Not a Book Review: ‘The Dark Tower’

For my birthday my best friend took me to see The Dark Tower. I entered the theater with a mix of excitement and trepidation. Another friend once said that it is important to separate the book from the movie and to appreciate each for what it is. In this case, truer words were never spoken.

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Roland is ready to kick some butt on the big screen

The Dark Tower series was written by Stephen King over a period of over twenty years between 1982 and 2004. Roland Deschain is the last of the gunslingers, a legendary group of warriors descended from Arthur Eld, his world’s version of King Arthur. In the first installment, The Gunslinger, Roland is following the evil Man in Black, a powerful sorcerer. This version of Earth shares characteristics of the Old West but also has powerful magical elements. Roland’s Earth has “moved on” as throughout the series we see traces of advanced technology placing this time period into the far future. This world appears to be on the verge of total collapse. Roland’s quest is to find the legendary Dark Tower which stands at the nexus of all creation. Dark forces represented by the Man in Black seek to destroy the Tower thus releasing the forces of darkness over the entire multiverse. As the series progresses, Roland arrives on our version of Earth to recruit others to join him in his cause.

I cannot express enough how important these books are to me as they influenced my love of reading as well as writing. This series was my Harry Potter. Although the first book reads as more of a collection of interconnected stories around the Gunslinger, trust me when I say that you will become hooked by the third installment. Anyone that refers to King as just a writer of horror should read these books. A fantastic feat was accomplished through a combination of multiple genres such as science fiction, fantasy, and westerns. They are beautifully written as well as epic in scope. These books will in my eyes always represent King at the height of his literary powers.

Now that I’m gushed about the magnificence of these books, let’s turn our attention to the movie shall we.

The Dark Tower film was co-written and directed by Nikolaj Arcel. Another co-writer and producer on the film was Akiva Goldsman. Rather than adapt the first book, the movie serves as a sort of “sequel alternate universe” reboot to the book series. Rather than tell the story from the point-of-view of Roland, our main character is eleven-year-old Jake Chambers played by Tom Taylor. Jake has been having nightmares of the Man in Black, played by Matthew McConaughey, using children to destroy a giant tower in the clouds. His visions also include Roland the last Gunslinger, played by Idris Elba, attempting to oppose the Man in Black and his evil plans. Jake’s mother and stepfather believe he’s insane, and Jake’s psychiatrist think that all of Jake’s visions and drawings are fantasies to protect him from his grief over the death of his father from the year before. When minions of the Man in Black arrive posing as staff from an exclusive psychiatric hospital, Jake runs away. His visions lead him to find a teleport which transports him to Mid-World and the hero of his visions.

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Seriously read the books before I get angry

Honestly, I didn’t leave hating the movie the way I thought I would. I thought the film did a capable job of telling a very enclosed tale. Through Jake serving as the protagonist, we were able to learn about Roland and the Tower along with him. For the most part, everything was explained fairly well for those that have never touched the books. I thought the acting was mostly solid. Idris Elba is a fantastic actor who brought real pathos to the character of Roland. There were moments which contradict the character from the books, but I’ll overlook that for now. I will admit that Matthew McConaughey is not my favorite actor, but here he gives a subdued performance as the Man in Black that is quite menacing in scenes. Newcomer Tom Taylor is quite likable as Jake, as I always enjoy movies with child protagonists. There are several moments of wonder as Jake interacts with various aspects of Roland’s Earth. Ultimately it works well as a standalone science fiction piece. And this is exactly the reason why it fails in my eyes.

Imagine taking the Wheel of Time books and condensing then down to a ninety minute movie. What if Game of Thrones was told in such a short amount of time? Stephen King painted a magnificent landscape with The Dark Tower books, which the film only allows brief glimpses. Unfortunately, the majesty and splendor that made these books great is lost in the translation. It just didn’t feel like the beginning of a fantasy epic. Instead, it was a fun and fast-paced romp that serves as an introduction to this universe. In short, it felt very watered down. I understand that you can’t put everything from the book into the movie, but when you cut the best bits you are really doing a disservice to the tried and true fans.

