A movie version based on Stephen King’s Dark Tower series releases this weekend and the reviews are not favorable. It currently stands (Aug. 4) at 18% on Rotten Tomatoes. I’m actually ambivalent and conflicted about how I feel about this development.
On one hand, I’d like to see this movie be successful because it stars a Person of Color (Idris Elba) in a lead role playing someone other than a “drug dealer”/”gangster”/”any other stereotypical roles” that people of color are generally relegated to in movies. Also, I’ve read quite a few books of this series and I know how the story ends, so even though this series isn’t one I’m invested in, I do have familiarity with the material, so I’d like to see a good adaptation of it just for that reason.
On the other hand, everyone seems to forget that Stephen King didn’t “invent” the “modern” conception of the Dark Tower. That honor goes to Robert Browning in his poem, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came.” And even he wasn’t the first as the title appeared as a line in Shakespeare’s King Lear. And even though we don’t where it originated, we can assume that Shakespeare borrowed it from an even older source. My point is that the Robert Browning poem is old enough to be in the public domain and ANYONE can write stories based on it. Stephen King didn’t invent the Dark Tower, he only popularized it and moved it from the realm of English Literature classrooms out into the general public.
Yet, whenever someone mentions the Dark Tower, immediately the discussion turns to Stephen King’s universe. For me, as a lover of the Dark Tower mythos (remember, I even had a board game called the Dark Tower as a child), this is more than aggravating. It would be as if Disney’s Snow White was the ONLY version of Snow White being talked about, when we know that there are a multitude of versions out there. Yes, Disney’s version gets the lion’s share of attention, but there is still space for other stories based on the fairy tale to exist and thrive, which is NOT the case with the Dark Tower.
I guess I’m writing all of this to say that a part of me is glad that the Dark Tower failed as a movie. Not for any malicious intent or even to make Stephen King any less rich (it won’t), but rather that now, perhaps, other stories based on the “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” can find purchase in the public consciousness and that Stephen King’s version of the Dark Tower doesn’t become the only version of the Dark Tower that exists in the world. “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” is a remarkably rich and varied poem–other writers should be allowed to formulate successful stories and worlds with the Dark Tower as a backdrop just as King was allowed to do by the publishing industry.