Monday, November 7, 2016

A Suggested Reading Order for the Extended "Dark Tower" Series (Revised 2016 Edition)

I've been threatening promising to produce a revised version of this list for quite some time now, and here it is, at long last.  We're a bit less than nine months away from The Dark Tower debuting on movie screens worldwide, and despite that lengthy wait, in some ways the Tower is closer than ever.  What was at one point in time seen almost as a sidebar among King's work is increasingly thought of as his magnum opus.

With that in mind, I assume there is still a need for somebody out there to help newcomers to the series sift through all the noise to figure out what books they should and shouldn't read if they want to read the series.  I'm happy to provide that list for anyone who might find it useful.

I wrote the first version of this post way back in April of 2012, and I think it more or less got the job done.  However, in a bifurcated-thinking manner that Roland himself might recognize, I began to feel over time that my list was both too short and too long.  If that seems odd, then let me rephrase: what I was actually feeling was that there needed to be two (or more) different lists, each of which catered to readers with different levels of interest.

It seemed like a good idea, and I've decided to run with it.  So let's get started by looking at what books I deem to be truly essential to the series.  You could begin by simply reading the novels that comprise the actual series, but I don't think that gives you everything you actually need, so I've included a few other titles that cannot be ignored without severely limiting your understanding of the overall universe.

Oh, by the way: there will be no spoilers in this first list; there might be some very mild ones in the later lists, but nothing that should cross your eyes too much.  The comments will be a free zone for spoilers, though, so tread carefully there.
  

THE ESSENTIALS

  
The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger (revised edition) 
 




Newcomers to the series may not be aware of this, but there are three versions of The Gunslinger.

Version #1: the five stories that appeared from 1978-1981 in issues of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (sometimes referred to as F&SF).  These were: 
  • "The Gunslinger" (1978)
  • "The Way Station" (1980)
  • "The Oracle and the Mountains" (1981)
  • "The Slow Mutants" (1981)
  • "The Gunslinger and the Dark Man" (1981)
The only way that I know of to read these versions of the stories is to track down the individual issues of the magazines.  They tend to be fairly expensive in secondhand markets, although if you are diligent and get lucky, you can sometimes stumble across one at an affordable price.  I got incredibly lucky a while back and found a complete set for about a hundred bucks.  (And eventually, I plan to sit down with the magazines plus the 1982 and 2003 versions and compile a comprehensive list of the differences among the various editions.)
  
Version #2: the 1982 novel The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, which collected slightly revised versions of the five F&SF stories in a limited-edition hardback.  A trade edition came out several years later, when King finally got tired of fans pestering him for a more widely-obtainable edition.

Version #3: the revised edition pictured above, which came out in 2003.  It is substantively the same novel as the 1982 edition, but does make major additions and revisions that help to bring the novel in line with the rest of the series.

So, the question: what version should newcomers to the series read?


I say go with the revised 2003 edition.  I personally prefer the 1982 version, for reasons I'll talk about later; but there are scenes and concepts in books five through seven that are reinforced by the 2003 revision of The Gunslinger.


The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three 




1987's The Drawing of the Three is the first sequel, and it established the numbering system that King would use for the series going forward.

There are people who dislike The Gunslinger, and while it's one of my favorite novels (not merely of this series but both among King's entire body of work AND among all the novels I've ever read by any author), I suppose I can see their point of view well enough; I just don't agree with it.  Even those readers say that The Drawing of the Three is great, though; and on that subject, we are in agreement.  It's one of the best entries in the series.

My official recommendation: if you don't like this novel, you should skip the rest of the series.  You might like the third novel, but I'm nearly certain you won't like any of the rest.


The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands 




Many Towerphiles hold this novel up as the series' best, and it's hard to argue with them.  I honestly don't know what more you could want from a novel than what this one gives you.
 


Insomnia 




Roland and his ka-tet do not appear in this novel, which is set not in Mid-World but on Earth.  It's about a senior citizen who begins experiencing severe insomnia and, in his sleep-deprived state, begins seeing the world as it truly is.  From there, things get weird.

The reason this novel is, in my opinion, a must-read for anyone on a quest to the Tower is that it introduces two characters who will be important figures in later books in the series.
  

The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass 




This is one of the books in the series that I flirt with naming when somebody asks me what my favorite is.  It's a toss-up between the first four in the series, actually; I think I would ultimately say that The Gunslinger is my favorite, but in my opinion, they are all terrific.

Wizard and Glass is a different novel from the rest in some ways, and while some readers have been put off by that, I think that what's going on here is crucial to the understanding of the series (and of Roland himself particularly).


"Everything's Eventual" and "The Little Sisters of Eluria"




"Everything's Eventual" is a 1997 short story that appeared in F&SF and introduced a character who will pop up again in a later Tower novel.  It's not a major story, and if you skip it you will be pretty much okay.  However, the story appears in King's 2002 story collection Everything's Eventual, which also contains "The Little Sisters of Eluria."




What, you ask, is "The Little Sisters of Eluria"?  It's a 1998 novella that first appeared in the anthology Legends (for which fantasy authors like George R.R. Martin, King, and others provided original spinoff novellas set within their storytelling universes).  It tells a flashback story about young Roland Deschain that is set prior to the events of The Gunslinger.  It's entirely self-contained, and can be read by anyone without prior knowledge of the Tower series; conversely, one could skip reading it and find that one's quest for the Tower would not be massively impacted.

Don't skip it.  It's very good, and since it's about Roland, it's a no-brainer for inclusion.  Since you are most likely to find a copy of the novella in Everything's Eventual, you may as well read "Everything's Eventual" while you're there.

Another don't: don't listen to anyone who says you should read "The Little Sisters of Eluria" prior to reading The Gunslinger.  That is silly talk.


"Low Men In Yellow Coats" 




Depending on who you ask, Hearts In Atlantis is either a collection of novellas and short stories or it is a novel.  I lean toward saying it is a novel, because the individual stories have a chronological and thematic progression, and some characters do carry over from one to the next.

