I still think Daniel Knauf is the man to bring this to life, and now I think he's even more appropriate, because I have re-thought this and I think this will work as a TV series.
One of the reasons I wanted it to be a movie series was that it was the lynchpin of the SKCU. That said, many if not most of my adaptations thus far have been theatrical films, and this series can act as its Agents of SHIELD. Besides, this story becomes so layered that really a TV series is best anyway. As with The Stand, I want NetFlix to handle it.
The events of this book will be the first season. This means I was a bit prescient including off-page characters like Vannay and Farson in the cast list. In a TV series like this, they're definitely going to appear on screen.
We've arrived, folks. The second of three beams holding up this blog, and the most important.
Well, one seventh of this beam. But the keystone. Buckle up, everybody, this is going to be a very long post.
I have a lot of feelings about The Dark Tower, strong ones. Stephen King calls the series his "magnum opus", and I feel that's fair, because it's surely the biggest thing he ever attempted. It was so big it almost defeated him. Indeed, some argue that it actually did.
King started writing what would become this first volume of the series in 1970, when he found a sheaf of green paper in a library, and for reasons he wasn't even sure of at the time, wrote the following line:
"The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed."
Thus began a mosaic novel that it would take him over twelve years to complete.
This story first gained life when its first part, simply called The Gunslinger, was published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in October of 1978. By November of 1981, all five parts of the story had been published by that mag, and in 1982 they were collected in this single volume. Having never read the magazine versions (having been not even one year old when the first one was published), I have no idea if they were revised at all when they were first collected, so I don't know if what I just finished was how this story initially read, but it's all we have for the time being.
From that initial volume, the series was born. I can safely say it's like nothing else I've ever read. I don't necessarily mean "better" than anything else, just very, very different. It's a dark fantasy western with a pinch of horror, science fiction and science fantasy, and thrown together in a mish-mash that includes "portal fantasy" and breaks just about every "fantasy rule" one can break...and yet, it works. At least, a majority of readers feel it does. More on that later.
One odd thing about this series is how sporadic its publication was. The first volume was published in 1982, but we didn't get the second until 1987. The third came in 1991, the shortest wait between volumes we'd have until the early 2000's. The fourth came in 1997. King then finished the series off with three final volumes, written together, published between 2003 and 2004. Almost a decade later he was inspired to write another volume, one that chronologically takes place between the fourth and fifth volumes. Eight volumes over 30 years. 34 years if we're going by the actual first Gunslinger story's publication date.
This played havoc with my chosen reading order, as you can well imagine. I'm a big reader of fantasy, which is about 99% serialized, and normally I read all the volumes of a given series in order, one right after the other. That's how I've read The Dark Tower every other time I've read it. But this time I wasn't reading just one series; I was reading the entire output of said series author, and, this was important, by order of original publication date. This meant reading the first volume, then putting this series on hold to read the stuff published between it and the second volume, then who knows how many weeks later resuming this series, then putting it on hold again, etc.
I toyed briefly with the idea of just breaking my pattern and reading them all at once, then doing one large blog post about the series overall. What stopped me were several ideas. First of all, the volumes of this series were each written at a different point in King's career, giving us a little microcosm of his development as a writer. This idea intrigued me. I also realized that by sticking to publication date, I actually was reading the series, one after the other. I'll explain what I mean by giving you more of an idea what the series is about. I do feel like I should give a spoiler warning, because I'm given to understand that even some devoted King fans have yet to read this thing, some even refusing to do so because they "don't like fantasy" or something.
The Dark Tower takes place (mostly) in a pseudo-post-apocalyptic world that clearly has some things in common with ours and yet also clearly does not. It focuses on Roland Deschain, the last Gunslinger of Gilead, as he treks his way across his world that has "moved on", searching for a mysterious tower that haunts his dreams. What that tower represents is, quite literally, all of reality that might exist on any plain. It is the nexus of all worlds that exist or might exist. Our own included. And something has gone wrong.
This first volume is pretty sparing in letting us know much more than that, as it mostly focuses on the Gunslinger himself pursuing a mysterious "man in black" who might have some answers about his quest. However, many references are made to the idea that "time's funny here" and "something has happened to time". This world having "moved on" means a lot more than just how desolate and degraded it is. The fabric of its reality might literally be falling apart.
