The Dark Tower series probably wasn’t meant to have an encyclopedia. Stephen King is about as improvisatory as a writer of fiction can be, almost never outlining or plotting in advance, or overly questioning his decisions and inventions. He began TDT with The Gunslinger as a college student and finished the seventh book as a 57-year-old, imposing five- and six-year waits between installments that varied as much in style as they did in substance.
A few things happened in the ‘90s, though, and The Dark Tower approached encyclopedia-readiness. First, King’s career-defining ‘80s hot streak lightly cooled to a temperature where the new novels weren’t automatic culture-dominators. It was the perfect time to take a breather and finally dive into this sci-fi/fantasy/Western, or to reread, tracing connections and taking new mental notes each time. The internet also happened — big capital-I Internet back then — and crude, adoring fan sites took root, some still there today in all their Angelfire ‘n’ Geocities glory.
But King’s assistant Robin Furth was the heroine who finally corralled The Dark Tower’s lore and language into one fat tome, The Complete Concordance, born of Uncle Stevie’s need for easy-to-find fact-checks as he finished the series. “If anyone in the world knows more about Dark Tower and its universe than Stephen, it’s Robin Furth,” said Marvel Comics editor Ralph Macchio in 2008, referencing the company’s new, Furth-plotted Tower comics. Just like that, TDT joined Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire as a classifiable universe.
In advance of The Dark Tower’s film adaptation, in theaters Friday, we’ve compiled a beginner’s guide to the strangest, coolest words and phrases within The Complete Concordance. This collection of fun, odd, and excellent phrases and terms remembers the faces of its fathers and mothers well: Furth, the internet-catalog-keepers, and the Constant Readers. Books are referred to by their roman numerals; while 2012’s The Wind Through the Keyhole comes between IV and V chronologically, it’s the eighth Tower book King published, after the fact. Mid-World, referenced throughout, is the home realm of Roland of Gilead, the last Gunslinger.
“Abba ka dabba.”
It’s “the only magic word” a Mid-World boy knows while trying to spell-cast in VIII. Certainly a jankier interpretation of the old standard than Harry Potter’s sophisticated avada kedavra.
“Aim with the eye, shoot with the mind, kill with the heart.”
Distillation of the Gunslingers’ three-stanza litany that says if you aim or shoot with the hand, or kill with your gun rather than your heart, you have forgotten the face of your father, a.k.a. lost your way and really effed up.
“All things serve the Beam.”
The Mid-World version of “everything happens for a reason,” except there are six reasons, and they’re the interdimensional Beams that hold up the Dark Tower, a.k.a. the lynchpin of all creation.
The people of Calla Bryn Sturgis’s word for “atomic.” Nuclear weapons have been abused in more worlds than ours, and the translations don’t always come through exactly right.
When the Beam-targeting Breakers — psychically gifted captives of the big bad, the Crimson King — successfully destroy one of the six Beams, this is the result, felt across realities. A character (from Hearts in Atlantis!) cautions in VII that when one crucial beam “snaps,” the Tower “will fail, creation will end, and the very Eye of Existence will turn blind.”
A little raccoon-dog critter with a corkscrew tail. Learns short human words here and there, super loyal companion. Jake Chambers’s is named Oy for his cute attempts to say “boy.”
You think you know, but you have no idea: One guy in VII “moved like a bougie — a reanimated corpse.”
“Chussit, chissit, chasset.”
In the High Speech spoken by the Gunslingers of yore, these are the numbers 17, 18, and — all-important in TDT and King’s life as a whole — 19.
“Come to the clearing at the end of the path.”
A euphemism for death, used often. When Roland meets Susan in IV, for example, he says of her father, “I’m sorry to hear he’s come to the clearing at the end of the path, Susan. Will you accept my condolence?”
The people of Mejis rock these gender-neutral purses described in IV as “small leather accessories, big enough for a few coins but not much more.” So, so far from a sports car or a warship.
Hearing the book title (!) in our world in VII, Roland remembers it as a term his true love “sometimes used when they were alone together. In Mejis, cujo meant “sweet one.”
