Last month, 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.
Apart from the problematic portions, and the religious philosophy sections, rereading The Stand was like being in your thirties and running into a friend you haven't seen since elementary school. Someone you weren't super close with, but you wish you had been, and they wish you had been. Imperfect, sure, but reacquainting yourselves greatly improves your mundane week. The next book in my chronology is a favorite of a few friends of mine. But, unless I'm misremembering something from down the line, it is My Least Favorite Part Of This Chronology By Far.
I tell you this because I care. The solace we take from speaking calmly to children is not reciprocal. We imagine the wide eyes of toddlers when we yell as fear of volume. But it is only fear of consequences. Should you calmly explain to the niece or nephew who just dropped your indoor cat from your second story window to see if it would land on its feet, that the next time (s)he touches your cat with any intention other than petting, you will cut out the child's eyes and serve them to their parents as vitreous soup, they will be much more filled with wide-eyed terror than if you scream "No TV Or Internet For A Week, You Little Monster!" at full volume.
It's never about volume.
When I was eleven, and terrified of horror movies, I got heavily into the work of Stephen King, so my mostly calm parents, my don't-shield-him-from-horror parents, my encourage-him-to-read-whatever-he-wants-because-he's-at-least-reading-more-than-his-idiot-friends parents, my last-year-it-was-judy-blume-maybe-next-year-it-will-be-tolstoy parents bought me the latest Stephen King paperback, The Eyes Of The Dragon.
I hated it.
As you, dear reader, doubtlessly know, writers who speak to children in hushed tones are often speaking in condescension. Should I explain this further? Many writers imagine children, not their own, mind you, but others' children, are stupid. They believe their writing should be as plain and calmly intoned as possible to help educate the child reader . By spelling out every plot point by having the protagonist's sidekick repeat the lesson that the reader has, no doubt, already inferred, in conversation to another character, the writer feels they have accomplished two things. One: the child has learned the lesson because it was echoed at them. Two: If a parent is reading the story to the child, they will be subconsciously annoyed by the repetition of the lesson, and it will stick in their brain, so that they feel the need to discuss that point with the child, if they somehow manage to stay awake through the reading.
Stephen King is not a writer who aims his books at children. At eleven, I was unlikely to be who he imagined as his ideal reader for It, Cujo, Salem's Lot, and The Shining. But he wrote the Eyes Of The Dragon for his daughter. A girl. Someone around my age when I read the book. This book was written for someone in my demographic, and thus should have been my favorite.
I hated it.
I could not, and did not, gentle reader, express why I hated The Eyes Of The Dragon when I was eleven. I do not remember how many pages my eyes traversed before I put the book on my shelf. I don't believe I ever told whichever parent bought me the book, that I found it boring. That it did not interest me to read it further.
As an adult, I can share with you the truth. The Eyes Of The Dragon is a somewhat interesting premise for a thirty page fairy tale. This is the kind of story you should tell your child in an hour. It is not The Lord Of The Rings. Nor The Hobbit.
There is, of course, an exercise commonly given to writers where you condense a story into Cliff Notes. It's part of the Murder Your Darlings school of editing. And King, as frequent murderer of fictional characters, should more have embraced this practice in his creation of The Eyes Of the Dragon, and presented us with a short story, instead of a novel.
Again, I have conversed with several friends who proclaim that The Eyes Of The Dragon is one of, if not their absolute, favorite novels of Stephen King. I mean those people's opinions no shade. Some people enjoy being condescended to. Or, mayhap, they read this book when they were young, and used to being spoken down to, and it reminds them of a time when they were safely coddled. They are welcome to this retreat. I, too, enjoy some children's books that I read as a child, that I probably would not have enjoyed if I'd first encountered them as an adult.
So, if I, as an adult who is creating a chronology where I am in complete control, did not enjoy this book, whyfor am I recommending you read it? Merely because your taste in writing may differ? As a palette cleanser for the epicly long, more adult-focused apocalyptic The Stand, which you have just finished reading before making it this far?
I leave you to provide the answer at your discretion. Assume you know me well enough to be correct.
I have mostly included it because the villain of the book is Randall Flagg, also the villain of The Stand, which I mentioned earlier. He has the same powers, and the same agenda, but now, instead of being in a disease ravaged twentieth century America, he is in a fairy tale land of kings and baronies. Instead of crucifying his betrayers on the lampposts of Las Vegas, he has them beheaded in the main square. He is still as cunning, as red eyed, and mysterious as The King's Magician, as he was as The Walking Dude. And, just like in The Stand, we don't spend nearly as much time with him as we do with the much less interesting characters who surround him.
I know you are eager to get to The Dark Tower. You wonder why we are two books in and have met A Roland, but not The Roland who will serve as The Dark Tower's protagonist. Why even bother with this world of The Eyes Of The Dragon.
The answer is simple. This book takes place in Roland's world. Some of the language King uses in The Dark Tower series sneaks in. Characters you will not see for several books are casually referenced. Devices that will not be used for thousands of more pages of this chronology, are seen. Their import not quite yet understood. It is the building of a world, and, while it was excruciating for me, it is well loved enough by others for me to believe you would benefit from knowing this story.
There are, over the course of the three hundred pages, several promises by the narrator that we will encounter certain characters again. At the end of this book, you might be tempted to believe that Thomas and Dennis's quest is the journey to The Dark Tower that we will be following. Alas, this will be the last we hear of them. It is time for us to join The Roland on the main quest.
Place this bedtime tale on your nightstand, and give its protagonists no more of your thoughts. Be familiar enough in the world presented here to travel A Bit East and join a more adult crew. Go, now. There are better worlds than this.
--at only 367 pages, this book was just about 1/3 the length of The Stand, but felt three times as long, bringing us to a total of 1,520 pages of Randall Flagg so far.