For the past year and a half, I have been reading Stephen King’s magnum opus, The Dark Tower series. While the core story focuses on seven books with an eighth coming April 24, the universe held within them is expansive and has ties to many of King’s other books. If you are like I am, you will quickly get sucked into this world and want to explore it fully. The problem is, what is the best order in which to read them?
Since King wrote all of these books and they are tied to varying degrees to the central universe, you think creating a reading list would be easy. One of many problems is time is distorted in the books; not to mention there are multiple worlds and multiple dimensions to keep track of. If you Google “Dark Tower reading order,” you will find many different suggested reading orders with several being so bold as to claiming they are the one or true reading order.
I will not be so arrogant to make that claim. After a great deal of thought and consideration, I propose not one but three ways to best enjoy the Dark Tower series. Hopefully you will find one that suits you best and the way you enjoy exploring a literary universe. So with that, let us begin our quest for the Dark Tower.
Before we begin I feel the need to preface this by saying I have not read all of the books listed here. Night Shift, Everything’s Eventual and Skeleton Crew are all comprised of short stories; most of which have nothing to do with the Dark Tower series. There are a few short stories within them that link to the central world but can be easily skipped. As for It, it only makes mention of a few items in the series and is not that closely tied in. I felt the need to include them though in case you wish to run the full gambit of series.
The Strait and Narrow
The easiest way to enjoy the series is to simply read them in order, with the exception of the eighth book. By reading the core books strait through, you can get the central story and enjoy the main characters in their entirety. After you have read the core books, you might enjoy learning more about some of the additional characters and locations. Here is what I would suggest:
The Core Books
- The Dark Tower Book I: The Gunslinger – The introduction to Roland, Jake, Randal Flagg / Walter and beginning for the quest to the Dark Tower. My full review is here.
- The Dark Tower Book II: The Drawing of the Three – The introduction to Eddie, Detta / Odetta / Suzannah and explanation of how Roland’s world and our world are coming together. My full review is here.
- The Dark Tower Book III: The Wastelands – The introduction of Oy and explains the beams holding the Dark Tower. My full review is here.
- The Dark Tower Book IV: Wizard and Glass – The conclusion of book III and back story into Roland’s youth. My full review is here.
- The Dark Tower Book VIII: The Wind Through the Keyhole – This book has not been released as of the time of this article. It takes place between books IV and V and has more back story from Roland’s past.
- The Dark Tower Book V: Wolves of the Calla – The introduction to Mia, Father Callahan, vampires, low men and breakers. My full review is here.
- The Dark Tower Book VI: Song of Susannah – The introduction to Stephen King and the plan in which to save the Dark Tower. My full review is here.
- The Dark Tower Book VII: The Dark tower – The introduction of Mordred and the conclusion of the Dark Tower saga. My full review is here.
Now that you have completed reading the core books, you might wish to learn more about some of the characters and locations:
Randal Flagg / Walter & the alternate world in Wizard & Glass
- The Eyes of the Dragon – This is Flagg / Walter’s origin story or at least his back story. My full review is here.
- Night Shift: Night Surf – This is a short story that serves as a precursor to the events in The Stand.
- The Stand – The alternate “when” from Wizard & Glass. The story of how Flagg / Walter almost destroyed the world with an epic plague. My full review is here.
Father Callahan and the vampires
- Night Shift: Jerusalem’s Lot – This is a short story that serves as a precursor to the events in ‘Salem’s Lot.
- ‘Salem’s Lot – The story of how Father Callahan fought vampires in a small town. My full review is here.
- Night Shift – One for the Road – This is a short story that serves as an epilog to the events in ‘Salem’s Lot.
Ted Brautigan, Dinky Earnshaw, low men in yellow coats and the breakers
- The Talisman – The journey of Jack Sawyer; a boy who travels between worlds on a quest to save his mother. It doesn’t have a lot of ties to the Dark Tower series directly, but Jack plays a pivotal role in the next book (which does) and feels like additional content that fleshes out the other worlds in the Dark Tower series. My full review is here.
- Black House – The continuing journey of Jack Sawyer and his involvement with breakers and the Crimson King. My full review is here.
- Hearts in Atlantis – The story of Ted Brautigan and his involvement with the low men in yellow coats. My full review is here.
- Everything’s Eventual: Everything’s Eventual – The short story of Dinky Earnshaw.
The Crimson King and the influence of the Dark Tower
- Insomnia – The story of Ralph Roberts and his attempt to stop an assassination plot by the Crimson King of Patrick Danville. My full review is here.
- Skeleton Crew: The Mist – The monsters in this short story are like those in the Todash space.
- It – The book only mentions the great Turtle and the Rose which are important to the core story, but has little else to do with it.
- Rose Madder - Rose Madder talks about her time in the city of Lud.
- Everything’s Eventual: The Little Sisters of Eluria – A story about Roland’s early years and the unofficial start of the series.
