Stephen King,
The Dark Tower #3: The Waste Lands
(Grant, 1991)

There's a thing Stephen King has said he doesn't believe in. Planning.

In his stories, he outlines a premise, puts his characters in the setting and lets them roam free. Should they go and investigate that noise in the woods? Sure, why not. Better yet, have half the group go and see what's up, while the stragglers stay back to keep each other company. Then that night, let's have one character start having recurring dreams of a boy he may or may not have seen in the past, and let that same kid have some familiar connection to other characters in the book. And so on.

What this does is creates a thrill ride for the reader, and perhaps for King, too.

It's impossible to guess how King's stories will end based on the way they began. For a series like The Dark Tower, there's some logic behind that philosophy. What began as a "simple" story in 1982 has transformed into a land of mystical creatures and happenings nine years later.

And things have progressively gotten weirder.

Before, the most outlandish thing in The Gunslinger was when Slow Mutants attacked Roland and Jake in a lightless cave. (Or maybe the voices Roland heard when he stepped too close to an Oracle). Now, a character named Susannah was forced into having sex with a demon to distract it from offing her husband. Later, a monorail named Blain hijacked our heroes and threatened to kill them all. Unless, of course, they thought of a riddle he doesn't know the answer to.

Again. It's gotten a little weird.

But it's tough to be too critical, because the series always pegged itself as science fiction -- even if the series' first book didn't read that way. (Or, at least to the extent that The Drawing of the Three and especially The Waste Lands have).

Even so, I'm not giving up. I'll trudge forth for two reasons: (1) because it's Stephen King and (2) because I trust that what was laid out early on will pay off as the series' end draws nearer.

review by
Eric Hughes

2 May 2009

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