In later volumes, we will see that in fact, all of King's fiction, to varying degrees, are connected to this one by virtue of taking place in one of the many realities connected to the Tower. Several of these works directly reference the Dark Tower story line, while other books that seemingly have no connection are brought into the Tower's world. In fact, sometimes, characters and events from King's other works have to be read first in order to make sense when they show up in The Dark Tower.
After realizing that I was going to have to read the books intermixed with King's other fiction, I then began to wonder how I should pursue this course of action. Should I read the first volume as though it was a collection of novellas, or as a single volume? I decided on the second option there, telling myself that the magazine supplements were akin to an author releasing chapters of their books online before releasing the whole thing. But then, should I wait until I'd read the entire series and do a long blog post about the whole thing? Could I wait that long? Should I ask my readers to do so? It didn't make much sense. After all, if this does become a series of movies, each one has its own casting process, and each one will introduce new characters.
A final hurdle to get over is this: The Dark Tower is an amazing series, but it's also very frustrating. This mostly stems from the fact that when King started writing this, he had no idea where he was going with it. This isn't a bad thing; the same was true of JRR Tolkien when he started working on The Lord of the Rings. King has detailed to us how he felt like he was letting his fingers do the work and that it almost felt like he was just a vessel the story was telling itself through. This even becomes a plot point in later volumes, but that's a subject for a future post. The fact is, when he started this series, he wrote with abandon with no real eye to future volumes. He also likely wrote it while flying high, considering that it was at this point in his life when his substance abuse issues and alcoholism were pretty much ruling him.
People have talked about the "dreamlike" quality of this first volume. I can see what they're talking about. A good 90% of this novel feels like it takes place within someone's dream, and I'm not certain I can really describe why. It's pretty internally consistent, at least with itself, but still, it feels...otherworldly. And I dig it. I only wish King could have remembered the sort of plot he set up, because later volumes ignored much of what he set down in print here.
King himself realized that, and in the early 2000's, while he was writing the final volumes, he released a "revised and expanded throughout" edition of this book, and in preparation for making this blog post, I read both. I've read them both before, but until recently kinda felt like the original version was now meaningless. I had started to feel differently of late, mainly because I kinda dislike it when an author isn't consistent with his own story. I felt like there shouldn't have been a need to come back and re-write the first book, and I still wonder what the story would have been like if King had crafted a more focused narrative and kept the future volumes consistent with the first.
Reading these two versions of this book back to back, several things struck me. First, the original version still has a lot of merit, and if you're a serious Constant Reader I definitely recommend reading it, but ultimately that takes nothing away from the revised version, which, contrary to my memory, and popular belief, is not only just as good but seemingly all the better because this time King knew where he was going with it. In spite of myself, I couldn't help thinking that "this was how the original version should have been", all while still being annoyed that a second version was needed. It was like, while reading the original version I was thinking "man, it's a shame he didn't keep this tone and information" but while reading the second version, I thought "Okay, this is the first book in what the series this turned into." I enjoyed them both, but very differently.
There's a kind of "Dark Tower Multiple Personality Disorder" that I have noted in the past (though not here) where the original first volume is one personality, the second, third and in part fourth books are another and the final three are yet a third. There might be even a fourth with the eighth volume (which I haven't read; I'll get to that in a moment). That first book had that dreamlike, alien feel, which was almost completely missing from the second and third books, while the fourth grounded Roland's world, or at least, the version of the world he'd grown up in, into a purely physical realm not unlike umpteen other second-world fantasy settings. It might be coincidental, or it might not, that the fourth volume was the first Dark Tower story King wrote after going stone cold sober.
But shortly after writing the fourth book, King was involved in a horrible accident (he was struck by a car while walking) that nearly ended his life. He has said since then that the accident really got him focused on his own mortality, and was one of the motivations to finish what he had started. Another was getting a letter from a fan stricken with terminal cancer who really wanted to know how The Dark Tower series was going to turn out before they died.
So, King got busy and churned out the remaining volumes. And they were a whole new breed of strange. Not necessarily in a good way. More on that once we get there.
The result is a series that fans both love and hate. I can't speak for all readers, but the general feeling I've gotten from other King fans is that they love the first three books, opinion is sharply divided on the fourth, while the last three are mostly awful. (I know I keep referring to this series as if it only has seven volumes, but so help me, I can't see the final volume as anything but an extended coda.) Of course, if you get ten Constant Readers together in the same room and ask them each their opinion of the Dark Tower books, you're likely to get twenty or thirty different answers. And that's just the ones that have read it. I have already mentioned the contingent of King fans who prefer him to stick to just horror or straight drama, and dislike it when he writes books set in secondary worlds. Along with this one, they're also not keen on The Talisman or The Eyes of the Dragon. I have run into several King fans who have read most of what he's written, but not this, or if they have they gave up after (or during) the first volume.