The Road Less Traveled
This is the ideal way to read the series if you don’t mind detouring off the main path frequently. The benefit to this is you will get to know characters and locations before they enter into the main plot of the Dark Tower core books. You could also reverse the order to meet the characters first in the main story, and then spend a little time learning their back story before you continue on.
- The Eyes of the Dragon – This could actually go anywhere in the time line as it just gives Flagg / Walter’s back story. But since he is in the entire core story line plus many of the other books, it might be a good idea to become acquainted with him early on.
- It – It whispers the names of the Turtle and the Rose and could be a good primer for the twisted worlds to come.
- Everything’s Eventual: The Little Sisters of Eloria – This short story about Roland takes place before the events in Book I.
- The Dark Tower Book I: The Gunslinger – The beginning of our quest.
- The Dark Tower Book II: The Drawing of the Three – Picks up right where Book I leaves off.
- The Dark Tower Book III: The Wastelands – Picks up right where Book II leaves off.
- Rose Madder - Though we leave the city of Lud in Book III, I felt looking back at it would be better than breaking up the flow from Book II to Book III.
- The Talisman – Get to know Jack Sawyer as a boy and look at what is on the other levels of the Dark Tower.
- Night Shift: Night Surf – Prepping for The Stand.
- The Stand – A look into the “other when” Roland’s ka-tet wonders into in the beginning of Wizard and Glass.
- The Dark Tower Book IV: Wizard & Glass – Even though this book actually begins with the ending of Book III, I suggest prolonging the suspense in order to learn more about the other worlds you encounter; particularly the world of the plague in The Stand. This book also focuses on Roland’s past and is a good stopping point to explore the Dark tower universe further.
- Night Shift: Jerusalem’s Lot – Prepping for ‘Salem’s Lot.
- ‘Salem’s Lot – Get to know Father Callahan and the vampires before they make their debut in the Dark Tower series proper.
- Night Shift: One for the Road – Follow Father Callahan as he leaves ‘Salem’s Lot.
- The Dark Tower Book VIII: The Wind Through the Keyhole – More stories about Roland’s past.
- Hearts in Atlantis – Get to know Ted Brautigan and who the low men in yellow coats really are.
- The Dark Tower Book V: Wolves of the Calla – Pulls in Father Callahan, the vampires and the low men.
- The Dark Tower Book VI: Song of Susannah – Picks up right where Book V leaves off.
- Black House – Meet up with Jack Sawyer and learn more about the breakers and there role serving the Crimson King.
- Insomnia – Meet Patrick Danville as a boy and discover the Crimson King’s plot to kill him.
- Skeleton Crew: The Mist – See some of the creatures lurking in the Todash space.
- Everything’s Eventual: Everything’s Eventual – Get to know Dinky Earnshaw.
- The Dark Tower Book VII: The Dark Tower – Ties in Ted, Dinky, Patrick and is the conclusion to the saga of the Dark Tower.
An Expanding Universe
This most closely resembles the order in which I read the books. Because Book IV and Book VIII are focused on Roland’s back story, it is a good time stop the core books and to explore the rest of the Dark tower universe. The last three books are so closely tied together it makes it hard to break between them to get additional info so perhaps you should get it all before starting them.
- The Dark Tower Book I: The Gunslinger
- The Dark Tower Book II: The Drawing of the Three
- The Dark Tower Book III: The Wastelands
- The Dark Tower Book IV: Wizard & Glass
- The Eyes of the Dragon
- Night Shift: Night Surf
- The Stand
- Rose Madder
- Night Shift: Jerusalem’s Lot
- ‘Salem’s Lot
- Night Shift: One for the Road
- The Dark Tower Book VIII: The Wind Through the Keyhole
- The Talisman
- Black House
- Hearts in Atlantis
- Everything’s Eventual: Everything’s Eventual
- Skeleton Crew: The Mist
- Everything’s Eventual: The Little Sisters of Eloria
- The Dark Tower Book V: Wolves of the Calla
- The Dark Tower Book VI: Song of Susannah
- The Dark Tower Book VII: The Dark Tower
No matter which path you take, I hope you enjoy the series as much as I did. Even though Stephen King has written the capstone on Roland’s story, I don’t mind that he is going back a visiting the world still; like he is doing in in Book VIII. The Dark Tower universe really is a well thought out and interesting place to visit.
Did I get it right? Did I miss the target completely? Let me know in the comments your thoughts on the series and what order you think is best to undertake this extensive journey.
Long days and pleasant nights.
Optimusgene is the chief editor and founder of OneManAsylum.com. He is also the co-host of the Group Therapy weekly podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @optimusgene and on Google+ gplus.to/optimusgene.
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Thanks to a friend at work, I have added Rose Madder to the list as well. This book was abscent from a lot of the reading lists I researched online. Thanks Eva for catching this one.