13 Things You May Not Know About The Dark Tower Series

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Stephen King’s world-traversing fantasy epic is a fan favorite, but even if you’ve read all eight volumes of The Dark Tower saga and have preordered your tickets to see its big screen adaptation, which opens this weekend, you can probably pick up a few new nuggets and theories about the sweeping work.

1. ROBERT BROWNING’S POETRY INSPIRED THE SERIES.

The first volume of the Dark Tower series, The Gunslinger, drew inspiration from Robert Browning’s poem “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” and King even borrowed the name for his heroic gunslinger Roland Deschain. The author first read the poem during his sophomore year at the University of Maine, and it stuck with him.

King explained his fascination with the poem in a 1989 interview with the Castle Rock News:

“Browning never says what that tower is, but it’s based on an even older tradition about Childe Roland that’s lost in antiquity. Nobody knows who wrote it, and nobody knows what the Dark Tower is. So I started off wondering: What is this tower? What does it mean? And I decided that everybody keeps a Dark Tower in their heart that they want to find.”

2. AN ODD REAM OF PAPER HELPED, TOO.

In an afterward to The Gunslinger, King wrote that, “The Dark Tower began, I think, because I inherited a ream of paper in the spring semester of my senior year of college … The ream of paper I inherited was bright green, nearly as thick as cardboard, and of an extremely eccentric size—about 7 inches wide by 10 inches long, as I recall.” In need of a project to fill out this strange green paper, King began writing the first book in March 1970.

3. T.S. ELIOT'S WORK ALSO MAKES AN APPEARANCE.

Browning isn’t the only famous poet who influenced King. The series’ third installment, The Waste Lands, nearly duplicates the title of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. The two main sections of the novel (“Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust” and “Lud: A Heap of Broken Images”) directly allude to lines from the poem.

4. THE SERIES WAS AN IMMEDIATE HIT.


Larry French/Getty Images

The Gunslinger came out in a limited hardcover edition in 1982, but the first mass-market edition didn’t drop until 1988. King explained the publication delay in the 1989 Castle Rock News interview:

"There were really two reasons. One was I didn’t think anybody would want to read it. It wasn’t like the other books. The first volume didn’t have any firm grounding in our world, in reality; it was more like a Tolkien fantasy of some other world. The other reason was that it wasn’t done; it wasn’t complete ... [I]t made a certain amount of sense, but there was all this stuff that I wasn’t talking about that went on before the book opens, and when the book ends, there’s all this stuff to be resolved, including: What is this all about? What is this tower? Why does this guy need to get there?"

5. THERE'S MORE THAN ONE HARRY POTTER REFERENCE.

King also paid homage to more contemporary fantasy works. In Wolves of the Calla, the author uses the same font for his chapter titles as the ones used in all seven Harry Potter books. The titular wolves use golden homing grenade-like weapons called “sneetches” (a few letters removed from everyone’s favorite Quidditch ball) stamped with a familiar-looking serial number: 465-11-AA HPJKR. The “HPJKR,” of course, stands for “Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling.”

6. STEPHEN KING MAY WRITE HIMSELF OUT OF THE BOOKS.

Although he’s famous for making cameos in movies and TV miniseries based on his novels, King had second thoughts after including himself as a character in the series. The author mentioned in an interview with fellow scribe Neil Gaiman for The Sunday Times that he would consider writing out the author proxy who appears in the fifth and sixth Dark Tower volumes.

7. THERE'S A BIT OF SPAGHETTI WESTERN IN ROLAND, TOO.

While Roland Deschain takes his name and purpose from his kindred spirit in Browning’s poem, Clint Eastwood’s performance as director Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Western character “The Man With No Name” influenced the character’s look and mannerisms. The King character even winks at the comparison in Song of Susannah, telling Roland, “As The Man With No Name—a fantasy version of Clint Eastwood—you were okay. A lot of fun to partner up with.”

8. YUL BRYNNER IS IN THERE AS WELL.

Wolves of the Calla tips its cap to another famous Western: this time, King shows his adoration for The Magnificent Seven. On the ever-winding path to the Dark Tower, there’s a town named Calla Bryn Sturgis: That’s Bryn as in Yul Brynner, of The Magnificent Seven fame, and Sturgis as in John Sturges, the film’s director.

9. NOT EVEN KING KNEW HOW IT WOULD ALL END.


KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images

King’s slow progress on the series had a tendency to drive fans crazy, and some tried to get the author to reveal where the series was headed. In a foreword to the fourth installment, Wizard and Glass, King wrote that an elderly cancer patient and a fan on death row had both written letters asking for the end. The inmate pledged that he would take the secret to his grave, an offer that King said him "the creeps.”

Unfortunately, King didn’t know how the series would end. “I would have given both of these folks what they wanted—a summary of Roland’s further adventures—if I could have done, but alas, I couldn’t," he wrote in the foreword. "To know, I have to write. I once had an outline, but I lost it along the way.”

