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A Masochist's Journey To The Dark Tower For Readers Who Hate Stephen King, Part 1: The Stand Ins For "The Stand" Through "Wizard And Glass"
In September, I suggested a reading order for the extended universe of Stephen King's The Dark Tower, a series I loved, but hadn't read any of since Volume 7: The Dark Tower came out in 2004. I realized that I missed the characters from the series, and wondered if the reading order I suggested would really hold someone's interest all the way through. I scoured some local bookstores, and then the internet for the hardcovers of the books, and prepared for my quest to read a Super Long series of books.
I believe I'm over halfway through my reading of the expanded Stephen King Dark Tower universe. I'm certainly at the halfway of the official books, as I've read The Gunslinger, The Drawing Of The Three, The Waste Lands, and Wizard And Glass, which leaves Wind Through The Keyhole, Wolves Of Callah, Song Of Susannah, and The Dark Tower.
Maybe you are envious of this project but you don't really like Stephen King's writing style. You can still have a similar experience. King's work is loaded with allusions and references. I don't feel they often overtake the narrative (though the final chunk of Wizard And Glass is a bit too on-the-nose Wizard Of Oz for me), but they're there. I've taken somehwat lazy notes during the first half of this journey, and I present you with a list of books that approximate the Dark Tower chronology experience. You can also consider this a For Further Reading List, if you ever do decide to read through the Stephen King chronology. Though, really, you'd be better off getting a time machine, and reading these first, so that you catch all the references during the Dark Tower.
1. Earth Abides: Stephen King sat down to write a book about Patty Hearst. When he couldn't get into it, he started thinking about current events and how they tied into this George R. Stewart novel. So save yourself eight hundred pages, and check out this similarly structured to The Stand post-apocalyptic tale that won the first ever International Fantasy Award in literature.
2. The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath: I'm not big into Lovecraft, which may be a small part of why I wasn't into The Eyes Of The Dragon, The big bad of the first two Dark Tower books references people and places from Lovecraft's mythology, particularly the Plateau Of Leng. Be warned, Lovecraft was not just unapologetic about being racist, he was proud of being a racist jackhole. So imagine this was written by that cousin that you had to block on Facebook. It does fulfill the fantasy horror slot of The Eyes Of The Dragon, though,sooooooo...enjoy?
3. The Waste Land: Dystopian sci-fi, fantasy horror, this reading chronology should be as varied as the actual Stephen King Dark Tower series. So here's one of the most famous epic poems of all time, which gets referenced several times,particularly in, shockingly enough, The Waste Lands.
4. The Masque Of Red Death: Edgar Allan Poe was one of my favorite writers in high school and college. I read his complete works, I performed "The Black Cat" and "The Tell Tale Heart" in forensic speaking competitions. But I haven't read any of them recently. I do remember really enjoying "The Masque Of Red Death", every time it popped up as a reference in a horror based TV show, ,or someone else's short story, and the way it inspires The Shining is fantastic.
5. Welcome To Hard Times: Another inspiration for The Shining. Here we get a Western themed battle of good vs evil by someone who is name dropped in The Shining as having stayed at The Overlook Hotel.
.6. The Complete Winnie The Pooh: You expect a list based on Stephen King books, even if only loosely based, to be mostly dark. And this list is dark. But there's some room for some children's books, too. Alice In Wonderland and Where The Wild Things Are also get referenced in The Shining but Winnie The Pooh is more of a direct reference, and doesn't get mercilessly alluded to the same way Alice In Wonderland does.
7. Death Of A Salesman: Arthur Miller is one of the guests who stayed at The Overlook Hotel prior to The Shining. Let's just imagine that The Overlook is where he wrote Death Of A Salesman, which will be the first script on this reading list. But, perhaps, not the last.
8. The Godfather: During The Drawing Of The Three, we encounter a crime boss in New York who likes to think he's The Godfather, and he might have ended up being as powerful as Don Corleone, if it weren't for Roland and Eddie Dean.
