The Dark Tower: Stephen King Easter Eggs and Reference Guide
We picked apart The Dark Tower movie and went back to the book series to find all of the easter eggs and references you need to know!
This Dark Tower article contains spoilers.
The Dark Tower has arrived on the big screen, bringing with it one of the most extensive mythologies in all of literature. Since 1978, King has been creating a web of connections between many of his most famous novels, such as ‘Salem’s Lot and The Stand, and it all leads back to the Tower, the most important structure in all of the Kingverse.
Director Nikolaj Arcel’s film adaptation contains so many references and easter eggs to the books and movies that I’ve decided to dissect The Dark Tower for all of its secrets. Of course, this is based on a single screening of the movie, which means I probably missed a few blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments. If you spot something that’s not on this list, shout them out in the comments or hit me up on Twitter.
Okay, so here are all of the easter eggs and references we found in the movie:
The Dark Tower
We’ll start with the big one. The Dark Tower is the center of all worlds, created by Gan, the King universe’s version of God. The Tower is six hundred floors high and can only be accessed from one of an infinite number of worlds. It is held up by six beams, which contain two portals at each end. The twelve portals are protected by hulking magical Guardians. We don’t meet any such Guardians in the movie.
Why is this Tower so important? Well, without it the multiverse would crumble and all that would be left is chaos. Walter’s goal in the movie is to destroy the Tower, bring about the apocalypse, and rule over whatever is left.
The Tower takes different forms on different worlds. It can only truly be accessed in Mid-World, the place Roland and Walter Padick are from.
Roland is the last of the gunslingers, an order of peacekeepers tasked with protecting reality and, therefore, the Tower. The Gunslingers were once the highest authority in all of Mid-World, the planet on which the physical manifestation of the Tower is located. Roland is descended from the legendary Arthur Eld (think King Arthur), who was the greatest protector of the Tower and the first king of a unified Mid-World.
One of Arthur’s original knights, Kay Deschain, died protecting the king from a demon known as the Crimson Queen, who tricked Arthur into impregnating her with a son known as the Crimson King, the main antagonist of the series. You could say that Kay Deschain was one of the original gunslingers.
Roland’s entire order was decimated in a war against the forces of John Farson, an agent of the Crimson King who sought to topple the ruling feudal government of Mid-World known as the Affiliation. The gunslingers’ final defeat came at the Battle of Jericho Hill, which only Roland survived.
When we first meet Roland in the books, he’s not all that interested in reaching the Tower. Instead, he’s chasing the Man in Black, whom he blames for the fall of Gilead, his home, and the death of his mother. In fact, the Man in Black basically ruined Roland’s entire life through a series of manipulations orchestrated to further the Crimson King’s agenda of destroying the Tower.
In the movie, the Man in Black kills his father, Steven, and flees across the desert. (They’re actually very clearly in the woods and not the desert at all in the movie. There isn’t a single scene where the Man in Black is fleeing across the desert.)
Walter goes by many names. He is the Man in Black, the man Roland desperately wants to kill in order to avenge the death of his loved ones and Gilead. In the books, Walter (then known as Marten Broadcloak, the court magician and chief advisor to Roland’s father) seriously fucks Roland over by tricking him into being possessed by a demonic magic sphere and killing his own mother. Later, Marten killed Roland’s childhood friend at the Battle of Jericho Hill and fled across the desert, taking on the persona of Walter O’Dim in the book.
While Walter seems to be at the height of his power in the movie, which sees him trying to topple the Tower once and for all, he’s very different in the first book in the series, The Gunslinger. He’s more mischievous than evil, someone Roland needs to catch in order to learn about his true destiny to climb the Tower and save it from the Crimson King. It’s not until his later incarnation, Randall Flagg (who you might also know as the main villain in The Stand and Eyes of the Dragon), that he decides that he must also climb the Tower, which he believes will make him a god.
Walter is the son of Maerlyn, a demonic sorcerer from the Prim, the primordial chaos that existed before Gan created the multiverse and the Tower. At one point, Maerlyn tried to convince the Great Old Ones, the civilization that preceded Roland’s on Mid-World, to replace the Tower with one of their own making. This would have, of course, been disastrous. It seems like the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Unlike in the movie, Walter doesn’t have a definitive death in his first appearance in the books. After he talks to Roland about his destiny, he puts the gunslinger to sleep for a hundred years. When Roland wakes up, he finds nothing but bones under the black cloak. It is strongly suggested that Walter simply faked his own death by planting those bones there while Roland was catching some much needed Zs.
Interestingly enough, much of the film is presented from Jake’s perspective, although that’s not really the case in the books. The Waste Lands, the book the movie borrows the most from, does have sections from Jake’s POV, though.
Jake’s storyline in the movie is changed quite a bit from the books. While Jake can sense the existence of the Tower, Roland, the Man in Black, and Mid-World, it’s only after he’s already traveled and met them in a past life. You see, things get really complicated in terms of time with Jake. He is first introduced in The Gunslinger when Roland runs into him at a way station in the desert. Jake joins Roland on his quest to find the Man in Black, which ultimately leads to the boy’s death on Mid-World.
It’s later revealed that Jake, who is originally from New York City, first arrived on Mid-World because he was killed in our world. A serial killer named Jack Mort pushed him into oncoming traffic and the boy was run over by a Cadillac.
