Thanks to some Amazon vouchers, I’ve been repurchasing Stephen King’s Dark Tower books digitally, replacing my physical copies left behind in my old hometown. I’ve been working through them on my phone whenever I have any downtime alone. It’s been like having a door to another world in my pocket at all times. Unfortunately, the last two months have been very difficult and I’ve been retreating through this door more and more.
Financially we’re in a tough spot right now. As a re-cap, I’m a trans woman who works full time to support myself and my chronically ill partner. We’ve had to ask for and borrow money an embarrassing amount of times. There’s really no sign these troubles are going to let up anytime soon either. It’s been a significant source of stress lately and whenever I’m stuck on my own with time to think, such as traveling to work or when trying to fall asleep, my mind has been drifting back to how precarious our situation is. So I’ve been very grateful for having another world to drop into.
I originally read through The Dark Tower at 19, choosing it when on the lookout for a new series of fantasy novels to read. After stepping into the first book, I was absolutely astonished by what I found and quickly snapped up the whole series. As I worked my way through the journey within, I proclaimed confidently that The Dark Tower was the best piece of media I had ever consumed. It grabbed me tighter than any other novel, TV show, film or album ever had.
On the surface, the book is a dark fantasy series, one that injects elements of horror intermittently too. It’s about a single journey through a vast world, undertaken by a small unlikely band of outcasts. But it also deals with dizzying concepts along the way, such as multiversal dimensions, the overwhelming scale and possibilities of time, even infinity itself and the ultimate finality of all things. I’d never read anything of this grand scope before.
I felt as if there was something intangibly special about the book, a spiritual essence to it even. It took on a level of personal importance to me that’s never really left.
Not long after I finished the series, I was lucky enough to meet and speak with Robin Furth, Stephen King’s assistant in all matters Dark Tower and the author of Dark Tower tie-ins. She spoke about the series with a level of compassionate awe and reverence, it reinforced how special this series was to those who it connected with.
I vowed that I wouldn’t return to the series until it had faded from my memory. I wanted to ensure that only blurry glimpses of conjured pictures and vague facts were all I could recall. I felt that if I read it too often, I would wear out the magic. It would cease to be special and leave me seeing the set of novels as something routine and overly recognisable. They could become just books.
I expect most people have that piece of media which is ultimately special to them. Where it transcends its medium, becoming akin to a treasured memory, a trusted friend or even a role model. More a comfort blanket than a story. Undeniably, The Dark Tower has taken on that level of of acclaim and comfort for me. Reading it is more than just escapism and distraction from my troubles, it’s like going home.
At 28 I’m reading the series almost 10 years since that first journey. In that time, the series has changed. I’m not talking about the presence of the eighth book, a new interquel that I am admittedly overwhelming excited to integrate into my re-read. I mean the books which I’ve read before, the ones I’m returning to.
Of course, physically the words haven’t changed, nor have the actions of the characters or the direction of the plot. On the surface, they’re the same set of books. But I’ve changed. As the reader, I’m someone new.
I am a believer in the theory that art is divided from its designer at birth, that meaning belongs to the observer. The artist can craft a piece of art with a static intention, but can inspire countless visions.
I am not the same person I was at 19. The meanings that I take from these stories, the moments that are of significance and how they are framed to me in my mind’s eye, have changed. In a sense, I both have and haven’t read the series before.
My new memories, shifted priorities and altered state of mental health, are unlocking a different shape to the series. Some themes have become muted, while others are dramatically underlined, as if between the lines my eyes are being drawn to an implicit message above all others.
One theme that stands resolute on this reading, is that of a found family. Support where there was none before, a personal fulfilment of needs both obvious and unexpected.
I won’t spoil the series with any details, but the cast of characters are pulled from different cultures and vastly different circumstances. In each other, the travellers find a a kind of warmth and love which they were lacking prior to meeting. One comes from a safe but cold family, finding true acceptance for the first time only after leaving them. Another comes to realise through separation, that who they saw as an adored and selfless sibling, was actually a toxic influence who stifled their potential and happiness. One even faces their fractured mental health for the very first time, something they had been ignoring their entire life, sleepwalking by the obvious answer that only their new friends illuminate. These moments are now more important to me than anything else in the book.
None of these characters are related by blood, nor did they grow up together or share any significant experiences prior to meeting, but they’re bound together all the same. They care for each other, they look out for each other.
I have been protected and saved these last two years by friends, and even strangers, who have lent me their trust, their wisdom, their advice, and even their financial support. Like The Dark Tower’s characters, I have found a new family around myself who have accepted me, who respect me, and have helped me to grow in ways that those from my old life couldn’t.
I abandoned a secure but inauthentic and unfulfilling life for a riskier one, but also a real one, a worthwhile one. In a way I embarked on my own journey.
When I read Dark Tower today, I’m touched by the trust and love between the cast because I know what it’s like to enter a new world, a more unstable one, but one where you find yourself part of a new band of friends.
The world of The Dark Tower is dangerous, death is a constant spectre, yet the cast are protected again and again because of that bond that they share. It intertwines with destiny to guard them against encounters which should leave them in obliteration and failure. My own challenges are blessedly safer, the worst arriving slowly with time to react and plan. However I share with them a knowledge of having beaten the odds, a relief that the bond between you and others is what’s shielded you, helped you scrape by when failure looked certain.
When I first read the The Dark Tower, it was the journey itself which enraptured me. The disturbing revelations from exploration and inquiry, with the ongoing mystery, pulled me in more than anything else. This time it’s the love and support between those on the journey, it’s that deep familial bond, born not of blood or birthplace but circumstance and fate.
I know that a journey is nothing without finding people to share it with. Challenges can be overcome alone, but the result is more worthwhile when others have your back, people who bring out the best in you and finally see you for who you are, not who you’ve left behind.
The Dark Tower now comfortingly reminds me that I’m not alone.
(Images used from Marvel’s The Dark Tower comic book series)