Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Dark Tower: A Suggested Reading Order for the (Extended) Series

The Wind Through the Keyhole is a mere two weeks away, and with it I'm sure there will come a renewed interest in the overall Dark Tower series.

Prompted partly by that, and partly by a conversation I had on Facebook, I decided to take a stab at creating a Suggested-By-Honk-Mahfah list of what order the Dark Tower books ought to be read in.  In order to do that, I first had to figure out which books belong on the list and which don't.  It might seem at first glance that that list would be cut-and-dried, but remember, there are several books outside of the series that are rather essential to the overall tale.  I always wondered, for example, how anyone who read Book VII without the benefit of having read Insomnia managed to have any grasp at all on what was going on with Patrick Danville.  But apparently, people did.

In any case, I've taken a stab at crafting a list of what any true Dark Tower fan needs to read in order to get the full benefit of the series, along with some justifications of why I've placed them in the order I've placed them in.

Let's get started. #1 seems obvious.

#1 -- The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger (2004 revised edition)

I mean, really, where would you start other than at the beginning?

I was tempted to suggest that you begin with the original version, and then read the revised version at some later date, but as I was typing away attempting to justify that opinion, I realized it simply didn't hold up.  In fact, it wouldn't quite work if you read the series that way, because certain things in the original version contradict certain other things elsewhere in the series.  This, of course, was part of the reason why King revised the novel.

So it's really a no-brainer: start with the first novel in the series, and make sure it's the revised version.

By the way, there are apparently people who don't like The Gunslinger, and there are even people who recommend that you skip it altogether and begin by reading the second book in the series.

Those people are not to be heeded.  You HAVE to read The Gunslinger, and you have to read it first.  If you should find yourself not enjoying it very much, just stick with it.  It's relatively brief, and you'll be done with before you know it.  Then, move on the the second book, and if you get a hundred pages into it and still aren't enjoying it, then quit reading the series, because you will not enjoy anything that comes after it.

#2 -- The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three

Like I said just a moment before, if you get more than about a hundred pages into The Drawing of the Three and aren't enjoying what you're reading, then I would recommend stopping right there.  Odds are, The Dark Tower -- and possibly Stephen King altogether -- are not for you.

Overall, this is one of the best books in the series, though, so I find it quite easy to recommend to people.

#3 -- The Stand (uncut edition)

Obviously, this novel is not part of the main series, and it was not evident that it was related to the series in any way until well over a decade later.

However, there is a character in the Tower series who also appears in this novel, and I think it's important that when he shows up in the main series, you already know who he is.  With that in mind, I think taking a break between books II and III makes for a good place to slot in The Stand, as well as the other King novel in which that character appeared before he began pestering Roland and company.

And yes, you should read the revised, uncut edition as opposed to the original edition.

#4 -- The Eyes of the Dragon

Without giving anything away in terms of who the character is who crosses over from The Stand, I can just say that he appears here also, and that you will figure it out the second he walks into The Eyes of the Dragon.  This is assuming that you don't already know, of course.

The Eyes of the Dragon is a nice, breezy little fantasy novel, and it makes for a decent shift in tone -- as well as in page count! -- from the dark epic that is The Stand.  Next up:

#5 -- The Talisman

Written in collaboration with Peter Straub, The Talisman is an epic fantasy novel that introduces a few concepts that would become fairly important to the overall Tower series, although it would not be apparent that they were important for many years after this book's publication. 

#6 -- The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands

This is the favorite novel in the series for a lot of people, and I can see why: it's got a lot of great action, introduces a couple of major new characters, and is just generally awesome.

I'm sure a lot of people will be exasperated by the idea that I'm suggesting you read the first two novels in the series, then delay reading the third by first reading three novels that have only mild tangential connections.  Well, it's a valid response, but trust the Mahfah: he knows what you need.  And I think the sense of time's passage you will gain by taking a break between The Drawing of the Three and The Waste Lands will be of benefit to your enjoyment of the series.

#7 --The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass

Apparently, some Dark Tower fans aren't wild about this book.  I may as well tell you new readers now, so that you'll know in advance: the vast majority of the book consists of a lengthy flashback to a tale from Roland's days as a youthful Gunslinger.  Personally, I find the insights you gain into his character to be indispensable; others seem to disagree, and while I see where they're coming from, I think they're dead wrong; this one of my absolute favorite books in the series.

