It's always fun for me to hear my sister talk about how anxiously she's awaiting another installment of the Harry Potter series. Children not yet old enough to drive a car have been graced with six volumes (14 pounds by Amazon.com's measurements) of fiction and several accompanying feature-length films in the past eight years alone. While it's great to see such unbridled enthusiasm towards reading and such a high demand for a book in the digital age, fans of Harry Potter get no sympathy from me when it comes to having to play the waiting game.
I started reading Stephen King back during my sophomore year of high school, while serving a couple days of in-school suspension for skipping detention. My first read was "The Dead Zone" and then I soon after read "The Shining", "Misery", "The Tommyknockers" and many more. But none of them captured my imagination like "The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger". King published the first volume of this eventual seven-part series in 1982, followed it up with "The Dark Tower II: Drawing of the Three" in 1987 and the third installment, "The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands" in 1991. I discovered the series in 1990 and finished the second volume just as the third one was hitting the store shelves. I read them in rapid succession, and when the third book contained several glossy paintings, I was thrilled to see the artist had depicted Roland and the various settings of the story just as I had in mind's eye.
And then the waiting game started.
King didn't get around to publishing the fourth installment "Wizards and Glass" until 1997, at which time I was graduating college, getting married, and beginning graduate school. It had been so long since I put down "The Waste Lands" that I simply never expected to hear the rest of the story. And I decided that I wouldn't bother continuing until I saw definite proof that the story would eventually be concluded. I didn't want to reinvest my time and imagination only to be disappointed. Unfortunately, when King was struck and nearly killed by a van while out walking one day we almost never did get to learn the conclusion to Roland's story. King has discussed fans of the series writing him from their deathbed (and at least one frpm Death Row) and pleading with him to reveal the ending to them so they can die without wondering. These people had been waiting for 20 years and there were still more questions than answers. Yet King didn't know the ending, as it hadn't yet been written (you can read more about his methods of writing in his quite enjoyable nonfiction book "On Writing") and it's only reasonable to think that countless fans of the series died without seeing it end.
Luckily, King made a great recovery and, I believe, realized that "The Dark Tower" series was indeed a major part of his life's work and that it had to be finished. The doctors had given him a second chance. He immediately (or so it seems) set to work on concluding the epic. His first task was to revise the initial volume, as he felt that it wasn't as polished as he would have liked. This revised edition was published in 2003 and, sure enough, by 2004, volumes V, VI, and VII had all been published and the story concluded.
For those counting, that's 22 years from start to finish. Forgive those of us who have trouble sympathising with the Potter fans who feel cheated if they don't get a new novel on an annual basis.
With news of the saga haveing been completed in 2003, I immediately went and purchased a matching set of the first four volumes (five through seven hadn't yet been published). I re-read the first three straight through as quickly as I had ever read in my life and the story and the characters and wonderful memories of the world King created came rushing back and captured my imagination just as it had done some 13 years earlier. The fourth installment proved to be worth the wait.
And when books five through seven finally came out, I never bought them on account of a constant search for the version that matched my existing set. Stupid excuse, I know, but I can be pretty anal about things like that. Fortunately, my sister -- the Potter fan -- decided that I had waited long enough and that it was time to finally finish what I started. She gave me books five and six for Christmas this past winter.
By my rough estimation, I'll be spending about 35 hours on an airplane between now and the middle of June, not including layovers and inevitable delays. I just cracked the binding of the 750-page "Dark Tower V: Wolves of Calla" last night and will lug this beast of a novel with me on my travels. It might add some unnecessary weight to my backpack -- which I'll certainly regret should I get the opportunity to climb Mount Chirripo as I hope -- but now that I'm back in the grip of the story, I wouldn't trade it for all of the Nintendo DS or Playstion Portables in the world.