Nevertheless, it's equally possible to view it as a collection, and it's true that some of the stories contained within it have no bearing on the Dark Tower.

The first one -- the novella short novel "Low Men In Yellow Coats" -- absolutely does.  Like a few of the other stories contained in this list, it introduces a character who will appear in later Tower novels.  Whether one reads the entirety of Hearts In Atlantis or not -- and it's a terrific novel/collection, so I say go ahead and read it -- one should definitely read "Low Men In Yellow Coats."


Black House 




Black House is a 2001 sequel to 1984's The Talisman.  You will note that I've omitted The Talisman from this list, and you might justifiably ask why that would be.  My answer is that The Talisman does not contain any material that has direct impact on the Tower series.  I would add that while Black House certainly benefits from a familiarity with The Talisman, it is in many ways self-contained; one could read it without having read the first novel and not be completely lost.  I wouldn't recommend it, but you could, and for that reason I decided to leave The Talisman off this version of my list.

Black House, however, must be on it.  It advances the Tower story considerably despite the absence of Roland and the ka-tet.

There are arguably two problems (if not more) with this.  First, I'm not a huge fan of the either of the King/Straub novels; you might be, but then again, you might like them even less than I do (and I know at least one devout King reader who cannot stand The Talisman or Black House).  Second, I feel as if some of what King and Straub establish in Black House is never followed through on properly in the Tower novels that come after it.  So while I think the Tower-centric material is great, I also think that it's almost a set of promises that King ends up breaking later, and that it is therefore a bit of a bummer.

You will have to be the judge; but without Black House, I don't think you get a true picture of the final novels in the series.

For better or for worse.


The Dark Tower: The Wind Through the Keyhole 




Published in 2012, The Wind Through the Keyhole is a novel that is set between books IV and V in the series.  For that reason, I'm listing it in that position.  King has said that that is the proper way to read the novels, and I currently tend to agree with him.

But that's not the only way to look at it, and we will revisit this subject later on.


The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla 
   



For those of you who do not know this, Stephen King was hit by a car while walking down the side of a road in 1999.  He nearly died, and if he had, this series would have ended half-finished.

King survived, though, and before long he decided to buckle down and conclude the series.  Consequently, from November of 2003 to September of 2004, Towerphiles were gifted with three novels that brought the story to a close.

Some say that the rush to the finish line shows, and that the final three novels are not of a piece with what came before.  Others say this is rubbish; and indeed, Wolves of the Calla seems to be one of the most beloved novels in the series.

I'm somewhere in the middle of all that, opinion-wise.  I do think the first four novels are better than the three that followed them, but that's more of a compliment to I-IV than it is an insult to V-VII.  I think there is a lot to love in those novels, and Wolves of the Calla in particular has some of the most memorable sequences in the entire series.


The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah 




If there is such a thing as a "worst" Dark Tower book, I think this is it, and I suspect most Towerphiles would either agree with me (or object that The Gunslinger is the worst).

Nevertheless, it is a crucial novel in the series if but for a single reason.  Am I going to tell you what that reason is?  I am not.  You will simply have to trust me.


The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower 




In some ways, the very title of this novel -- not to mention its cover -- is a spoiler.  Sorry about that; it simply can't be avoided.  But don't assume that it means what you think it means; or even if it does, don't assume you know anything about what will happen as a result.

I remember when the titles of the final three novels were announced, I felt a bit swoony for a half a second when I saw the title of Book VII.  By that point, I'd been reading the novels as they came out since 1990; reaching the Tower was never a foregone conclusion within the story, and King's near-death episode made it an uncertainty in the real world.

All I'll say about that is this: King was aware of these issues, and The Dark Tower reflects that awareness.  for some, King's approach did not work; for me, it worked like a charm, and on a grand scale.  I think this is a great novel, and while I might have preferred to see the series go in a different direction, I nevertheless love what came out of it.

There's that bifurcated-train-of-thought thing again!  It seems to be a running theme of my conversation about this series.

How very appropriate that is.

To conclude an earlier thought, the title of this final book seemed perfect in advance of its publication.  I wouldn't trade that feeling I got from it, but in retrospect, I do sort of wish King had come up with a different title, if only to make it easier to refer to the final book by its title.  This is why I typically just say Book VII; it's easier.

Well, anyways, that's my list of the essential books for the series.  Let's now move on to the next level up:


THE ESSENTIALS, EXPANDED VERSION


My second list is going to be considerably more expansive, and is essentially a revised version of the first post on this subject.  Some of it will need explanation, and some of those explanations might require very mild spoilers; but, again, I don't think most of you need to worry too much.

Here goes:

