I’ve kept a detailed outline of how I would adapt Stephen King’s magnum opus, The Dark Tower, since I started reading the second book. Around the time I finished the third book, I started day dreaming about what kind of Dark Tower tattoo I would get. I have no interest in getting a tattoo. But there’s something about this particular Stephen King work that speaks to me on a deeper level than anything else he’s written.
For those unfamiliar with The Dark Tower, it’s a multi-book fantasy/western/horror hybrid about Roland Deschain, the last gunslinger remaining in a world that’s “moved on.” He’s a tortured soul who’s consumed by a quest to reach a mythical “Dark Tower” that stands as the nexus of time and space. It connects all of existence and it’s in danger. Roland must journey to the Tower to save his world and all others.
When I read something, my mind instinctively works out how it would fit on the screen (be it large or small). I’m a purest when it comes to adapting things. Maybe it’s because I enjoy writing and, on a subconscious level, I feel like things need to stay as is when being converted to a different format. Regardless, I often have a clear image of what I want to see in an adaptation.
The Dark Tower is no different.
NOTE: This adaptation does not include The Wind Through the Keyhole
My vision for the Tower is similar to Ron Howard’s in that it incorporates both television and film. But it isn’t the movie trilogy separated by TV mini-series plan he had. Or still has. The project is in limbo and I’m not convinced this iteration will ever see the light of day. No, mine is a television-centric plan that is bookended by major feature films.
For the longest time, I firmly believed the only home for The Dark Tower was HBO. With Game of Thrones, HBO has proven they can take a long fantasy series and put it on television with amazing results. But with Netflix jumping into original programming and Ron Howard having some conversations with them, I’ve switched gears to make my vision of The Dark Tower a Netflix project.
I’m not deluded, I know that this epic tale would be near impossible to pull off for a fledgling content provider. But House of Cards proved that Netflix isn’t totally averse to risk-taking. The Dark Tower has a built-in fan base of readers who have followed Roland and his Ka-Tet for decades. Add to that the rest of King’s Constant Readers and “newborn genre fans” thanks to the mainstream appeal of Game of Thrones and The Dark Tower may just find its audience. Allow me to guide you through how I would bring it to them, say thankya.
BEWARE, SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE DARK TOWER SERIES ARE INCLUDED BELOW…
Netflix Original Movie
The Gunslinger Born
That’s right, a Netflix Original Movie would kick off the massive journey toward the mythical Dark Tower. It’s a no-brainer, really. Netflix has made a big splash in the television arena. It would make sense for them to eventually start putting out original movies. Realistically, though, I suppose it would take several years for them to reach that point. So I would settle for a feature-length pilot episode.
Without question, the opening scene of The Gunslinger Born will be of Roland in the desert with the Horn of Eld. This is very important. It would show that, for all intents and purposes, the adaptation isn’t an adaptation but a continuation of the series. It’s the next cycle of Roland’s quest after the books. I personally loved the fate of Roland in the seventh book. It was perfectly befitting his long tortured, tragic character. I feel like the best way to honor King’s work would be to present it as the next phase of his journey.
There’s also the added bonus of having an airtight excuse for artistic license from the word go.
The Gunslinger Born would be the entire first book (The Gunslinger) along with the story of young Roland’s time in Mejis with Susan Delgado that was told in the fourth book (Wizard and Glass). The Mejis story would be told in flashbacks throughout Roland’s pursuit of the Man in Black a la Lost. We would save the final flashback, where Roland kills his mother, for later in the series, though.
I feel like this would be the best way to go about presenting both of these stories. The Gunslinger is a quick read with a lot of important elements to it. I think pairing the Mejis story would present a version of Roland that audiences could appreciate. Plus, I feel like Roland letting Jake die would pair nicely with the loss of his first love. If handled correctly, it would give an emotional kick off to a lengthy journey.
Following The Gunslinger Born would be a four season television series. The series would be titled The Gunslinger and each season would have a single word subtitle, somewhat similar to the way each book begins.
The Gunslinger: Renewal
I wouldn’t change a thing about The Drawing of the Three. As of this writing, it is my favorite Stephen King book. The way the novel is broken up and the way the story flows lends itself greatly toward a television adaptation. From the start, while reading about Roland’s battle with the lobstrosities, I envisioned it on television.
