For the 2017 re-read of The Waste Lands, book III of The Dark Tower, I think I understood it better. I do remember that this third book was the best of the series so far, and today I still think it is –despite the slow pacing and the much meandering about of the first hundred plus pages or so (which I admit is somewhat of a pattern in all of King’s books that are over 500 pages, which is many). King drops a lot of new stuff here, especially the temporal paradox created in book two, which I seemed to have forgotten about. I loved the idea that both Jake and Roland were slowly going mad and how King created and made this paradox believable.
When I read this back in 1991, like many, I was frustrated that it ended on such a huge cliffhanger. But knowing that Stephen King was such a prolific writer, it stood reason that maybe two, or at least three years might go by before we got the next book. But six long years went by before Wizards and Glass, six years where King would release nine other novels, including The Dark Half, Needful Things, Gerald’s Game, Dolores Claiborne, Insomnia (which introduced protagonist of that book, The Crimson King, who would go on to have a major role in this series), Rose Madder, The Green Mile, Desperation, and The Regulators, in that same period, and by the time book four had come out in 1997 I was hoping to remember what went down in The Waste Lands (I was not in the mood then to re-read the three previous books). What I do remember of this period was me trying to shift away from series books that had a long wait between releases. A lot had to do with Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, which began in 1992. The first three books came out in rapid succession, only to slow down as the writer began to go off in tangents and slow down. When working for Borders at the time, I remember not a day went by when some asked when the next book in Jordan’s series was coming out.
To be honest, I don’t know what I remembered about my initial reading of the book way back then. However, now in this re-read, I began to see how The Waste Lands would really began setting up everything came before and would follow, and how long time Constant Readers of King began to see and understand that all of his previous and future works would be connected to the Dark Tower universe. There were two very subtle references to The Stand and one to It. I think I missed all of them back in 1991, but caught them very clearly this time around.
As a fantasy novel –another writer inspired by Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series, but also Spanish director Sergio Leon and Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name western series - the Dark Tower novels do sit on the same genre shelf, but what King does here is he blends fantasy with horror, science fiction, alternate-universe, thriller, psychological terror (which King really took to after he completed this series in 2004), and some dark humor. Yes, the books go on longer than they should (in the revised version of The Gunslinger, in his forward, he mentions his desire to write the longest book ever), but the layers the writer creates do have a tendency to play out later. So while at times I do wonder if King needs a better editor to put a foot down and ask him if we need these 20 or 30 pages of exposition that has little to do with the main thrust of the story, I do trust him that some of it will be seen later (if not in this book, then the next).