#8 -- 'Salem's Lot

We now come to the point in the series where it becomes necessary to take an extended break. There are a number of books which are related to the series, several of which are absolutely essential, and all of which provide valuable insights into the concepts at work within the overall tale.

In my mind, it makes sense to take all of these in -- except for the three we dealt with earlier (those were important because they introduce a character who appears in Book III of the series, and also because of certain concepts in one that are mirrored in Book III) -- at once, and there are several reasons to do this.  The most important is that it preserves the experience of reading Books V, VI, and VII of the series as they really ought to be read: back-to-back-to-back.  However, there are also insights, characters, and concepts which appear in most of these ancillary books that will be of benefit to anyone reading books V-VII.

With that in mind, I'm recommending that people read all of these ancillary books more or less in the order they were published.

The first of those is 'Salem's Lot, which introduces a character who will become an important part of the final three books in the series.

#9 -- The Mist

The Mist is a novella which can most easily be found in the collection Skeleton Crew.  It has no explicit connections to the rest of the series, but anyone who has read it might have a better understanding of at least one scene from Book VII.
Plus, it's damn good, and not very long.

#10 -- It

I debated not putting this on the list, because -- like The Mist -- it has no explicit connections to the series.  However, there is an important scene toward the end of the novel that includes a character who ... well, that character doesn't appear in the series, but the idea of that character becomes crucially important during Book VI.
Additionally, it is possible that a certain character in Book VII is, in fact, a character from It.

This is a very, very long novel, but it's one well worth reading, and while its connections to the Tower series are somewhat brief, they are also important.

#11 -- Insomnia

Another long novel, but this one isn't as long as It, plus it is of vital importance to Book VII of the series.  At least two characters who are important to the series make their first appearances here, and in one scene, a character even has a dream about Roland!

This one is essential.

#12 -- Rose Madder

I may as well tell you: I'm not a fan of this novel.  However, it does feature some mild connections to The Dark Tower (specifically, to Book III), and some concepts that feature into the series.  Also, Stephen King includes it on his official list of books related to the main series.

Who am I to dispute Stephen King?

#13 -- Desperation

This novel has some major echoes in the Dark Tower novella "The Little Sisters of Eluria," and it also informs some of the concepts introduced in the final three books.

#14 -- The Regulators

This novel was published simultaneously with Desperation, and the two of them serve as Twinners of each other (that's a reference to The Talisman).  With that in mind, if you read Desperation you also need to read The Regulators; I tend to think of them as two volumes of the same book.  And yes, Desperation is Vol. 1, simply because that's the one King published under his own name.  (The Regulators was published under his "Richard Bachman" pseudonym.)

#15 -- "Everything's Eventual"

This is a short story, which can be found in the collection of the same name, Everything's Eventual.  The story introduces a character who will appear in Book VII.

#16 -- Bag of Bones

I debated leaving this one off the list, but, like Rose Madder, Stephen King says it belongs.

The connections to the series are tenuous, but they are there, and one character from Insomnia puts in a brief appearance. Plus, it's a good novel.

#17 -- "The Little Sisters of Eluria"

Michael Whelan's artwork from the anthology Legends

Well, this one is a no-brainer, because it's a novella about one of Roland's adventures.  It takes place before The Gunslinger, but after the flashback which comprises the bulk of Wizard and Glass.

It's good stuff, and elements of it are of minor importance in Book VI.

Plus, by now, you'll be very appreciative of spending a bit more time with Roland.  The novella can most easily be found in Everything's Eventual, but made its original appearance in a collection of novellas titled Legends.

#18 -- Hearts In Atlantis

One of the main characters in this strangely-structured -- but outstanding -- novel will be extremely important in Book VII.

#19 -- Black House

To say this novel -- which is a sequel to The Talisman -- is important to the overall series is an understatement of epic proportions.

#20 -- From a Buick 8

This is another one I would have omitted from the list if not for the fact that King included it on his.  Its connections are tangential at best.  However, it is a good novel, and relatively short, so you may as well give it a go.

#21 -- The Wind Through the Keyhole

This is an actual Dark Tower novel, so its inclusion is a must.  Chronologically, it takes place between Books IV and V, and I'm going to suggest that it be read immediately prior to Wolves of the Calla.