The movie does boast some decent special effects. I especially loved the scenes of Roland shooting his guns, particularly watching him reload them in the blink of an eye. There’s also a great scene where the Gunslinger saves Jake from being kidnapped by listening closely during a major attack on a village and firing a single shot right on target at the bad guy. There was some real Jedi shit going on there!

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He is quite strong with the force! Sorry wrong movie.

When Roland enters our version of Earth, it is mostly played up for laughs. Overall it works, and didn’t wear out its welcome. However, by this point we are almost to the end of the movie. The last act felt extremely rushed as if the director realized he wasn’t watching the clock and said “we need to wrap this up now!” I think with a slightly longer running time, this last part might not have felt so empty.

Ultimately this raises a huge question about books and cinema: namely, is part of the job of a book-adapted movie to make you want to read the book? I don’t really feel that this movie will accomplish that feat for newcomers to the series. Sometimes, a movie intrigues us enough to want to read the books. For example I saw Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone before I read the other books. Of course, I found the Harry Potter movies to be exceptional in their own ways while this movie just didn’t quite reach that level of awesomeness. Would I want to read The Dark Tower books based on this movie? Sadly, I think the answer would be a negative so I’m glad I read them.

The other demographic of viewers would be the ones who are quite familiar with Stephen King’s magnum opus. I’m concerned that like me, they won’t find this movie to match the wonder and excitement of the books. Yes, it’s only the first installment of a proposed series, but that wasn’t enough of an appetizer to want to stick around for the main course. This raises another important question, namely can the books be translated into successful films? I honestly don’t have an answer, but I wonder if maybe a television series would work better for this type of epic grandeur.

At some point, I will reread this series to show you how truly awesome these books are. As far as further film adventures, I have a bad feeling that the future looks grim. Hopefully, a creative team will come along who can give Roland and his ka-tet the treatment they deserve.

 

What do you think? Have you read this book or seen the film, or both? Leave a comment down below!

 

 

SnapShorts: omens of good passage and protection

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Photo Credit: Natalie Getter

Don’t be alarmed by the gathering of birds as you depart. Often they get a bad reputation for being unlucky signs, but that’s not true.

In actuality, they arrive to bring both good luck and to wish you a safe journey.

The more birds that appear the more luck and protection you will have.

Sometimes they sing. Other times they won’t, but please don’t take that as an insult. After all, do you always feeling like singing? Sometimes just showing up is enough.

As you drift farther out to sea, they will fly away one at a time. Once in a while (not often) one of them will fly next to you for the first leg of your passage.

They are sorry they can’t go with you, but they have their own destinations in mind.

27. ‘Emma’ by Jane Austen

“Better be without sense than misapply it as you do. ”

With Emma, I have now read all of Jane Austen’s completed novels. When I learned about Austen in August, I decided the time was right to read a book I had been meaning to for quite some time. Austen never ceases to impress me as I find a particular aspect with each novel that separates it from the others. Trying to rank her novels has become an exercise in futility. Each time I read Pride and Prejudice, it immediately jumps to the top of the list. When I went back and reread Persuasion, I raved about the reasons why it was my favorite. Truthfully, each Austen tale brings something new to the table. I love Northanger Abbey for its humor and satire of Gothic literature. Persuasion takes the award for most mature with its theme of regret. Emma stands out among the other novels because it presents Austen at her most revolutionary in style with a strong heroine that is quite different from the others.

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Photo Credit: Natalie Getter

Emma Woodhouse is a dichotomy within herself. She is lovely yet quite snobbish. She is caring yet an incorrigible meddler in the love lives of her friends. Emma believes herself to be quite knowledgeable regarding the affairs of the heart yet suffers from horrible self-delusions. Despite her shortcomings, we cannot help but fall in love with dear Emma. The reason why she is in our affections is because Austen manages to carry us along throughout all of her romantic delusions. Also, Emma is quite charming and always has her heart in the right place. The book itself is written in what could arguably be considered Austen’s strongest narration as she manages to compose a completely third-person narrative but distorts the language in such a way that we are going right along with Emma’s delusional thinking.