I don't think it's up for debate that the series definitely went off on weird tangents and definitely had some weak points. Some hate the way it ended, others love it, and this is probably as good a time as any to mention that I was so disappointed by the way the series ended that I kinda gave up reading King for a long time. The final three volumes of this series are the only ones I have not read at least twice (and volume 8 is the only one I've simply never read). What I'm saying is that there is room for an adaptation to clear some things up, streamline them, alter them where needed and make a coherent narrative that the series, at least in some places, lacked. Especially we now have an opportunity to clean up those final volumes.
And with that, it's time to mention that Hollywood currently has plans in the works to adapt this series into a movie. There's been plans forever, to the point where I'm not even sure how long the rights have been bought or how long plans have actually been in effect. Ron Howard and Brian Grazer are at the head of these plans to adapt. There was a plan in place for a bit for Howard himself to direct a series of films that would interact with an accompanying TV series, with a script by Akiva "Bat Credit Card" Goldsman. I thought the idea had some merit (aside from the involvement of Howard and Goldsman, both men with a decidedly hit-or-miss record, mostly miss in Goldsman's case) but I wasn't a fan of the alternating structure they were going with. I also didn't care much for the man they chose to be Roland (more on that later).
After deals that didn't go through with HBO and various other TV homes, it looks like the project is destined to be a single movie, with the option for sequels if the first one does well. We've got a director; a fellow named Nikolaj Ayrcel, who's never directed in English before. The screenplay is being revised by Ayrcel himself and a man named Anders Thomas Jensen. I'm not familiar with his work, either. We even have a release date; supposedly we'll be seeing this thing in less than a year.
Simply put, I'll believe it when I see it. Howard has already said that the project isn't really as greenlit as it might seem, and I personally have a hard time believing that this thing will be completely finished and ready to be released in less than a year, especially since the project doesn't seem to have a completed script nor any confirmed actors, though there are hot rumors. At this point, if you don't know the rumors, I'm going to suggest you google them and let's not talk about it here.
There are signs that this is a troubled production. The continued delay in anything solid is one aspect, the switching of directors and potential stars are another. From what I know of it, I actually hope this particular effort doesn't pan out. And as there are signs that it won't, I'm going to make this post with the assumption that this movie is about to get canned.
I sincerely hope that Daniel Knauf is reading this. If you are, buy the rights the moment you hear they're up for grabs. You are the man to write this script. Team up with director Tarsem Singh, who knows his visuals, and we've got an amazing pairing.
While we're talking about it, I should mention that I also struggled mightily with the question: should this be a series of movies or a TV series? If I was adapting just this series by itself, I would say TV all the way. But as the lynchpin of the SKCU? I think we need a movie series. This first book could be translated to film with relative ease, and I think the second and third could as well. The fourth is tricky, and the final books need to be cleaned up anyway. We shall cross each bridge when we come to it.
EDIT: I've changed my mind, as I said above. This is now going to be a TV series. This is the first season. All the actors below will appear in the opening credits of any episode they are in (which in some cases will be just one).
And now we come to the million-dollar question: who should play Roland Deschain himself?
This is one of the most hotly debated topics among King fans bar none. Everyone feels very strongly about it, and while the image of Roland is one that nearly all Constant Readers agree on, no one seems to agree on which actor would be right for the part.
I think it used to be a case of wanting it all. No actor was good enough for Roland because no actor is Roland, none of them are real gunslingers, none of them have spent twenty years chasing the Man in Black across a desert. I kept hearing people dissing other people's choices, saying things like "he looks like somebody's dad. Roland shouldn't look like somebody's dad." Whatever the fuck that means.
We really saw how different people's ideas were when Javier Bardem apparently actually got cast for Howard's film version. I was against this casting decision, and still am, but some were for it. I also wasn't impressed with other actors who were apparently in talks at one point or other: Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Viggo Mortensen, Daniel Craig. It kinda felt like they were touring popular actors du jour.
