I do not aim with my hand; he who aims with his hand has forgotten the face of his father. I aim with my eye.
I do not shoot with my hand; he who shoots with his hand has forgotten the face of his father. I shoot with my mind.
I do not kill with my gun; he who kills with his gun has forgotten the face of his father. I kill with my heart.
— The Dark Tower series
The 19th day of the month seems a singularly appropriate time to speak about this famous wordslinger, who doesn’t write novels out of his own imagination, but simply reports the events of other worlds that revolve around the Dark Tower, in the great Kingiverse…
It certainly took me a little time to get into the works of Stephen King: although my mother had me reading his rival, Dean Koontz, when I was 16, and saw the TV version of It during the summer of 1994 (when I was 16 going on 17), it was only a few months before university (when I was 18 going on… 19!) that she started lending me King novels. Not The Shining, which I’d just seen on TV (due to the book differing from the film quite significantly!), but The Dead Zone, with It (which I’d seen on her bedside table years before) and The Stand (in its original shortened form) following soon after.
(You may remember me talking about my first semester at university, when I was dying from Freshers Flu — or, as it’s known in another world, Captain Trips…)
As with other things in life, my beloved mother was my main source of King novels for many years (Hearts in Atlantis, Bag of Bones, The Green Mile, Dreamcatcher and others being lent to me at university and during my three years living at home), but I began buying my own when I came back to London in 2003 (I remember leaving The Tommyknockers at work one evening in late 2004, as though I wasn’t doing bad enough in those days already!), either new or when I saw them in second-hand shops. Insomnia spoke of other worlds, and a Dark Tower being approached by a gunslinger, the evil Crimson King within…
Shortly after I got and read From a Buick 8 in 2008, I decided to make a significant move: being close to finishing Frank Herbert’s Dune series (including his son’s prequels and sequels), I decided it was time to prepare another epic, the Dark Tower series. Naturally I began at the beginning, The Gunslinger, swiftly following this with the others (I even managed to get all seven in the same edition!). Indeed, I hurried to finish The Waste Lands before work one morning, so I could start Wizard and Glass on the holiday plane to Turkey that evening — knowing nothing of the long (six-year, nine-novel) cliffhanger break between the two!
As I said to you guys before, Roland Deschain (Gunslinger of Gilead that was, son of Stephen of the line of Arthur Eld) is something of a hero (or rather, antihero) to me: stern, determined, and capable of killing without compunction, but still human and capable of friendship and cooperation, forming a fellowship (or rather, ka-tet) on his journey along the path of the Beam to the centre of all worlds… and as I also said to you guys before, I’m as entitled to derive religious faith from modern books (like the words of King and Peter F. Hamilton) as others are from ancient texts, aren’t I?
And I can’t deny that fate (or ka) exists, considering a real coincidence in these circumstances: I bought that first Dark Tower novel on 19th April of that year, and not only is 19 a number of great significance in the series, but it was around this time that Eminem, my other American hero, was recovering from a near-death experience (something I’d failed to realise fully when I wrote about him back in 2013) — considering that King himself was almost killed by an incompetent van driver in the summer of 1999! Both men recovered over time, and willingly returned to using their greatest talents, for which I’m grateful (and not just because I enjoy their work, but because it encourages me to live on and keep striving for greatness).
In 2015, much as I’d done in 2011 with Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels (as well as watching classic Doctor Who, which you’ll remember I finished in 2015), I decided to read all of King’s work in chronological order, filling the gaps in my collection as I went along. Not obsessively in the order he wrote stories, but certainly in release order (though admittedly I read the four Bachman Books separately, having found a rare copy that still included Rage), as this wasn’t straightforward OCD-ish behaviour: it’s more like watching a TV show in episode order, experiencing the story as it unfolds — and many stories have links: one of the supporting cast in Rose Madder went on to become a main character in Desperation, for example.
(Even before I started reading them in order, I was inspired to purchase ‘Salem’s Lot, having learned that one of its characters would appear in the later novels of the Dark Tower series!)
I continued buying from charity shops and bookshops (I even found an original version of The Gunslinger, so I could see what was added for the revised version that I bought in 2008 — it was one of King’s very earliest writings), but also borrowed a couple from “boss lady” at work, and even purchased a couple on Kindle (including both Talisman novels and It), which has saved a little on paperback clutter in my room (something you may remember me doing before).
Unfortunately, I’d given away a number of my mother’s copies of King novels in the early 21st century (very likely due to being shamed into getting rid of clutter in my Worthing room), and so couldn’t re-read the shorter, original version of The Stand, thus having to skip ahead to its own revised edition. Aside from being longer, this version had setpieces updated to its year of release (1990), which meant it stood out somewhat from the novels I read before and after it (late 1970s) — a shame, as I would have liked to experience both. But I had to rebuy it on Kindle anyway, as my mother’s copy has a load of pages missing, including the first appearance of Randall Flagg…
(Villainous as he is, he inspired me to call myself “the Walkin Dude” when I lived on Caledonian Road, as I walked almost everywhere, including down to computer fairs in central London every Saturday!)
And now, in late 2018 (shortly before the last two digits of the year become a significant number), I’m rereading the final Dark Tower novel — which, in terms of release order, is the latest of his works I’ve ever read. A lot of books I’ve read for the first time in this run (including his very first published novel, Carrie), in some cases inspiring me to watch the film version as well (I stayed up late to see Christine on the Horror Channel), but soon enough, I’ll be moving into new territory. I’ve got a few of his next novels on my shelf already, but will consume them one at a time, and in order — which means I’ll need to find The Colorado Kid soon!
And I must confess, I’ve made a point of avoiding Under the Dome on TV (currently showing every evening on the Horror Channel, who have now been plugged twice in quick succession) — partly due to after-work activities, but also simply because it’d spoil the novel, which is currently several books ahead of me! But don’t worry: one day, I’ll get it on Blu-ray (as I did with Game of Thrones), and watch it over dinner, as I’ve done with other TV shows. Definitely — I set my watch and warrant on it…
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P.S. I’ve also read his guide, On Writing, and since it gave my mother support in writing her own (vanity press) novels, I feel it’s encouraging me to write clearly, concisely, descriptively (but not overly so) and based on my own knowledge and experience. Thus, as per his advice, I’ll step away from this blog post for a while, and come back to make a “second draft” later, when I’ve been thinking about other things for a while… something I should do more often with these blog posts, eh?
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P.P.S. Maybe one day I’ll return to a work of my own, that I started in the early 21st century: a comic strip featuring an angry English rapper inspired (in both senses) by Eminem, who fights evil forces such as al-Qaeda, the Dark Judges, the Deep Ones of H.P. Lovecraft and George “Dubya” Bush — and who would one day join forces with a certain gunslinger of Gilead… if I can still draw well enough, that is!