I’ve been reading and loving Bev Vincent’s Dark Tower Companion. I’ve got to admit, I did not read it in chronological order. I had to scan through to make sure I’d read all the chapters! The companion, as is true of any good companion – is easy to skip and dip through. The chapters are short, precise and well written.
Here’s what I liked:
1. Multi-Purpose. (That sounds boring -- like soap or something. Sorry. ) The Dark Tower Companion is helpful for both research and for getting familiar with the Dark Tower series. As a reference work, Vincent gives us names, dates places and people. However, the book is much more than a simple dictionary of who’s-who in the Dark Tower universe. Vincent draws the reader in, explaining the plot and flow of the books.
2. Accessible. The book is not heavily footnoted, so it doesn't read like a research paper. Vincent doesn’t spend a lot of time explaining where he gets his information – he just shares it. This is actually quite charming! You don’t get the feeling that he is brailling his way about. The lack of footnotes gives the book a smoother narration. I didn't spend a lot of time with my finger in the back of the book trying to keep up with each footnote. If it’s important – it’s in the text. So just read!
3. Answers ahead! Vincent seems aware of readers questions, concerns and points of confusion with the Dark Tower series. Without a hint of smug arrogance, he goes about answering things that have left readers scratching their heads. His grasp is scholarly – his tone is conversational; like having lunch with your friend the theologian.
After I read the Dark Tower series the first time, I both loved it and hated it. But I was also unsure of exactly what all had just happened. Bev Vincent seems to say, “Okay, let me help you with this because I know it’s really cool, but a little confusing.” I found myself often saying out loud, “AH! That’s it!” as answers to old questions came to light.
4. A Friend With Answers. Bev Vincent is able to speak with authority on the subject without talking down to the readers. In fact, he is so fluent in Mid-World, one gets the feeling he has gone through a doorway and visited. Really, you have the sense that he’s been there.
5. MAP! The Dark Tower Companion is the only book I’m aware of to give us a map of mid-world. No, I haven’t googled or hunted for one – but it’s the first attempt I’ve come across. I found it quite helpful! In fact, I learned quite a lot just reading the map.
WAIT! I just found a comment by Bev Vincent at Burnette’s blog in which he confirms that he is the first one “to ever attempt to assemble all the bits and pieces and, given the inconsistencies in time and space and distance in Mid-World, it worked quite well.” (HERE)
6. Familiarity. Vincent is not only familiar with the main body of work (DT 1-7), but with the gargantuan piles of sub-stories that surround the Dark Tower. He discusses tie-ins, comics and secondary novels such as Wind Through The Keyhole and Little Sisters of Eluria. He is also able to talk about Discordia, time lines and the geography of mid-world.
7. Opens New Doors. The Companion stirs my interest in areas of the Dark Tower I previously blew off. For instance, he gives great weight to the Graphic Novels. I had just kinda shrugged, thinking – Comic books? (I didn’t grow up with cartoons or comics. Not because my parents were against them. . . I was just too busy playing.)
About the Graphic novels, Vincent shares,
“King said that one reason he agreed to the plan was that he felt there probably would never be a Dark Tower movie and that this adaptation would be the next best thing.”When interviewing Furth, it is revealed that King did have oversight of the Graphic novel's direction and final say in what would go to print. Or, in other words, even though others are moving the story along – it’s still King’s story! He didn't pawn it off to the makers of The Children of the Corn 19. He had a vested, personal interest in the story-line
8. Tools. Vincent gives tools that help put the story together. He is well aware that everything doesn't fit, but still makes a great effort. Vincent not only gives us maps, he offers timelines. I found this quite insightful. For instance, if it seems like time doesn’t always move the same in mid-world and it does in our world. . . that’s because it doesn’t!
There were several times reading this book that I wanted to slap my head, “I’m not crazy!” Things that just didn't seem to line up – didn't because , well, they didn’t line up! For instance, distance is always changing in mid-world. “Mid-World is getting bigger,” Vincent explains. Really? “Gildead was once only a thousand miles from the Western Sea, but it took Roland many years to go from one to the other.” Oh!
Here’s a great insight: “The chronology of events on Earth is convoluted because the ka-tet comes from different decades and jumps back and forth to different times. Did you realize that Eddie is only a couple of years older than Jake?” NO, I didn't realize that!
