There are heavy spoilers below, but I’m assuming that if you’re reading this, you’ve already finished AT LEAST the movie or the book series.
1: In the movie, Roland is black. In the book, he was white. This doesn’t really cause any problems, especially since Idris Elba does a fantastic job with the role, but it would have conflicted with one of the book’s late sub-plots, as Roland was supposed to be an alternate universe doppleganger for Stephen King himself. Since the movie ended on a fairly conclusive note, I think we can safely say this plot point isn’t going to happen any time soon.
2: Opening line
In the movie, when Jake is waking up from a dream, we hear “The Man in Black fled across the Desert and the Gunslinger followed,” which makes no sense, and comes out of nowhere, since we have no idea who’s saying it and we never even see either of them in the desert. In the book, that line is not a psychic message, it’s from the book’s own text, and it describes exactly what the two characters are doing right at the beginning, as the Man in Black flees and Roland follows him.
3: First two books
In the movie, we start things off with the introduction of Earth Jake. In the book, he’s not introduced until book three, as he’s Roland’s third companion. In fact, there are two entire books that are skipped to get to that point, with Roland chasing Walter, going through a village on the verge of ruin, meeting an alternate version of Jake, moving through a tunnel full of mutants, sacrificing that version of Jake, walking miles across a shore line, pulling his first two companions into his world, etc.
4: Jake Chambers
In the movie, Jake is obsessed with drawing pictures of the other world, and everyone thinks he’s crazy. In the books, he keeps having visions, but he keeps them to himself, except for one poem that he writes, that his teacher mistakes for a work of genius. He leaves his home on his own accord, and never returns.
5: Jake’s parents
In the movie, Jake’s dad is dead, a heroic fire fighter, his mother is highly stressed, and his step-father is a dick. In the books, he has his original parents, and his father is a cocaine-abusing hard-ass who wants him to succeed. He actually lays off a bit towards Jake’s departure, believing all of his studying to have over-exerted him.
6: The Man in Black
In the movie, The Man in Black is a constant presence, and is actively involved n everything. In the books, he’s barely present, and only appears on rare occasions, including two different areas of Roland’s backstory. He’s also revealed to have far more names and identities than Walter O’Dim, including John Farson and Randal Flagg.
7: Eddie and Susannah
In the movie, these two flat out don’t exist. In the books, Eddie is Roland’s first companion, a drug addict in deep trouble with the mafia. His second companion, Susannah, is a wealthy black woman with a split personality and two missing legs. The two fall in love in oddly quick fashion and wind up married by book three.
8: Roland’s poisoning
In the movie, Roland is stabbed in the shoulder by the tail of a generic monster. In the books, he’s attacked in the beginning of book 2 by a giant mutant lobster who snaps off two of his fingers and one of his toes, leaving him poisoned. He has to walk for miles along the coast, slowly dying of infection, before finding his companions to help him pull through.
In the movie, Roland’s revenge is set forth by the murder of his father. In the fourth book, Wizard and Glass, which is my favorite of both the series and the entire King bibliography, we go back to his teenage years, where he’s patrolling a western-like town, and the interferences of The Man in Black lead to the death of his first true love, local girl Susan Delgado.
10: The Spheres
In the movie, Walter uses a glowing orb to spy on Roland. In the books, these are far more heavily fleshed out, with a few of them appearing in the story. The black one especially acts as a particular nuisance in The Calla when they find it buried beneath the town church. In his teenage years, Roland discovers the pink sphere, and after the murder of his lover, becomes obsessed with and entrapped by it.
11: The Beam
In the movie, Roland’s journey seems a bit aimless, and you wonder why he doesn’t just sit on his ass and let Walter come to him. In the book, he’s following a specific path that he calls The Beam, that only he and other Gunslingers can sense and follow.
12: Arra Champignon
In the movie, this character is a see-er who helps to decipher Jake’s visions. In the books, she’s not alive in the current timeline, having been assaulted and murdered by bandits after leaving Gilead to birth her child with her outsider husband, against Roland’s father’s wishes.
13: The Calla
In the movie, Jake and Roland spend some time at a random village that’s eventually ransacked by agents of Walter. I’m not sure what they were going for specifically, but the village is reminiscent of Calla Brynn Sturgis, or The Calla for short. It’s a farming village that the low men send soldiers called “wolves” to steal children from every generation or so, returning them as adults with their minds ruined. In an homage to Seven Samurai, the Calla hire Roland and his companions to help them defend themselves against this generation’s onslaught, which they’re able to do with only a couple of casualties. Interestingly enough, the Wolves have been designed after elements of Keystone Earth’s pop culture, and are basically robots designed to look like Dr. Doom, with Lightsabers and Sneetches as weapons.
14: Ka Tet
In the movie, Roland pairs up with Jake because he proves useful, and they develop a bond way too quickly. In the book, all of Roland’s companions… Jake included… Are companions that were chosen by destiny to be part of his ka-tet, a band of warriors that are more like a family. They are all extraordinary individuals from previously ordinary lives, and they all have Gunslinger potential.
