Between the publication of the fourth and fifth Dark Tower novels, Stephen King wrote a short story that was set in Roland’s younger days, after the Battle of Jericho Hill but before the events of the first Dark Tower novel, The Gunslinger. This short story is called “The Little Sisters of Eluria.” It’s been sitting on my bookshelf for a while now, a lingering piece of unfinished business. After recently getting re-engrossed in Marvel Comics’ Dark Tower mini-series, I decided to finally read this story.
I don’t know what possessed me to wait so long!
“The Little Sisters of Eluria” is a fine addition to the over-all Dark Tower saga, and a terrifically entertaining story in it’s own right. It puts Roland right in the middle of a horror story of the type that I have always associated with Stephen King. What a clever idea!
The story finds Roland, alone, riding a sickly horse through difficult terrain. The ka-tet of Roland’s youth are all dead, and he has not yet fully seized upon the purpose that would eventually grip his life: the pursuit of the Man in Black and, beyond that, the quest for the Dark Tower. Though his life has been shattered and his heart hardened by tragedy upon tragedy, this Roland is not yet the stone-cold killer of The Gunslinger who we will meet in the opening pages of Mr. King’s first Dark Tower novel, The Gunslinger. As a result, Roland finds himself defeated by a group of slow mutants, and he is only saved from death by a group of nun-like healers. No surprise, these healers wind up being far from altruistic, and Roland finds himself in an escalatingly horrific situation.
No one can tell a monster story quite like Stephen King, and “The little Sisters of Eluria” finds the master in top form. I loved the slow reveal of the sisters’ true nature — we know immediately that they’re up to no good, but we don’t know exactly what they are or what they are doing — as well as the slow tightening of the screws on poor, injured Roland, unable to move.
The story stands on its own, but there are some powerful callbacks to the events of The Dark Tower novels, particularly to Wizard and Glass. The most powerful sequence in the novel is when Roland finds himself drawn, as he always is, to the painful memories of his doomed true love, Susan:
He thought, as always, of Susan.
If you love me, then love me, she’d said… and so he had.
So he had.
It’s a short, simple, section, but one that powerfully draws upon the epic story Stephen King has crafted to bring greater levels of richness and emotion to this short tale.
I’d have loved had the ending explained a few things in a bit more detail. For instance, I am vague on the connection between the apparently benign doctor bugs and the most-definitely-NOT-benign sisters, and I really think that would have been worthy of clarification.
Still, “The little Sisters of Eluria” is a wonderful return visit to Roland Deschain and the world of the Dark Tower. After reading it, I was hungry for more! Luckily I have several additional Marvel Comics mini-series waiting for me… as well as Stephen King’s newly-published EIGHTH Dark Tower novel: The Wind Through the Keyhole. I will be back with my thoughts on those continuing Dark Tower adventures soon…!
Josh’s Dark Tower Reviews: Entering The Dark Tower — The Dark Tower Book I: The Gunslinger – The Dark Tower Book II: The Drawing of the Three – The Dark Tower Book III: The Waste Lands — The Dark Tower Book IV: Wizard and Glass — 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 — Return to the Dark Tower