Consider these two early scenes from the first volume. Our heroine has befriended a sweet and naive girl named Harriet Smith. Emma has taken Miss Smith on as her latest matchmaking project. Bolstered by the confidence of her previous successful pairing of her former governess to the wealthy Mr. Weston, Emma believes it her purpose to play matchmaker between Harriet and the wealthy Mr. Elton. When Harriet comes to Emma with the news that Mr. Martin, a successful gentleman farmer, has offered a proposal of marriage, our heroine quite carefully constructs her wording in order to persuade her gentle friend to reject it as she believes that Mr. Elton is a much better choice due to his high rank in society. Later, when confronted by her friend Mr. Knightley, Emma manages to convince us that Harriet’s refusal of marriage is the right choice. First time readers of Emma will find themselves believing in this delusional thinking creating a significant amount of surprise when the truth to a situation is revealed. This free indirect style Austen employs throughout Emma is a precursor to modernism and the stream of consciousness style of later writers such as Virginia Woolf. This is not a bad feat for an author criticized for merely penning silly romantic novels.

“I always deserve the best treatment because I never put up with any other.”

Another reason why I love the protagonist so much is that she stands apart from other Austen heroines. Emma claims no desire for marriage herself. Independently wealthy, she is quite content to live out her days as a spinster while taking care of her anxious hypochondriac father. Of course, Emma is already quite in love with someone but has not come to that realization. Instead she focuses her energy on others around her. Although all her heroines share certain traits with their creator, Emma without a doubt is the best representation of the voice of the author herself. One would think that a more appropriate choice of heroine in this case would be either Harriet or Jane Fairfax. However by presenting the story through the unique eyes of Emma Woodhouse adds another layer to Emma that allows it to stand out. I love her rebelliousness against male-dominated society feeling that a woman doesn’t need to marry a man simply because the man says it should be this way. How about that for early feminist literature?

As with her other novels, Emma is filled with several memorable characters. Mr. Woodhouse is hilarious but also serves an important role as the resistance to change. How often do we become set in our ways and become afraid to take risks? Everyone has a “Miss Bates” in their lives who is quite chatty but in a good-natured and well-meaning way. In the second volume, we are introduced to one of Austen’s most memorable characters in Augusta Elton, new bride to rejected suitor Mr. Elton. Some of her social faux pas had me genuinely laughing out loud. Then we have Mr. Knightley, the one character who isn’t afraid to call Emma out on her judgments. All of the scenes between her and Mr. Knightley are handled with a smart dialogue that has become Austen’s trademark.

I love the moments when Emma begins to understand herself. During a scene when all of the characters are gathered together, Emma insults her friend Miss Bates. In her eyes, she is merely joking. She becomes quite devastated when she realizes how her “innocent” remarks truly hurt someone so close to her. How many times have we made an “innocent” comment only to learn that our words truly hold power over how someone feels. This is one of two powerful scenes where our heroine begins to scrutinize herself more closely. The next scene occurs a few pages later when Emma has her epiphany moment of who has taken possession of her heart:

Emma’s eyes were instantly withdrawn; and she sat silently meditating, in a fixed attitude, for a few minutes. A few minutes were sufficient for making her acquainted with her own heart. A mind like hers, once opening to suspicion, made rapid progress: she touched-she admitted-she acknowledged the whole truth. Why was it so much worse that Harriet should be in love with ____________, than with ____________? Why was the evil so dreadfully increased by Harriet’s having some hope of a return? It darted through her with the speed of an arrow, that _____________ must marry no one but herself!

This is such a powerful scene. Sometimes all it takes is a few moments of reflection to understand yourself a little better!