  • The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger (revised edition) -- I still think starting with the first book is the only thing that makes sense.
  • Salem's Lot -- This 1975 novel is crucial to Wolves of the Calla.  In a way, you get everything you need to know about Salem's Lot from reading Wolves of the Calla, but I think it nevertheless makes sense to read it.  Plus, great novel.
  • "The Dark Man" -- This 1969 poem is King's earliest writing about the figure who will eventually become (arguably) the most important villain in the Dark Tower series.  It's going to be easiest to find via the 2013 book The Dark Man, which reprinted the poem with copious illustrations.  Personally, I don't think it's much of a poem, and I don't think you'll miss out on much of anything if you skip it.  But if you can find it easily, it's worth the handful of minutes it will take you to read it.
  • The Stand -- A 1978 novel (revised and considerably expanded in 1990) about a plague that wipes out most of the world's population.  Randall Flagg, the "Dark Man" himself, is the bad guy here, and he will go on to be a massively significant figure in the series.  For the purposes of this list, I'd say the 1990 edition is definitely the one to read.
  • "The Mist" -- Most easily found within King's 1985 collection Skeleton Crew, "The Mist" tells the story of a military experiment gone wrong.  It has no direct relevance to the Tower series, but there is a scene in Book VII that seems related.  Plus, great novella.
  • The Talisman -- As mentioned earlier, this novel is the one to which Black House is a sequel.  Apart from that, there are a great many ideas in the novel which can be said to be related to ideas in the Tower series.  King and co-author Peter Straub do not make those connections explicit, which is why I omitted this novel from my abbreviated list of Tower essentials; but it MUST appear on any expanded list.
  • The Eyes of the Dragon -- First published in 1984 as a limited edition and published in revised form as a mass-market hardback in 1987, this fantasy novel serves well as a dessert to the meal that is The Talisman.  It shares a villain with one of the other novels on this list; or, technically, with multiple novels on this list.
  • It -- This 1986 epic is not only a great novel, but it's also got some major thematic relevance to the Tower series (and to Song of Susannah particularly, and maybe with Book VII, although that is a matter of some debate). 
  • "The Reploids" -- This 1988 short story has never been collected in one of King's books, but you can probably still find a cheap copy of The Skin Trade, the anthology in which it appeared.  It's by no means a crucial story, but it does contain an early version of a concept that is important to Song of Susannah.  It was published after The Drawing of the Three, but I think you can slot it in right here pretty well.
  • The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three -- You will likely have noticed that I've inserted quite a large number of other books between The Gunslinger and The Drawing of the Three.  This list, remember, is for people who wish to dig a little deeper, and it's my opinion that if you put a big gap between The Gunslinger and The Drawing of the Three, it simulates the five-year gap that existed between the publication of the two novels.  Time gaps like that are useful for this series; they serve a purpose.  You can read the series in either manner, of course; but this is my recommended method.
  • The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands
  • Needful Things -- At the risk of delivering a mild spoiler, let me say now that I realize there are a great many Towerphiles who would balk at my recommendation that you split up Book III and IV.  Most readers, I think, are going to want to go straight from one to the next.  If you feel that urge strongly enough to get antsy about it, follow that urgre.  I won't blame you one bit.  However, you need to know this: there was a six-year gap between the publications of those two novels, and trust me when I tell you that I was there for that gap; it was excruciating.  So if you want to get a little taste of what that agony was like -- and it's an agony that also has its pleasures -- then stick a few other things between III and IV.  You might find that it lends the Tower-related content of those books an added weight.  (By the way, I did not have Needful Things on the version of this list that I compiled in 2012, but I've since decided that it belongs, in large part to to the work of a commenter named Dan.  [Hi, Dan!]  There are no direct connections to the Tower series, but the novel does deal in a direct way with a few of the big-picture concepts that King's entire mythos is built upon.)
  • Insomnia 
  • Rose Madder -- This 1995 novel is partially set in Mid-World, so it definitely counts.  It's one of my least favorite King novels, though.
  • Desperation and The Regulators -- This tag-team of mirror-image novels was released on the same day in 1996, with the latter being billed as a Richard Bachman novel.  For that reason, I prefer to read Desperation first; but a few people have told me that they passionately feel the stories work better if you read The Regulators first.  I'm sticking with my way, but they might be onto something.  The Tower content is considerable, if mostly indirect; some of the ideas introduced here pop up again later (in "The Little Sisters of Eluria," for example).
  • The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass -- The manner in which this one wraps up lends itself somewhat to another lengthy break.  In the real world, it would -- with the exception of "Eluria" -- be six more years before we got the next book in the series.
  • "Everything's Eventual" -- As previously mentioned, this short story can be found in the collection of the same name.  And while you're there you may as well go ahead and read...
  • "The Little Sisters of Eluria"
  • The Dark Tower: The Wind Through the Keyhole -- As I mentioned previously my current opinion is that this novel should be read as a sort of Book IV-and-a-half.  With that in mind, I think it probably makes sense to follow straight on from "Eluria" to Keyhole.
  • Bag of Bones -- This 1998 novel has minor connections to the Tower series, and if King himself didn't include it on his list of related works, I wouldn't list it on mine.  But he does, and the connections are there, however mild; and so here it is.  It's a strong novel, either way, so you're unlikely to regret reading it.
  • Storm of the Century -- This 1999 television miniseries is not directly related to the Tower series (and indeed, King does NOT include it on his list of associated works, so I'm bucking against the Master himself in making my own list).  However, if its villain doesn't remind you of other villains within the series, I'll eat my hat.  I'll have to buy one first, but I'll buy it, and then I'll eat it.
  • Hearts In Atlantis -- You could just stick with "Low Men In Yellow Coats," but the final story in the book also has some relevance that you ought to check out.  Plus, as I've said, great novel.
  • On Writing -- it had never occurred to me before now to include this nonfiction book on my list, but I think it's very deserving of inclusion.  As I mentioned earlier, King had a life-threatening injury in 1999, and I feel that understanding that incident is crucial to understanding the way he resolves the Tower series.  Nowhere will you gain a better understanding of that accident than from On Writing, which is both a great book and probably the closest we will ever get to a King autobiography.  So in my opinion, it absolutely belongs on this list.
  • Black House 
  • From A Buick 8 -- This 2002 novel is similar to Bag of Bones in that if King didn't include it on his list of connected works, I might have omitted it from mine.  But there are connections, which I leave you to find for yourself.
  • The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla 
  • The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah 
  • The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower -- It is my considered opinion that the final three novels in the series should be read in sequence, with no interruptions.  They were published that way -- albeit with brief gaps of a few months -- and the prose reads, in my opinion, as that of one long novel.
  • The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger -- For this expanded version of my essentials, I recommend diving from Book VII straight back into the 1982 version of the series' first novel, so as to gain an idea of the differences.  Some folks won't care about that sort of thing; I feel certain that you do.  TRUST me.
  • Cell -- This 2006 novel has a lot of Tower-related imagery via a comic book drawn by one of the main characters.  (And we again have Dan to thank for bringing these connections back to my attention; I'd apparently forgotten about them after reading the novel a decade ago.)  In a way, Cell shows that even after the conclusion of the series, the events of that series are still radiating out through King's multiverse.
  • "Ur" -- This 2009 short story can be found in King's collection The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, and is related to the series in a way that is best left for the reader to discover.
  • 11/22/63 -- King has said that this 2011 novel has no connection to the Tower, but I don't believe him.  You shouldn't either.  And even if you do, this is a great novel that is well worth reading.

