The last book series that stretched this long was Harry Potter, and I ended up reading it several times after the first. So when I found out that Stephen King had written an epic fantasy series, I really wanted to read it. Stephen King usually writes horror stories, and writes them in his own erratic style that makes the reader go really into the character. So it was an intriguing oppurtunity to see what he does with someone as epic and complex as Lord of the Rings, which is the half the inspiration for the Dark Tower series. The other half came from western spaghetti films, most prominently Clint Eastwood as Blondie in 'The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly'. The Dark Tower series marries these two, and then throws in some unexpected cultural references that make it unique amongst other fantasy series.
The Dark Tower series is about a gunslinger, named Roland Deschain of Gilead, and his quest to reach the titular Dark Tower, the center of all realities, universes, and time. A gunslinger is sort of like a knight, though this is definitely not a fairy tale. The various shades of a desparate man, from utter despair to teenage love, and being a symbolic father are well drawn out by the epileptic style of writing that only Stephen King can manage.
The whole series is a journey, and its themes are often taken from elsewhere, our reality, and embedded into the whole story arc so well, that everything fits together well. For one, our world is one of the worlds accessible to the characters, with all its wonders and people. Unlike many other books, I was pleasantly surprised to find that rather than exploiting sci-fi and magic as a story thread, the Dark Tower embraces both and does't let it steal the glory from the characters. The majority of the story takes place in another world/reality/parallel universe, where the world "has moved on..." which provides a post-apocalyptic setting. It is in such a world, that the first book begins. Rather than expanding on the book's contents, or giving out a synopsis, I really want to talk about the impact reading the Dark Tower has had on me. For those who haven't read the books, consider this whole post a spoiler, and go read the books.
The first thing that stuck me was the notions and ideas of having the old customs and chivalry in its true definition. Not the open doors for ladies type, but chivalry of the knights, where might and rules laid the path for civilisation. The lack of machines, and the presence of a knight really makes relations and people more prominent rather than the settings and backlore. Reading about that, and then turning back to our reality makes me feel like we've mingled into our technology and perceived world rather than the social perceptions people had a few decades ago. I'm not sure if this is necessarily a bad thing.
At some points, especially in the latter few books, I really felt like putting the book away, and read something else. It was tiring. I'm reading about one character, and then suddenly am whipped away into the backstory of a new character who I know has no more role to play than a side-actor. But then, later on when I finish reading the part where the new character interacts with the real characters, I thought about how all that backstory has given me a perception on this new character. That's a classic Stephen King technique, veering off into backstories at leisure, and it takes patience to read it all through. But by the time one realizes that, the mind has already been invested too much in to the story to put the book away.
Another thing I really liked about the book was how Stephen King introduces Stephen King in the book as a character (meta-!) that writes the Dark Tower books. This was a nice touch, even with the self-bashing every person does to his younger self. Being cheeky is a good thing if one can carry it off, and this time it lends a wonderful aura to the story. Imbibing popular culture into the stories is a trick many futuristic stories incorporate, but I haven't seen anything like this one. Military gadgets based on Harry Potter snitches, light sabers a-la Star Wars, and baggage claim areas for teleportation doors. Weird, and cool! Stuff like this really livened the story, and made me want to read and discover more.
I won't go into the ending, or how I thought it was lame compared to the series. But I can't stop thinking about how it really took me back to the first page again. Feeling that it was all about redemption. Or regrets. About the little things we do, or didn't, and the small regrets we carry that we never realize until we are at clearing at the end of the path. Like Roland regretted not picking up the Horn of the Eld after a battle (it was a literal sound, would have taken him three seconds), and really understands that when he climbs the tower. It scares me to think of the things I've missed to do, and really wanted to do, even now. It hurts to go through that. In that sense, the Dark Tower series suddenly take a darker shade than I've realized while reading them. Just like life.
I don't know if I would want to read the series again, right now I don't feel like I would ever feel that I want to. But I do know that I won't be forgetting the ending anytime soon, or how it made me feel. That's one thing that I want to keep, and carry on with me. It's extremely personal experiences like these, especially small ones, that lodge themselves into our minds, and make memorable memories that come when we're least expecting it. Like maybe one day when I'm about to refuse an offered hand.... and my mind turns to the Dark Tower. That would be something!