What better way to wrap things up than with a little postscript!
One of Stephen King‘s trademark devices has been his ongoing use of Prefaces and Afterwords. King likes to break the fourth wall and talk directly to us, referring to us as Constant Reader, painting a portrait of himself as a humble and likeable smartass. For a novel to contain a Preface or Afterword has been a long standing tradition, and if you think about it, today’s market of DVD “Behind the Scenes” featurettes are essentially expansions on this idea; the auteur of a work wants to tell you a little bit about the work they created and how it happened.
Getting back to THE DARK TOWER series one final time, (’cause you all liked my last article, right?) this was one final flaw of the latter three books I hadn’t thought about too much until recently. The original edition of THE GUNSLINGER featured the single greatest Afterword of King’s career. Written in 1982, King discusses how this book is the first installment of what he envisions as a great saga, and goes into detail about the premise came to him in the winter of 1970, alone in a cabin with a large supply of paper and Robert Browning’s CHILDE ROLAND poem on his mind.
“But during that spring semester, a sort of hush fell over my previously busy creative life – not a writer’s block, but a sense that it was time to stop goofing around with a pick and shovel and get behind the controls of one big great God a’mighty steamshovel, a sense that it was time to try and dig something big out of the sand, even if the effort turned out to be an abysmal failure.
And so, one night in March of 1970, I found myself sitting at my old office-model Underwood with the chipped ‘m’ and the flying capital ‘O’ and writing the words that begin this story: The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”
This Afterword really resonated with me as a fellow writer; I knew what it was like to have this great story you want to create, even if only a small amount has been revealed to you. As I said, THE GUNSLINGER is a very haunting and hypnotic book that feels like a piece of a larger puzzle, one that the author himself is still discovering. The Afterword plays a role in that feeling, and tells you that more will come, even if it hasn’t been created yet.
As the series continued, the Afterwords became a trademark of each book. At the end of THE DRAWING OF THE THREE, THE WASTE LANDS, and WIZARD AND GLASS, King would be there with an Afterword, basically giving you a “Where I am now” in this ongoing work-in-progress. These Afterwords were nice; allowing you to see into the writer’s mind while the story was still taking form, and get a peak at what was coming next.
Once the news broke in 2003 that King had finished the series and would be publishing the final three books over the next year and a half, we all grew excited. A revised edition of THE GUNSLINGER was published, with the Afterword now replaced with a Preface entitled ON BEING NINETEEN. This made sense; King’s promise of this wondrous tale he wanted to write was swapped out with an overview written by someone who has finished the journey, and it was a nice transition. So all of us awaited the publication of the final three books. Would they contain Afterwards as well?
WOLVES OF THE CALLA was published later that year with an Afterword that was…odd. First I must give you a little backstory on Frank Muller, a stage and TV actor best known for his many audiobook recordings, including of the first four DARK TOWER books. According to Wikipedia:
“Muller was the narrator of choice of Stephen King, John le Carré, John Grisham, Elmore Leonard and many others. Muller won the 2003 Audie Award for Best Male Narrator for his reading of Elmore Leonard‘s Tishomingo Blues.”
Muller unfortunately suffered a motorcycle accident in 2001 that left him in critical condition. King, connecting with Muller after being in a car accident himself, organized a benefit for Muller and went on to help found the Wavedancer Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping disabled performers, writers, and members of the production community.
All of this is fantastic, and I’m proud of King for being active in a good cause and using his celebrity status to raise awareness of problems hurting others. But now let’s get back to WOLVES OF THE CALLA. The book is dedicated to Muller, whom King describes as “hearing the voices in my head.” That’s very kind indeed. But then after finishing the book, I started reading the Afterword and found it odd that it talked so much about Muller, giving an overview of the accident and asking readers to donate to Wavedancer. I kept waiting for the Afterward to actually discuss THE DARK TOWER, but it never did. What I read wasn’t an Afterword; it was an infomercial for Wavedancer, and I felt gypped.
Now let me make something ABSOLUTELY clear; I totally support the cause, am happy King created this foundation, and want him to keep raising awareness of important charities. But there’s a huge difference between a little announcement/infomercial that you post on your website or blog versus an actual Afterword following a literary work that you’re publishing in book form for posterity. As I read that Afterword in 2003, I knew right away that it would be dated in just a few years while the series would live on. I am sad to say that Muller passed away in 2008. I assumed that perhaps a new edition of WOLVES OF THE CALLA would feature an updated Afterword, but as of 2013, all editions of the book still feature that horribly outdated little piece.
Next came SONG OF SUSANNAH. At least this time we actually got an Afterword, though it was essentially an Acknowledgements Section. I had no real thoughts on it, and I awaited anxiously for the final book.
The Afterword for DT7 – well…this one rubbed a lot of readers the wrong way. At long last, King had finished this grand saga in 2004 and should be giving us the flipside perspective of what he gave us in the original beautiful Afterword in 1982. Instead, King outright chastises us, telling us to leave him alone if we don’t like his ending and, later adds:
“…if you feel a need to drop in and say hello, please think again. My family and I have a good deal less privacy than we used to, and I have no wish to give up anymore.”
Now of course I realize King has a lot of nutjob rabid fans, I get that. Trust me, I’ve read MISERY. And I respect his wish to have privacy. But I don’t like being addressed as if I am such a fan, especially in the Afterword of a book I had spent many years anticipating. Yes, I have been critical of King on this very blog, but it’s all meant as fair criticism of art and not a personal attack; I didn’t like being spoken to this way, and King just comes off kind of bitter at his fans, unlike someone like JK Rowling who has always been very gracious with hers. And then, as this final Afterward of this final book of this epic tale comes to an end, King chooses to say the following:
“I thank you for coming along, and sharing this adventure with me. I never worked harder on a project in my life, and I know–none better, alas–that it has not been entirely successful. What work of make-believe ever is?”
Way to show lack of confidence in your work. That’s how you choose to go out on the series? By saying “I know this didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped. Oh well.” I’m sorry, Mr. King, but as a loyal reader of your work and diehard supporter of your series who really had a lot invested in this story, “I know I didn’t fully succeed” really wasn’t the sentiment I was expecting to be left with.
It’s hard to analyze what happened here. An Afterword is a simple little device, meant to be of the author’s choosing. There’s no right or wrong way to write one. But for a series that made such a great use of this device, something strange happened along the way, and King truly dropped the ball here.
Well, Constant Reader, these series of blog entries have been long in the telling, have they not? Yet what a journey it’s been. I’d like to end by letting you all know I’m currently reading King’s THE GREEN MILE, and am immensely enjoying it. It’s nice to read King when he tries to be serious and create good literature. It reminds me of his talent and sophisticated storytelling. For all his flaws, King can occasionally be one of the greats. I hope you’ve enjoyed this series, and unlike King, I feel it has been successful.