And that is where that list sits as of now.  There are other things that probably could be included, but I think that for most folks, that's going to be a sufficient list of the essential Tower-related works.

Not everyone is "most folks," though, are they?  So let's have a look at one more list, this one for the hardcore fan.


THE ESSENTIALS AND THEN SOME


For those of you who want to get the full experience, I've decided to expand my list even further, and make an additional set of recommendations.  Even as I type that, I'm aware that others more obsessive than me would probably go even farther still; and I'm also aware that my own faulty memory might have caused me to forget a title or three.  So if you think something belongs here that isn't here, let me know, and maybe I'll add it.
  
A word about the order: for this list, I've decided to go (mostly) in strict chronological order.  Generally speaking I am a big believer in using a chronological road map to follow the compass of some particular body of work.   Let's say you decided to listen to all of Bob Dylan's music.  You could do it in any old order you chose, but I believe that if you listen to it in chronological order, you will get a clearer idea of the manner in which Dylan's artistry shifted and changed over time.  That, in turn, gives you a clearer idea of what each song means, both on its own and within the broader context of the work.

In no way do I think that that is the only way to proceed; it's just my preferred method.  Consequently, now that we're looking at a more holistic approach to experiencing the Dark Tower universe, I'm going to revert to that method.  In other words, if you notice The Gunslinger no longer comes first, don't feel as if I'm randomly being inconsistent with my other two lists; there is indeed purpose behind the decisions I've made.

