There are few authors as prolific as Stephen King, and even fewer with such an extensive track record of film adaptations of their work. Since his first short story was sold to Startling Mystery Stories in 1967, King has published 56 novels and 200 short stories. There have been 66 film adaptations of those tales – 5 of which are due to be released in 2017 alone – and 2 of these are truly grabbing the attention right now: The Dark Tower and It.
The Dark Tower arrives first (August 18th) and is the long-awaited adaptation of King’s series of eight inter-connected stories (the first of which was published in 1982) – set in an expansive multiverse and featuring an epic battle of good versus evil. While these tales are filled with fascinating characters, the two that feature as the centre of this cinematic adaptation are The Man In Black (played by Matthew McConaughey) and The Gunslinger – also known as Roland Deschain (played by Idris Elba). Among other things, The Gunslinger must prevent The Man In Black from reaching the Dark Tower, lest all be lost on a universal scale.
In the story, the titular Tower is the centre of all existence and, as Stephen King expanded the book series, it also became the centre of his accumulated works, with a vast array of King characters – both legendary and obscure – cropping up throughout the narrative. The consequence of such connections being threaded through the work of this master of suspense has been to build a bona fide universe of icons, methodically, over the course of 30 years.
Even the small Maine town of Derry – the setting for the second highly anticipated Stephen King adaptation to be released in 2017, It – is mentioned in The Dark Tower source material (along with mentions throughout King’s other works). Due for release on September 8th, this is the second such adaptation of King’s controversial novel, published in 1986. It follows the activities of a group of children in Derry, who attempt to fend off a shape-shifting, child-eating demon that manifests often as a terrifying clown. While the story is filled with brave and courageous youngsters, who become brave and courageous adults, it’s Pennywise The Clown that’s the iconic character in that project. The story of It, and the character of Pennywise are also connected to The Dark Tower, and other stories written King, which have themselves been adapted for cinema.
As we brace ourselves for these new film versions of The Dark Tower and It, it’s exhilarating to consider the fact that, while we’ve long been attributing the rise of the cohesive cinematic universe to endeavours such as the MCU, Stephen King has actually been sneaking one in under our very noses. The difference is that, with this literary giant as its architect, the Stephen King universe is both monumental in size, and sumptuous in detail.
But it’s where King’s two most exceptional strengths as a writer intersect – the creation of iconic characters, and the creation of connection across stories – that the best surprises are found. The Stephen King universe presents connection between circumstance and location, as well as any other narrative element – but with a collection of works that have delivered characters of such impact that they have transcended their own stories and permeated popular culture, it’s these specific connections that remain the most thrilling of all.
So, ahead of The Dark Tower introducing the centre of the universe to cinema for the first time, let’s take a look at the greatest hits of Stephen King’s universe of icons, from television and film, and the ways in which they connect.