Companion books are interesting creatures. Part reference book, part resource guide, part overview of an important work or corpus of works, a companion book has to function as both an incisive look at the work in question and be accessible enough for new readers and the merely curious. Happily, Bev Vincent’s The Dark Tower Companion succeeds on all levels.
This is Vincent’s second book on the subject, following 2004’s The Road to the Dark Tower. A somewhat academic work intended for those well-versed in the series, Road cemented Vincent’s reputation as one of the world’s leading experts in Stephen King’s Dark Tower milieu. The Dark Tower Companion is the guide for the rest of the world, especially those Stephen King readers who have been touched in some way by King’s magnum opus through the references in his other work, but who have yet to fully commit to the series proper.
With a deft hand, Vincent draws readers in with his chatty introduction, then launches into lengthy synopses of the eight main books in the series (plus the prequel, The Little Sisters of Eluria). Readers familiar with the novels may be tempted to skip or skim this section, but that would be a mistake. Rarely before in his nonfiction has Vincent been so compulsively readable than in these rundowns of the Dark Tower stories. He offers just enough information to whet new readers’ interest in the books (and helpfully reserves spoilers and foreshadowing for a section at the end of each chapter), but the sweep and excitement with which he recounts the novels is enough to re-absorb those who have already read them. One starts to pick up on connections between the books he or she might never have noticed before, especially in the “Crossovers to Other Works” section at the end of each chapter. For alert readers who have noticed some issues with the books not solved by the shifting geography of Mid-World or the “other worlds than these” universe melding, there’s a “Continuity Errors and Mistakes” portion, too.
From here, Vincent looks at every aspect of The Dark Tower possible, from the online game Discordia to the artwork of the books to the Marvel comic book series plotted by Tower expert Robin Furth. He provides snapshots of other Stephen King works that connect to the main story, even the tangential ones (though there are longer segments devoted to books that are essentially Dark Tower novels under separate cover: Insomnia, Hearts In Atlantis, and Black House). Interviews abound, including ones with Ron Howard and Akiva Goldsmith, one-time director and producer of a proposed Dark Tower film, as well as a very illuminating talk with King himself. Were you aware that Roland Deschain has a sister? Find out her name here.
The book ingeniously progresses with readers’ knowledge of the Dark Tower, narrowing its focus and growing more specific as the pages turn. Thus, while the beginning provides overviews and general knowledge, as we dig deeper into the Companion, we get sections dedicated to the geography, history, and philosophy of the worlds of the Dark Tower. We get comprehensive guides detailing both Our World and Mid-World people, places, and things, reading like Stephen Spignesi’s exhaustive Stephen King Encyclopedia in miniature. Structuring his Companion this way, Vincent makes the book an interactive, growing experience: as with the Dark Tower books themselves, one starts out here a novice and becomes an expert, being thoroughly entertained the whole way through.
For readers who have never set a foot in Mid-World, The Dark Tower Companion is the perfect introduction. For those who have trod every step of Roland’s journey over and over again, this serves as both a refresher course and a fascinating, deeper look at one of the most inventive worlds of Stephen King’s creation.
Bev Vincent’s The Dark Tower Companion will be published April 2, 2013. Two limited edition states by publisher Cemetery Dance – a 52-copy signed & lettered edition, and a 1,000-copy signed & numbered edition – are forthcoming.
Kevin Quigley is an author whose website, CharnelHouseSK.com, is one of the leading online sources for Stephen King news, reviews, and information. He has written several books on Stephen King for Cemetery Dance Publications, including Chart of Darkness, Blood In Your Ears, and Stephen King Limited, and co-wrote the upcoming Stephen King Illustrated Movie Trivia Book. His first novel, I’m On Fire, is forthcoming.