A person with the knack for something. From IV: “… I also have white iced tea, which I recommend most hearty, as Dave’s wife makes it and she’s a dab hand with most any potable.”
“Dad-a-cham? Dum-a-chum? Dod-a-chock? Dud-a-chum?”
Deadly four-foot-long monster lobsters — “lobstrosities” — senselessly chirp this stuff at the beginning of II.
“Dark side of the blanket.”
Where children out of wedlock are conceived. From VIII: “Don’t they say Arthur had many sons from three wives, and moity-more born on the dark side of the blanket?”
A type of Mid-World telegraph.
Taheen word for death.
Respectful salutation, as well as a call to attention. One of the only words that’s the same in the High Speech and Low. The Manni religion believes “hile” is “fin-Gan, or the first word; the one that set the world spinning.”
“I set my watch and warrant on it.”
In Mid-World: “I’m certain. Trust me. You’ll see. No doubt. It’s going down.”
Per IV, “a phrase which seemed to mean, Reckon so, partner.”
High Speech for young members of a ka-tet, or little siblings. (Not much difference, really.)
High Speech terms literally translated to “one from many.” One of TDT’s central concepts, it’s roughly summed up as a destiny-forged group only shattered by betrayal or death. Roland’s ka-tet en route to the Tower is comprised of himself, Jake, Eddie, Susannah, and, depending who you ask, Oy.
“Long days and pleasant nights.”
A lovely Mid-World greeting. Customary reply is, “And may you have twice the number.”
Roland’s failed interpretation of “magazine.” In II, Eddie looks at “a limp-covered book he thought of as a ‘Magda-Seen,’ although who Magda might have been or what she might have seen mattered not a whit to Roland.”
“The Man Jesus”
That’s Jesus Christ they’re talking about. Or a Jesus Christ …
“May your first day in hell last ten thousand years, and may it be the shortest.”
Spicy toast from Lady Oriza in V, just before she decapitates a lame with a flying plate.
Roland and his father’s synonym for “hanged” in a conversation in I.
A trivial little something-or-other. In V, Roland says “a man who’ll sell his soul for a pair of spectacles will resell it for some other prink-a-dee.”
A kid. As Roland prepares to duel his teacher Cort in I, he’s told, “You are early, puler. Five years early, I should judge.”
Seriously just Golden Snitches from Harry Potter. (Refer to “ant-nomic.”)
In VIII, the ka-tet share a look “dark with shume, the old Mid-World term that can mean shame, but also means sorrow.”
High Speech for “side chick.” Really. Susannah and the ka-tet find themselves in a dangerous situation in V: She begrudgingly goes along with Roland’s scheme to masquerade as his sh’veen, a “quiet little side-wife, his nudge in the night.”
A shapeshifter, introduced in VIII.
Just Calla Bryn Sturgis’s way of saying “tobacco,” but please by all means shout a well-timed “EVERY DAY!” if you’re ever in the area.
Scarecrows. Bless Roland’s book-length flashback in IV to his time in the barony of Mejis as a teenager.
Um … balls. In III, the grimy Gasher tells Jake, “Don’t try a thing, or I’ll rip off yer sweetmeats and stuff em up your bung.”
A respectful thanks in the High Speech, used constantly throughout.
“The quickest way to learn about a new place is to know what it dreams of.”
Roland delivers this cool idea to Eddie and Susannah while learning about L. Frank Baum’s Oz in III.
Another word for billy-bumbler.
“Throcket of bumblers”
The Covenant Man tells Tim in VIII, “Many lions is a pride; many crows is a murder; many bumblers is a throcket; many dragons is a bonfire.”
“Trig” is talented or clever, and “cove” can be like the appended “bastard” or “sonofabitch.” The Tick-Tock Man tells Jake in III, “Whoever you are and wherever you come from, boy, you’re the triggest cove old Tick-Tock’s run into for many a year.”
High Speech for “twin.”
A youngster. “There hasn’t been a starkblast in these parts since I was a weebee,” a widow says in VIII, “and that’s many and many-a year-a-gone.”
Ice-cold diss Eddie gets hit with in VI.