  • "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came" by Robert Browning --  This poem has been cited by King as a direct influence on the Tower series.  I'm resistant to listing works by other authors on this list, but in this particular case, it seems appropriate.  Let it serve almost as an epigraph for the series.
  • "The Dark Man" -- As previously discussed, this poem about the figure who would turn into Randall Flagg has significance in a historical sense.  Like "Childe Roland," it can function almost as an epigraph to everything that comes next.
  • "The Hardcase Speaks" -- This is a 1971 poem that does not seemingly have any direct connection to the Tower, and may not even have any indirect connection.  So why am I including it?  Well, Randall Flagg, the eventual villain of the Tower series, is referred to as "the hardcase" in The Stand, so I think this poem may be an unofficial sequel to "The Dark Man."  If you want to read it and make up your own mind, you'll be able to find it in The Devil's Wine, an anthology pof poetry by horror writers.  Good luck finding a copy of the book; but, still, that's where it is.  (By the way, I've broken by chronological approach a wee bit to keep these three poems in an epigraphical position.  Apologies for the inconsistency!)
  • "Night Surf" -- This short story, originally published in 1969 and collected in 1978's Night Shift, serves as a sort of prologue to The Stand.  It's not essential, but it's probably worth your time.
  • "Slade" -- This short story was published in weekly installments during the summer of 1970, and is a fourth-wall-breaking satire of Westerns.  It's fairly awful, but since its origins seem to coincide with those of The Gunslinger, I think it's got enough historical merit to be included here.  Good luck finding a copy, though; it's never been reprinted, and is almost impossible to locate.
  • "The Blue Air Compressor" -- Another awful story, this one (from 1971) includes more of the sort of fourth-wall-breaking that can be said to be of interest to people reading the Tower series.  This, too, is a difficult story to locate, although it was reprinted in a 1981 issue of Heavy Metal and is scheduled to be reprinted in a 2017 anthology called Shining in the Dark.  But trust me when I tell you: you're not missing much.
  • Carrie -- King's first published novel came out in 1974, and while it has no direct connection to the Tower, it does include the first of his telekinetic/telepathic main characters.  That concept will be important to the Tower series as a whole: we will eventually learn that such individuals can be put to use as Breakers (don't worry for now about what that means).  Carrie White could be said to be a potential Breaker, and for that reason, I think it makes sense to include her novel on an expansive list like this. 
  • Salem's Lot -- Part of the reason why I decided to make this list chronological in nature is that while I love the interconnectedness of King's work, there are times when I grow weary of it.  I love the way Salem's Lot works within the context of Wolves of the Calla, for example; but it's just as true to say that I dislike the way Salem's Lot was robbed of its independence by having been made a part of the broader Tower narrative.  In other words, when I re-read Salem's Lot, I prefer to think about the Dark Tower series as little as possible.  Reading the books in chronological order helps in that capacity.  (By the way, I'd like to address the fact that I'm omitting two short stories related to Salem's Lot, "One for the Road" and "Jerusalem's Lot."  I think both are germane to a reading of Salem's Lot, but I don't think they serve any actual purpose to the Tower.  Some might say that that's an inconsistent approach, since I included "Night Surf."  I'm sticking by the decision.)
  • The Shining -- One of King's best novels, this 1977 work is another example of a potential Breaker.
  • The Stand -- The original, abridged 1978 version.  But if you want, you can sub in the 1990 expanded version instead.
  • The Dead Zone -- This 1979 novel is about another potential Breaker.  Although, let's be clear: any time you see me saying that, I'm giving you my interpretation.  None of those novels -- Carrie, The Shining, The Dead Zone, or any of the later ones I will be listing -- say a word about "Breakers" or the Tower or anything like that.  In some cases, those books have links to other works that are directly linked to the Tower; but in terms of direct evidence, there is none.  Still, for my personal purposes, I feel they belong and am therefore recommending them to you on that basis.
  • "The Mist"
  • Firestarter -- Yet another potential Breaker.
  • The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger -- The 1982 edition this time.  Read it in its proper context and you're better positioned to appreciate -- or not, as the case may be -- the revisions King makes later.
  • "Mrs. Todd's Shortcut" -- There is a concept introduced in Wizard and Glass that could be said to be the explanation for what is going on in this 1984 short story.  You can find it in Skeleton Crew.
  • The Talisman -- As you now know, this novel was co-authored by Peter Straub.  One thing I don't know for sure is whether any of Straub's later work can be said to be connected to The Talisman or Black House.  If such a thing were to exist, we'd probably have to decide whether it also connected to the Dark Tower series.  That's a can of worms I'd rather not open, but if a persuasive case could be made, I'd be willing to hear it.
  • The Eyes of the Dragon -- Not published widely until 1987 (and in a revised edition), I'm nevertheless listing the novel here, since its limited edition came out later in the same year as The Talisman.  That, I feel, is where it belongs.  Plus, as a reader pointed out to me in the comments of my 2012 post on this subject, reference to some of the events of The Eyes of the Dragon is made in The Drawing of the Three.  So I think it makes sense to place it here from that standpoint, as well.
  • It -- Behold the Turtle of enormous girth...
  • The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three 
  • "The Reploids"
  • The Dark Half -- I'm on really shaky ground including this one, and can't say why I am including it without spoiling the novel.  So I'll leave it at saying that in addition to that unstated reason, this novel includes the first appearance by the main character of Needful Things.
  • The Stand -- The expanded 1990 edition this time.  Hey, why not read The Stand twice?  It will give you a better sense of what changes were made for the expanded edition.  But if that's not your cup of tea, I get it.
  • Four Past Midnight -- This is another one where I'm on shaky ground including it.  And again, I can't say why without being a little spoilery, so I won't.  I will, however, hint that I think all four of the short novels that form this collection -- "The Langoliers," "Secret Window, Secret Garden," "The Library Policeman," and "The Sun Dog" -- could be said to be explained by various concepts contained within the Tower series.  That's arguably less true of "Secret Window, Secret Garden" than of the rest, but I'd still consider it viable in that regard.  (I'll grant you that concepts from the Tower series COULD be used to explain just about any work of fiction.  That's not lost on me.  But I'm being more specific than that; trust me.  I've actually left off quite a few titles that I didn't feel quite managed to merit inclusion.  The Tommyknockers, for example, which nearly made the cut for a few different reasons.)
  • The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands
  • Needful Things 
  • Insomnia 
  • Rose Madder 
  • The Green Mile -- Another potential Breaker here.  There is also a potential connection to "The Little Sisters of Eluria," but I'm not 100% sure of that one.
  • Desperation and The Regulators 
  • "Everything's Eventual"
  • The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass 
  • Bag of Bones 
  • "The Little Sisters of Eluria"
  • Storm of the Century 
  • Hearts In Atlantis 
  • On Writing 
  • The Plant: Book One - Zenith Rising -- Published online in serial format during the year 2000, The Plant has a few references that show it to be connected to the series.  They don't amount to a whole heck of a lot, and the novel was never actually finished, so don't expect too much; but technically speaking, it counts.  As of this writing, it was still available for free on King's website.
  • Dreamcatcher -- Another potential Breaker.  Maybe more than one.
  • Black House 
  • From A Buick 8 
  • The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger (revised edition) -- You're in the big leagues now, so you're more than capable of rereading this novel in revised format so as to better understand what changes King made prior to launching the final three novels in the series.  And unlike my inclusion of both versions of The Stand, I feel quite strongly that you need to read both versions of The Gunslinger, and in this order.
  • The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla 
  • The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah 
  • The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower 
  • Kingdom Hospital -- This one-season television series makes a few connections with the Tower.  Technically, it aired between Books V and VI, but you'd be nuts to watch it in that position.  Also: it's not all that good.  Not awful, but nothing special, either.
  • The Colorado Kid -- This 2005 novel was published by Hard Case Crime, and it frustrated a lot of readers: what was ostensibly either a crime or mystery novel had virtually no crime in it and featured a mystery that was never solved.  But if you've read "The Reploids" and/or Song of Susannah, you might be able to solve the mystery to your own satisfaction.  I'm only speculating about that; but I believe it to be the case, and so here the novel is, on this list.
  • Cell 
  • Lisey's Story -- This one has only mild connections (and is, in my opinion, kind of a disaster as a piece of fiction), but nevertheless ought to be included, just to be on the safe side.  I'm unable to give it an actual recommendation, but I didn't want to let bias prevent me from including it.
  • The Dark Tower by Marvel Comics -- We may as well address this here.  Beginning in 2007, Marvel Comics began publishing comic-book adaptations of the Dark Tower series.  Today, in 2016, they are still ongoing.  The first few arcs were a retelling of (and a furthering of) some of the flashback sequences about young Roland scattered throughout the novels; and as such, they contain a wealth of information about the history and mythology of Mid-World that is not contained in King's novels.  Thing is, King himself had virtually no actual input into this stuff, so while some -- though by no means all -- of it is quite good, it is highly debatable as to how Kingian it is.  Some fans insist it ought to be included; I insist that it should only be considered to be an adaptation.  But if you are making that decision for yourself, right about here is where you'd want to start reading them.  If you do, find an edition that contains all the supplemental material contained in the backs of the single issues; it won't be easy (or cheap) to do, but if you're going to read these comics at all, you need to read them in their entirety.
  • Duma Key -- You could probably say this is another potential Breaker novel.  But there are also thematic connections to Insomnia and Book VII.  (That latter is also true of the short story "The Road Virus Heads North," but I've opted not to include it.)
  • "N." -- This terrific 2008 short story can be found in the collection Just After Sunset, and while it has no direct Tower connections, the odds seem good that the connections are there, just not in explicit format.
  • "Ur"
  • "Blockade Billy" -- This 2010 short story can be found in The Bazaar of Bad Dreams and is only included due to the fact that King's website lists it.  I've omitted a few titles that are present on that list, but have opted to include this one for reasons that sort of escape me.  Or I'm trying to avoid being spoilery.  You decide.
  • "Fair Extension" -- This short story can be found in 2010's Full Dark, No Stars and apparently one character mentions the Tower in it.  Apart from that, I'm not sure about this one.  but what the heck, let's include it anyways.
  • 11/22/63
  • The Wind Through the Keyhole -- All things considered, I do believe this can and possibly should be read as Book IV-and-a-half of the series.  However, there is something to be said for reading it in its chronological-by-composition place, as well.  The break from the characters (eight years between Book VII and Keyhole) has more impact, for one thing; and there are a few mild inconsistencies that might stand out more prominently if you read this within the main body of the series.  I think it works either way; but on this particular list, for you obsessives, I'd recommend placing it here.
  • "Afterlife" -- This 2012 short story can be found in The Bazaar of Bad Dreams.  Not even gonna hint at why I'm including it.
  • Doctor Sleep -- Not only is this 2013 novel a direct sequel to The Shining, but it, too, is about a potential Breaker.
  • Revival -- It's not Tower-connected in any direct sense (apart from a few brief references), but a commenter -- hi, Zoe! -- made a persuasive case for this being considered.  And so I'm including it here.

