I love Stephen King. I mean, who doesn’t? The man is not only a thrilling writer, but also a pop culture icon, with many of his stories getting the big screen treatment. But out of all of his most famous works, (It, The Stand, The Shawshank Redemption, the list goes on and on) my all-time favorite work of his will always be The Dark Tower series, which also had a movie in 2017, but, well, let’s not talk about that right now.
But let’s talk about the amazing book series instead. Comprised of 8 novels (and one novella), The Dark Tower tells the story of a gunslinger named Roland Deschain as he makes his way to the dark tower, which is said to connect all universes. Along the way, he forms a “Ka-tet” (just a fancy word for a group) and they go on the journey together. But what’s even more interesting about the Dark Tower series is that it’s a nexus point between many other Stephen King stories, creating a sort of multiverse long before the MCU began. That said, some books are definitely better than others, and that’s what I’m here to discuss today. So, come on, hurry up. We gotta go. Because we all follow the beam.
8. The Gunslinger (Dark Tower Book #1)
The very first book in the series is, in my opinion, also the very worst. The story introduces us to Roland Deschain, the last surviving member of gunslingers, and he’s on the hunt for the Man in Black, who you may also know from the book, The Stand. Along the way, Roland meets up with a boy named Jake Chambers, who would become a prominent figure in the later stories.
But honestly, this book bored me to tears. As far as introductions go, it just kind of meanders. Its plot moves, but it somehow feels stagnant at the same time. I honestly would have given up on the series entirely if one of my friends didn’t tell me that it gets better. Thankfully, it does, but this is not a great introduction.
7. Song of Susannah (Dark Tower Book #6)
Song of Susannah is usually placed dead last on many people’s list of books in the series, and I understand why. It’s relatively short when compared with the preceding book, and the subsequent novel, so it kind of just feels like an afterthought. There’s also a lot of jumping between characters as the Ka-tet is split up into different locations. Susannah is somewhat bound inside her own head by a demon named Mia, and Jake, Oy the bumbler and Father Callahan (Of ‘Salem’s Lot fame) are on a journey to save her. This is in present day. Meanwhile, Roland and Eddie Dean are away in Maine back in the ‘70s, and yeah, it’s not the cleanest narrative.
But I really think this book suffers because it mostly feels like a bridge between two other stories, and doesn’t really solidify itself as its own real narrative. It’s not a terrible book, but it’s not one that I look back upon fondly.
6. The Wind Through the Keyhole (Dark Tower Book #4.5)
Okay, so The Wind Through the Keyhole is a strange one. It’s the last book that was written in the series, coming out in 2012, but it’s chronologically nestled between Wizard and Glass and The Wolves of Calla. But at the same time, it’s not really a novel as it's a series of stories, and it’s also really just Roland telling his Ka-tet these tales as they wait out a storm. That’s why it’s technically considered book 4.5. I really like it, but like Song of Susannah, it also feels more like an afterthought than a fully fleshed out addition.
That said, the short stories are really good. There’s one about a shapeshifter, which leads to another story (a story WITHIN a story) about Roland’s childhood, and then it goes back to the shapeshifter stuff, and then it’s back to the Ka-tet and the storm. It’s fun stuff, but in the end, it doesn’t really feel necessary.
5. The Dark Tower (Dark Tower Book #7)
The final book in the series is actually really divisive. Some people love how the series ends, and others hate it. I’m kind of in the middle. The story mainly centers on its chief antagonist, the Crimson King, and the baby that sprang forth from Susannah in Song of Susannah. It also—I kid you not—concerns the characters saving Stephen King’s life before he’s hit by the van that almost killed him in real life.
A lot of the key characters die (or do they?), and the final battle with the Crimson King is pretty weak. But what really riles fans is its ending, where Stephen King even warns readers not to read it. I won’t spoil it for you just in case you haven’t read the series yet, but I’ll just say that Stephen King really does take to heart that this story should be circular. And that’s both a plus and a minus for me in this case.
4. The Waste Lands (Dark Tower Book #3)
The Waste Lands is what some consider to be the last truly great book in the series. It involves all the characters we met in Book 2—Eddie Dean and Susannah—and we also meet up with a “billy-bumbler” named Oy. This is the book where the beams play a major role in the story, as all people serve the beams, which are what ultimately lead to the Dark Tower itself. There’s some world jumping with keys, and probably one of the strangest characters in the entire series in a talking train named Blaine the Mono (Blaine is a pain!) that challenges the Ka-tet to riddles.
This book also introduces Shardik, which is a cyborg bear. Oh, and also the title character in Richard Adams’ second novel. So this was the first book that King really started pulling from a lot of different outside sources. And it wouldn’t be the last, either. I love this book because it gets really weird, but still stays focused on the journey. A great time all around.
3. Wizard and Glass (Dark Tower Book #4)
Some fans really hate Wizard and Glass, but I consider it a high point in the series. Instead of moving forward, Wizard and Glass goes way back to Roland’s formative years. This book is kind of similar to The Wind Through the Keyhole in that it’s Roland telling a story within the actual story, but this book feels essential to the series since we learn so much about Roland’s history.
We also meet up with two awesome new characters in Cuthbert Allgood and Alain Johns. The eventual story is tragic, but it ultimately reveals a lot about the man we’ve been following for the past three novels. And this is why I love Wizard and Glass. It feels necessary and expands upon the lore in a major way. I probably wouldn’t love the series as much as I do if not for this book.
2. Wolves of the Calla (Dark Tower Book #5)
Okay, so this is usually the book where a lot of readers just totally give up on the series, and I get it. This book is absolutely bonkers. I mean, I don’t even know how to explain the plot. In a nutshell, The Ka-tet are being followed, and they find out that it’s by this group that call themselves Wolves. And then Roland and his Ka-tet fight the Wolves, but they’re not really wolves at all. They’re actually robots. And not just any robots, but robots that look like Dr. Doom (yes, from Marvel comics). Oh, and they also battle with lightsabers and the snitches from Harry Potter. I remember reading this book on a plane and rubbing my head wondering if I was reading all of this correctly. And Stephen King also throws himself in the story for good measure, because why not?
But while a lot of fans can’t stand how crazy this story got, it actually intrigued me all the more for how audacious it all was. Because this is by far the craziest book in the series, and for that reason, I adore it. Have you ever heard of peak Nic Cage? Well, this is peak Stephen King, and by God. I love it.
1. The Drawing of the Three (Dark Tower Book #2)
Not only is The Drawing of the Three my favorite Dark Tower novel. It’s also my favorite Stephen King novel of all time. It all just works. We meet Eddie Dean and Susannah, Roland gets his fingers bitten off by a “lobstrosity” and the stakes never let up. In this book, Roland finds multiple doors to New York into different time periods, and he goes on little adventures through each door.
Honestly, this is really the start of the series for me since it creates a true mythology and introduces the time hopping element that would become so crucial to the rest of the series. It’s tightly written, and I can’t find any faults with it. It’s just too good.
But what are your thoughts? Have you read the Dark Tower series? And if so, what are your favorite books and why? I’d love to hear your thoughts. And remember. Don't comment with your hand. Whoever comments with their hand has forgotten the face of their father. Comment with your heart.