We know that Roland's look was inspired by Clint Eastwood as the Man with No Name, so quite a few fans think Roland looks just like ol' Clint. I'm not among them. Eastwood was the inspiration, not the basis for cloning. The books are somewhat sparing in describing what Roland actually looks like, or at least, the earlier ones are. Later we learn several things about Roland's appearance:
- He has piercing blue eyes; "Bombadier's eyes", they're repeatedly called
- He is very tall, somewhere around 6'6"
- He speaks in a flat, inflectionless voice, probably a light baritone
- He is broad-shouldered but lean
- His face is hard, lined and drawn, his skin sun-browned and weather-beaten
- He's not attractive, or at least not in the classic sense, and more than one character calls him "ugly"
- He's very old, and at least by the fifth book is starting to look it
A big name star, which the studio seems intent on getting, seems the wrong choice here. I'd rather not have a big name that has non-readers coming with pre-packaged expectations.
Many fans, and I'm among them, do not want to see a re-interpretation of this role that fits the actor chosen. I'd rather the actor be the kind who can remold himself to fit the part. I want Roland's first onscreen appearance to be so close to how he's written that it's as if he walked off the page and onto the screen. Now, I understand that there's a shortage of nearly seven-foot-tall actors that meet all the other criteria, so I'm willing to bend on certain things. He doesn't have to be super-tall, and make-up and contacts can take care of the weather-beaten skin and give him his Bombadier blue eyes (though I still strongly prefer an actor who already is blue-eyed).
I also would strongly prefer that the actor be over 6 feet tall, have relatively darker hair (and tanned skin), and be somewhere between 40 and 50 years old. If he's closer to 40, he should have a "lived-in face" that makes him look older. If he's closer to 50 he should still look strong and hale.
I have made peace with the idea that he'll probably not be too terribly ugly. The earlier books don't even really make a big deal out of his "ugly" looks. In fact, it's mostly his fellow traveler Eddie who calls him ugly, but in a later volume, once King is introduced as a character, Eddie notes that the two men look so much alike that they could closely related. King isn't hideous, but I doubt he competed in many beauty pageants. I strongly doubt that Roland look like King in the movie, and I doubt he'll look like Clint, either. Nor should he. He should evoke Eastwood, not look just like him.
Then there's the question, how does Roland sound? Because he's based off Eastwood, there are plenty who think Roland talks like a cowboy, with an American southern accent. I can't see that at all. The books talk about how his accent seems to be kinda not really there at all, like he comes from everywhere and nowhere. The dialect of New Canaan and the surrounding lands definitely sounds more like various English accents, or even Irish. I think it wouldn't be a bad thing if Gilead scenes used Received Pronunciation, the residents of Tull speak like Irishmen, and Roland himself have a sort of no-accent accent, if such a thing is possible.
EDIT: Initially I had a number of choices up for Roland so that my readers could pick their favorite. The winner is below, and he was my first choice anyway. As this is now going to be a TV series, it fits even better as Kirkwood mostly does television.
He's six feet tall but always manages to look taller, and he's 42 years old and has a face that could be made much older with ease. He's also got the blue eyes.
His voice is a light baritone, but I've heard him deepen it. He's played a wide range of accents, including generic American, so he wouldn't turn Roland into a Brit.
His handsomeness threw me at first; I wanted to say no based on that. But like I said, I've made peace with the idea that he won't be ugly, plus with those prominent frown lines, Kirkwood can make himself look hard and fierce, and that's really more important than ugly.
No, he doesn't look like Stephen King. None of my choices do. If I was shooting for an actor who looked like a harder, badass Stephen King, I know exactly who I would pick. But I don't think he has what it takes to play Roland. Maybe he can play a King-like writer character later.
Believe it or not, there are other characters in this book.
This next role is one I've talked about before. I'm going to expand upon it now, and really, honestly, if you're an avoider of spoilers and yet read this far, please read no further until you've read the entire series. See, part of the narrative in this book takes place during Roland's boyhood, where we witness the events that made him a Gunslinger. These vignettes into his past are interspersed with his hunt for the Man in Black in the concurrent present.
Marten, later to be styled "Marten Broadcloak" was an enchanter who worked for Roland's father, a senior Gunslinger (Gilead's political structure is pretty loose in this book). Off in other lands, a revolution is going on, apparently against the Gunslingers themselves, and Marten is later revealed to have secretly been a part of it, or perhaps, secretly its leader. His goal is to remove Roland's father Steven, in the permanent sort of way, and he begins to realize as Roland ages that in fact the young man might become a problem. By this time, Marten has seduced Roland's mother Gabrielle, or possibly just raped her into submission, and he decides to get rid of Roland by letting him know what he's done to Roland's mother.