Considering that The Dark Tower goes beyond just novels and has a vast array of graphic novels in its canon, I’d continue using the flashbacks from The Gunslinger Born. In this season, I would tell some of the graphic novel stories throughout the season. This would be perfect since the first graphic novels pick up after the events in Mejis that I told in The Gunslinger Born. These flashbacks would be incorporated into The Drawing of the Three as dream sequences while Roland is drifting in and out of consciousness after his injuries.
The subtitle for the season, Renewal, would refer to Roland surviving his brush with the lobstrosities and gaining his companions Eddie and Susannah.
The Gunslinger: Redemption
Published Counterparts – The Waste Lands (part 1)
I feel like The Waste Lands should be split into two seasons. This season would cover Shardik, finding the Path of the Beam, Jake finding the rose and finish with drawing Jake into Mid-World. The final episode would show the Ka-Tet together for the first time. It taking three seasons and a movie to reach this point would show the staggering scope and scale of the journey facing the group.
In lieu of graphic novel flashbacks, the storytelling would split between Mid-World and Jake in New York (like the book). It would give us a break from the Roland backstory, with the time being re-allocated to focus on developing Jake, Susannah and Eddie more.
The subtitle, Redemption, would refer to Roland’s redemption for sacrificing Jake in The Gunslinger Born.
The Gunslinger: Ka-Tet
Season 3 would bring back the graphic novel flashbacks that will be told alongside the main storyline. Here the Battle of Jericho Hill would be told. The audience would see Cuthbert’s death at the hand of Randall Flagg. They would see it well.
The main storyline of the season would cover the second half of Waste Lands pretty faithfully. The only thing I would change is Blaine. I liked Blaine the Mono but thought it was a little…silly. I don’t think it would translate well to television. It would be tricky. I would want to make it as dark as possible and maybe sacrifice the riddling aspect entirely.
I’d substitute the “Hobbit inspired” riddling competition with a “2001: A Space Odyssey inspired” AI disconnecting sequence. The season would likely end on a cliffhanger. If only to show respect for the hotly polarizing ending to The Waste Lands novel.
The last few episodes would tackle the end of Wizard and Glass. The confrontation with Flagg and the flashback with Roland and his mother. This would give weight to the story. Roland would confront the man who murdered Cuthbert and his ka-tet would see his deepest secret. It would solidify their bond and strengthen their resolve for the Tower.
The subtitle, Ka-Tet, would refer to Roland’s ka-tet finally being formed and embarking on their journey.
The Gunslinger: Resistance
The last three books were released to mixed results. King wrote them quickly, fearing he’d die before completing the series. Despite some missteps, I loved Wolves of the Calla. It played up the western genre in a really nice tribute to spaghetti western classics. It was also a really good personal growth story for Jake, who became a man in Calla Bryn Sturgis.
2/3s of the season would cover Wolves of the Calla. The only things I would really change from that are the references to Harry Potter, Star Wars and Marvel. Those really bugged me in the book. I’d make the weapons and wolves original without borrowing from other works.
The last 1/3 of the show’s last season would cover Song of Susannah. This would probably mean a lengthy final season, but it would be necessary. Song of Susannah isn’t the best Dark Tower book. I view it more as a bridge between the 5th book and the 7th. It works much better that way and, in terms of an adaptation, it would be better served diluted into a partial season.
In Song of Susannah, the ka-tet was separated. I actually really enjoyed this aspect of the story. It gave the reader a chance to see how certain characters interacted with others and how certain members functioned on their own.
I would probably include Stephen King in the storyline for the show. In theory, I liked the idea. I just think it was mishandled. I know a lot of people hated it, though. I wouldn’t make him as integral to the series as he did in the book. But I wouldn’t cut him out entirely. Maybe it’s because I would really just want to see Joe Hill in a cameo portraying a younger version of his dad.
Really, though, I think it could work as a small cameo. He would still be involved in the plot, though not as prominently as in the book.
The ending is where it would get tricky. I would probably end it with the ending of the book (King’s journal would be reduced to a background TV announcement of his death, probably in the last scene). But I would be really tempted to go on and end the series with the ka-tet’s reunion in book 7. I would ultimately save the ka-tet’s reunion for the beginning of the next movie, though.
The subtitle, Resistance, would refer both to the showdown at Calla Bryn Strugis and Susannah’s fight with demon possession.
