Borders Line: How Will The Dark Tower Adaptation Shake Out?

I peered into my Wizard’s Glass and came up with predictions for Ron Howard’s forthcoming adaptation of The Dark Tower series.

The touted plan is to release a theatrical film in 2013, followed by a television series bridging the gap to the second movie,  followed by a second season of the TV series that will cover Roland’s adventures as a young man (detailed in the fourth book of the series and the more recent graphic novels). Then a third film and potentially, according to the press release, “beyond.”

I love the idea of a multi-platform format for the series, as the setting significantly changes in scope from book to book. Over the years—and I’ve devoted considerable time and brainpower to mentally adapting this series, believe me—I’ve fretted that the books are too detailed for film, too colossal for television. It makes sense to combine the media, and if there is a “beyond,” they could easily and effectively schedule the series as such: a movie of The Gunslinger, TV season of The Drawing of the Three, movie of The Waste Lands, TV season of Wizard and Glass, movie of Wolves of the Calla, TV season of Song of Susannah, and movie of The Dark Tower. But that’s an enormous commitment of time and money, and other than those two words “and beyond” in the press release, there’s been no hint that the adaption will continue after a third film. Rather, most news outlets are reporting that the third film will be the final installment of the series. So how would that work, exactly? Well, here’s what I’d do.

The first movie, planned for release on May 17, 2013, could easily cover both the events of the first two books, The Gunslinger

and The Drawing of the Three . Presumably Howard and Co. would reserve the flashback to Roland’s youth in Gunslinger(including the battle with Cort and the hanging of Hax the cook, if that’s included at all) until the second TV season, combined with the other action from Roland’s younger days. That doesn’t leave a whole hell of a lot happening in The Gunslinger, particularly because the episode in Tull, while compelling and poetic, is totally unnecessary to the grand arc of the story, so they could leave that out, too. (Although lord knows I’d love to see who Howard would cast as the immense and immensely crazy preacher Sylvia Pittson.) The chase for the Man in Black, Jake, the weigh station, the slow muties, the oracle and the palaver on the beach can totally be covered in about half an hour, right? Leaving nearly two hours (this would have to be a long one) for the events of The Drawing of the Three, which begin a mere seven hours after the conclusion of The Gunslinger. The lobstrosities, the doors, Eddie on the plane, the fight at Balazar’s, all the Detta/Odetta stuff, the third door—it could be nicely managed in under 120 minutes. The circumstances of the third door with Roland’s hunt for Jack Mort could be vastly reduced, as it’s fun but mostly irrelevant. I adore Stephen King and have read nearly everything he’s written, but trust me when I say that large chunks of his narrative can be described as such: fun but irrelevant.

Moving on to the television season spanning September 2013 to May 2014, Howard could cover The Waste Lands

and the conclusion to the Blaine storyline that appears at the beginning of Book 4. The Waste Lands is plotted in a way that would make for an absolutely superb season of television, whether a traditional 22-ep season or the more likely twelve episodes.  The incongruity of Jake in his world and the gunslingers in Roland’s world will make for a lovely first third of the season, wrapped up nicely once Jake’s brought into Midworld. Lud can make up most of the rest of the season, with the penultimate episode resolving all the juicy Gasher/Tick-Tock Man excitement, ending with a cliffhanger at the Cradle of Lud. Blaine the Mono and the riddling contest that wraps up in Wizard and Glass would present an excellent season finale. I recommend, if anyone cares, omitting all of the Topeka/Oz/Emerald City nonsense that bookends the flashback in Wizard and Glass. It’s jarring, mostly pointless and it would be expensive and time-consuming to shoot.

Summer 2014 could bring a movie that covers both Book 5: Wolves of the Calla

and Book 6: Song of Susannah . This is where it gets sticky. Howard’s already said that the second television season will cover the events of Roland’s youth from the comic books and the fourth novel, and I agree that the flashback stuff would make another great TV season.  But as the flashback could take place at any point in the narrative without interrupting the present day events (hah! There are so many “whens” in this series, the term “present day” has no real meaning), I imagine they’ll just shuffle the order of the books. Wolves of the Calla and Song of Susannah were written concurrently and published back to back, and most of the action overlaps, so they’d combine easily into one (very long) feature film. The Calla Bryn Sturgis stuff could be done pretty quickly, other than the development of Pere Callahan, who becomes a very important character in the latter half of the series. Pere Callahan’s story will need to take some time. The rest of the movie could be devoted to the steps the ka-tet takes to protect the vacant lot in Manhattan and Susannah’s pregnancy (eliminating a good portion of the Mia plot that needlessly confuses the matter). I feel very strongly that the entire subplot involving Stephen King himself needs to be skipped, because how the christ could that be filmed without coming across as fully ludicrous? That sort of metafiction is notoriously untranslatable to film. Also, Stephen King has proven again and again that he is not a good actor.

For the TV season of September 2014 to May 2015 (assuming they air everything successively as planned), Howard’s already stated his intention to cover the chronicles of Roland’s youth detailed in Wizard and Glass

and the outstanding graphic novels

. Together, these offer a fount of provocative material, but I imagine the season will mainly cover Roland’s test with Cort, his exile in Mejis, the romance with Susan and conflict with the Big Coffin Hunters, the stuff with Roland’s mom and Marten in Gilead, and ending with the Battle of Jericho Hill. I would have thought they’d forgo everything past Mejis and end with the heartbreaking conclusion of Wizard and Glass, but Howard’s said he enjoys the graphic novels and wants to use some of the material therein. I can’t imagine he’ll use much of the stuff that occurs between Jericho Hill and the beginning of The Gunslinger, because jeezy chreezy. There just isn’t time! Not to mention that King’s already talking about publishing an eighth book, The Wind Through the Keyhole. I’m overwhelmed just thinking of trying to adapt all of it, and I have absolutely no responsibility whatsoever here.

And finally, in summer 2015 (I recommend Friday, June 19th, for obvious reasons), I presume they’ll release a film of the seventh novel, The Dark Tower , including most everything from the book other than the parts relating to Mia and Stephen King. (This will obviously require finding another way to wrap up Jake’s story. Perhaps at Devar Toi with Eddie? Later, after they meet Patrick Danville?) I’m already consumed with curiosity at what the reaction to the very end of the series will be from those who have never read the books. Rioting! Mayhem! People are going to be SO PISSED at this final movie, I guarantee you. I love the last book (well, most of it), but it’s not for everyone. I imagine some significant rewriting will be in order to make it more Hollywood-friendly.

And that’s the thing. I have spent half my life preoccupied with these books, re-reading them frequently, discussing them constantly, getting my hands on all supplemental material possible. But I have no illusions that the adaptations should be identical to the books.  The Dark Tower series is utter bedlam, a crazed, messy vortex of fantasy and horror and history and action and death and technology and romance. I love it for that very reason, but that shit needs to be streamlined if a coherent adaptation can even be attempted. So fanpersons, simmer down. Let’s wish best of luck to Howard and Co. for now, and we can always reserve the right to get all stabby later if they completely destroy everything we love about this series.

Also, if you’re interested, I fantasy-cast the entire series on my own blog, because I’m a crazy person! I cast the main ka-tet here, their allies and the Mejis kids here, and the baddies of the series here.