So this is King’s giant fantasy magnum opus. As you can see by clicking his tag, I did not much like the first book. However, if you read comments (they’re not spoilery) you will see many people suggesting that I give the second one a try because it doesn’t have the stuff I disliked about The Gunslinger, which was that it had a one-note tone, was overly grimdark, and the characters didn’t feel like real people and were almost universally unlikable, and did have the qualities that I like about King (varied tone, good dialogue, likable and real-feeling characters, great set-piece scenes, contains horror elements but not primarily horror) in addition to what I see as flaws but also seem to go with his books that I like best (sprawling, needs editing, all over the place, story falls apart to some degree or another toward the end.)

Upon advice, I started the second Dark Tower book while my knee was being iced at PT and was instantly sucked in. King, like Dick Francis, is excellent for when you really want to read about people having a worse day than you are. I usually have to care about characters to care about their predicaments, but this opened with such a compelling situation that I cared anyway. And then Roland got way more human and likable, and other likable and human characters were introduced. I was hooked.

I liked it SO MUCH more than The Gunslinger. In fact, if you didn’t like The Gunslinger, but you do like the sort of thing I’m about to describe, I would definitely recommend at least starting the second book. (You could even start The Gunslinger, and if you hate it you could read the summary in the front of the second book and just move on to that. If you don’t like the second book any better, give up, you probably won’t like the series.)

The tone is almost a 180 from that of The Gunslinger (the tone is all over the place, but I tend to like that), and likable characters appear THANK GOD. What it does keep from the first book is the sense of epicness, the western archetypes, and the density of references to all sorts of stuff. It and the next book are exciting, funny, and I just adored them.

I loved the characters. I loved the many brilliant set-pieces, including one sequence which I would use in a class to teach the use of suspense in which characters have to do something difficult while under extreme pressure and handicapped, with very high stakes if they screw up – I don’t think I’ve ever read anything better along those lines. It was the written equivalent of the climactic stunts in the Mission Impossible movies, only much more narratively complex. And also demonstrating how humor can add to rather than subtract from suspense.

These are HARD books to discuss without spoilers, but I want people who haven’t read them to get a sense of why they might be worth reading unspoiled. So I will use a spoiler cut for the opening scenes of book two. Read it if you’re not willing to just take a chance on it, don’t if you’ll take my word that you might really enjoy it.

Rushthatspeaks described Book Two as “it feels to me like a very specific kind of seventies movie, usually containing Pacino and/or De Niro, if you put that in a blender with high fantasy and hit frappe.” Sholio called it a hurt-comfort extravaganza. Both descriptions are absolutely correct. Those are both things that I like very much, so it is unsurprising that I adored the book. The sequel leaves behind the seventies movie aspects, and is about a sort of found family traveling around a fantasyland and having AWESOME adventures of AWESOMENESS. The fourth book concludes the hanging plotline of book three, and appears to mostly be a flashback to Roland’s past.

I have not begun the flashback, so please do not spoil me for it or anything past the part where his flashback begins in comments. But you may comment on or spoil anything up to his flashback (that is, through the first few chapters of Wizard in Glass which conclude the “Blaine” storyline and is as far as I've read.)

This cut spoils about the first fifth of The Drawing of the Three. It has minimal spoilers for The Gunslinger - really just the premise.

Roland is a gunslinger traveling Mid-World, a dying crapsack post-apocalyptic world which may be our future world or may be an alternate universe version, is in search of the Tower, which is the linchpin of the universe. I assume he thinks reaching it may enable him to save his world, but I’m now realizing that he may not have explicitly said so. It’s his quest, anyway. He has a code of honor and is the last gunslinger… or so he thinks.

