The Dark Tower

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The Childe (Apprentice Knight) Roland holding up a sword.  Book Cover.  Image Source: GoodReads.com

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The Man in Black vs The Gunslinger (Stephen King’s The Dark Tower). Movie Poster. Image Source: Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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“Project Light”-A Science Fiction Story

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The above picture is a painting by Richard Caton Woodville, Jr.  It is a painting of the “Charge of the Light Brigade,” made famous by the poem of the same name by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.  I am using this poem as an epigraph for my story “Project Light.”  I am also using the poem to help define the theme of the story.  I’ll do a proper Author’s Note on the story after I finish it, but I wanted to jot down my reactions on creating this story up to this point.

This is the story that I wanted to work on after Ship of Shadows (aka “Project Shadow”).  However, this story wasn’t coming together.  I knew the main character, I knew the plot, I knew how I wanted the story to end, but this story would not come together.  Here are 3 reasons why (after reflecting about it and looking at it through the lens of hindsight):

  1. It was conceived in the weeks after my grandmother died.  It was conceived as sort of an elegy to her.  A celebration of her strength and determination and of living well despite a life of unfulfilled dreams.  She often lamented that she was born “50 years too soon.”  It staggers my mind and boggles me when I think of all of the opportunities that she missed now that the world has changed.  I wanted a way to celebrate her in writing and this story came to me.  This is an emotional story to write as I want to get it right and I’ll accept nothing less than “perfection” for this particular story.
  2. As a result of number one above, it is a very personal story.  The hero has more of “me” (the author) in him than any of my other stories.  To be clear, the main character is NOT me, the author.  It just means that at any given time their are more of my thoughts and traits in him than for other protagonists that I’ve created.  In other words, I’ve made up “less” and reached into myself “more” when illustrating the things he does, where as other main characters, I’ve tried to pull out my own personal traits and thoughts and put in the traits/thoughts of others who I’ve run across.  This probably the most “autobiographical” story that I’ve done (which just means that the rejections are going to be harder to take whenever I do finish and start submitting this story)
  3. It deals with a number of topics that are (to put it bluntly) pretty harsh.  It deals with the idea of losing ones family, of continuing through on through the pain of loss, and of the nature of death.  I’ve been in a college classroom where a student unbeknownst to me committed suicide and I was asked if I knew him because I sat only a few seats from him.  I’ve been in another college classroom where a classmate died only a few weeks before the class was finished because he didn’t have medical insurance and refused to go to the doctor due to the cost.

None of these things are easy to deal with.  Add to the fact that I try to use my writing and reading to “escape” from these topics mean that this story is hard to write to say the least. My sci-fi and my fantasy are the very definition of escapism.  Yet this story demands to be written.  Like another story I have in mind (another “hard to write” one–for different reasons), it will NOT leave my mind.  I can see it just as well as I see this one and eventually I’m going to have to put it down on paper as well.

Yet, I can’t make myself to give into the “Grim Dark” movement that is currently so popular.  Will my protagonist make it out or will he succumb to darkness?  The plan is that he will come out, but will be forever changed by his experience.  And that, to Edgar Allan Poe (creator of the short story form) and to Alfred, Lord Tennyson (author of The Charge of the Light Brigade) is very purpose of fiction: to inform, to elucidate, and to illuminate the human condition.