care.

I could even live with the expository narrative of the priest in Wolves of the Calla if that had been the worst of it. But, like that feeling you get after you throw up a couple of times and are sitting in front of the terlet, pale and sweating, and thinking “I’m sure most of it HAS to be over by now”, and then you’re surprised and disgusted when whatever it is decides to erupt explosively from your body at both ends simultaneously, it was not the worst of it. If the priest’s rambling, plodding tale in Wolves of the Calla was the uncontrollable vomiting, then Susannah Mia’s one hundred page labour (and three paragraph delivery) is the explosive watery diarrhea of this series.

Now that may or may not be seen as particularly harsh. And I want to make the point that I *really like the Dark Tower series*. I LOVE the story of the Dark Tower. But what I *don’t* like is when Stephen King, like the character of the same name who appears in Song of Susannah gets lazy and forgets that he really can be a wonderful writer. What *bothers* me about those two narratives is that they are pedantic, and they do not add anything whatsoever to the story.

The old maxim “show, don’t tell” is about expository writing in a narrative. Which is to say, don’t do it. I mean, I think there’s a real danger in assuming your reader either doesn’t have the required information or cannot suss it out from the context of what’s happening in a narrative scene or passage to really grok what’s going on. That danger, of course, is in, once again, insulting your reader and their intelligence. The very best books out there just assume you can follow along, and if you can’t, well, then, you’ll just have to catch up.

The real downfall of both of these two books, the fifth and sixth in the series respectively, is that King departs from what he’s *really* good at, and that’s narrative, and instead forcibly removes the story from itself. It’s jarring, and it’s not effective. And it’s MADDENING. If that was the point, I think there would have been far better ways to do it. It’s just another one of those cases of a bunch of information that bogged down the novel rather than propelling the focus forward.

To be completely honest, the first time I went through Song of Susannah, I skipped over most of those parts. I then went back, after I’d got through the *good bits*, and re-read the boring and pedantic ones. It was a whole lot of blah-blah-blah, self-reflective bullshit, if you’ll pardon my language.

And I’m not even talking about the Deus ex novella (heh). To be completely honest with you, I LOVE how King has written himself into this series. I think it’s excellently done, and I think it says an awful lot about what this series really is about. But that’s for another post. What’s got me, once again, is what seems to me to be a disregard for the reader’s intelligence and imagination. And/or just sheer laziness.

For all that, there really was a lot that was good in the Song of Susannah, but it was overshadowed by the sheer baddery of all the crap surrounding it. One of my favourite characters in the series is introduced in this book. Why is he one of my favourites? Because he’s real, he has imagination, he has depth, and he makes sense. He FITS. Just…just flip through the crap with Susannah and move on.

I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall for the discussion with his manuscript editor wherein they talk about what bits to leave in the book and what books to remove. Actually, I would have liked to have been the editor with whom King was having that particular discussion. I would also like to be independently wealthy, weigh 60 pounds less than I do, and have a cabana boy called “Gustave” who is proficient with massage and who is on call at all hours of the day and night. But, as they say, poop in one hand and wish in the other and see which hand fills up first. (It’s the poop hand.)

It’s like when you have this really great idea but then you forget the most important bits but sally forth anyway and then your great idea becomes an okay idea

This post will probably be very short.

In addition to underestimating his readers and assuming they won’t be able to “keep up” with a really good story about time travel and parallel worlds, King has made the risky and ill-advised decision to try to combine a novel that’s mediocre at best with his heretofore original and engaging epic fantasy. At the end of Wizard and Glass, King talks about how he realised in writing that book that Midworld and the land of Roland Deshain’s Dark Tower is really a convergence of all worlds; it is a place where there are multiple doors to multiple wheres and multiple whens. This meant, of course, that King could bring in any number of storylines and plot elements from any number of his other books.

“Boo,” I said when I heard that. In fact, I was in the citrus fruit section of the grocery store when I heard that, and I suspect that some shoppers thought I was particularly displeased with some of the produce. But ‘boo’, indeed.

Part of my disgust at a large chunk of Wolves of the Calla is that it presents a continuation of one of Kings weakest novels (that being ‘Salem’s Lot). That book in and of itself came between Carrie, a stark and disturbing first novel, and The Shining, which is, arguably, one of the better examples of 20th century American literature. ‘Salem’s Lot is like the disappointing avocado which has gone decidedly off in an otherwise delicious deli sandwich. It’s a plodding tale about a small town beset by vampires. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

There are moments in the fifth book of the Dark Tower series that are part of the wild west high-ish fantasy that are still brilliant and wonderful. There are sections of Wolves of the Calla where the pacing is perfect and the scenery is so real you can smell the heat of late summer; there are portions of this book where you can hear the whisper of the wind as it tousles the dry stalks of corn in the fields. And then King goes and buggers everything up by tossing a character from a mediocre-at-best book into the mix and hijacks his own gorram story to write a second book in the ‘Salem’s Lot “series”.

