Greetings, Constant Reader;
Come with me on a fantastic journey through the mind of one of the greatest living writers to discover which books should be read to truly understand and complete the Dark Tower series. Stephen King began the Dark Tower series in 1970 with the words, "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed," but the series and universe continued to expand for many years to encompass many of his greatest novels.
As a reader who discovered King in the early 90s, I was drawn into the early Dark Tower books more than his other works, and eagerly awaited the continuation of the series - for LONG years at a time! When his other novels began to also feature Dark Tower-related stories, I appreciated the story even more. To make it easier on us Tower Junkies, later Dark Tower novels even noted the related books (in bold) inside the covers to make them easier to find. I think that incorporating his other novels into the Dark Tower series has made this one of the very best fantasy series that I've ever read.
Since I want you to experience the wonderful storytelling in each of these books, I will avoid spoiling them other than to give general information on how the story relates to the Dark Tower Universe. The list is ranked in order of how closely each story is related to the Dark Tower series, and therefore how important it is to read the book to understand the Dark Tower story. Each entry will also include a short explanation of how I feel it relates to the Dark Tower series, and is ranked as such: one star (*) means the relationship is almost nonexistant while 4 stars (****) mean the relationship is central to the plot of the series, and the book is a must-read for Dark Tower fans. Enjoy all of these wonderful books, and the rest of the Stephen King library!
Books Essential to the Dark Tower Story
- Dark Tower I - VII: Main story of the Dark Tower universe; a must-read for all Stephen King or fantasy fans!
- 'Salem's Lot: A priest in this story becomes a very important character in later Dark Tower novels, and the 'Salem's Lot book itself becomes central to the Dark Tower plot. (****)
- The Stand: Story occurs on another level of the "Tower;" Randall Flagg (the bad guy of The Stand) is a major player throughout the Dark Tower series; Dark Tower characters briefly travel in the world of "The Stand" after the story's events have occurred. (****) P.S. The Stand is also being produced as a graphic novel.
- Insomnia: The Crimson King, another evil force, is involved in both this story and the Dark Tower; a lesser character envisions Roland and the Dark Tower, and later is "drawn" into the actual Dark Tower story; this book is specifically mentioned in the Dark Tower series as being the most related to the Dark Tower novels. (****)
- Everything's Eventual: One short story, The Little Sisters of Eluria, is all about one of Roland's earlier adventures; the title story features a man who later is involved in the Dark Tower series (**** for LSoE and the story Everything's Eventual; rest of stories are unrelated)
- The Dark Tower Graphic Novel Series:These comic book series feature Roland's early life, expanding on the Gunslinger and Wizard and Glass stories of Roland's youth, and will culminate with the Battle at Jericho Hill. These are written by Robin Furth (and others), and she probably knows at least as much about the Dark Tower universe as Stephen King himself, as she was the researcher who compiled all the information in the Dark Tower books to help with King's later novels. The graphics give a face to many characters that you have never seen except in your imagination. Although the Gunslinger Born series is closely based on King's stories, the Long Road Home and all later series are almost entirely Robin Furth's creation. She also adds short stories and a great deal of extra information that is related to Roland's world and expand upon what King wrote, but were not part of the original books. (****)
- P.S. All the finished series have been compiled into hardcover books - you can find each for around $15, brand new. Unfortunately, Robin Furth's extra stories and explanations are NOT included in the hardcover books.
- The Eyes of the Dragon: Randall Flagg is a main character again. Story takes place on another level of The Tower. Heroes in this book will be seen again (though very shortly) in a Dark Tower story. (***)
- Black House: Sequel to The Talisman (see below); continues story of another level of the Tower, but specifically involved with the series and speaks of the Dark Tower's main characters. (***)
- Hearts In Atlantis: A character in the central "story" is very important in later Dark Tower books; a lesser character's last name is Dearborn (an alias Roland uses in Wizard and Glass). The book tells us that one of the characters was taught how to be "dim," and the character shudders when thinking of it - perhaps Randall Flagg/Walter 'O Dim/etc. was involved with the character? Much talk about ka - the purpose of life. (***)
- The Talisman: Events occur on two other levels of the Tower, though this was not yet mentioned in this novel. The main character of this book will be back in a more strongly related book, Black House. Other than this, there is no true relation between The Talisman and the Dark Tower. (**) P.S. The television network TNT is working on a miniseries of The Talisman, and reports suggest a third book from Straub and King!
