Another thing about being nineteen, do it please ya: it is the age, I think, where a lot of us somehow get stuck (mentally and emotionally, if not physically). The years slide by and one day you find yourself looking into the mirror with real puzzlement. Why are those lines on my face? you wonder. Where did that stupid potbelly come from? Hell, I’m only nineteen! This is hardly an original concept, but that in no way subtracts from one’s amazement.
Time puts gray in your beard, time takes away your jump-shot, and all the while you’re thinking—silly you—that it’s still on your side. The logical side of you knows better, but your heart refuses to believe it. If you’re lucky, the Patrol Boy who cited you for going too fast and having too much fun also gives you a dose of smelling salts. That was more or less what happened to me near the end of the twentieth century. It came in the form of a Plymouth van that knocked me into the ditch beside a road in my hometown.
About three years after that accident I did a book signing for From a Buick 8 at a Borders store in Dearborn, Michigan. When one guy got to the head of the line, he said he was really, really glad that I was still alive. (I get this a lot, and it beats the shit out of “Why the hell didn’t you die?”)
“I was with this good friend of mine when we heard you got popped,” he said. “Man, we just started shaking our heads and saying ‘There goes the Tower, it’s tilting, it’s falling, ahhh, shit, he’ll never finish it now.’ ”
A version of the same idea had occurred to me—the troubling idea that, having built the Dark Tower in the collective imagination of a million readers, I might have a responsibility to make it safe for as long as people wanted to read about it. That might be for only five years; for all I know, it might be five hundred. Fantasy stories, the bad as well as the good (even now, someone out there is probably reading Varney the Vampire or The Monk), seem to have long shelf lives. Roland’s way of protecting the tower is to try to remove the threat to the Beams that hold the Tower up. I would have to do it, I realized after my accident, by finishing the gunslinger’s story.
During the long pauses between the writing and publication of the first four Dark Tower tales, I received hundreds of “pack your bags, we’re going on a guilt trip” letters. In 1998 (when I was laboring under the mistaken impression that I was still basically nineteen, in other words), I got one from an “82-yr-old Gramma, don’t mean to Bother You w/ My Troubles BUT!! very Sick These Days.” The Gramma told me she probably had only a year to live (“14 Mo’s at Outside, Cancer all thru Me”), and while she didn’t expect me to finish Roland’s tale in that time just for her, she wanted to know if I couldn’t please (please) just tell her how it came out. The line that wrenched my heart (although not quite enough to start writing again) was her promise to “not tell a Single Soul.” A year later—probably after the accident that landed me in the hospital—one of my assistants, Marsha DiFilippo, got a letter from a fellow on death row in either Texas or Florida, wanting to know essentially the same thing: how does it come out? (He promised to take the secret to the grave with him, which gave me the creeps.)
I would have given both of these folks what they wanted—a summary of Roland’s further adventures—if I could have done, but alas, I couldn’t. I had no idea of how things were going to turn out with the gunslinger and his friends. To know, I have to write. I once had an outline, but I lost it along the way. (It probably wasn’t worth a tin shit, anyway.) All I had was a few notes (“Chussit, chissit, chassit, something-something-basket” reads one lying on the desk as I write this). Eventually, starting in July of 2001, I began to write again. I knew by then I was no longer nineteen, nor exempt from any of the ills to which the flesh is heir. I knew I was going to be sixty, maybe even seventy. And I wanted to finish my story before the bad Patrol Boy came for the last time. I had no urge to be filed away with The Canterbury Tales and The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
The result—for better or worse—lies before you, Constant Reader, whether you reading this are starting with Volume One or are preparing for Volume Five. Like it or hate it, the story of Roland is now done. I hope you enjoy it.
As for me, I had the time of my life.
Stephen King January 25, 2003 Most of what writers write about their work is ill-informed bullshit.I That is why you have never seen a book entitled One Hundred Great Introductions of Western Civilization or Best-Loved Forewords of the American People. This is a judgment call on my part, of course, but after writing at least fifty introductions and forewords—not to mention an entire book about the craft of fiction—I think it’s one I have a right to make. And I think you can take me seriously when I tell you this might be one of those rare occasions upon which I actually have something worth saying.
A few years ago, I created some furor among my readers by offering a revised and expanded version of my novel The Stand. I was justifiably nervous about that book, because The Stand has always been the novel my readers have loved the best (as far as the most passionate of the “Stand-fans” are concerned, I could have died in 1980 without making the world a noticeably poorer place).
If there is a story that rivals The Stand in the imagination of King readers, it’s probably the tale of Roland Deschain and his search for the Dark Tower. And now—goddamn!—I’ve gone and done the same thing again.
Except I haven’t, not really, and I want you to know it. I also want you to know what I have done, and why. It may not be important to you, but it’s very important to me, and thus this foreword is exempt (I hope) from King’s Bullshit Rule.
First, please be reminded that The Stand sustained deep cuts in manuscript not for editorial reasons but for financial ones. (There were binding limitations, too, but I don’t even want to go there.) What I re-instated in the late eighties were revised sections of pre-existing manuscript. I also revised the work as a whole, mostly to acknowledge the AIDS epidemic, which blossomed (if that is the word) between the first issue of The Stand and the publication of the revised version eight or nine years later. The result was a volume about 100,000 words longer than the original.
In the case of The Gunslinger, the original volume was slim, and the added material in this version amounts to a mere thirty-five pages, or about nine thousand words. If you have read The Gunslinger before, you’ll only find two or three totally new scenes here. Dark Tower purists (of which there are a surprising number—just check the Web) will want to read the book again, of course, and most of them are apt to do so with a mixture of curiosity and irritation. I sympathize, but must say I’m less concerned with them than with readers who have never encountered Roland and his ka-tet.II
In spite of its fervent followers, the tale of the Tower is far less known by my readers than is The Stand. Sometimes, when I do readings, I’ll ask those present to raise their hands if they’ve read one or more of my novels. Since they’ve bothered to come at all—sometimes going to the added inconvenience of hiring a baby-sitter and incurring the added expense of gassing up the old sedan— it comes as no surprise that most of them raise their hands. Then I’ll ask them to keep their hands up if they’ve read one or more of the Dark Tower stories. When I do that, at least half the hands in the hall invariably go down. The conclusion is clear enough: although I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time writing these books in the thirty-three years between 1970 and 2003, comparatively few people have read them. Yet those who have are passionate about them, and I’m fairly passionate myself—enough so, in any case, that I was never able to let Roland creep away into that exile which is the unhappy home of unfulfilled characters (think of Chaucer’s pilgrims on the way to Canterbury, or the people who populate Charles Dickens’s unfinished final novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood).
I think that I’d always assumed (somewhere in the back of my mind, for I cannot ever remember thinking about this consciously) that there would be time to finish, that perhaps God would even send me a singing telegram at the appointed hour: “Deedle-dum, deedle-dower/Get back to work, Stephen,/Finish the Tower.” And in a way, something like that really did happen, although it wasn’t a singing telegram but a close encounter with a Plymouth minivan that got me going again. If the vehicle that struck me that day had been a little bigger, or if the hit had been just a little squarer, it would have been a case of mourners please omit flowers, the King family thanks you for your sympathy. And Roland’s quest would have remained forever unfinished, at least by me.