Personally, I think there is a little bit of Emma Woodhouse in all of us. We think we know what our loved ones need. Sometimes we are a bit “clueless” (see what I did there) to the love that is right in front of us (I know I was). Maybe we miss little details. Emma serves as a cautionary tale to perhaps look a little closer.

Of course, everything works out well in the end. Personally, I have always enjoyed the predictable happy endings. We know that Jane will make everything alright in the end. I’m glad I waited to finish my original Austen run with Emma. It contains all of her usual ingredients but blends them together in a slightly different way providing a much richer experience. In addition to a contribution for Austen in August, this review will also cover my classic by a female author for the Back to the Classics 2017 challenge.

I cannot wait to visit (or revisit) another work by Jane Austen. Her insights into human behaviors are timeless.

“Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised or a little mistaken.”

 

Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!

 

 

SnapShorts: let sleeping gods lie

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Photo Credit: Natalie Getter

The writing on the stone was issued as both a challenge and a reward.

Legend has it that the Greek God of Laughter had the ability to make anyone laugh, by words, touch, or even thought.

If anyone can release this deity from his earthly prison by making him laugh, He promised to accompany that person forever.

He will never let you feel grief but instead will allow you to experience perfect joy and merriment for the rest of your days.

Every year I would visit and whisper a joke through the crack in the stone.

Once I thought I heard a chuckle but surely that was just the wind.

In my dreams, He appears and encourages me to return with his gilded promises of perfect happiness.

But I think he might be some type of trickster instead.

He wants me to do pranks, and some of them are not very nice.

Maybe it would be bad if someone actually released Him?

 

 

 

 

Summer Book Haul Part One-Teach Me to Outgrow My Madness

As I sit here trying to shove new books onto my collapsing shelves, I realize it has been quite some time since I did a book haul update. I’m dividing my entire summer haul over two or possibly three entries. I contemplated no longer doing these types of blogs, but realized that the books I buy say just as much as the ones I read. This week’s installment is dedicated to all the short story collections I purchased over the summer.

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Photo Credit: Natalie Getter

Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro: I couldn’t resist getting this book of five interconnected stories from one of my all-time favorite writers. Seriously if you haven’t read Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go, please do so immediately. Music is an important part of the author’s life and described as an “essential character” in this book. I’m quite curious to see how that works.

Vampires in the Lemon Grove and Other Stories by Karen Russell: I’m always on the lookout for intriguing sounding tales from unfamiliar writers. This collection contains stories featuring fantastic elements in the vein of some of my favorite writers like Kelly Link. My excitement is off the charts!

The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson: Since reading  We Have Always Lived in the Castle     last year, I’ve been dying to read more Shirley Jackson. I love how she is able to write both spine-tingling horror as well as humorous slice-of-life fiction. Based on the cover blurb, this book puts together some of her best short fiction. This was worth buying just for the classic title story that was my favorite short story from high school.

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang:  I’ve been wanting to read more quality science fiction, and there’s been a lot of buzz online about Ted Chiang. Hopefully, I can get this one soon.

Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness by Kenzaburo Oe: Instead of several short stories, this one is comprised of four novellas. Honestly, I knew nothing about this writer before purchasing this book. Once again, I was attracted to it from the descriptions on the back cover. Perhaps Murakami has a contender in my heart.

The Mother Garden by Robin Romm: I bought this while on vacation at a used thrift store. This looks like a fascinating collection of shorts dealing with themes of loss and grief. The title story alone sounds promising. It’s about someone who decides to create a literal garden of mothers to make up for the loss of her own.

My only problem now is deciding which one I should read! My hope is that I can acquire some ideas through these writers to strengthen my own creative powers. Next week, I will write part two of my summer book haul (with a birthday coming up, maybe my accumulations aren’t over). I’ve made the difficult and painful decision to instill a temporary book buying ban while I catch up.

Have you read or heard about any of these books? Please comment below as I would love to read your thoughts!