#22 -- The Dark Tower Book V: Wolves of the Calla

This begins the three-book finale.

#23 -- The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah

This middles the three-book finale.

#24 -- The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower

This concludes the three-book finale.  And a grand conclusion it is.

#25 -- The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger

I'm going to recommend that you conclude your journey by locating a copy of the original version of the first novel and giving it a look-see.  Perhaps not immediately, although reading it that way will certainly bring up interesting associations when read in conjunction with Book VII...


I omitted several titles from the list which I considered including.  These are:

The Tommyknockers:  This novel arguably has an interesting connection to The Talisman, but the connection is brief, and the novel is otherwise unrelated to the series.

Needful Things and Storm of the Century:  These books -- one of which (Storm) is a screenplay for the movie of the same name -- could theoretically be said to feature characters who (a) are the same character who appears in several other King novels, including several in the Tower series or (b) are related to that character.  However, the connections are not even implied; they are only possible if you choose to look at them in that way.  King has never said that they are, and really, until he does, there is no reason to include these two stories.

The Plant: Zenith Rising:  This serial novel is (a) not in print and (b) incomplete.  That's reason enough to leave it off.  The reason to put it on is that one character seems to be using a language that is used in certain part of the Tower series,but is most prominently used in Desperation.

Dreamcatcher:  The only connection here is that the novel is arguably set in the same reality as It.  That's not much of a connection.  Plus it's not a very good novel/

11/22/63:  King has said this book is not related to the Tower books, but I'm convinced that it is.  You should listen to Stephen King, but either way, you should read this novel, because it's a good one.

And, finally, I debated listing the Marvel Comics Dark Tower graphic novels at the end, but that opened up a can of worms that I'm not currently prepared to address.  Since they are not written by King, I feel fine in excluding them from this particular conversation.


I hope this was of some use to you!  Happy reading!

(And before I go, I'd like to throw in a plug for a post I wrote on one of my other blogs, The Steven Spielblog.  It's a Worst-to-Best ranking of all of the 'berg's films, and you can find it here if you're so inclined.)


  1. Well, not bad. The only thing I'd change is to good naturedly disagree on the ordering of Desperation and Regulators. I'm sorry, I'm just convinced the R should go before the D in this case.

    I believe you're right when you say it's a two part work, making it one of the few multi-part stories King has devoted to an essentially non-Tower character (i.e. Tak, and Pennywise didn't merit such treatment? What gives?)I just think that Regulators is part one and Desperation the finale. If I had to give justification for the ordering it would be this, the action sequences in Regulators act as a natural contrast to the more sedate tone and pace of Desperation.

    After non-stop opening action in the first act the audience will be ready to settle in and hear the rest of the story.

    I also believe Tak is the same character in both stories which brings me to my second point for order justification. If you look at Tak as the same character in both books, his actions in Desperation begin to make more sense, he's looking for Revenge.

    Still, that's just me.

    Going back the Tower novels. I got a confession to make. Having had a chance to pour over the revised gunslinger I have to say the new pacing and rhythm of the new edition strikes me, at least, as clunky compared to the 81.


    I will say though that I'm impressed that you managed to dig up so many King connections from just one film. I was only aware of Harris.

    I feel I should warn you, the film is by Alex Cox (director of Repo Man, with Harry Dean Stanton, hey I found a connection!) and the film is about the Nicuraguan 80s scandal and some footage from it is shown at the end. Just a heads up.

    One element "Walker" has with the Tower Mythos is the use of deliberate anachronisms and that I leave you to find out.


  2. Yeah, I'd imagine it works either way you read "Desperation" and "The Regulators."

    You know, I've never seen "Repo Man." Seems like I probably ought to have by now...

  3. I recently read the Fourth Edition of Rocky Wood's "Stephen King: Uncollected, Unpublished," and it reminded me of a few titles I omitted from the list and should not have. The most notable of these is undoubtedly the short story "Ur," which has Low Men as characters.

    Also worthy of mention: "Lisey's Story," in which a major character makes reference to Discordia, and the short story "The Reploids" which is arguably about the walk-in happenings which also appear in "Song of Susannah."