And there you have it.

I suppose I could make one further list and simply include everything King has ever written.  But that's a little too obsessive for even me to list as a Tower table of contents; at that point, you're just reading King's bibliography, and let's be honest and admit that that's what I would choose.  But I'm me, and you're you, and I don't wish to presume too much.

It would also be possible to craft a list that included the various works referenced or evoked by King's Tower novels, such as The Wizard of Oz.  But that way lies madness, and I'd like to steer clear.

With that in mind, I hope this series of lists will be of use to a few people.  If so, you've got a lot of great reading ahead of you.  Feel free to drop in on the comments and let us know how it's going!

See you at the end of the path.

47 comments:

  1. Hoo boy, if I ever take up this quest again - and I think it's safe to say that sooner or later, somewhere down the line, I will - I am definitely going to travel the Essentials and Then Some trail.

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    1. Thanks! I should have done it long ago, but laziness struck. I figured I'd better go ahead and do it, since the world is apparently coming to an end on Tuesday.

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  2. Great write up! I finished the series a month ago and I didn't read the side stories (Insomnia, etc.) but this just makes me want to read them.

    Also, I may be in the minority but, the second door in The Drawing of the Three killed me, luckily I got through it and read on.

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    1. Interesting -- tell me more! I love that stretch of the novel.

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  3. Hi Bryant! :)
    (just answering)
    I kind of wonder if I should continue here next time with the comments, but I'd hate to break the chain.

    Dan

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    1. I'm good either way, so leave 'em whichever works best for you!

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  4. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS! I adopted your previous list on the old blog as my road map for the Dark Tower series and am currently reading The Talisman. This update is amazing and contains so much detail - I appreciate it so much.

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    1. You are very welcome! Enjoy the reading.

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  5. So I stumbled upon your original list a few months back while trying to determine when I should read The Wind Through the Keyhole, and ended up with 20+ books on my list rather than 8. Seeing as I'm almost done with Wizard & Glass, I decided to pay your blog a visit to see your comments on the upcoming novels in my journey, and what do I find? A whole new list!!!

    I have to admit, these two new lists made me a little anxious, given that I'm already 7 deep into the previous list. Thus, I've decided to stick to my original plan. But, once I've finished, I'll be sure to come back and check out what I'm still missing.

    I will say, I am loving all of the connections. The nod to The Stand in The Waste Lands was great, and that whole scene wouldn't have carried nearly as much weight without having read it beforehand.

    I was originally going to wait to post a comment until I had finished the whole shebang, but seeing as I'm already here, I may as well ask a quick question: As I mentioned, I'm near the end of Wizard and Glass, and I was wondering if you felt like the "bad grass" may have any connection to the short story In the Tall Grass that King wrote with his son? W&G makes mention of children getting lost in it, and that's the main premise of the short story. Anyhow, it was just a thought.

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    1. Very interesting -- it's entirely possible that that story could be connected to "Wizard and Glass" somehow. I'll have to try to find that passage in the novel, as I'd forgotten all about it.

      Thanks for the tip!

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    2. I am in the same boat! Do you remember the old list? I was so close to completing it after a years time! I want to read all these new stories you've mentioned but I would like to finish the list I had been working on! If you remember it please let me know . 1/2 way through black house now.

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    3. Not sure if this link will work, but I did a search for the phrase "bad grass" in conjuction with "Wizard and Glass," and got this helpful page:

      https://books.google.com/books?id=FYr98rTnWP0C&pg=PA551&lpg=PA551&dq=%22wizard+and+glass%22+%22bad+grass%22&source=bl&ots=zp-KNKzXN7&sig=KVYjFyUx0sqEF67q77mtFBxL0uU&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjHj-v1kMbQAhVMOCYKHfDxC7YQ6AEIRjAL#v=onepage&q=%22wizard%20and%20glass%22%20%22bad%20grass%22&f=false

      Scanning through it makes me think that the grass in the novel isn't entirely the same -- it seems like most people get out of it -- but might be related. I'm going to reread "Wizard and Glass" at some point (next year, I hope), and will remember to pay close attention to that aspect of it.

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  6. First and foremost thank you so much for this list! I discovered it after a serious concussion. Hadn't read a book in 2 years and the doctor said all I could do was read to heal my brain. I found your list and joined Roland's crew all the way to black house before I saw your most recent update. I really want to finish the previous list before even looking at his newly updated one, It's a little overwhelming:p can you send me the old list or help me remember what comes next?

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    1. First of all, glad to hear that you're seemingly making a strong recovery. I'm sorry you had to have that as a reason to do a bunch of reading, but I'd be a liar if I didn't say that I thought it was kind of awesome that reading can -- in an active way -- be that powerful a healing force. THAT is awesome, is what that is.

      As for the previous version of the list, it still exists:

      http://thetruthinsidethelie.blogspot.com/2012/04/the-dark-tower-suggested-reading-order_2128.html

      I wouldn't dream of deleting that post, just because the comments are truly epic.

