Here are Part I and Part II of my journey through Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. Part III is focused on my reread of book three, The Waste Lands.
Fair warning: Spoilers ahead.
The Waste Lands begins with signs that Roland Deschain, the gunslinger is slowly going mad. At the end of the previous book, he stopped the Pusher from shoving Jake (the boy who appears in the first book) in front of a car, thus preventing events from the first book from ever happening. This creates an interesting temporal paradox, in which the gunslinger begins to experience split realities — one in which Jake dies and one in which he never met Jake. As time goes on, his mind becomes more and more divided between these two realities.
My love for Stephen King’s books began in high school. At least, that’s when my passion was at its highest peak, a time when I sought out every copy of his work I could find through book stories, libraries, and garage sales and read book after brick-thick book full of nightmares and horrors. Over the years I’ve read over 25 books by King, mostly the novels now considered classics published in the ’70s and ’80s along with several short story collections. I even dedicated a video poem to his work a few years ago to show my appreciation.
Of all the numerous King classics I’ve read, the book I held with most love in my memory was The Gunslinger, the first book in The Dark Tower series. I remember being hooked immediately by the opening sentence, “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” It seemed at the time the perfect opening sentence, setting the main characters into place upon the stage and presenting an immediate mystery as the reader wonders, Why? In fact, I loved that opening sentence so much, I memorized it and the line has often come to mind at random moments over the years.
I remember being blown away by the story, with the plodding gunslinger dragging himself through the desert, the man in black, the boy torn from another world. It leveled me and, although purely in a fantastical way, opened up new ways of perceiving the universe (or universes, as the case maybe). It became one of those books I clung to after reading, not wanting it to be over yet. Continue reading “The Gunslinger – Returning to The Dark Tower, Part I”
When I was 13ish, my cousin shared the movie My Girl with my younger sister and I. We had no idea what we were in for, the fun and funny coming of age story of a girl coming of age eventually left my sister and I completely destroyed, curled up in a balled weeping mess, hugging each other to hold back the feelings.* I remember it taking some time to calm us down, though my cousin claims innocence and no memory of this incident. Over the years, I’ve watched My Girl dozens of times and I’ve wept every time.
So, when My Girl 2 came out a few years later, I had to see it. It was… okay. Not nearly the amount of heart as I would have hoped.
But that’s not the point.
The point is there was one moment in the sequel I adored — when Veda finally sees a video of her mother and she sings the Charlie Chaplin tribute song “Smile” (the only available version of this scene is this really bad recording). I’m sure I cried, because I’m a big baby at movies. There was something about they way the actress who played Veda’s mom is so casual, singing it acapella, smiling to herself, an slightly embarrassed that captured me.
I loved the words, too. They are simple words, but sweet, speaking of holding to hope through hard times, something I could and still can relate to in the face of struggle. It places this among my favorite songs.
So, after finishing the movie, I immediately rewound the tape so that I could start memorizing it. I still know it by heart to this day.
I’m not a good singer (to be honest, I’m terrible), but if asked, I will sing “Smile,” mimicking the inflections of Veda’s mom. I can almost sound okay singing it, or so I’ve been told by my mom. 😉
The words, as I remember them:
Smile though your heart is aching,
smile even though it’s breaking,
although a tear may be ever so near,
that’s the time, you must keep on trying.
Smile, what’s the use of crying?
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile,
if you just light up your face with gladness.
Hide any trace of sadness.
When there are clouds
in the sky, you’ll get by.
Smile through your fear and sorrow,
smile and maybe tomorrow,
you’ll find that life is still worthwhile,
if you just smile.”
Sophie Masson wrote a lovely post about a home she grew up in, which seemed to possess the soul of a good fairy. It was a home of secrete histories and ghosts and wild places to explore (and I recommend reading it, rather than taking it at my sparse description).
Her post immediately reminded me of the park and little woods in Anchorage, Alaska, where I used to live when I was a kid (seven-ish). The park across the street looked out over Cook Inlet, the water grey and, in the summer sun, sparkling. Two sides of the park were framed with little woods, patches of trees that separated the park from other peoples homes. I remember running through those woods and believing them huge, giant forests almost filled with wonders and strange creatures. I remembered looking up at the tall trees and feeling very far from home. I remember stepping only a few feet inside the little woods and feeling as though I could become utterly lost.
