A view from the tower: An interview with Robin Furth

Robin Furth is the well of knowledge when it comes to all things Stephen King. Having worked as Mr. King’s personal research assistant for many years, she has served as the lead authority for Marvel’s Dark Tower comics, as well as all the author of The Dark Tower: A complete Concordance and much more related reference material. She has also had a heavy hand in the upcoming Dark Tower films, though any details on those have been few and far between. We had a chance to sit down with Robin recently and discuss all things Dark Tower.

CGM: What has struck you the most about the Dark Tower series (for the novels and the comics) as a whole?

RF: Wow — that’s a big question! I suppose it’s the fact that the series feels more relevant now than ever. Although Mid-World has its own terrible beauty, it is also a wasteland. It is a landscape full of huge deserts, animal and plant mutations, ruined cities, and abandoned weapons. Long before Roland’s time, a highly advanced culture, known as the Great Old Ones, ruled Mid-World. Although these people had the knowledge of gods, they were also reckless and warlike. It was the fallout of their wars that caused Mid-World’s mutations and the horrible desiccation of the landscape. In The Waste Lands, we see one of the Great Old Ones’ major cities. It is called Lud and is much like our world’s New York. In fact, it seems very likely that Lud is a future version of our New York. Hence, the fate of Roland’s world is a fate that quite possibly could await our world.

When Stephen King started the Dark Tower series well over thirty years ago, global warming wasn’t something that people thought about. But now, Mid-World’s spreading deserts seem eerily familiar. We live in a time of widespread war, of genetic engineering, of new and bizarre diseases. All over the world frogs are mutating, and poisons in the air, land, and water are having horrible effects on humans and animals.  Whether we like it or not, our world and Mid-World are drawing closer together all the time.

CGM: The character of Roland Deschain is at once mythical and deeply personal/familiar. If at all, how has Roland changed for you from the novels to the comics? Has his development or persona changed in the transition?

RF: I suppose for me, it’s not so much that Roland has changed, but that we’ve had the chance to really delve into the early part of his life. When we first meet Roland in The Gunslinger, he is a hardened warrior who is used to traveling alone. His humanity—his ability to care and to love—have atrophied during his many years searching for the Dark Tower.  Over the course of the novels, Roland learns to feel again, and he learns to love.

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In the Dark Tower comics, we tell the opposite story—how Roland became the hardened man we meet at the beginning of The Gunslinger. We begin with Roland as a boy of fourteen—a boy who has been tricked into taking his test of manhood years too early.  Against all odds he has won his guns in a one-on-one battle with his teacher Cort, but his trials are only beginning.

In The Gunslinger Born (a retelling of Stephen King’s novel Wizard and Glass) Roland and his two tet-mates Cuthbert and Alain are sent east to the town of Hambry. While there, they discover that many of the towns believed to be loyal to the gunslingers and the Affiliation have already fallen to John Farson. Although familiar with courtly intrigue, they are now faced with life-threatening treachery. They defeat their enemies, but Roland’s true love—Susan Delgado—is declared a traitor to her town and is burned to death on a Charyou Tree fire.

In Treachery, we learn that the city of Gilead has been infiltrated by the gunslingers’ enemies. Roland is tricked by the magical glammer of the seeing sphere known as Maerlyn’s Grapefruit into killing his mother.  While Roland is placed in prison, all of the elder gunslingers are murdered, one by one. In The Fall of Gilead, Farson’s men besiege the city, and Roland and his tet-mates are forced to first defend their home, and then to abandon it.  In The Battle of Jericho Hill, the young gunslingers are finally defeated, and in The Journey Begins, Roland becomes the solitary wanderer we meet in the original novels.

CGM: The comic series has both retold familiar stories and shown the reader entirely new ones. In continuing the series, will the focus be on retelling old stories or revealing new ones? Or will it be something entirely different?

RF: I don’t want to let too many cats out of bags, but I will say that as Roland ages, longtime fans will encounter many adventures that they have come to love. However, they are in for some surprises as well!

CGM: The mythology and history of Mid-World is as deep as it is unexplored. Will the series show us more of the universe that we've yet to see thus far?

RF: Oh yes. That’s one of the pleasures of working on these comics!

CGM: The 8th novel, The Wind Through The Keyhole, has been announced with no due date. Have as-of-yet unknown expansions of the universe been something you consider when plotting the books?

RF: As you can imagine, I can’t say anything about The Wind Through the Keyhole other than it will come! (If I say anything else the low men will get me.)  I have so much respect for Steve King’s work and I love talking with him about Mid-World. Whenever possible I run our ideas by him before we begin, since I want him to be pleased with what we do. But whenever I plot a comic book, I keep in mind the end of the Dark Tower novels. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but suffice it to say that there are many worlds which spin about the Tower, and reality is a little different in each of them. Hence, there is room for many different versions of reality in the Dark Tower Universe.  What must remain consistent is the vision.

CGM: Ka is a wheel. Considering the ending of the novels, is the comic series a retelling of the novels that fills in all the gaps, or is it a new progression/continuation from the end of the novels forward?

RF: I think you can look at it either way. Roland has cycled through his tale many times. We are exploring one of those sequences of events!

CGM: Is there an end goal in sight for the comic series?

RF: If I told you that it would ruin the fun!

CGM: What's been challenging about developing the universe/characters/story of another writer, especially one like Stephen King?

RF: Most important of all is to feel that Steve King is happy with what we do. He is an extremely generous and supportive person, and I have learned so much from him.  Developing characters created by another writer—especially one so incredibly talented and beloved—can be downright terrifying at times, but all we can do is try our best.  All the folks involved in the Dark Tower comics are huge Stephen King fans and huge Dark Tower fans, so that really helps. For myself, I have lived with these characters for so long that they feel like old friends. I shut my eyes and I can hear their voices.  I just hope that this love, and this feeling of deep kinship with the characters and the tales, comes across to readers.

CGM: In generalities and specifics, what is next in the Dark Tower comic series?

RF: We are moving into the stories told in The Gunslinger, though first we will do a little side trip into Eluria!

CGM: What steps do you take to write for a newcomer to Mid-World and at the same time a person who's read every word?

RF: I think that all of us really try to recreate the world that Stephen King writes about in his novels. The artists are amazing at conjuring the images of Mid-World, and Peter David does a fantastic job with his narration. He really draws readers in. For my part, I always try to stand and be true to the original vision. If we can just open the door to Mid-World, then hopefully readers both new and old will be able to enjoy being there.

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