9. The End. I am very happy that Vincent takes time to give a short essay (chapter) on “The End And What It Might Mean.” Because understanding the end of the dark tower is important to my desire to return to the journey. Vincent argues that the Dark Tower is not a loop – because each time Roland returns to the journey he is a changed man. Roland grows, develops – “improves” – and matures with each attempt. Pointing out that Roland is still deeply flawed, Vincent surmises that the gunslinger may have to repeat the journey “dozens or hundreds of times more” until he gets it right.
And, after a very engaging discussion about the Dark Tower’s end, Vincent offered something I thought was really important – a quote from Stephen King. King chides readers, saying “My ending is my ending.” And then Mr. King points out that on this journey Roland could not possibly be rewarded with complete victory because of the very serious sin (my word) he committed. “You cannot do things as serious a sacrifice a child and not have to pay” King says. AH! So the way King ends the Dark Tower is actually an ethical narrative. I LOVE IT! YES! This is actually a theologically significant thought.
The discussions are deep, and I promise – I haven’t scratched the surface.
The interviews in this book are great! They include Brian Stark, Discordia. Ron Howard and Akiva Goldsman, The Dark Tower Movie. I found the Ron Howard interview to have a lot more information than I’d expected. He’s much more excited about the project, and familiar with the source material, than I had at first thought. He does reveal that the movies and TV series would not “necessarily” deal with the entire story “chronologically.” That makes sense!
Vincent himself offers support for the idea of a non-chronological movie series, writing at Burnette’s blog, “The Gunslinger, except for a couple of bursts of activity, is a pretty sedate book. Not the way you'd want to launch a franchise or series of films. It has the same issues that make it a doorkeeper for readers of the series.” (thetruthinsidethelie.blogspot.com)
When asked if anyone ever tried to tie TV and movies together like Howard was The Dark Tower, he said that he didn’t think so. Of course, Howard pointed out, that Star Wars has existed in all the mediums, as well as Star Trek.
Also interviewed are Robin Furth, David Peter, Jae Lee, Michael Lark, Richard Isanove, Stefano Gudiano, Laurence Campbell of The Graphic Novels. And, there is a wonderful interview with Stephen King.
A friend once said to me, “Maybe someday you’ll land the BIG interview.” I was confused – what’s the BIG interview? Rick Warren? . . . “No, Stephen King, you moron!” Oh! Of course. But, truth is, I have no interest in interviewing King. Here’s why – people like Bev Vincent have already asked the best questions. They've come up with stuff I would have never thought to ask! I would just be sitting there going, “So, about The Shining. . . is it actually about a haunted hotel. . .” and “What are the chances of you writing a Dark Tower 8 that’s a choose your own adventure.” And see, none of those questions are helpful! Anyway, I enjoyed Mr. Vincent’s interview quite a bit.
Vincent asked King, “Do you have a sense of what’s going to happen with the movie adaptation?” King’s answer, in part, was, “I think that people who read the books will be in equal parts delighted and infuriated by what they see, but I also think that they’ll keep coming back because, to me, they got a brilliant take on the whole thing.” King suddenly clams up – should he be sharing this? Then he says that the chracter of Jake Chambers is “very important.”
I really liked the discussion with King about when the author knew exactly how the Dark Tower would end. King not only shares when he got a vision for the final scenes in the book, but the fact that he is aware that “a lot of people didn’t like the way the thing ended, but after all the things that I’d written about how ka is a wheel and it always comes back to where it started, I don’t see how anybody could have expected anything different, really.” He compares it to Ghost Brothers of Darkland County. . . that until you get it right, you have to keep doing it. I would compare it to Groundhog Day!
By the way, King does discuss some other possibilities for how the series might have ended.
When asked if he always planned to include himself in the series, King discusses Dickens’ novel “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” – which was let unfinished upon Dickens death. He then explains how he found himself serving the Beam.
As much as I wore my copy of the Road to the Dark Tower to shreds, this one is already more tattered! Pages folded down, lines marked up – it has become my road map to the series. Finally a lot of things make sense.
I LOVE IT!
My interest in this series has been stirred to life again twice. First by a book called “The Stephen King Universe.” It was the first time I became aware that all these books connected – and the axis was The Dark Tower. The Dark Tower Companion has reinvigorated by love for this series.
The Dark Tower is both a challenge and a passion for me. It’s like trying to love a very complex woman. I’m not always sure what in the world she’s talking about – she’s much deeper than I am – but I am too attracted to walk away. Bev Vincent is like a good friend, helping me understand the mystery woman and offering hints on how exactly to approach her.
- Buy The Dark Tower Companion at amazon.com.
- Check out Bev Vincnt's website at www.bevvincent.com
- My interview with Bev Vincent, PART 1 , PART 2