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  7. I stumbled into this blog as one is wont to do in the wee hours of the morning on the internet. I have been planning to re-read the series for the third time, only this time read it aloud to my wife (we have devoured several series this way). I look forward to incorporating your listings when I open her eyes to this magical tale. Thank you!

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    1. That's awesome that y'all read aloud to each other! I read out loud to myself once in a while, but I am terrible at dialogue, so I usually don't go for long.

      Have fun!

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  8. All in all, a very interesting post. I especially like the "holistic" reading order a source of possible style change over time.

    If I had to guess, I's say various people could adopt any of these approaches based upon the degree of how much of a Tower Junkie they are.

    I tend to lob the entire Tower series alongside "The Stand", they're all good, yet if it's a question of quality, then I'd have to say...

    It's interesting. After giving it some thought, while I'm sure King was 100% devoted to this story, I'm left wondering if his talents or even his natural creative interests weren't always tending in other directions.

    King's prose always comes alive whenever he has a story he can sink his teeth into. This is best demonstrated during the Will Hanlon segments of "It". In writing about Mike's growing up on his dad's farm, and the Story of the Fire at the Black Spot, there's a vibrancy and a kind of natural energy to both the prose, and the events it describes.

    Such moments are the hallmarks of any potentially great storytelling I think.

    The closest any of the Tower books reach to this level would have to be in the "82 Gunslinger" and "Drawing of the Three", after that it's all on the same even keel, although I do think "Keyhole" revives a bit of that old vibe.

    However, this doesn't mean the book are bad, I'm not even bothered by the author inserting himself into the story. As far as I could tell, everything was more or less in it's place, barring minor instances of character inconsistency (some of which was amusingly addressed by the fictional King). It all felt of a piece.

    If there's a greatest fault to the series, its as I said, King's natural interests and abilities lie in other directions. In fact, I wonder if the Keystone Earth segments of the series weren't a result of those natural abilities trying to draw the story in a more productive direction. What that direction might be, I don't know, it's just an idea.

    AS it stand, The Dark Tower story is quite good, not the best maybe, but certainly not bad.

    ChrisC

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    1. I'm always glad to hear from you, Chris! I hope things are going well for you.

      "I'm left wondering if his talents or even his natural creative interests weren't always tending in other directions." -- I suspect that his creative urges are so voluminous that they are constantly pulling him in multiple different directions. So it would make sense that his work reflects that to some degree. I'm speculating, of course; who can say for sure?

      You mentioned two of my absolute favorite segments of "It," both of which are terrific. Particularly the Black Spot scenes. If I were compiling a list of the best chapters from King novels -- hey, there's an idea! -- then that one would probably rank highly.

      I agree that the first two Tower novels do seem to be somewhat of a piece with each other whereas the rest seem to be of a slightly different piece (or two).

      I think there is a side of King that is intensely interested in writing purely character-based fiction. I've recently finished rereading "Revival" (look for posts about that in the next week or so), and I had that very observation in assessing it. The best material in that novel is completely non-supernatural, whereas the "horror" material is -- for my money -- a bit rote and forced.

      All that said, I wouldn't trade "The Dark Tower" for much of anything. I just love it to death, warts and all.

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    2. I'm doing surprisingly better than I expected given recent events.

      Anyway,when it comes to the question of supernatural elements, they never seemed forced throughout the entire Tower saga, each event seemed to be the natural outgrowth of the other. The trick seemed to be the expression of the details.

      To demonstrate what I mean, go read Bev Vincent's summary in the "The Road to the Dark Tower". If just the plain summary seems somehow more "there" than the finished books, that may be because King might have had the outline, but he just had problems filling it in.

      This goes back to what I said about his strengths. I hadn't thought about it in a while, so it took a bit to reach the full conclusion that King's best strengths are when he sticks to the contemporary American Gothic mode.

      Trying to right in a western mode, even with a fantasy element tacked on seems to be more of a creative struggle for him. It is, again, a simple question of natural creative strengths and weaknesses. Kipling, for instance only wrote one novel, and I think the reason why is because he knew something about his way of writing didn't hold up after a certain length. It seems the engine always gave out after a certain distance.

      King seems not to have that problem, but it offers a good contrast.

      As for a list of best-of-moments in King's oeuvre, that sounds pretty damn good to me.

      ChrisC

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    3. I suspect I know what events you're referring to: among others, I thought of you when all that began to actually solidify into a thing that was actually happening. I'm not the kind to say a prayer for anybody, but you got my version of it.

      I agree that the supernatural elements didn't feel forced in "The Dark Tower." They have to me in other places, at times: "Rose Madder," "Revival," "Lisey's Story," arguably "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon," and (worst of all) "Cujo." This is not to say that some of those aren't still good (or even great) novels; it just seems like King occasionally comes up with an idea that might be best-served as straightforward character drama, and psyches himself out until he feels the need to impose the supernatural upon it.

      I've not read "End of Watch" yet, but I fear that's what happened there, too.

      The Kipling comparison seems apt. And it makes perfect sense. After all, a writer's drives -- a very different, though related, thing than their style or even their inclinations -- do seem to mandate that they have a mode within which they do their best work. So for a natural poet to also be a natural novelist would be a tall order; and vice versa, of course. You've got to admire Kipling for even trying it the once. I need to read Kipling one of these days, by the way; he's on my list of authors to explore.

      I'd say King doesn't quite have the same problem, true; but I think smaller versions of it pop up here and there throughout his work. All things considered, though, he seems to be quite flexible; he's kind of a marvel in that regard, and while by no means perfect, I don't think that makes him much less remarkable.

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  9. Hello. Thank you for writing this list! I finally got my husband interested in the story and we've been devouring the series on audiobook (he has a hard time sitting still and this allows him to do other things while we listen). I'm going to continue to introduce him to the DT universe so this list is awesome.

    In your discussion of The Dead Zone you say that it is not directly related to the series. However, in DT7, Nigel the robot references Greg Stillson, reinforcing your inclusion on the essentials and then some list.

