In any case, in 2001—by which time I’d begun to feel more myself again—I decided the time had come to finish Roland’s story. I pushed everything else aside and set to work on the final three books. As always, I did this not so much for the readers who demanded it as for myself.
Although the revisions of the last two volumes still remain to be done as I write this in the winter of 2003, the books themselves were finished last summer. And, in the hiatus between the editorial work on Volume Five (Wolves of the Calla) and Volume Six (Song of Susannah), I decided the time had come to go back to the beginning and start the final overall revisions. Why? Because these seven volumes were never really separate stories at all, but sections of a single long novel called The Dark Tower, and the beginning was out of sync with the ending.
My approach to revision hasn’t changed much over the years. I know there are writers who do it as they go along, but my method of attack has always been to plunge in and go as fast as I can, keeping the edge of my narrative blade as sharp as possible by constant use, and trying to outrun the novelist’s most insidious enemy, which is doubt. Looking back prompts too many questions: How believable are my characters? How interesting is my story? How good is this, really? Will anyone care? Do I care myself?
When my first draft of a novel is done, I put it away, warts and all, to mellow. Some period of time later—six months, a year, two years, it doesn’t really matter—I can come back to it with a cooler (but still loving) eye, and begin the task of revising. And although each book of the Tower series was revised as a separate entity, I never really looked at the work as a whole until I’d finished Volume Seven, The Dark Tower.
When I looked back at the first volume, which you now hold in your hands, three obvious truths presented themselves. The first was that The Gunslinger had been written by a very young man, and had all the problems of a very young man’s book. The second was that it contained a great many errors and false starts, particularly in light of the volumes that followed.III The third was that The Gunslinger did not even sound like the later books—it was, frankly, rather difficult to read. All too often I heard myself apologizing for it, and telling people that if they persevered, they would find the story really found its voice in The Drawing of the Three.
At one point in The Gunslinger, Roland is described as the sort of man who would straighten pictures in strange hotel rooms. I’m that sort of guy myself, and to some extent, that is all that rewriting amounts to: straightening the pictures, vacuuming the floors, scrubbing the toilets. I did a great deal of housework in the course of this revision, and have had a chance to do what any writer wants to do with a work that is finished but still needs a final polish and tune-up: just make it right. Once you know how things come out, you owe it to the potential reader—and to yourself—to go back and put things in order. That is what I have tried to do here, always being careful that no addition or change should give away the secrets hidden in the last three books of the cycle, secrets I have been patiently keeping for as long as thirty years in some cases.
Before I close, I should say a word about the younger man who dared to write this book. That young man had been exposed to far too many writing seminars, and had grown far too used to the ideas those seminars promulgate: that one is writing for other people rather than one’s self; that language is more important than story; that ambiguity is to be preferred over clarity and simplicity, which are usually signs of a thick and literal mind. As a result, I was not surprised to find a high degree of pretension in Roland’s debut appearance (not to mention what seemed like thousands of unnecessary adverbs). I removed as much of this hollow blather as I could, and do not regret a single cut made in that regard. In other places—invariably those where I’d been seduced into forgetting the writing seminar ideas by some particularly entrancing piece of story—I was able to let the writing almost entirely alone, save for the usual bits of revision any writer needs to do. As I have pointed out in another context, only God gets it right the first time.
In any case, I didn’t want to muzzle or even really change the way this story is told; for all its faults, it has its own special charms, it seems to me. To change it too completely would have been to repudiate the person who first wrote of the gunslinger in the late spring and early summer of 1970, and that I did not want to do.
What I did want to do—and before the final volumes of the series came out, if possible—was to give newcomers to the tale of the Tower (and old readers who want to refresh their memories) a clearer start and a slightly easier entry into Roland’s world. I also wanted them to have a volume that more effectively foreshadowed coming events. I hope I have done that. And if you are one of those who have never visited the strange world through which Roland and his friends move, I hope you will enjoy the marvels you find there. More than anything else, I wanted to tell a tale of wonder. If you find yourself falling under the spell of the Dark Tower, even a little bit, I reckon I will have done my job, which was begun in 1970 and largely finished in 2003. Yet Roland would be the first to point out that such a span of time means very little. In fact, when one quests for the Dark Tower, time is a matter of no concern at all.
—February 6, 2003
I. For a fuller discussion of the Bullshit Factor, see On Writing, published by Scribner in 2000.
II. Those bound by destiny.
III. One example of this will probably serve for all. In the previously issued text of The Gunslinger, Farson is the name of a town. In later volumes, it somehow became the name of a man: the rebel John Farson, who engineers the fall of Gilead, the city-state where Roland spends his childhood. . . a stone, a leaf, an unfound door; of a leaf, a stone, a door. And of all the forgotten faces.
Naked and alone we came into exile. In her dark womb, we did not know our mother’s face; from the prison of her flesh have we come into the unspeakable and incommunicable prison of this earth.
Which of us has known his brother? Which of us has looked into his father’s heart? Which of us has not remained forever prison-pent? Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone?
. . . O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.
Look Homeward, Angel