Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Roland Has No Horse

I love Stephen King's The Dark Tower series. I also hate it at times. As a whole, it runs the entire emotional gamut for me, form some of the most powerful, evocative stuff I've ever read to some things which stand out in my head as bright, burnign examples of how to do something absolutely terribly. I'm glad to have it in my heart though, at least in part because it brings me a certain amount of zen with the fact that Martin will probably never finish A Song of Ice and Fire, because I have seen what happens when you sprint to finish something that big.

Obviously, take that Dark Tower love and frequently view it through the filer of games. It fascinates me because it's something that is easy to capture the trappings of but difficult - maybe impossible - to capture the essence of. Maybe because it's hard to identify exactly what that essence is. The sense of loss? The mashing of worlds? The dark sensibilities? The iconic nature of the gunslinger? The extended universe? The world that's moved on? Maybe that last is the strongest in my mind, but it depends on so much that I can't build something on it.

That combination of potency with ephemera invites me to mash it up with other things. The very first hack I added to Feng Shui when I got it was a "no time" juncture where the world had moved on, pretty much a straight Dark Tower ripoff. It mixes beautifully with certain flavors of Amber, but one needs to like the flavor, since it can change things up.

Lately, I've been pondering the combination of the Dark Tower with Harry Connolly's stuff, at least in part because Connolly's vision of cosmic horror paired with human-level violence seems to capture so much of the spirit of things.

The weird thing is that sometimes these mashups give me new insight. I was considering some explicit genre mashup, sci-fi in this case, and wondered what it might be like if the Dark Tower were on a physical planet somewhere rather than somewhere cross-dimensional. A lot of the ideas transfer well, but it required the introduction of an additional element - a ship - for Roland to get around.

That's a problem. Note that in the books Roland gets around by his own agency (walking) or is moved by others (Blaine) but he never has a horse in the sense that a true cowboy does, and there's a good reason for this. For the literary cowboy, the horse is a companion, and a very close one at that. Roland can't have a companion like that - it would be someone to share his journey with, which would undercut the point. It would be too close.

The ship illustrated this point because in science fiction, the ship is often a character (effectively). Firefly, Star Trek and Star Wars all illustrate this pretty well. It's not inevitable - you can have boring space ships - but if Roland had a named ship, one he might care about, it would be problematic in the same way a horse would.

Anyway, it's an itch I haven't successfully scratched yet, but the process of trying continues to be pretty darn fruitful.


  1. The Dark Tower is one of those series that just lost me at some point. I used to always proudly finish series, but as I have gotten older and more jealous of my time, I have dropped serveral series.

    Still, having read the first several books in the series, I agree that there was a lot wonderful about the books. King, when he is on, is really a matchless writer. He just writes so very much that we also get to see him being off as well, often within the same book or series.

    The question of a Sci Fi/Dark Tower mash-up seems very interesting and potentially fruitful. Your issue of of, how to get around and keep the alienated/loner feeling from Dark Tower is a challenging one. There are some cheats that I can think of. Teleportation gates are one possibility. Some sort of robotic, impersonal transport. Just a flying box, steel, impersonal, even alien. Another would be some kind of transport that required hypersleep or suspended animation. Another idea (and I am really going far out) would be some kind of mind transmission that includes waking up in a 1. new body, 2. android/robot, 3. clone. Anyway, just brain storming in public, but getting a chance to bounce off your imagination is always a treat. If something seems appealing here, just run with it. I would love to see what results.

    Also, one random thought, Dark Tower on Ringworld.

  2. A quick one that might not help, but it came to mind as I was thinking of conveyance.

    Solitary space traveler = silver surfer

    Depending on how "hard" you want the sci-fi to be, this might cause problems, but it's an idea.

  3. Ok, those are some hot ideas. The sleepship thing could really dovetail with the sense of the universe moving on (or in a similar way, do Forever War style time dilation). And I hadn't made the connection, but the Silver Surfer's a fantastic template. I'm a sucker for that kind of hero (Quasar, Captain Marvel, Noval) and that character in particular.

  4. Glad you liked it! There's something profound about the thought of him sitting on his board, alone, staring out into the middle of space. I think it works well with the image of Roland in the middle of a wasteland.

  5. Thanks for the kind words, Rob.

    I'll admit to bailing on the Dark Tower books pretty early. I hit a section that seemed extremely repetitive (something about crab monsters on a beach) and I just couldn't move on.

    However, if you want to look at moving a story set in a cross-dimensional space to a single planet, you could also consider a patchwork planet, sort of like what Metagaming used way back in the day for The Fantasy Trip.

    You get a wild variety of locales very close to each other that you can visit with shoeleather.


  6. Not entirely sure I agree with you about the horse undercutting Roland as a lone traveler, especially the reason why.
    Roland is only a lone traveler for a few very brief times in the series. Sure, we know he's been chasing the Man in black for some time, but not on foot. He had a mule in Tull.

    You said, "Roland can't have a companion like that - it would be someone to share his journey with, which would undercut the point. It would be too close."

    But that is exactly what he has the entire series. Roland learns to love his companions. This starts with Jake and only gets stronger.

    Maybe Roland "can't have a horse" but not because he can't have close companions.

  7. I'm not wholly sure Roland would need a ship.

    To dial back on Evan's suggestions (Hi!) a bit, Roland could just be a passenger or stowaway on someone else's ship (and it wouldn't matter whose -- it could even be one belonging to that universe's equivalent of Interbus).

    Roland could also just be a pilot of ships. Not his ship, but just a ship that needs to be flown from the same point a to the same point b that he's passing through. It's there. It gets him where he needs to go. And unless the crab monsters in the hold get out and start chewing on wires, it won't demand dinner, flowers or emotional investment.

  8. @mountzionryan The thing is, I think the relationships underscore it. His historical ones are mostly just important for having been lost, and his new ones all begin badly, with the development of trust being critical, especially with the underlying question of whether they can trust Roland at all, since it's clear what he'll sacrifice for his quest. If there's something in that mix which he has a close relationship with, that tension gets undercut.

    Put another way, I don't think Roland can have a horse and let Jake fall without it seeming crazy.

  9. Rolands relationship with Jake very quickly becomes one of trust and love. Jake trusts Roland almost immediately and Roland soon sees Jake as a son. Roland's sacrifice of Jake haunts him, literally, until they are reunited at the speaking circle.

    And, um, too late. Roland already seems crazy (obsessed, addicted to the tower).

    Going another direction entirely, I believe Roland and and his Ka-tet can't have horses because walking underscores the vastness of how space and time been stretched thin.


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