I read an interview with the author where he talked about how ‘Salem’s Lot is his own personal favourite, and how he always wanted to write a sequel but then realised he didn’t have to because he could just incorporate that book into his Dark Tower series. And I said, “you twat”. I said it very derisively, too. If I wanted to read another book in that series, **I wouldn’t be reading the Dark Tower series**. So again, we’ve arrived at a point where Stephen King says, “screw you, reader. You’re not sophisticated enough/you’re too sophisticated for this whole story, and it’s not really the story I want to tell anymore, but since you seem to like this Dark Tower dreck, I’ll give it to you, but I’m going to tell this other story, and you can love THAT instead.”

To be completely fair, the story of the priest could have been a very interesting one. On its own. But because it’s an anecdotal recollection tossed into the middle of a book about something ENTIRELY DIFFERENT, King does *it* a grand injustice as well as the Dark Tower story he’s trying to tell. It seems to me that a good editor would have mentioned this to him, because it becomes readily apparent…very readily apparent…that King spreads himself too thin and tries to accomplish too much in this novel.

The story of the Calla itself; its history, its people…that story was thrown away, when it could have been almost as rich as the story of  Mejis in Wizard and Glass (arguably the best book in the series). If King didn’t want to do another Mejis story, he could have told the story of the Manni people, but he doesn’t seem too interested in them (although they provide one of the most massive plot revelations in the entire series). He could have, for all that’s holy, chosen to tell the story of the fricking Dogan* (and I’m not sure if Stephen King even knows why using that word is funny). By focussing so much of this tale on a character from another novel, King has really diminished the Dark Tower tale.

I guess this post wasn’t as short as I thought it would be. It got a bit ranty. But if the point…or if part of the point…of literature is to tell a story, then Stephen King, in this book, has really effed up. It almost makes me not want to finish the Song of Susannah. You already know how I feel about that character (Susannah), and now I have another toss-away character in the mix to be poopy about.

Incidentally, on the heels of reiterating how much I dislike the character of Susannah Dean and think she is a flat and boring two-dimensional character, let me just say that the character of Rosalita in Wolves of the Calla is, in the limited time we know her in this book, FAR more developed than Susannah.

I also have to say that characters recurring in books isn’t in itself a Bad Thing. One of my very favourite Stephen King books is The Eyes of the Dragon, which features Flagg (who also appears in The Stand and in the Dark Tower series). I like that there are hints in many of King’s books that there might be something grander going on among all of them; that they could all be inter-related. That’s *REALLY COOL*. Partly because it’s subtle. It’s the sort of subtlety you pick up on when you read the books. What’s picking my arse about what King’s done in some of the Dark Tower books is that he’s tossed the subtlety to the hogs and is hoping that if he POINTS OUT ENOUGH TIMES that THESE THINGS! THESE THINGS HERE! also appear in other works of his, you will “get it”.

I think you’d have got it if you hadn’t been tugged along by the nose hairs, but maybe I’m expecting too much.


*In Canada (and I don’t know where else “they” use this expression), a “Dogan” is a Roman Catholic. The etymology of the derogatory term is unclear, although I suspect it has something to do with it sounding vaguely Irish, and with a large portion of poor, dirty, drunk Irish immigrants being Roman Catholic. Poor and dirty and drunk because they have altogether Too Many Children. Because they’re Roman Catholic. Anyway, in Wolves of the Calla, the character I’m peevish about is an Irish priest who drinks too much, loses his faith, becomes a ghoul, etc., etc., etc. and finds himself in another world eventually. During the course of the story (the main story, not the crappy Priest’s Tale), a book surfaces called “The Dogan”, and it’s a rare book because the title is misprinted (it’s supposed to be called “The Hogan”), the author is miscredited, and the author died before his Western series is completed. That book has a connexion with the Calla (“town”) in which the Gunslingers find themselves. Anyway. The Irish priest, the Dogan…it made *me* giggle something awful.

And still I’m talking about that series of books that I actually quite enjoy even though you can’t tell because it sounds like all I do is bitch about them

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.

On re-reading or listening to a series of books that I loved enough to keep.

It’s about Stephen King’s Dark Tower series.

I don’t remember if I received The Gunslinger as a gift or if I picked it out at the bookstore on one of the many times my Mum and I happened to accidentally stop at the bookstore on the way to get groceries. In our house, you remember, books were considered staples, like broccoli and milk. You will die after a couple of days without water, they tell me, but you can last for months without food. I’m pretty sure you can’t last for months without books. Or at the very least, stories.

At any rate, I read The Gunslinger. And it was good. It was very, very good. A post-apocalyptic/old west/steampunk/fantasy/romantic adventure story, it is. I also really enjoyed King’s/Straub’s The Talisman which was published after The Gunslinger but before The Drawing of the Three. Anyway, this isn’t meant to be a publications list for Stephen King’s readable books.

At its most basic, The Gunslinger is a wild west fantasy adventure story. It’s high fantasy set in a spaghetti western setting. I’m sure you can find plot summaries all over the web, or (better yet) you could just read the book. So I’m not going to do a plot summary or a review for you. If you haven’t yet read it, there will probably be spoilers, or some of this won’t make sense. For the record there are currently six books in the series, with King slated to write a seventh soonish. There are multiple novellas and graphic novels based on King’s Midworld and All-world setting. There’s even a television/movie series planned.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this series lately, because I recently got my fingers on the audiobooks, and I’ve been listening to the entire series every time I drive to and from work, or when I’m in the bath, or at bedtime, or whenever i’m at hockey practice. So something that stood out for me is the reason why I quit reading the series after the third or fourth book.

I read The Drawing of the Three, the second book in the series, close to when it first came out because I remember buying it in a bookstore in Florida. I was buying the collectors’ editions, with colour plates inside. I remember seeing The Wastelands, book number three, in the bookstore, and I was excited that it was finally out. I think I read most of it, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t read all of it. Probably just the first half. And now I remember why.

One of the characters, who first appears in the third book, is called Odetta Walker. She becomes Susanna Dean by the time the fourth book comes around. She’s a cripple in a wheelchair (yes, I *know* ‘cripple’ is considered to be politically incorrect, rude, insensitive, and all those other things). In fact, it’s not the fact that she’s short (ha ha) her legs below the knee that makes her a cripple; it’s an intensely disturbing “split personality” that makes her a cripple. She is both Odetta Holmes and Detta Walker; the former is a wealthy woman whose family fortune is inherited from her father, who pioneered dental materials, and the latter is a racist, misandrist bitch who has a problem with larceny and basic kindness.

This woman’s mental illness (a form of schizophrenia once called ‘multiple personality disorder’) stems from the time when she was hit in the head with a brick, and was exacerbated when she was pushed in front of a train and lost her legs. Well. She didn’t *lose* them. She *knows* where they are; they’re under a train. At any rate, the main reason I quit reading the series is because of this character.

I’m five books through the series, and I can’t yet figure out why King introduced her. And why she’s a female character. I mean, in theory, she’s a female character because she has two ex chromosomes, but I think the story would have been just as interesting without her in it. She’s two-dimensional. The other characters King writes in this series are absolutely not.

The main character, Roland, has more going on than a secret service Executive meeting. Talk about your onion with the layers. He’s a knight, he’s a criminal, he’s a lover, he’s  not interested in romance…the guy is a study in juxtaposition. Every time you think you know him, he does something that seems out of character until you really start to think about it.

Jake Chambers is just a kid, but he goes from being a simpering child on the cusp of adolescence to a strong young man with imagination, initiative, integrity, and honour. King undertakes the formidable job of seeing this kid through the ‘tweenage’ years, and he does it admirably. In Jake Chambers, I see The Captain. I see myself at that age. I *remember*.

Even Eddie Dean, the ex-junkie from Brooklyn, is well-rounded. You get to know Eddie, and through Eddie you get to know Roland better. Eddie’s a smartass. He has problems. He’s selfish and immature and he feels like the world owes him something. But he grows, and changes, and …well…he Becomes. If that makes sense.

But Odetta/Detta? Her personalities ‘reconcile’ and she marries Eddie and becomes Susannah and then another personality shows up and every time she speaks, I wince. It really seems like King decided he needed a feminine touch to offer something to the ladies reading this series, and figured the easiest way to do that would be to throw a chick in the mix. But not just *any* chick. She has to have three strikes against her: she is a woman, she is a cripple, and she is a woman of colour. In the grand scheme of things, this makes her the ultimate underprivileged person. And maybe, just maybe, through the course of the story, she can **EMPOWER** herself. She can BE someone. Someone IMPORTANT.

But everything about her is forced. Everything about her is flat. Forced. Even the relationship she has with Eddie is ridiculous. I don’t mean ridiculous like it could never happen; I mean ridiculous in terms of it being the kind of relationship you see on soap operas and end up shouting at the television about. In fact, I cannot find one single redeeming thing about this character. The plotline involving her and her get in the fifth book of the series just makes me angry.

She is most interesting in book two (The Drawing of the Three) when she is talking about some of Detta Walker’s history. But one of the things that really bothers me about this character is the fact that her mental illness is used as a plot device. I mean, okay, she *could* be an interesting character…a black woman who lived through race riots and segregation? A black woman whose father was well educated? Educated enough to be a dentist and to have become a man of means? A black woman who was, herself, highly educated, but who did not need to work because of her family’s income? THAT’S INTERESTING! But there’s only really lip service played to it.

It’s kind of like King said: “oh look! Here is a black crippled woman with mental problems! This is going to be like throwing a badger into an overcrowded prison mess hall!”

Maybe I just don’t see the point. Maybe I’ve completely missed why King introduced this character. Maybe I just wanted this character to be like some of King’s other female characters who *are* strong, mysterious women. Three-dimensional, real women. Women who have pasts, futures, *and presence*, if you will. This character is thrown in as a toss-away plot device. She might as well be the moll who walks into the film noir detective agency and claims that someone has stolen her cat. *She* doesn’t matter. She’s only there to further the plot, and that makes me angry, because I’m wasting my time with her.

There are some other things about this series that are sticking in my craw, too. But I’ll maybe bring those up another time.