Stephen King is arguably one of the most powerful and influential writers of our time. You may or may not have read his books. Perhaps you’ve or seen one of their onscreen adaptations. Either way, I’m sure the name rings a bell.
Among those books and adaptations, you may have heard references to his one and only series: The Dark Tower.
Some say it’s worth it. Others say don’t waste your time. Some are intimidated by the number of tie-ins possible with the series within King’s other works. Others don’t care at all.
If you have yet to read the series, I hear you.
I’ve been there.
I have now read the series twice over and am currently listening to it again on audio. If you enjoy fantasy books — or even want to start reading in that genre — then yes.
So much yes.
You absolutely must read The Dark Tower series.
Let’s get write on in to why.
First of all, I should say that I didn’t make it through The Dark Tower’s first book, The Gunslinger, on my first go.
Nor on my second.
I had read reviews, and when I was first writing my own fantasy novel back in 2007, this series was still relatively “fresh” in its ending.
Amongst those reviews, I saw many people saying what I have in my introduction: “If you enjoy fantasy books, you must read The Dark Tower.”
So I picked up The Gunslinger. At that time, I had only read one other Stephen King book, The Eyes of the Dragon. I didn’t know about the tie-in connection until later.
I tried on my first go around with The Gunslinger.
And I tried.
But man, was I bored.
I let a few more years go by, thinking that perhaps I might have just been too young on my first go around.
So I tried again.
But still, I couldn’t seem to get into the first book.
More years went by, and I became something of a “Constant Reader” myself with plenty of other works by Stephen King. The more familiar I became with him, the more I wanted to journey to The Dark Tower. After I came across a review saying to “just make it past the first book” in The Dark Tower because “the payoff was worth it,” I decided to see if the third time would be the charm.
I’d made my first two attempts on the Kindle, so I opted for a hard copy to see if it helped. Fortunately, my local library carried it (anyone else ever have a hard time finding book one in a series at a library?) and I decided to go forward.
I will never regret pushing forward to the end. I’m so happy I did so I could make it to —
The Drawing of the Three
Now that I have read the series twice over and read plenty of other reviews and thoughts, I think it’s safe to say that readers generally agree this is where the story really kicks off.
When I say “kicks off,” I mean you better be ready for the ride from page one.
There’s none of the confusing stuff found in book one. None of the boring descriptions, nothing about the main character not even knowing who he is while he’s on the search for whatever man in a black cloak.
This book brings the action, the mystery, the intrigue, the everything.
While it is hard to fully choose, I do believe this is my favorite book of the series. This is where we meet everybody who’s important (for the most part), and it’s the most heartpounding adventure the series sees.
Stephen King is at his finest in regard to character development in this book, and every page just feels like part of a feast.
The Waste Lands
By the time I got to book three, The Waste Lands, I was more than sold.
In fact, I was angry at myself for never having pushed forward beforehand.
My jaw was on the ground for the first half, and I was scratching my brain in the second. By the time I finished this book, I only feared the rest of the series wouldn’t hold up to its glory.
Since I was checking them out from the library, this book had me saying, “If the rest of the series is this good or better, I immediately need to purchase a boxed set.”
I now own the entire series.
Wizard and Glass
Wizard and Glass gives us the background information we’re looking for in regard to the world this story takes place.
We also get to dive deep into our main character, Roland, and receive more of an understanding about how life and why he is the way he is now. His character really rounds out in this story, and a lot of information casually laid in The Gunslinger becomes vital in here.
Plus, there’s just a beautiful love story in here.
Just make sure you have a box of Kleenex nearby.
Just in case.
This is also the most “fantasy feeling” book in the series. The rest of them sometimes oscillate between horror, thriller, mystery, and even sci-fi with fantastical elements. Wizard and Glass has much more of a “magical” feel to it and is probably the biggest reason this series gets classified in the fantasy section.
The Last Three Books: Wolves of the Calla, Song of Susannah, and The Dark Tower
For a while, people wondered if they’d ever see the final installments of the series.
And no, it’s not because Stephen King pulled a George R.R. Martin.
You may or may not know that Stephen King was hit by a car outside of his Maine home. It wasn’t just this particular series people worried they’d never get — it was any Stephen King book. Some say his level of work has gone down since then. Others (myself included) disagree.
In between Wizard and Glass and what eventually went on to become Wolves of the Calla, the Constant Readers expressed their fears about whether or not King would ever be healthy enough to return to Mid-World.
I wasn’t reading these at the time, but I do remember people bein g “upset” about the potential that Wizard and Glass would be the ending to the series. I’m sure there was care for the author’s well-being, too, but a fear resonated through the community about what would happen if the author died in the middle of a major series.
This was also before Brandon Sanderson finished Wheel of Time.
I think the general response to the last three books is pretty divided. Personally, as someone who didn’t have to wait between installments and was able to just breeze right through, I loved all three of the books. That being said, I could see why Song of Susannah was maybe not people’s favorite. Especially those that had to wait. It just felt like a book that the first half could have been in book five, and the second half in book seven, and everything would have been fine.
But it was all good with me.
Besides, that ending in The Dark Tower…
The Dark Tower Tie-ins
So, what about all of these other books that are connected to the series? Do you need to read those as well to fully enjoy the series?
I have a two-part answer to this:
- No, you do not need to read any of the other books connected to The Dark Tower world to enjoy the main series.
- If you do, be conscious of which ones you are reading. They may not make as much sense as standalones if you haven’t read the main series.
What do I mean by this?
Well, I’d read both The Eyes of the Dragon and Insomnia before I read the main series. The Eyes of the Dragon was just “okay” for me, and while Insomnia started off great, I ultimately became confused over the main villain and some of the inner workings of that book.
Neither of those books left a major impact on my psyche, but both are ones I’d like to revisit now that I’ve read the rest of the series.
There’s plenty of other short stories and books that are mentioned throughout the text. I’d say the only other book tied into The Dark Tower that you should read would be Salem’s Lot. There are just characters from that book that make their way into the series, and you’ll simply find a better attachment to them if you already know who they are.
In general, though, I would say it wouldn’t be a bad idea to familiarize yourself with Stephen King either before or throughout your journey to The Dark Tower. There’s so much more I could say about this series if I wasn’t trying to keep this spoiler-free. Since I am trying to keep some secrets to myself — just trust me, okay?
So… The Dark Tower is Totally Worth It Then?
Without a doubt.
In the end, this became one of my favorite series immediately upon finishing.
I would highly recommend this series to anybody who loves any of the genres any of the books fit into.
Even though I struggled throughout The Gunslinger at first, I’m glad I listened to the advice that said to just push through because it’s so worth it.
I certainly agree that this would classify as Stephen King’s “magnum opus.”
If you do read the series, I also recommend finding the illustrated editions. It adds so much to the world, and the artwork is vivid and intriguing.
I, for one, cannot wait to return to the Tower. I just hope I don’t get trapped in a cycle.