His goal is simple, yet complicated. Roland will naturally be very angry and want to kill Marten. So, he will undergo the challenge of manhood too early, fail, and either die or be sent into exile. This is the rite that makes the Gunslinger; call out his teacher Cort and defeat him in single combat. The youngest student to ever win was Steven Deschain himself, at 16. Roland himself is 14. Roland is sure to lose.
There's one big problem, though. He doesn't. He passes the test and becomes a Gunslinger, and Marten, realizing he's now living on borrowed time, high-tails it to the revolution and that's the last Roland ever has seen of him.
The entire time, during the first version of this story, we're led to believe that Marten is the Man in Black. When he finally catches up with him, he eventually reveals that he is not Marten, but another man from Roland's past; a young priest who joined the court of Gilead after Marten left. This man's name was Walter. Walter is in fact the Man in Black, and Marten was little more than his patsy.
This is a very intriguing idea, and the only complaint I have is that Walter is never mentioned before the Big Reveal, and I could have stood some sort of foreshadowing there. In the second version, however, everything changes.
The Man in Black's name is revealed to be "Walter O'Dim" early on in the book. Roland later talks about "two men" he knew that looked enough alike to have been twins, but he never saw them together. Walter later explicitly reveals that he and Marten are the same man. Furthermore, he had another alias; John Farson, the "Good Man" who was the revolution's leader. I was thrown by that, because official canon is that John Farson was just another of Walter's patsies, not Walter himself. But while I don't remember the original version saying this, the revised version clearly has a line "Marten Broadcloak, also known as John Farson, the Good Man."
In later books, we learn that Walter is also the Walkin Dude, Randall Flagg, the villain from The Stand, as I already said in my post on that book. We learn that he walks worlds like we walk streets, and that he has numerous personas he takes on, many using the initials "RF" but not all. Now, I want to stress, I think Walter also being Flagg is cool, and I wouldn't want to change that for the world. But it kinda bugs me that Marten ended up being Walter after all, especially when King initially set up the much more interesting twist. I also can't swallow John Farson and Marten being the same person, and I think honestly, that was some sort of misprint since Marvel's Dark Tower comics, with King's blessing on their stories, clearly differentiate between Marten/Walter and Farson.
So, in the movie, I think we'll keep to that; Farson is his own man while Marten and Walter are two sides of the same coin. Lee Pace, who I had playing Flagg in The Stand, will play both roles, and I think as Marten he should probably have a different hair color, and probably a flamboyant hair style, as well. I also think it would be neat, and beneficial toward viewers being slow to catch on to the similarities, to have his face bear some wizardly tattoos. As Walter in the past (he'll need to be seen there) he'll have a shaved head and pallid skin, while the Man in Black will look relatively normal.
But Jake is a badass little boy, and I've already seen a kid that I think will do Jake total justice. His name is Isaak Pressley, and he's eleven years old.
By the way, apropos of nothing, hey Dark Tower comic readers? You know the character Aileen Ritter, the one you can't stand? She's canon. King invented her, and she is part of his memories from the past. Not a large enough part of them to need an actress to play her, but she is mentioned. Just thought I'd point that out.
Roland himself will be played by Edmond, Skandar Keyes, who is 25 but looks ten years younger. In fact, all the actors I chose are baby-faced twenty-somethings (well, nearly all).
Hax, the cook in the palace Roland is raised in, turns out to be a traitor working for John Farson. He's described as being incredibly fat, and his racial make-up is actually mentioned: "a quarter black, a quarter yellow, a quarter from the South Islands,...and a quarter gods-knew-what". Sounds like a perfect role for Hawaii Five-0's Taylor Willy.
As I said in my last post, I don't know what my next full blog post is going to cover, but I'll be a little less mysterious: right now I'm reading Different Seasons, and as any Constant Reader knows, this book contains four novellas, three of which have already been turned into movies. Two of those movies are already classics, and I see no need to remake them. The third is too recent to worry about a remake, nor am I sure we really need one. As for the last one, the rights evidently have been sold and there have been umpteen attempts to make a movie of it, none of which have panned out. If what I suspect about it is true, I'll be doing my next post on that story. Otherwise it will likely be a remake of Christine.