Stephen King's The Dark Tower

By: Robin Furth


It takes many people to transform a manuscript into a book. I would like to thank the talented and hardworking people whose time, labor, and dedication helped to make this Concordance a reality. Here’s a salute to the memory of Ralph Vicinanza, my agent who passed away in 2010. Thanks also to Eben Weiss and the people at Ralph Vicinanza Ltd. A huge thank you to Chris Lotts, my present agent, and all the great folks at the Lotts Agency. My profound gratitude goes to Brant Rumble (my U.S. editor), John Glynn, and all the folks at Scribner; Philippa Pride (my U.K. editor) and all the folks at Hodder and Stoughton; Marsha DeFilippo and Julie Eugley, for years of help and support; my husband, Mark, for living with me through all of this; and Burt Hatlen, who believed in me enough to recommend me for my job as Stephen King’s research assistant. Finally, I’d like to give an extra-hearty thanks to Stephen King, who had faith in a struggling writer living in a secondhand trailer in the Maine woods.



The tale of Roland of Gilead’s search for the Dark Tower is a single tale, picaresque in nature (think Huckleberry Finn with monsters, and characters who raft along the Path of the Beam instead of the Mississippi), spanning seven volumes, involving dozens of plot twists and hundreds of characters. It’s hard to tell how much time passes “inside the story,” because in Roland Deschain’s where and when, both time and direction have become plastic.1 Outside the story—in what we laughingly call “the real world”—thirty-two years passed between the first sentence and the last one.

How long were the lapses between the individual books that make up the entire story? In truth, Constant Reader, I do not know. I think the longest lapse might have been six years (between The Waste Lands and Wizard and Glass). It is a miracle the story was ever finished at all, but perhaps an even greater one that a second volume ever followed the first, which was originally published in a tiny edition by Donald M. Grant, Publishers.2 The manuscript of that first volume, wet and barely readable, was rescued from a mildewy cellar. The first forty handwritten pages of a second volume (titled, as I remember, Roland Draws Three) were missing. God knows where they wound up.

Will I tell you what happens to a story when it lies fallow over such long periods of time? Will you hear? Then close your eyes and imagine a vast department store, all on one level, lit by great racks of overhead fluorescent lights. You see every kind of item under those lights—underwear and automotive parts, TVs and DVDs, shoes and stationery and bikes for the kiddies, blue jeans and mattresses (Oh look, Herbie, they’re on sale, 40% off!), cosmetics and air rifles, party dresses and picnic gear.

Now imagine the lights failing, one by one. The huge space grows darker; the goods so temptingly arrayed grow dimmer and harder to see. Finally you can hardly see your hand in front of your face.

That was the kind of room I came to when it was finally time to write The Drawing of the Three, except then the store wasn’t so big—the first volume was less than three hundred pages long, so it was actually more of a mom n pop operation, do ya not see it. I was able to light it again simply by reading over the first volume and having a few ideas (I also resurrected a few old ones; I hadn’t entirely forgotten what was in those handwritten pages, or the purpose of the tale).

Coming back to write the third volume (The Waste Lands) in the mid-eighties was harder, because the store was once again almost completely dark, and now it was much bigger. Once again I began by reading over what I’d written, taking copious notes, and filling paperback copies of the first two books with yellow highlighted passages and pink Post-it notes.

Another four years passed . . . or perhaps this time it was six. The store had once again grown dark, and by the time I was ready to write Wizard and Glass, it was bigger than ever. This time I wanted to add a whole new annex (call it Roland’s Past instead of the Bridal Shoppe). Once again out came the books—three of them, this time—the yellow highlighter, and the packets of Post-it notes.

When I sat down to complete Roland’s story in the year 2001, I knew that just rereading and writing myself Post-it notes wouldn’t be enough. By now the store that was my story seemed to cover whole acres; had become a Wal-Mart of the imagination. And, were I to write three more volumes, I’d be adding dozens of characters (I actually ended up adding more than fifty), a whole new dialect (based on the pidgin English used by the natives of West Africa and first encountered by me in Richard Dooling’s extraordinary White Man’s Grave), and a backstory that would—I hoped—finally make Roland’s wandering present clear to the patient reader.

This time, instead of reading, I listened to Frank Muller’s extraordinary audio recordings of the first four Dark Tower stories. Unabridged audio forces the reader to slow down and listen to every word, whether he or she wants to or not. It also lends a new perspective, that of the reader and the audio director. But I knew even that would not be enough. I needed some sort of exhaustive written summary of everything that had gone before, a Dark Tower concordance that would be easy to search when I needed to find a reference in a hurry. In terms of the store metaphor, I needed someone to replace all the fluorescents, and inventory all the goods on offer, and then hand me a clipboard with everything noted down.

Enter Robin Furth. She came to me courtesy of my old friend and teacher at the University of Maine, Burton Hatlen. Burt is a wonderful scholar of poetry and popular fiction. He has written about Roland for several scholarly journals, and was sympathetic to what I was up to with the books (indeed, he seemed to understand what I was up to better than I did myself). So I gave him my list of requirements with some confidence (some hope, at least) that he would find the right person.

Someone who was bright and imaginative.

Someone who had read a good deal of fantasy (although not necessarily the Tower books themselves), and was therefore familiar with its rather unique language and thematic concerns.

Someone who could write with clarity and verve.

Someone who was willing to work hard and answer arcane and often bizarre questions (Who was the mayor of New York in 1967? Do worms have teeth?) on short notice.

He found Robin Furth, and my wandering gunslinger had found his Boswell. The concordance you hold in your hands—and which will surely delight you as it has delighted me—was never written to be published. As a writer I like to fly by the seat of my pants, working without an outline and usually without notes. When I have to slow down to look for something—a name in Volume III, say, or a sequence of events way back in Volume I—I can almost feel the story growing cold, the edge of my enthusiasm growing blunt and flecking out with little blooms of rust. The idea of the concordance was to limit these aggravating pauses by putting Roland’s world at my fingertips—not just names and places, but slang terms, dialects, relationships, even whole chronologies.

Robin provided exactly what I needed, and more. One day I walked into my office to discover her down on her knees, carefully sticking photographs to a huge piece of poster paper. It was, she explained, a “walking tour” of Second Avenue in New York, covering the avenue itself and all the cross streets from Fortieth to Sixty-sixth. There was the U.N. Plaza Hotel (which has changed its name twice since I started writing Roland’s story); there was Hammarskjöld Plaza (which did not even exist back in 1970); there was the spot where Tom and Jerry’s Artistic Deli (“Party Platters Our Specialty”) once stood. That poster eventually went up on the wall of my writing room in Florida, and was of invaluable help in writing Song of Susannah (The Dark Tower VI). In addition to the “walking tour” itself, Robin had patiently winkled out the history of the key two blocks, including the real shops and buildings I’d replaced with such fictional bits of real estate as Chew Chew Mama’s and The Manhattan Restaurant of the Mind. And it was Robin who discovered that, across the street from 2 Hammarskjöld Plaza, there really is a little pocket park (it’s called a “peace garden”) that does indeed contain a bronze turtle sculpture. Talk about life imitating art!