Dark Tower Redux

 

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You know, I’m almost sorry that I posted that I was conflicted about the failure of the Dark Tower movie to connect with fans.  I mean, this very blog takes its name from a line that Jake speaks in the first book (paraphrasing): “Go then, Gunslinger.  There are Other Worlds Beside this one).  My point being simply that Stephen King DID NOT invent the Dark Tower or the mythos that has grown up around it.  His story is but ONE of MANY out there–yes, it is the most popular, but it is NOT the only story that has been told or will be told about the Dark Tower.  He doesn’t own the Tower anymore than J.K. Rowling owns “Magic.”

However, some really ugly arguments and memes have sprung up around the failure of the movie and just want to take a moment to address some of the most problematic ones.

SCRIPT
So this is where most of the critics and fans have expressed most of their disappointment.  The movie is only approx. 90 minutes long, but tries to infuse 7-8 books worth of material (from my understanding–haven’t seen the movie yet) into this (very) short time-frame.  However, the element that really concerns is the fact the movie writers are essentially “work-for-hire” contractors and considered the lowest on the totem pole for the creative endeavor of the movie.  This is where the problem lies–a movie is a creative endeavor, true, and you need all parts to work, but the script (the story) is the most important part.  Without a solid script, even the best actors and directors are going to struggle.  Yet, writers of screenplays get no version of royalties if the movie does really well nor is their input sought (usually) for rewrites as in many cases they are replaced with other writers and movies become written essentially by committee.  Another thing that hurts writers is the fact that it is a closed system that privileges only a few.  Even in today’s internet connected world, you still have to move to Hollywood if you really want a serious chance at writing a screenplay–how is this even still a requirement in 2017?  If there’s an awesome screenwriter in Wisconsin, the internet is MORE than robust enough to allow that writer to write wherever works for them.

IDRIS ELBA AS ROLAND
This one is the most troubling.  Yes, King based Roland on the “gunslinger” archetype made popular by actors like Clint Eastwood and Yul Brynner.  However, nothing precludes Roland from being portrayed by an actor of another race, even though King’s description may have indicated/favored another race.  There is a tendency on the Internet today to label a person, or group just to be able to belittle said person or group.  Everyone wants a winner, or wants to be associated with a winner.  However, in a capitalistic structure such as the American movie industry there HAVE be winners and losers–there’s no way around it.  You can do things to help swing the pendulum in either direction, but there are no guarantees in a creative endeavor.  If it doesn’t “win,” then there’s this need to find a scapegoat and the Internet is currently on this kick where a diverse person/group gets the blame irregardless of whether or not its fair (I direct your attention to the 2016 Ghostbusters movie as prime example of this).

SONY
Speaking of Sony, I should probably note that Sony also has taken blame in this from many circles.  Sony, as a huge faceless conglomerate, tends to get a lot of blame for things that are beyond their control.  We (probably wrongly) think of the director as the most important component of a movie (I would argue it is probably an equal weight between writer, director, and movie talent), but I haven’t seen or heard anyone criticizing the director, but the studio.

We all hope for our favorite properties to “hit it out of the park” (a la The Lord of the Rings), but at the end of the day–is it the studio that failed to deliever on the story you wanted or was it the script?  Which of the two is more intricately tied to “story” and “story” formation, ideation, and creation?  For me, opening up the system and allowing it to be based on merit (good writers) and not location (living in Hollywood) or more importantly, networking (good a “pitching” a story instead of good at “writing” the story) would be a far more equitable system that might result in a rise in quality in the stories being told, and as a result, increased satisfaction from fans who just want their stories “done right.”

 

 

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Author’s Note: Childe Roland

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On Friday, June 5th, I finished Project Roland. It turned out to be a short-story of (unedited) about 6,000 words long. I’m calling it Childe Roland. I will probably edit it over the next 3 weeks and start submitting it at the end of June.  It is, of course, based on the famous poem by Robert Browning, Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came.

This project has been on my mind for years – I originally planned for it to be a novel (and I might still try to turn it into one later). After years of trying to unsuccessfully trying to plot it and expand it into chapters, I simply wrote down all the action that I saw in my head and shaped that into a story.
Childe Roland is about Roland’s quest to find the Dark Tower. It takes Robert Brownings’ poem, Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came as its inspiration. Yes, I know Stephen King also has a famous series featuring the Dark Tower, but King’s Roland is a Gunslinger (in the tradition of Clint Eastwood or Yul Brenner).

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Every since I read the poem in Dr. Shawen’s English Literature class as an undergraduate at UTC, I’ve imagined Roland as a “sword-bearer,” not a Gunslinger. This was brought home to me when I read about the sword Durandal (aka Durandel, Durindana) that Roland carries in The Song of Roland.

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Very few of my stories actually have a genesis from my dreams, but this story is one of them. As a child, I’ve dreamed of the “Dark Tower” no less than 3 times. I can remember each dream as vividly as if they were from memory of events that actually happened even though they really didn’t. The clearest dream is from a school visit to Red Clay State Park. In the real trip, we traveled the park counterclockwise, from the main center, crossing a small stream, then seeing a remaining Native American meeting lodge, and finally back to the main complex. In the dream, we went clockwise and we started at the lodge, crossed the stream, and then where the right turn should be, there was a pass to the left, I took it and I would up in a darkened copse and there was the “Tower.”
Finally, as luck would have it, as a child, I happened upon the Dark Tower game in a toy store (the precursor to ToysRUs in the 80’s) and persuaded my parents to buy it for me for Christmas. It was, of course, the Dark Tower game. I learned the rules and learned how to beat the game on even its highest, most challenging session ).  I even still to this day have the Tower and the Game Board (although I’ve misplaced the pieces and instructions) for this game!

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So, in a weird way, the Dark Tower has been something that has been apart of my life from my earliest memories, through my childhood, into college, and now again as I a writer. It is only fitting that I should now write a story about the Dark Tower and one man’s quest to find it—even as I’m questing to find my own mythical Tower: success as a writer.