“Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” … but, boy, did it take a while for the Gunslinger to find his way to the big screen. The Dark Tower has been a monumental effort of will, both for author Stephen King and for filmmakers.
King started his epic in 1970, inspired by his love of movies. Staring up at Clint Eastwood in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, the writer realized what he wanted to do: He’d combine these gunslingers with the weird tone of the novels he’d been reading and re-reading — J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.
However, he didn’t so much burn through the first novel, The Gunslinger, as crawl. “The Gunslinger,” the first section of the eponymous novel, was completed about eight years after King began it. The second section, “The Way Station,” was published two years after the first. All told, it took King 12 years to finish the first novel in the saga. The next installments didn’t come much faster. He continued at a glacial pace, writing one novel every five years, which might be normal for other novelists, but for King, who publishes at least one book a year, it was certainly out of the ordinary.
It wasn’t until the early 2000s, shortly after King was struck by a car while walking down the road, that he decided to put his head down and finish The Dark Tower, knocking out the fifth and sixth book in one year, and the seventh the next.
But if the journey of The Dark Tower took a long time in book form, the road to theaters proved even more arduous. Development of an adaptation began more than a decade ago, initially with J.J. Abrams (Mission: Impossible, Lost) attached to produce and direct. However, by 2009 the project had stalled. In April 2010, Oscar winner Ron Howard emerged to spearhead an ambitious adaptation of King’s epic, one that called for a film trilogy, with interlocking television miniseries.
Although The Dark Tower seemed to speeding along, with Javier Bardem closing in on the starring role as Roland Deschain, the Gunslinger was soon confronted by an opponent more fearsome than the Man in Black: “budgetary complications” that led Universal Pictures to first delay development and then, in 2013, withdraw from The Dark Tower entirely, forcing Howard’s Imagine Entertainment to search for a new home for the project. By April 2015, it had landed at Sony Pictures, and soon after found a director in Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair).
More than two years later, The Dark Tower is at last arriving in theaters, with Howard still producing, a connective TV series still in play, and Idris Elba starring as the Gunslinger and Matthew McConaughey as the villainous Man in Black. Now fans can finally journey back to the Tower.
Of course, a lot of us — including King himself — never actually left it.
Even after the release in 2004 of Book Seven, titled simply The Dark Tower, King continued writing in that world. He published another novel eight years later called The Wind Through the Keyhole, which function as Book 4.5. In addition, he’s served as creative director of the prequel comics published by Marvel telling the untold tales of the Gunslinger and his world. But more than that, virtually every story he writes continues the narrative of the Gunslinger.
Its roots have spread so wide that they even encompass your world — yes, you, reading this. You’re a part of The Dark Tower mythos as well. After King was seriously injured in 1999, he wrote the accident into his series as a bit of dark magic intended to keep him from finishing the story. He became a character who saved the heroes during one moment by leaving an author’s note in the bathroom of a villain’s house; he wove his world and life into the narrative of The Dark Tower.
Of course, that isn’t anything new. King has been incorporating worlds into The Dark Tower forever. IT, Cujo, Salem’s Lot and more are connected to his universe. Heck, the Man in Black, played Matthew McConoughey in the new film, is also Randal Flagg, the villain of The Stand.
Almost all of King’s works are one — and that one is the Tower. That’s because, in the series, The Dark Tower is the linchpin of all possible realities — and there are endless ones. It’s the thing that holds everything together, and if it falls, so does everything else. Using that concept, he can add characters from any world.
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