As kids exploring the little woods, we once stumbled upon a tree house — just a platform, really — that sat perched at what seemed to be the tippy top of a tree, which we were never brave enough to climb. But we imagined the kind of strange, brave person who would live at such heights.
Another time we discovered a cement slab (something industrial) hidden in the trees. It became the framework for an invisible house in which we pretended to live. It became a stage upon which we pranced and gave our bows. It became the home of an evil man who kidnapped good children and hid them away. It became so many things.
A few years ago, I was remembering the little wood and wondered what would happen, if such a small wood, the kind it was impossible to become lost in, actually hid in its heart an older, much greater wood — the kind one might never return from. That idea inspired a a short story, called “The Witch of the Little Wood,” grew into a novella, which transformed into part one of an unfinished novel that I plan to finish eventually.
My life inspires my writing quite a lot, usually in unusual ways. “The Witch of the Little Wood” makes use of several moments from my life, all unconnected. A phrase shouted at me by my sister during the middle of a fight (which made us laugh at the time) becomes barbed cruelty tossed at our MC by a bully. The awkward feelings of junior high, in which several people whom I thought were friends suddenly changed and became bitter enemies, makes it into the story. Bits of life here and there, hurts and loves and joys, travel through me and become new unrecognizable scenes in my characters lives. Bits of myself show up in everyone, from the heroes to the villains.
Writing is a fascinating process that way. Reading is, too. How you can look at a story just discovered and realize, oh, this is me, this is my life, here is everything I love and hate and need and feel all right there on display.
When you write or read do you often discover yourself in the stories? Does it surprise you?
1. I picked up my sister from the airport on Tuesday. She had just got back from visiting my grandmother in Anchorage, Alaska. She’s 90 years old and my sister and I started talking about how important it is to record her life in some way. I told her that I have photo copies of her homesteading journal (which I’ve been meaning to do something with for a long time) and we both agreed that it would be great to put together a kind of memoir. Likely we wouldn’t try to publish this, though we might put it as an ebook and make some print copies for family through LuLu or something. We just need to make sure we make steady progress on this and not let it be just one of those things we talk about.
2. Speaking of writing, while I was digging through my filing cabinet looking for the copies my grandmother found me, I noticed a stack of paper about an inch thick in one of the files. I couldn’t help but take it out and read it — turned out to be movie script. I started reading some of the pages.
My thought: What is this? Did I write this? I didn’t write this. There’s no way I wrote this. *keeps reading* Oh, my god. I DID write this. I can’t believe I wrote this.
Turns out that stack of paper was the crappy martial arts script I tried to write about a guy and a girl who train and go take part in a tournament in China. It is so, so bad and I’m sure chock full of cultural inaccuracies. This will never ever see the light of day.
3. I saw Pacific Rim and loved it. It was in truth long sequences of robots smashing kaju, which was stunning in its realization, as in jaw-dropped, me-sitting-up-straight-in-my-seat in awe stunning. Beautifully wrought action sequences. It also had characters I like and story that dealt with countries and cultures working together for a common goal (that, importantly, did not revolve around good ol’ US of A saving the day). Rinko Kikuchi is wonderful and I will now be looking to watch every movie she has ever been or will be in. So, yay! I’m so glad I saw this one in theaters.
4. Also, in movies, I recently purchased Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated, a fascinating art project, in which curator Mike Schneider asked artists from around the world to animate sections of George A. Romero’s 1968 classic, Night of the Living Dead. All of the sound for the original movie is the same, the only difference is that the visual element has been changed (which can be done because the original movie is in public domain). Every minute or so, a new animation style flashes on the screen. It’s a little confusing at first, but quickly becomes hypnotizing to watch. A very cool art collaboration (with zombies!).
5. I went to a Curvy Girls Fashion Show (Curvy Girls is the name of a store in Santa Clara). It was just so cool to see a dozen women of varying shapes and sizes, bravely sporting lingerie walk down this make shift runway, while everyone in the audience cheered them on. Good feelings. Also some really cute stuff, costumes and some day ware too, so I may have some shopping to do soon.