Book two opens with an amazing action sequence in which Roland finds himself on a beach battling “lobstrosities,” which are lobster monsters described in King’s best blend of horror and humor – they have a funny aspect which ends up making them more scary rather than less. Roland escapes, but at the cost of two fingers of his right hand and one toe. He is then still stranded on the beach, with no supplies and the lobstrosities still lurking, AND his wounds are getting badly infected. He soon realizes that he’s going to die of blood poisoning if he doesn’t get medicine, which is not remotely available except…

…that he finds a door that opens into another world. Our world, 1980s. Roland can see through the eyes of Eddie, a heroin addict on a plane with bags of cocaine duct taped to his chest. He’s delivering this because some drug lords are holding his brother hostage.

Roland quickly finds that he can read Eddie’s mind to some extent and speak to him telepathically. Eddie is boggled by this and his glimpses into Roland’s world. Both quickly realize that Roland is dying, but Eddie’s world has medicine that could save him. (Antibiotics, which Eddie figures the drug lord would have access too.) But because Roland’s a gunslinger and very perceptive, he realizes that a stewardess is on to Eddie and there is no way Eddie’s getting off the plane without getting busted.

BUT, he also finds that he can take objects (also people) to and from their worlds. So all he needs to do is take Eddie’s coke, hold it for him until he gets past Customs, then return it so Eddie can deliver it, rescue his brother, and get Roland his antibiotics. Eddie just has to go into the plan bathroom, step into Roland’s world, give him the coke, and then Roland gives it back to him once he’s out of the airport.

Not so simple! The stewardess has already alerted the captain and the DEA. So Eddie is locked in the bathroom with DEA agents banging down the doors…. and the coke is TAPED to his chest. Roland has a knife, but his hand is useless; Eddie can’t cut easily himself. They are madly sawing at the tape with the dooor being broken down…

I want to pause here to admire the multiple ticking clocks and obstacles: Roland will be past saving if he can’t get the antibiotics within a day or so. Eddie’s brother will die if he’s late with the drugs. The tape is hard to get off and will leave marks. Roland’s hand is out of commission, Eddie’s is shaky. Roland is dying of infection, Eddie needs a fix, and the drug lords are suspicious. The DEA agents are about to break down the door. AND the lobstrosities are approaching on the beach that Roland is still stuck on, wounded and sick and unable to use his dominant hand, AND with an unknown number of his bullets ruined by sea water.

FUCKING AWESOMEST SCENE EVER WRITTEN. Except for the multiple, equally awesome scenes that are all over the next two books. I loved those two books (and the first few chapters of the fourth, which is all of the fourth I've read so no spoilers beyond that point) as much as anything I've ever read. It's not so much that it's perfect - it's not - it's that it contains so much that I happen to personally love. Those books just spoke to me, and I'm so glad to have something like that right now.

There are two more characters who show up in this book and become main characters and they are GREAT, but they are also hugely spoilery. You can discuss in comments, though. I will try to write more on them tomorrow.

Caveats: Book one is sexist. Book two is politically incorrect– I’m using that term deliberately because unlike book one, where the issues just seemed to be King’s unconscious issues, here he’s clearly thought about them, they make sense within the story, and they don’t involve sidelining the characters who are political minorities. The issues are there, but they may or may not offend you, depending on how much weight you place on context.

One of the main characters in the second two books is a black woman who has some spoilery things that on the one hand, are problematic to the max if described out of context, but there are in-story reasons that make sense. She is not sidelined by the men, and is badass and a great character, at least up to the point where I’ve read. (Though there are three male and one female protagonists, so not much interaction between women.)

The problem with explaining the issues is that they are hugely spoilery and if you can stand them, are also pretty cool to discover unspoiled. So, general warning and if you want to know, read the spoilers in comments here or in later posts I'll make. If you’re familiar with King, you can probably guess the general substance.

That being said, most of the main characters have a disability of some sort or another, and while they’re not done with total realism (for instance, the wrong label is used for a mental illness but it’s a mistake that a lot of writers made at that time) I generally liked how they worked within the story. King does not conveniently forget about them, ever. (Or yet, anyway.) He also clearly thought a lot about how the characters would deal with stuff given their disabilities – it’s a huge part of the story overall.

…and I will stop here or I will write all day. I will try to continue later, but again, feel free to discuss anything up to the flashback section of Wizard in Glass in comments.
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