Speaking of which, Jake has no animal companion in the movie. In the book, he befriends a Billy Bumbler, a wild animal native to Outworld, who has limited mimicry related speech capabilities, and names him Oy, after his parroting of the word Boy. I know this may sound kitschy, but the Bumbler actually proves himself useful and even a vicious warrior on several occasions. He even dies defeating the final villain.
16: King Arthur
In the movie, Walter tells us that Roland is descended from King Arthur, and his guns are made out of Excalibur, despite this information being completely irrelevant to the new version of the story. In the books, we’re given several hints about Roland’s lineage until it’s eventually confirmed, and none of it is expository or out of place.
17: The Rose
In the movie, there’s a rose painted on a wall at the end. In the books, the rose is an important plot point, as Jake is drawn to it in an abandoned construction lot, as it’s a direct reflection of the status of the tower. Roland and his ka-tet have to go out of their way to protect it, as killing it would destroy the tower. There’s a long story arc about two of them going back to earth, forming a fake company called the Sombra corporation(which is also briefly referenced in the movie) and buying the lot to keep it safe.
18: Pepsi to Coke
One of the stranger changes on this list is Roland drinking a Coke on the subway. In the books, his first taste of an Earth beverage is a bottle of Pepsi, which he has an animated reaction to the overbearing sweetness of, and which somehow helps to heal him of his poisoning for a limited time. He’s also given tuna fish sandwiches, which he calls tooter fish. Oh, also, he calls sandwiches ‘Popkins.’ Just felt like adding that.
19: The Rat Man
In the movie, Walter randomly yells at someone named The Rat Man. In the books, this is likely supposed to be Gasher, a character who kidnaps Jake and takes him hostage when Roland and his companions are crossing a downed bridge, thus setting off the Lud story arc.
20: Charlie the Choo-Choo
In the movie, while Roland and Jake are traversing the ruins of an old theme park, we see a decrepit train with a happy face on it. This is likely a reference to Charlie the Choo-Choo, a children’s book character whom Jake discovers in the book, and winds up being a hint towards Blaine the Mono, an enemy they’d have to contend and put up with between books three and four.
21: Jake’s development
In the movie, Jake’s development is a joke. He gets one shooting lesson, he possesses a shine(see The Shining), and even though he’s little more than a damsel in distress in the final act, Roland proclaims him a Gunslinger. In the books, his “Shine” is actually a psychic connection that ALL members of Roland’s ka-tet share with one another, although Jake’s is stronger than anyone else’s due to his unnaturally high perception and senses. He does learn to shoot very quickly, but up until he’s suffered, matured and lost a close friend, he doesn’t start to come into his own as a Gunslinger.
In the movie, there are a few connections to King’s other works. We see Cujo, there’s a portal marked 1408, the Shine is mentioned, there’s a Rita Hayworth poster shown. In the book, there are connections all over the place, with a few major ones being Father Callahan from Salem’s Lot, Ted Brautigan from Hearts in Atlantis, Patrick Danville from Insomnia, etc. Even Stephen King himself is a character in the later books. Mostly, though, connections to the Dark tower are found in other books, rather than in the Tower novels themselves.
23: Your father’s face
In the movie, we get snippets of the lore of the books, including Roland’s mantra about forgetting the face of your father, but it isn’t explained. In the books, this mantra is more of a reference to the traditions and beliefs of the Gunslingers and the line of Eld, sort of in the same line as America with it’s founding fathers. If you fail to behave in a manner that upholds and honors the traditions and teachings you were raised on, it’s said that you’ve forgotten the face of your father.
24: Walter dies
In the movie, Roland kills the Man in Black in a fateful encounter full of Hollywood bullshit. In the books, Walter isn’t even killed by a main character… He’s taken by surprise and eaten by a newly introduced villain, a human/spider hybrid named Mordred, who was recently born and is, if you excuse the spelling, HONGRY. Yep, sorry, but the Man In Black goes out like a bitch by something that a group of children could have conceivably punched and kicked to death.
A lot of this movie’s inaccuracies are blamed on the movie being a sequel to the books. This does hold a little weight, as the book series ends with Roland being forced to repeat time and begin his journey anew due to him forgetting to hold onto a crucial item from his past, but this doesn’t explain how his entire backstory seems to have been erased from the lore of the movie. The sequel excuse COULD explain the lack of Eddie and Susannah, but it can’t explain the removal of Susan Delgado from his youth. Oh, and did I mention Walter manipulated him and his father into murdering their own mother and wife, Gabriella Deschain? The fact that Roland is motivated by the murder of his father in this version completely derails the sequel excuse. Complete bullshit.
That was 25 of the differences between the movie and the book series, and I don’t think I included even half of the relevant ones. If you can think of a change that I missed, feel free to post it in the comments below! Thanks for joining me, and may you have long days and pleasant nights.