9. The Autobiography Of Miss Jane Pittman: By the time The Waste Lands begins, Susannah Dean is an important, well-fleshed out character. But in The Drawing Of The Three, her two halves: Odetta Holmes and Detta Walker are two separate but equally problematic depictions of Black women stereotypes. King does fix and explain this, but for much of the book, it doesn't feel right. So balance it out with a famous fictional story about a Black Woman written by a Black writer.
10. Paradise: While we're at it, why not have a story that features a Black woman with mental illness that's actually written by a Black woman. I haven't yet read a Toni Morrison book that I wouldn't recommend but this seems the most appropriate in reference to The Drawing Of The Three.
11. Shardik: From the author of the most violent children's book about small, fuzzy, animals comes the tale of a hunter who believes a giant bear is actually a god. This hugely factors into the beginning of The Waste Lands. I kept thinking the reference had something to do with Watership Down, and that my memory was going. Like a bear. Like a bear who was once a god.
12. Slaughterhouse Five: In the first section of The Waste Lands, Roland and Jake imagine they are going crazy as a pivotal moment in their lives both did and did not happen. So what even is real? Billy Pilgrim goes through a not dissimilar problem here.
13. Hell House: An excellent bridge between the first story in The Waste Lands, where Jake Chambers encounters a haunted house, and 'Salem's Lot which centers on a house that haunts the protagonist. It's officially Stephen King approved!
14. Dracula: Vampires. There are s many books about vampires. 'Salem's Lot is one of the great ones, but Dracula is the one that everyone should read. Without it, the lore might have ended up going another way, and then people wouldn't have realized how truly terrible books like Twilight are.
15. 30 Days Of Night: I never bothered to see the movie version of this because it lacked my favorite aspect of this story. Sure, a group of vampires massacres an entire city because there is one night in this city that is a full month long. And the vampires massacring a city is what aligns it with 'Salem's Lot but my favorite part is that it's a group of "young" vampires who do the massacring, and when the older vampires find out, it turns into a generational war between vampires. Also, this is the first, but probably not last, graphic novel on the list.
16. The Lost Causes: A group of misfit kids get together and battle evil in order to save the town where they are growing up? And they have psychic powers? That sounds pretty It-ish, right?
17. Something Wicked This Way Comes: I can't believe it took this long for a Bradbury story to make the list. But, humming along with the It vibe, we have boys coming of age, and a carnival that's set to destroy a town. Also, like It, it has been adapted into various media, including a movie.
18. The Killing Joke: Ok, one more clown story, and one more graphic novel for the list. This is one of the early Very Dark Batman stories. It was never intended to be part of Batman's official canon, but it was so powerful that other writers kept alluding to it, and so it became an official part of Batman, The Joker, The Commissioner, and Barbara Gordon's story.
19.Meddling Kids: Yea, yea, yea,another bunch of kids get together to fight something supernatural. Only it turns out not to be supernatural. Like your classic Scooby Doo episodes, the kids pull a mask off a regular guy, and it turns out there was nothing supernatural about the crime at all. Unless...they were wrong.
20. The Lottery: In the second section of The Waste Lands, we come across a broken society living out an even more horrifying version of Shirley Jackson's famous story. If your middle or high school English teacher didn't already make this required reading for you, you should check it out now.
21. Train To Pakistan: In addition to getting glimpses of the complicated ruins of Lud in The Waste Lands, we also have a train to contend with. While Singh's train is just a train, and not a maniacal would-be god that does cheap impressions and loves riddles, I wouldn't feel right not having at last one book on the list that involves trains.
21. Tropic Of Kansas: When the gunslinger crew gets off of the crazy train, they arrive in a version of Kansas that isn't quite like the Kansas from any of their worlds. Mayhaps it was this version.
22. The Wizard Of Oz: The final chunk of Wizard And Glass is almost precisely the scene from The Wizard Of Oz film where Dorothy and friends reach The Emerald City. Why not just read the original story where the scene takes place?