- It: Yet another level of the Tower, in the all-important state of Maine. "It" is very similar to many other King villians, especially in the universe of the Dark Tower. The turtle in this book is important in the Dark Tower series. (**)
Almost Non-Existent Relationship
- Desperation and The Regulators: Feature some of the gods/spiritual beings of the Dark Tower series - perhaps beings from between the worlds; both stories take place on different or twin levels of the Tower. Vehicles in The Regulators remind us of cars used by the Low Men, and one even has a silver satellite dish on top, as many of the robots do in the DT series. One Regulators character has the ability to create a hideout in her mind, much like Susannah does in the DT. (*)
- From a Buick 8: Beings and items come from another level of the Tower, or perhaps the car is a type of thinny. A character has the last name of Dearborn, which was an alias of Roland's. (*)
- Rose Madder: a street in this book is named Dearborn, which was also Roland's alias in Wizard and Glass. Rosie travels into another world which could be another level of the tower. Continues the idea that people have "twins" in other worlds or that many worlds are very similar with key differences. Ka is discussed in this book and the city of Lud (a city of Roland's world) is mentioned in passing. (*)
- Skeleton Crew: The short story, The Mist is basically about a thinny that opens up in our world. Remember that thinnies are mist-like "portals between worlds" where the fabric of reality is bent. The movie "The Mist" takes this even further by showing the creatures that come from the thinny; many of these creatures look and act similar to creatures from Roland's world according to the descriptions and artwork. The main character is an artist who is painting Roland at the beginning of the movie. (* for the original story, though the actual movie seems more strongly related)
- Bag of Bones: Much of the action takes place in Sara Laughs (the main character's home); this house was referenced in the Dark Tower series when Roland and company travel to Maine, although it was called "Cara Laughs" at that time - another "twin world?" (*)
I'd like to also include some of King's other books that I feel are also related but were either not listed or were written after the DT series was concluded. These books mirror some of the worlds of the Dark Tower, or feature characters that are extremely similar to Dark Tower characters. These stories also give you much more of a feel of Stephen King's style of writing and especially how bad guys operate.
- Lisey's Story: Much of the story's events take place in another world, much like The Talisman/Black House, or as in going "todash" like in the later Dark Tower books. Characters can switch between the worlds at will, as in the Talisman or Black House (though this is much more difficult for characters in the Dark Tower books). The phrase "Bool! The End!" is used as a major part of the story; this phrase was also uttered by Walter in Dark Tower IV - Wizard and Glass.
- Needful Things: Leland Gaunt is a being very similar to Randall Flagg; instead of doing the dirty work himself, he causes others to do it, much like Flagg in almost all cases. Gaunt could have come from the darkness between the worlds of the Dark Tower, or could even have been a brother of Randall Flagg, in my opinion. According to the story, Gaunt always turns up in different places, just like Flagg. This story mentions "the coming of the white," which is also uttered in Dark Tower novels; Roland is an agent of "the white." Perhaps Leland Gaunt foretells Roland's coming in his own world.
- Storm of the Century: Andre Linoge is again very similar to Randall Flagg in using people to kill or hurt others. He has been around for a long time, but is not immortal. Perhaps he is also one of the beings from between the worlds.
- Duma Key: This story features an artist who can create or destroy by painting (an identical power to that of a character in the Dark Tower 7 and Insomnia)
- Nightmares and Dreamscapes: Umney's Last Case is a story of a writer who creates and controls a world with his words - which will be very important in later Dark Tower books (a similar power was demonstrated in Word Processor of the Gods). Crouch End tells of people who travel to another world (via a thinny?) and experience untold horrors in this (twin?) world.
- Just After Sunset: The story N. sounds very similar to aspects of the Dark Tower series such as the stone rings (speaking rings), beings traveling between worlds (via thinnies), and the mention of the number 19 as a very bad number.
Please vote for this guide to help others experience this wonderful series and all the writings of Stephen King! I will continue to add information to this guide as I continue to look back through my SK novels and read the Dark Tower graphic novels.