10. ROLAND'S UNIVERSE PERMEATES ALL OF KING'S WORK.

In an afterword to Wizard and Glass, King cemented the notion that the universe he wove in The Dark Tower series includes his other works, stating that: “I have written enough novels and short stories to fill a solar system of the imagination, but Roland's story is my Jupiter—a planet that dwarfs all the others ... a place of strange atmosphere, crazy landscape, and savage gravitational pull … I am coming to understand that Roland's world (or worlds) actually contains all the others of my making.” King’s official website even includes a list of user-submitted connections between Roland’s story and his other novels.

11. KING ALSO BORROWED CHARACTERS FROM HIS PREVIOUS BOOKS.

One of the series’ main characters, Father Callahan, first appeared in King’s 1975 vampire novel, ’Salem’s Lot. In his reappearance in The Dark Tower series, the priest discovers a copy of ’Salem’s Lot in a Manhattan bookstore. Other Dark Tower characters to appear in multiple King works: Randall Flagg (The Stand and The Eyes of the Dragon), Patrick Danville (Insomnia), the Crimson King (Insomnia), and Ted Brautigan (Hearts in Atlantis).

12. THERE MAY STILL BE MORE TO COME.

When Rolling Stone asked King in October 2014 if he was done writing The Dark Tower books, the writer gave a cryptic answer: “I'm never done with The Dark Tower. The thing about The Dark Tower is that those books were never edited, so I look at them as first drafts. And by the time I got to the fifth or sixth book, I'm thinking to myself, ‘This is really all one novel.’ It drives me crazy. The thing is to try to find the time to rewrite them. There's a missing element—a big battle at a place called Jericho Hill. And that whole thing should be written, and I've thought about it several times, and I don't know how to get into it.”

13. THE DARK TOWER MOVIE IS FULL OF KING EASTER EGGS.


Columbia Pictures

Nikolaj Arcel's big-screen adaptation of The Dark Tower series, which stars Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, is full of fun nods to King's previous work, including The Shining, The Shawshank Redemption, Cujo, and Christine. In one scene, Jake Chambers (played by Tom Taylor) stumbles upon an abandoned amusement park known as Pennywise, the same name as the clown in It.

15 Fascinating Facts About Beatrix Potter

Getty Images
Getty Images

Even today, more than 75 years after her death on December 22, 1943, celebrated children’s author Beatrix Potter's beautifully illustrated tales—featuring animals and landscapes inspired by her beloved home in England’s Lake District—are still hugely popular. Below are 15 fascinating facts about The Tale of Peter Rabbit author.

1. Beatrix wasn't Potter's real first name.

Potter was born in London on July 28, 1866 and was actually christened Helen after her mother, but was known by her more unusual middle name: Beatrix.

2. The Tale of Peter Rabbit was inspired by a letter.

The first edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
Aleph-bet books via Wikimedia // Public Domain

Potter’s most famous book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit , was inspired by an illustrated letter Potter wrote to Noel, the son of her former governess, Annie, in 1893. She later asked to borrow the letter back and copied the pictures and story, which she then adapted to create the much-loved tale.

3. Peter Rabbit and her friends were partly based on Beatrix Potter's own pets.

Peter was modeled on Potter’s own pet rabbit, Peter Piper—a cherished bunny who Potter frequently sketched and took for walks on a leash. Potter's first pet rabbit, Benjamin Bouncer, was the inspiration for Benjamin Bunny, Peter's cousin in her books. Potter loved sketching Benjamin, too. In 1890, after a publisher purchased some of her sketchers of Benjamin, she decided to reward him with some hemp seeds. "The consequence being that when I wanted to draw him next morning he was intoxicated and wholly unmanageable," she later wrote in her diary.

4. Potter’s house was essentially a menagerie.


Riversdale Estate, Flickr // Public Domain

Potter kept a whole host of pets in her schoolroom at home—rabbits, hedgehogs, frogs, and mice. She would capture wild mice and let them run loose. When she needed to recapture them she would shake a handkerchief until the wild mice would emerge to fight the imagined foe and promptly be scooped up and caged. When her brother Bertram went off to boarding school he left a pair of long-eared pet bats behind. The animals proved difficult to care for so Potter set one free, but the other, a rarer specimen, she dispatched with chloroform then set about stuffing for her collection.

5. Peter Rabbit wasn’t an immediate success.

Potter self-published the Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1901, funding the print run of 250 herself after being turned down by several commercial publishers. In 1902 the book was republished by Frederick Warne & Co after Potter agreed to redo her black-and-white illustrations in color. By the end of its first year in print, it was in so much demand it had to be reprinted six times.

6. Beatrix Potter understood the power of merchandising.

In 1903 Potter, recognizing the merchandising opportunities offered by her success, made her own Peter Rabbit doll, which she registered at the Patent Office. A Peter Rabbit board game and wallpaper were also produced in her lifetime.

7. Potter was a naturalist at a time when most women weren’t.

Potter was fascinated by nature and was constantly recording the world around her in her drawings. Potter was especially interested in fungi and became an accomplished scientific illustrator, going on to write a paper , “On the Germination of the Spores of Agaricineae, ” proposing her own theory for how fungi spores reproduced. The paper was presented on Potter’s behalf by the Assistant Director of Kew Gardens at a meeting of the Linnean Society on April 1, 1897, which Potter was unable to attend because at that time women were not allowed at meetings of the all-male Linnean Society—even if their work was deemed good enough to be presented.

