I read the Dark Tower books as they were published, ordered each new instalment as it was released, and thought the first three books were excellent. However, I found the going tough from there until, after reading book six, The Song of Susannah, I simply gave up. But I found that the story never left me and found it increasingly difficult to remember exactly why I never finished a series on which I had dedicated so much time.
So, after stumbling across the audio-book of the first book in a series of seven, The Gunslinger, I decided to listen, back-to-back, to the entire series. And it provided me with the most enjoyable 132 hours and 45 minutes of commuting time that I have ever experienced, so well do the books lend themselves to the format and in George Guidall and Frank Muller they showcase the talents of 2 excellent voice actors.
Yes, I still had big problems with the sixth book but it did not detract from the overall magnificence of the production.
For those who know absolutely nothing about the Dark Tower books, here is a brief outline of Stephen King‘s magnum opus.
Set in a world that is weirdly related to our own, The Gunslinger introduces Roland Deschain of Gilead, of In-World that was, as he pursues his enigmatic antagonist to the mountains that separate the desert from the Western Sea. Roland, the last gunslinger, is a solitary figure, perhaps accursed, who with a strange single-mindedness traverses an exhausted, almost timeless landscape of good and evil. The people he encounters are left behind, or worse, left dead. At a way station, however, he meets Jake, a boy from a particular time (1977) and a particular place (New York City), and soon the two are joined, khef, ka, and ka-tet. The mountains lie before them. So does the man in black and, somewhere far beyond… the Dark Tower.
The Gunslinger is the shortest book of the series, and accordingly the shortest listen at 7 hours and 24 minutes. The narration is very good with George Guidall (who has recorded over 900 unabridged novels) fitting perfectly with the book’s western feel. But good as The Gunslinger was the second book, The Drawing of the Three, saw a change of narrator as Frank Muller took over the reins.
One thing is obvious – Frank Muller was born to read these books. He is simply magnificent and the way in which he brings each character to life is stunning. When I first heard him speak in Roland’s voice it was like hearing the voice I personally had for the character repeated back to me.
I had never heard of Frank Muller before but a little research showed that it was he that Stephen King always wanted to narrate his work and I instantly realised why. It is difficult to find the words to describe how good he is and so I will repeat an earlier point – when I read a book the characters will form a look and sound within my mind and somehow Muller managed to capture these perfectly (and I know I will not be alone in finding this).
However, my research into Muller also uncovered the tragic news that, in early June 2008, he died at the age of 57 following a courageous six-year battle to recover from a devastating motorcycle accident (Stephen King reads a dedication to Muller at the end of Wizard and Glass). And from that point on the recording was always tinged with a touch of sadness.
The following 2 books, The Waste Lands and Wizard and Glass, were great, with the latter book being much more enjoyable second time around. The 5th book, Wolves of the Calla, finds George Guidall once again behind the microphone and although he might not scale the same aural heights as Muller, he was the perfect choice to complete the series and, after a short period of transition, I found myself once again comfortable in his capable hands.
And then we come to Song for Susannah and I remembered the 2 reasons why I hadn’t enjoyed the book first time around. Firstly there is the fact that King had begun to write himself into the story. Not as a brief cameo (which would have been acceptable) but as an almost demi-god that was all-powerful. I found that this broke the spell under which the series has previously held me and King almost seemed intent on shouting “This isn’t real you know! These are just figments of my imagination!” from the highest peaks. To enjoy a series such as this you need to suspend your disbelief and as such the direction the author took seemed a peculiar one. Secondly there was the way the Japanese were portrayed in a section of the book. Now this might be by explained by stating that they could have been Susannah’s thoughts and words but it seemed completely out of place and reminiscent of George Lucas and his cringe-inducing Trade Federation in the newer Star Wars films. I have read a lot of Stephen King and have never found him the least bit racist (quite the opposite in fact) and this is why I was so surprised by the base ridiculing of the Japanese race.
And so, more than 10 years after I read the first page of The Gunslinger, I finally reached the 7th and final book, The Dark Tower. And once King himself finally (and belatedly) took a bow, the story moved towards a fitting climax. In fact, the ending still resonates with me now, many weeks after having listened to it, and I could not see a way in which it could have been done better. And so the decision to listen through the series in its entirety was rewarded amply as the series became a fine companion over the period of many months. As winter turned into spring and as spring turned into summer, I followed Roland Deschain across the desert all the way to the foot of The Dark Tower itself. It is a journey I will never forgot and one I will always remember fondly.
If, like me, you have a lengthy commute, I could not recommend more highly that you spend that time in the company of Stephen King’s epic, so wonderfully brought to life by Guidall and Muller.
Listen and enjoy.
The Dark Tower series (unabridged) by Stephen King
Narrated by George Guidall (The Gunslinger, Wolves of the Calla, Song of Susannah, The Dark Tower) and Frank Muller (The Drawing of the Three, The Waste Lands, Wizard and Glass)
Length: 132 hours, 45 minutes
Publisher: Penguin Audiobooks