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 reached a weird stumbling point in continuity, where I got about 250 pages into what I intended to be the eleventh book, It, and realized it was in the wrong place. I tried to barrel through it anyway, as I was enjoying it, but I had a weird mental block, and finally gave up to read the next book on my list: The Waste Lands. And it was while reading Waste Lands that I had a realization. Waste Lands, as an independent book, shouldn't exist. The first half of the book "Jake: Fear In A Handful Of Dust" really belongs at the end of The Drawing Of The Three. The second part, "Lud: A Heap Of Broken Images" is really the beginning of Wizard And Glass, so, for the chronology, I'm going to pretend that's the way it went down. So I recommend picking up Waste Lands right after finishing The Drawing Of The Three, but putting it down at the conclusion of "Jake: Fear In A Handful of Dust", and THEN reading Salem's Lot and It. I wouldn't normally suggest splitting up a book, but in this case, it makes for a much more satisfying narrative.
I am two men. In 1999, I lived on Cape Cod. As a responsible adult, I remembered to put my new insurance sticker on my license plate, and my car was never towed. I drove to Florida, where I lived for several years, selling fudge, and living with my boss's parents, until I got my own place. After five years, I decided to take my stories about selling fudge at the various renaissance and folk fairs, and become a writer who made money. I moved as far south as I could get, into The Keys. It wasn't quite like retiring. I still did three or four faires a year, and made and supplied the fudge, and later cupcakes, that my employees sold at the faires that I chose not to go to. I also opened a roadside alligator-focused restaurant. By 2012, my partner and I still ran the restaurant, but I sold off the fudge/faire business to the son of the original owner. I should have been happy, but something always nagged me. Every time I heard the words "poetry slam", I would start to get heart palpitations. I refused to set foot in a comic book store. I wrote a series of cultishly popular humorous memoirs under the name Scott Woods, infuriating a librarian in Columbus who I never met. I should have been happy, and I was happy, but there was also a feeling like some part of my life had gone awry.
What went awry was in 1999, I forgot to put my insurance sticker on my license plate, my car got towed with a full trunk of fudge. It took me a week to get the car back, at which point, I'd missed the first two days of the faire I was supposed to work, so I moved in with a friend in Quincy, and became a weekly regular at a poetry slam in Boston. I sold the car. I moved to Vermont. I moved back to Boston. I moved to Arizona. I moved back to Boston. My mother moved to Florida. I got a job in a comic book store. I got into an altercation with the owner when he suspended me for making a phone call to my father the week his wife died. I quit. I went to Florida, but only for a week to visit my mother. I got a job at a different comic book store. I continued to do poetry slam, years after it held any appeal to me. It was just a thing I was used to. And since I also tended bar at a poetry slam venue, it was just easier to keep going and collect money, even though it no longer made me happy.
Don't we all have these moments where we imagine our timeline should have diverged, and there is another version of ourselves living a life we feel we'd appreciate more?
But if that's true of us, then what about the people we impacted in the life we were currently living? There live would surely also be doubled. And ripple. And expand. And a cow farts in a flamethrower factory, and our wonderful life has to deal with the weird rise of President Harvey Weinstein. What a horrible, unimaginable world.
In "Jake: Fear In A Handful Of Dust" we deal with the doubling of The Gunslinger's world. In The Gunslinger, he encountered the boy, Jake, at a way station. Jake was from a New York, where he'd been hit by a car and somehow ended up in Roland's world. And, eventually, Roland let him die. In The Drawing Of The Three, we briefly encountered Jake again, as Roland ended up possessing the man who killed Jake, and thus, Jake lived. And thus, Jake never went to the way station. And, thus, The Gunslinger never met him. This paradox is slowly driving Roland crazy. And, in New York, it's also driving the not-dead-Jake crazy, as he remembers not only dying, but existing in another world that can't be real.
It's a nice balance to "The Lady In The Shadow" and "The Pusher" portions of The Drawing Of The Three, where a character with dual personalities induced by two traumas, committed by the same person who killed Jake, confronts her own duality and becomes an incredibly strong individual whose able to access and shift between the strengths of her previously split personalities.
In that world where I am a cultishly popular writer living in The Florida Keys, I read this directly after The Drawing Of The Three, and didn't have a stray observations list. Lucky for you (and the real Scott Woods), in this world, I did read them out of order which allowed me to notice:
-- This book largely sets up It.
--This book introduces the concept of the Twelve Guardians Of The Beam, and The Beam is going to show up in almost every book left in the chronology.
--"See the Turtle of enormous girth, on his back he holds the Earth" probably isn't meant to imply that Terry Pratchett's Discworld series exists within this universe, but it does set up the references to "the Turtle" in It, a reference that starts early in the book, and, without this book prefacing it, doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense.
--Jake buys a book called Charlie The Choo-Choo, which now exists and can be bought in our world, but is one of Stephen King's creations (and its entire story is contained in this section of the book). The appearance of the book here, combined with Eddie Kaspbrack's encounters with the dying railroads of Derry, foreshadow a major portion of "Lud: A Heap Of Broken Images" and Wizard And Glass.
--Jake's encounter with the haunted mansion is also a nice appetizer for the haunted house aspects of 'Salem's Lot, but it's an unimpressive callback, if you read 'Salem's Lot first.
--for extra credit, you would read all of L Frank Baum's Oz books, and Richard Adams's Watership Down before you read this
--we are now 3, 240 pages along the path of Shardik The Bear