8. Potter sometimes wrote in secret code.

Between 1881 and 1897 Potter kept a journal in which she jotted down her private thoughts in a secret code . This code was so fiendishly difficult it was not cracked and translated until 1958.

9. Potter was reportedly a disappointment to her mom.


Wikimedia // Public Domain

Despite her huge success, Potter was something of a disappointment to her mother, who had wanted a daughter to accompany her on social calls and make an advantageous marriage. In 1905 Potter accepted the marriage proposal of her publisher Norman Warne. However, her parents were very against the match as they did not consider him good enough for their daughter, and refused to allow the engagement to be made public. Unfortunately, Warne died of leukemia just a few weeks after the engagement. Potter did eventually marry, at age 47, to a solicitor and kindred spirit, William Heelis.

10. Potter wrote much more than you. (Probably.)

Potter was a prolific writer , producing between two and three stories every year, ultimately writing 28 books in total, including The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin , The Tale of Mrs Tiggy Winkle , and The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher . Potter’s stories have been translated into 35 different languages and sold over 100 million copies combined.

11. Potter asked that one of her books not be published in England.

In 1926 Potter published a longer work, The Fairy Caravan . It was at first only published in America because Potter felt it was too autobiographical to be published in England during her lifetime. (She also told her English publishers that it wasn’t as good as her other work and felt it wouldn’t be well-received). Nine years after her death in 1943, the book was finally released in the UK.

12. Potter's later books had to be cobbled together from early drawings.

As her eyesight diminished it became harder and harder for Potter to produce the beautiful drawings that characterized her work. As a result many of her later books were pieced together from earlier drawings in her vast collection of sketchbooks. The Tale of Little Pig Robinson was Potter’s last picture book, published in 1930.

13. A lost work of potter's was published in 2016.

A lost Potter story , The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots , was rediscovered in 2013 and published in summer 2016. Publisher Jo Hanks found references to the story in an out-of-print biography of Potter and so went searching through the writer’s archive at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Hanks discovered a sketch of the kitty in question, plus a rough layout of the unedited manuscript. The story will be published with supplementary illustrations by Quentin Blake.

14. Potter was an accomplished sheep farmer.

Potter was an award-winning sheep farmer and in 1943 was the first woman elected President of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders’ Association.

15. You can visit Hill Top, Potter's home.


Strobilomyces, Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 3.0 

When Potter died in 1943 at the age of 77, she left 14 farms and 4000 acres of land in the Lake District to Britain’s National Trust, ensuring the beloved landscape that inspired her work would be preserved. The Trust opened her house, Hill Top, which she bought in 1905, to the public in 1946.

Mental Floss is partnering with the Paper & Packaging – How Life Unfolds® “15 Pages A Day” reading initiative to make sure that everyone has the opportunity (and time) to take part in The Mental Floss Book Club. It’s easy! Take the pledge at howlifeunfolds.com/15pages.

This article has been updated for 2019.

No, Ernest Hemingway Didn’t Write That Six-Word ‘Baby Shoes’ Story

Ernest Hemingway and actor Gary Cooper (right) leave a cinema on the Rue Royale in Paris, France in 1956.
Ernest Hemingway and actor Gary Cooper (right) leave a cinema on the Rue Royale in Paris, France in 1956.
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Journalist-turned-novelist Ernest Hemingway was known for his clean, restrained writing style. Which makes it conceivable that he's the author of the most famous six-word short story of all time.

The story goes that Hemingway wrote the gut-punching line "For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn" to win a bet against his writer friends. But there's no evidence that such a bet ever took place, and it's likely that one of the best-known works attributed to Hemingway has nothing to do with the author at all.

According to Open Culture, the urban legend sets Hemingway in a hotel (usually the Algonquin, but the location varies) some time in the 1920s. He was allegedly having lunch with a group of writer pals when he bet them he could write a story with a full narrative in just six words. After his friends put their money down, Hemingway jotted down a few words on a napkin and passed it around the table. Though brief, the other writers couldn't deny that "Baby Shoes" was indeed a full story.

Chances are this story actually originated years after Hemingway's 1961 death. It first appeared in print in the 1991 book Get Published! Get Produced!: A Literary Agent’s Tips on How to Sell Your Writing by agent Peter Miller. When recounting the anecdote, Miller wrote that he first heard the tale from an unnamed newspaper syndicator in 1974.

The story spread from there and its original source only became murkier. A retelling of the tale was included in the one-man biographical Hemingway play Papa in 1996, and then in a Reader's Digest essay in 1998. The internet—for which Hemingway's punchy, compact style was a perfect fit—got "Baby Shoes" in front of more eyeballs than ever.

Though it's been cited in articles and books numerous times, no one has ever been able to trace the story back to a first-hand source. As for the true author of "Baby Shoes" if it isn't Hemingway, flash fiction fans may never know his or her identity. It's possible that the line was never meant to be a fictional story in the first place: Real ads that bear striking similarities to the legendary work predate the myth.

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