"The Last Knight" is the first book of the Black Tower saga, written by Stephen King between 1978 and 1981 and originally published in six parts in the magazine The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
The Black Tower is a saga that, sooner or later in the life of fantasy readers, it is necessary to face. Some may have had their first contacts directly with the novels, some others with the comic series published by Marvel in 2007. Its powerful narrative has inspired several writers, artists and the common imagination. 
One book at a time we will walk the path that will lead us to the Black Tower, trying to analyze each volume for the information it offers.

A not unusual editorial story

Like other works before him, in a typical style of the last century, "The Last Knight" sees the light in a magazine. In six releases the story of Roland of Gilead and his flashbacks, the real point of interest of the whole first book, is broken up and then reunited in a single binding only in 1982. Many other heroes were born thanks to competitions or stories about magazines. We know that Geralt of Rivia, thousands of kilometers away, also had the same genesis.
Although King has admitted that he has always had in mind, for at least a decade, the history of the Black Tower, it is clear that some choices have led him to change his mind during the drafting.

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The incipit of the book has become iconic, like many others, due to its simplicity and incisiveness.
"The man in black fled into the desert and the gunslinger followed him"
"The Last Knight" shows us the pursuit, through the desert, of the man in black by Roland of Gilead, in a world that "has gone on" and has returned to a technological level that recalls the Far West. The desert is boundless, almost mythological, and inhabited only by mutants and sunlight. The gunslinger, who is repeatedly called the last knight, is only outlined in this work but, from the first pages, it is clear that he is willing to do anything to kill the man in black and reach the Tower.

A story that puts a lot of meat on the fire

In the final part of the book, as well as in the flashbacks on Roland's youth, there is a lot of information that is easily lost, if not properly stored. Among tarot cards, names, theories on the structure of the universe and the Black Tower, it is very easy to spend a decade trying to remember everything. The man in black is the key to a dreamlike ending, at the end of which Roland finds himself older and with far fewer answers than when his journey had started.

Source of inspiration for the Last Knight

The most obvious source of inspiration for the work is "Childe Roland at the Black Tower came" written by Robert Browning in 1855. The poem is divided into thirty-four rooms of six verses each with an ABBAAB metric scheme. The verses are iambic pentameters, the type of verse typical of English poetry.
The story is narrated firsthand by Childe Roland, a knight who set off on a journey in search of a mysterious Black Tower.
Roland sets out in search of the Tower under the advice of a "white cripple", by whom he believes he has been deceived. He is thus enrolled in the "Band", or that group of knights in search of the Black Tower, but since the journey will prove to be long and difficult, the protagonist's hopes will fade, and he will begin to wonder if he is able to carry out the mission.
In order not to see the devastation around him, Roland will think back to himself and his past and will remember two of his knight friends Cuthbert and Giles, both of whom died with great pain for Roland himself. Increasingly in despair, Roland will struggle across a river and find himself in increasingly battered regions. To comfort Roland, however, comes a large black bird, which reminds him of the angel of destruction in the Hebrew bible, Apollion, and this gives him the strength to reach the Tower, immediately after the mountains. Near the Tower, Roland meets all the adventurers who have failed to reach the Tower and brings the horn to his lips, shouting: "Childe Roland has come to the Black Tower". It is not clear what Roland finds inside the Tower.

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"The Last Knight" the 2003 edition

In 2003 King made substantial changes to the text. It made the narrative more linear and flowing as well as making the plot of the book more consistent with the final books of the series. Other changes have been made to resolve continuity errors introduced by subsequent volumes. The added material was over 9000 words.
Some of the most impressive changes are:

  • Roland, Allie's cold killer, is modified to make him appear more human. Originally, when the city of Tull attacks Roland, Allie is taken by a citizen and used as a human shield. She begs Roland not to shoot before he ruthlessly uses guns on both her and her captor. In the revised version, the city has gone mad because of Walter o'Dim taking her hostage, and begs Roland to shoot her.
  • The city of Farson is changed to Taunton, as John Farson is a character in later books in the series.
  • References to Bestia have been modified to refer to the Red King.
  • A major change in the text is the fate and identity of the Man in Black. In the original text, at the end of the story, Roland has no uncertainty about Walter o'Dim's death. In the revised edition, Roland speculates whether his discovery of Walter's bones is a trick or whether he is truly dead. The original text also kept Walter o'Dim and Marten Broadcloak completely disjointed. Even after Walter o'Dim's death, Broadcloak still had to be found and killed. It is later, in The sphere of darkness, which is revealed to be the same person. Although no reference to the name Flag it is done in the revised edition of The last knight, all references to Walter and Marten are altered so that it is plausible that they are the same person.