Two Feature Films
The Dark Tower Part 1: Ka-Shume & The Dark Tower Part 2: Resumption
Published Counterpart – The Dark Tower
Book seven of The Dark Tower series is my second favorite book by Stephen King. I’m sure that will get a rise out of some readers, but it’s the truth. King mishandled a handful of things while concluding the series. There’s no denying that. But I had formed such a strong emotional connection to these characters that their individual conclusions overshadowed any ridiculous choices made by the Wordslinger. (I mean, honestly, the final confrontation with the Crimson King was pitiful.)
I know it’s trendy (to the point of annoying) for Hollywood to split a book into two movies. It really is a cash grab in 90% of the cases. However, I strongly believe The Dark Tower can be told respectfully in two movies. The story is split very well right down the middle. It’s to the point where it would actually be irresponsible to adapt it into a single movie. Here’s my vision for the end of The Dark Tower saga.
The Dark Tower Part 1: Ka-Shume
For Part 1 I’d have Flagg appear earlier in the story, tracking the Ka-Tet. I think it would be a nice reversal of the first scene with Roland in pursuit of The Man in Black. I would add a scene with Flagg setting up the Dandelo trap so that it doesn’t seem so disconnected from the rest of the book.
I know it’s a big point of contention with a lot of fans, but I’d actually keep his encounter with Mordred the same. Having Mordred murder Flagg really ratcheted up the tension and made him a much more formidable foe for the ka-tet. Seeing Flagg’s attempt to manipulate the monster fail horrifically was both shocking and felt right for both of the characters.
The movie would end with the ka-tet’s assault on the Breakers. That way the movie would end with some substantial action. Not to mention, the movie would end with the tragic loss of Eddie Dean. This happens exactly 50% through the book and would make a perfect endpoint for the first movie. The last scene would be a view of the ka-tet breaking from the perspective of Mordred watching from an unsettlingly short distance.
The subtitle, Ka-Shume, carries weight in the book. Ka-Shume is defined by Roland as the strong feeling one feels when their ka-tet is about to be broken. The movie would have a strong, ominous tone.
The Dark Tower Part 2: Resumption
Part 2 would pick up from there. This is where I’d change a lot. I’d make the Mordred resolution more climactic (maybe take another of Roland’s fingers). And I would have Mordred murder Jake, instead of Jake dying while saving King. This would give the showdown between Roland and Mordred a much larger emotional impact.
I was prepared to cut Patrick Danville out of the movie completely. But I think I would keep him around, only long enough for him to draw the door for Susannah. He’d go through the door with her, never to be seen again. There’s no way in hell he would be near the Tower with Roland. The only way I would keep him around while Roland stood in the rose field is if the Crimson King killed him instantly. I really didn’t like the hokey “erasing” scene.
The final battle with the Crimson King would be more epic. I’m not entirely sure how, though. I’d keep the Crimson King confined to the balcony. But I’d probably have a ton of enemies in the rose field for Roland to shoot his way through. When he reaches the Tower, he’ll blow the Horn of Eld to gain entry.
Once inside he’d palaver with the Crimson King before Roland shoots his eyes out. After that, Roland would climb the stairs in the Tower. The glimpses of his life with every floor of the Tower would remain from the book. Then he would reach his door at the top.
Once Roland goes through the door at the top, I’d have the same thing happen. Only he wouldn’t have the horn. Something else would be in its place though, I’m not sure what. I’d want the ending to be just like the book in that it’s the start of another cycle. But I’d make sure something about it was different from the first book so that there would still be hope that the next cycle would be the last. Maybe I would take a note from Doctor Who and recast Roland for the final scene.
The subtitle, Resumption, would refer to Roland’s tragic fate once he reaches the top of the Tower. Ka is a wheel.
And that’s how I would adapt The Dark Tower series. As I said at the beginning of this post, The Dark Tower means a lot to me. I know that someday it will find its way onto a screen. No matter what form it takes, be it the greatest TV/movie hybrid or an unmitigated disaster, I will always have the books. And I will always be thankful to Stephen King for sharing Roland and his ka-tet’s story with me…and the world.
That does it for today’s Stephen King Week entry. Make sure you check out Tiny’s take on The Dark Tower adaptation. It’s incredibly comprehensive and puts everything you just read to shame. Make sure you follow him on Twitter @ObsessiveTiny and me @ObsessiveViewer. And like the blog on Facebook at The Obsessive Viewer.
Let me know what you think of my vision for The Dark Tower in the comments below!
Want to buy The Dark Tower Series? Here are some Amazon links for you: