Tuesday, March 1, 2016

To The Dark Tower Came

Well my two post a month streak is broken, even with a leap day to help me out. Been very busy with off-hours projects. Last night I took my first stab at leather working. The card game is a gateway to a world where time passes in the inverse fashion of Narnia. And of course, editing my book has taken the lion's share of my life. But in light of today's announcements regarding The Dark Tower films, I wanted to talk a little bit about The Gunslinger.

Spoilers abound.

I heard it on audio with my family as we drove up to Mammoth. The beginning of the book was an extremely surreal experience, hearing about the endless expanse of desert described as we drove through a very similar, if slightly less barren setting in the middle of the night. Also humbling to read a rougher, earlier King, whose remarkable talent is already evident. He runs a little verbose at the beginning of the book, but it's the difference between 'good' and 'great,' with long stretches of 'excellent' interspersed.

Knowing as little as I could of the series, I was initially nervous about the amount of backstory present, fearing that most of the series would dwell on the past as opposed to moving forward. My fears were assuaged by the ending, by which point it is apparent the subsequent books will grow things equally in both directions. And while I have an aversion to flashbacks in general, learning about Roland's childhood was remarkably compelling, even though you know where he stands in the present. Each memory works as complete stories in their own right, as each section of the book does. You can tell it was a fix-up, strung together from serials, but it is no poorer for it.

Roland's "Trial of Manhood," is the best fight scene I have ever read, bar none. Creative weapons. Cunning strategy. And uncompromising brutality, both physically and emotionally, which always elevates violence to something meaningful. It's made all the more riveting by the build up. You have to wonder if Roland's motivations for taking the test early are wise, or the result of blind anger, and that adds a desperate, cerebral dimension to the duel. Even after Cort is down for the count, you can't exhale until you know whether Roland will immediately try to murder Marten for what he is doing to his mother.

If there's a part of the book that bothers me, it's definitely how King handles female characters and sex. The women who we actually meet are all magical temptresses, victims, or at best, well-meaning slatterns who lust after our hero. I know it's meant to speak of the world, but it stinks of the epic genre's least appealing qualities. I hope this will change as the series progresses. We don't get to learn much about Susan, save that she was burned (or was that just a vision?), but I suspect she had some heroic qualities.

Despite the heavy dose of exposition at the end, the world's cosmology is still very much in question, and I've had to fight the urge to wiki-binge. As always, I'm most curious about how magic works. How Randall reanimates the dead, and Roland reloads his guns. Presumably he can conjure bullets out of nothing, but the book implies he has to work the mechanics of the chamber. What about Jake's Shining-like ability? Are there people with Carrie-esque powers? The references in those last questions are pertinent, because the Dark Tower is supposed to be the lattice on which all of King's other works grow.

I am very curious to see how the film will handle what happens in Tull, which I found extremely harrowing. Hard to read (or even hear) given our rash of mass shootings. Here you have your epic hero, literally killing an entire town with a pair of pistols and limitless magical ammunition. The same epic hero who literally pumps a woman for information and mercy-kills her, before moving on with a bare minimum of remorse. This is your "good guy." The last good guy at that.

But that's what makes Roland so compelling. He subverts the image of the noble, laconic gunslinger, while bringing readers closer to the reality of a determined hero. If a person really were trying to save the world; if the multiverse was really at stake, and he fully appreciated that burden, he would be a terrifying individual. That grail question comes before everything and everybody. You expect him to save the damsel. You expect him to save the boy. And he is the death of them both. He moves forward, burying regrets that would break most characters. Honestly, it takes some real courage to write that character. To go to the very dark places. And that may be King's greatest gift.

I think Idris Elba is an excellent choice for Roland, and fans have literally clamored for Matthew McConaughey as the Man in Black ever since True Detective came out. So the film seems to be on the right track. Readers who've read the books: what do you think of the leads? Do you have any hopes for the adaptation? Dreads?

Looking forward to continuing the series. Hoping my glacial pace can stay ahead of the adaptations.

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