  4. Hmmm. after I am done rereading Cell and Lisey's Story (Next on my list) I might change the rest of the list to this list. Just because I am thrilled to read The Wind. I might read that first. Then buy the revised versions. Then go read it in this exact order. I have all these books (And more) so that shouldn't be a problem. ;) Thanks!

    1. Drop back by and let me know what you think of "The Wind Through the Keyhole" once you've read it, Daecca -- and thanks for reading!

  5. I definately will, Soon as I read it. wich will probably be right after Cell. I am in the middle of it right now. I will probably be finishing it when Wind will get out for the public here in hte NL.

  6. I wish I'd read this before starting my re-read!

  7. My wife and I are going to start reading these together and we are going to follow your list. Thanks for compiling it. I read the whole series a few years ago but I am compelled to read it all over again.

    1. Wow, that's awesome! By all means, drop back by and let me know how it goes.

    2. She is having trouble getting through book 2 but is determined to finish it. She really loved "It" and this series is just not living up to that book's complexity as of yet.

      For me, I finished book 2 and skipped The Stand (I really don't like that novel at all) and Eyes of the Dragon (love this one but read it not too long ago). So I moved on to The Talisman and I have to say that it is probably one of the worst books I have ever read. The last 150 pages of the book are atrociously bad with terrible writing (saying the word Talisman 7 times in a single paragraph) and other things I won't bother mentioning here. There were some good moments early on in the book, but those were squandered by the end.

    3. Yeah, I'm not a big fan of "The Talisman," either. I like the sequel, "Black House," a bit better.

  8. Thanks for this list; I've wanted to read Dark Tower since it finished but I never knew what other books I should read or in what order, and this clears it up a lot. I love long reading projects like this

    1. A decent number of the titles listed here are VERY incidental to the overall series, but I figured it was best to just create a complete list and let people make their own decisions as to how thorough they wanted to be.

      Have fun reading! ;)

    2. Thanks. The only King books I've read are The Stand, which I really liked and I've read three times, and The Tommyknockers, which was only so-so. Looking forward to reading some more of his (supposedly) better stuff.

  9. Great list! I've actually already embarked on your list (but I'm only on The Stand right now). I couldn't put The Gunslinger down!

    I was just wondering if you're going to keep this list updated as new books come out. And since your not writing this blog anymore and have another blog, how long will this stay on the net? Any plans to take the list down? That would be traumatic for me and my journey through the Dark Tower.

    I'm a late comer to Stephen King, but your list has definitely made me a huge fan!

    1. Wow, awesome! I'm definitely glad to hear you enjoyed "The Gunslinger"; that one isn't universally loved even among King fans, but it's one of my absolute favorites.

      I don't have any current plans to take the posts off the web from this incarnation of my blog. That might happen eventually, but not for now. In any case, I imported almost all of my posts here to my new blog, so here is a link to this post on that blog:

      I will DEFINITELY be updating the list when and if other books/stories appear. And boy oh boy, do I hope that happens...!

      Thanks for reading!

  10. Googled to find a reading order for The Dark Tower on a whim--I had planned on re-reading (again, for the nth time, this time including TWTTK in its proper spot) and was curious if there was an alternate order. This list is great! Especially since there are a few titles on here that I was itching to reread.

    1. Hey, thanks! I look forward to reading the whole sequence with TWTTK in sequence at some point, myself.

  11. Just curious, but why put The Stand before Eyes of the Dragon?

    1. It was written first, so my rationale is that that novel's version of Randall Flagg is forever the "real" Flagg. So my opinion is that one ought to be exposed to him that way first.

      But, then, I tend to place a greater emphasis on that sort of chronology (the chronology of composition) than some folks do.

  12. Nice work!!! The idea of reading the revised version of the gunslinger, and the original after reading the series is actually pretty good and adds to the idea of the ka as a wheel. One book I'd also add is the Night Shift stories collection, Night Surf serves as an epilogue to The Stand, while Jerusalem's Lot and One for the Road serve as prologue and epilogue respectively to Salem's Lot. It is not entirely necessary but they are nice reads... Another thing is, while I like the Uncut version of The stand a lot more than the original, for the chronology of the tower, the 1978 version would do better; it happens between 1980-1985, right before Wizard and Glass when they visit the plague world, whereas the uncut happens in the nineties which may confuse some people... but other than that, your reading order is almost the same as the order that I read the Tower :)