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The Gunslinger Vs The Dark Tower: An Adaptation Adventure


Now we shall see who is King.


Since we’ve previously looked at Stephen King’s best-selling novel The Gunslinger (see here) and the recent series adaptation The Dark Tower (see here), I felt it was high time we look at how well the film adapts the series, or at least the first book. I didn’t have time to read the entire collection of books. So sue me.

Also SPOILER WARNING!!! I will have to discuss spoilers in order to compare these two properly.

Throughout much of the movie, a lot of the various elements from the book are maintained while much of the context around them is changed. Considering the book series was supposed to connect Stephen King’s entire multiverse, this movie ironically acts to broaden it by providing what is essentially an alternate timeline for the series. A multiverse parallel to another multiverse.

The first big difference that you will notice is that the point of view has changed. Even if you’ve only seen the trailers, you can tell that the movie follows Jake Chambers. Meanwhile the book follows Roland and his journey. The movie also gives Jake much more personality than the book. In the book, he is little more than a damsel in distress who waddles after Roland like a baby duck. In the movie he actually seeks out Roland and Mid-world to figure out what’s causing his nightmares about the Dark Tower. These nightmares are not in the book, even though his developing psychic powers are. His method of getting to Mid-world is also more intentional. In the book he dies via car wreck to get there instead of the wormhole in the movie.

Roland is pretty much the same between book and movie. He’s a downtrodden and broken man, the last of an ancient order. Of course in the movie he actually expresses more emotion than angst. He is also a thousand times cooler in the movie, but I think that might be due to the awesomeness that is Idris Elba playing him.

The movie is far more populous than the book. In the Gunslinger, ninety percent of the book is spent with the focus squarely on Roland, Jake, and the Man in Black playing cat and mouse through a desolate post-apocalyptic landscape. While these three characters are still our main focus, the movie is full of smaller roles that allow a greater sense of scale. Getting to see both Earth and Mid-world really emphasizes the danger of the Man in Black.

Speaking of the Man in Black, he does seem to die in both versions, but completely differently. In the book he withers away to  bones after putting Roland in a ten year coma. Apparently, he was quite inspired by Rip Van Winkle. In the movie however, he’s just shot through the brain. Both versions also hint that he may not be as dead as he appears.

Now, what about that titular Dark Tower? Well, in both versions we never actually get to go to the tower. We get to see it briefly either from a great distance or a vision, but never actually go there. In the book it is merely an end goal for Roland. Meanwhile in the movie we see the Man in Black take a more active role as the antagonist by trying to destroy the tower. In the book he just kind of tried to warn Roland away from it.

Since this series is supposed to connect Stephen King’s multiverse, let’s compare how each medium did this. In the book, there really isn’t much universe building. We get to hear about how the Dark Tower connects the entire multiverse, but we don’t really get to see this except when Jake gets transported to Mid-world. In the movie, the filmmakers stick in visual references and Easter eggs to other King books.

These include: the hotel in The Shining, Pennywise from It, The Shawshank Redemption, Cujo, Christine, Mr. Mercedes, and Misery.

They also change the name of psychic powers from “The Touch” in the book to “The Shine” in the movie to  better align with The Shining. Supposedly, the later Dark Tower books make more direct references, but we’re just looking at the first book.

One last big difference is actually Jake’s life. In the book, he dies twice. Once in the beginning to get to Mid-world and then again at the end when Roland decides to keep chasing the Man in Black instead of saving Jake. It’s an interesting way to defy expectations, but the hints at him not really being dead undercuts the morality of the choice. In the movie he lives and becomes Roland’s apprentice to become the next gunslinger.

Speaking of gunslingers, that creed they repeat in the movie, not in the book. Sure, they talk about having “forgotten the face of your father” but they never say the creed.

So, overall, I feel the movie does a better job introducing the concept of the series than the book did. However, as an adaptation of the first novel, it is a rather poor one.

Thus, I must give “The Dark Tower” a 2 out of 5 on the adaptation scale when compared to “The Gunslinger.”


If you have any suggestions for what we should review or compare next time, please leave a comment below.

Brian Lazarow

I like big books and I cannot lie. I've been a fan of all things geek for as long as I can remember and I have a long list of things I need to check out that just gets longer as I get busier. Secretly a dragon.