    Helen

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  10. I have read everything on the list except some of the things published in magazines and one Bachman book. I just found the Bachman book in an antique store and it is in my reading pile. I am so afraid they are going to slaughter the movie.

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    1. The lack of marketing for it is certainly a red flag. (Red flagg?) I'm not convinced it's going to be bad, but I am convinced it's going to be a flop.

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  11. Hello! I just finished reading the Dark Tower series using your previously posted extended reading list, save for the 1982 edition of "The Gunslinger". I've tried searching Amazon for it, but have had no luck. Any recommendations in locating it? Overall, I don't know what to do now that I have finished with the series. Any recommendations in what to read King wise (and non-King wise, if it does ya fine) after the DT series? Looking forward to your input!

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    1. https://smile.amazon.com/Gunslinger-Dark-Tower-Stephen-King/dp/0451160525/ref=tmm_mmp_title_1?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1491361691&sr=1-1

      That'll get you the original version.

      As for other reading recommendations:

      http://thetruthinsidethelie.blogspot.com/2013/10/worst-to-best-stephen-king-books.html

      That's the best I can do for King suggestions. For non-King, I'm probably not much of a resource for that. But anything by Joe Hill is great, so you might want to consider his work.

      I hope you enjoyed the Tower series!

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  12. Thank you for the link, my copy is on the way. I am very interested to compare the differences between the original and the edited. Your reading list never let me down throughout this six month journey through the King multiverse, so it's only right that I see it through to the end. As a lifelong King fan it's hard to believe it took me this long to dive into the Dark Tower. I'm absolutely enthralled with the series and will read it again in the future, I am sure.

    I see on your newly published extended reading list (and then some) you have several other books listed at the end that you say are somewhat related to the DT series, although in less direct ways. I think I will start with a few of those after "The Gunslinger". I will be sure to check out some of Joe Hill's work as well.

    I thoroughly enjoy following your blog and always look forward to new posts!

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    1. Thanks a lot! I always look forward to writing them, too.

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  13. Thank you for the list, I have read all I can find by King, for His work was so good to me. I used to only read short horror, (Poe,Lovecraft,etc) found Night Shift liked it so much, I decided I wanted more but only novels by him to choose from,(I'm 11 and it's 1975) So I began The Shinning,Blew my young mind, (30 page short story was rough for me) Stephen King would flow for me,then i read the new book The stand, (800+ pages) and realized I could read anything, (king had officially broke my reading block.)since I have read all material i could find, Thanks to you I now have a new way to look at his books and reread some, Great piece you have here, and again thanks you have a new fan.

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    1. Thanks a lot! It's cool you've been reading him since near the beginning. I'm jealous!

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  14. Thanks for the lists Bryant! I noticed you moved Insomnia ahead of Wizard and Glass in this list compared to your original. Was that for chronology or some other reason? Just finished The Waste Lands and wondering what to read next.

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    1. It was for chronological reasons -- the new lists are mostly in publication order.

      "The Waste Lands" obviously ends with a big cliffhanger, and so it's natural to want to go right ahead to "Wizard and Glass." So I'd recommend wither doing that or squeezing "Insomnia" in between them. It'll prolong the cliffhanger, but that's not entirely a bad thing.

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  15. THANKEE-SAI!

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  16. Hey there! I recently began with the expanded list, and I'm finding it extremely enjoyable so far. I started pretty out of order with the expanded stuff, though I did start with the Gunslinger (revised). I thought I'd mention that I (for some reason... maybe I didn't know it connected at the time) read "Ur" I think between DTIII and DTIV. I really enjoyed it there. You have it listed exclusively after finishing the series, but I actually thought it extended my hype for the final stretch of the main series. I read DTIV and am now onto "It" and "Talisman," and I really like the Turtle name drops in "It." I got the same sort of feeling from "Ur." There's not enough there to spoil much, but it just increases the scope and reach of the Dark Tower for me, and I think reading it in the middle is actually a great way to continue to feel the hype and urgency of the main series without getting lost in the side stuff. Thoughts?

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    1. Sounds like it works well there! I appreciate you mentioning it.

      I've been listening to the "It" audiobook for the first time recently. Boy, what a novel. And Steven Weber does a great job narrating it. I hope he won some sort of award for that; I can't imagine a scenario in which somebody else was more deserving.

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    2. Totally agreed. I just read "It" for the first time, and for logistical reasons I alternated paper copy and audiobook. He did a great job. In fact I finished the novel just last night - major feels.

      Anyway, thanks for the list! This makes my Dark Tower studies much more fulfilling.

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    3. I've never alternated between book and audiobook in that way -- might have to give it a try at some point.

      Glad you enjoyed the novel!

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  17. Amazing post! Am just starting to poke around King's work after having read "Different Seasons", so this is of tremendous help. For now I'll probably stick to your "essentials" list, but am bookmarking for future reference. Feel like I'll be back here. Thank you so much for putting it all together!

    Best, Anna

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    1. You are more than welcome! And you've got an invitation to stop by any time. How did you like "Different Seasons"? That's one of my absolute favorites.

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  18. Hi There! First off... the information you've provided is amazing!! Thank you soooo much for this! I've decided to take a trip through The Essentials and Then Some. I found Slade online but based on how hard you said it would be to find I'm wondering if this is actually the story. If you saw it would you be able to tell me if it is?

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    1. Absolutely! You can find me pretty easily on Facebook; shoot me a friend request and we'll go from there.

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    2. Don't suppose you use Instagram do you? I have a Facebook account but I don't use it so it's pretty bare....

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  19. Thank you for the list. I have been working hard on it this year. I am half-way through THE ESSENTIALS, EXPANDED VERSION and I love it. I love the connections, I love re-reading some of the books that I haven't read in 20+ years (IT, Eyes of the Dragon) and reading for the first time many of the others, and seeing all of the connections to The Tower.

    I appreciate all of the work you put into this, it has made this experience, for me, all the better.

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    1. You are more than welcome! It was fun for me to write, so if it benefited anyone, that's extra awesome.

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