Well, in The Drawing of the Three, the second book in the series, Roland stops Mort from killing Jake, taking control of the killer’s body by going through a magic door on a beach in Mid-World (I know, I know), which causes a paradox for Jake. If Jake never died on our Earth, it means he never arrived and died on Mid-World, which means time is ripping itself apart!
Okay, so most of that is done away with for the movie. Jake simply senses “other worlds than these” and eventually finds his way to Mid-World through a portal in Brooklyn. He also has the power of “the shine,” which is an obvious nod to Danny Torrance’s clairvoyance in The Shining. Jake’s telepathic powers and precognition are known as “the touch” in the books. Walter doesnt need Jake’s abilities to bring down the Tower, though.
It should also be noted that Jake’s father is actually a douchey TV executive in the books and not a fireman who died in the line of duty. The filmmakers really wanted to push the father/son relationship when it came to Roland and Jake. They’ve both lost their fathers by the time the movie begins.
Mid-World is the only world on which the Tower physically exists. While we only really see the Mohaine Desert in the movie (it’s also the setting of the first book), Mid-World is actually a vast place, separated into three sections: In-World, Mid-World (a little confusing), and End-World. In-World is where Roland’s city of Gilead stood, while End-World is where the Tower is located. Roland basically has to cross the entire landscape in order to make it to his destination. Above, you can see a map of Mid-World (which is also known as All-World, although the two names are interchangeable, according to Robin Furth, author of The Complete Concordance reference book).
The Crimson King
The Crimson King is barely mentioned in the movie beyond a key piece of graffiti inside of the Dutch Hill Mansion, so I won’t go into too much detail. (He’s already been fleshed out quite a bit above!) He’s basically the main villain of the series, a demonic figure bent on destroying the Tower and ruling over the chaos leftover. Ultimately, even Walter serves the Crimson King, who commands a huge force of monsters and minions known as the Red. Perhaps we’ll learn more about him in the next movie?
Steven Deschain is Roland’s father. He was the “dinh” (or leader) of Gilead and a gunslinger. In the books, he dies during the fall of Gilead after Roland is framed for the death of Gabrielle, Steven’s wife and mother to his son.
The movie handles Steven’s death a bit differently. Father and son are side by side after a big battle, the only two remaining gunslingers left. Together they face Walter, who easily kills Steven by telling him to stop breathing. Steven’s death is the reason Roland is after Walter in the movie.
Battle of Jericho Hill
It’s unclear which battle has just occurred right before Roland and Steven face Walter, but it does seem like it could be the Battle of Jericho Hill, the final battle between the gunslingers and the forces of John Farson. It was the end of the Affiliation, the ruling government of Mid-World. It would make sense that it’s this battle since Roland and Steven are the only gunslingers left at this point in the movie.
We also know that Walter (then known as Marten Broadcloak) fled across the desert after this battle. In the movie, the famous line, “The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed,” is whispered right after the scene between Walter, Roland, and his father. That would seem to indicate that it’s indeed the Battle of Jericho Hill that’s being referenced.
This time, of course, Roland remembers to take the Horn of Eld with him.
Horn of Eld
The fact that Roland has the Horn of Eld in this movie is what first tipped off fans that this was not going to be a direct adaptation of the books. It is revealed at the end of the series that Roland’s journey is actually cyclical and that he’s been stuck in a loop for a very long time. He’s made it to the top of the Tower before and then been sent back to start over with slight variations each time. At the end of the final book, it’s revealed that Roland now has the Horn of Eld, an ancient family relic that he had abandoned at the Battle of Jericho Hill the last time around.
The fact that Roland is in possession of the Horn of Eld this time is a sign of hope in the books that perhaps the gunslinger is getting closer to his redemption and the end of his journey. The Horn first belonged to Arthur Eld and was passed down for generations until Steven gave it to Roland. It is hinted that the Horn is vital to Roland’s entry into the Tower.
The Sandalwood Guns that Roland uses in the movie are said to have been forged from the metal of Arthur Eld’s legendary sword Excalibur. They are engraved with the sign of the Eld, which is what ultimately grants Roland access into the Tower. Roland sometimes calls them “the widowmakers.” Yikes.
The introduction of the Manni people comes as a surprise since they don’t show up in the books until Wolves of the Calla, the fifth novel. They are best known for their ability to travel to other worlds, which is why they help Roland and Jake get back to Keystone Earth in the movie.
Arra Champignon is one of the Manni seers in the movie. She doesn’t actually appear in the books, but does show up in a few issues of the Marvel comics. In both instances, she is pregnant and is killed.
The Taheen aren’t very different to humans except that they have the heads of animals, such as cats or birds. They work as minions for the Crimson King in the book, especially as guards at the Devar-Toi, a prison for psychics.
I’m not sure if the movie ever refers to Can-toi, but the ability to pass off as human in our world is specific to Can-toi (also known as Low Men in other King works). The very obviously fake skin is definitely a staple of their appearance in the books.
It may be that the movie fused the Taheen and Can-toi together. It’s not far off either since the Can-toi are the result of the Taheen mating with humans. When not wearing flesh costumes, the Can-toi look like humanoid rats.
19 is a very important number throughout The Dark Tower series and in other King books. The movie definitely calls attention to it. You basically see the number scribbled everywhere. In fact, 19-19 are the coordinates Jake uses to travel to Mid-World in the movie.
The number really begins to pop up in the books towards the end of the series. Roland and his ka-tet (his group of followers) begin to see the number everywhere. It is explained that 19 is an indicator for Keystone Earth (our world), the second most important place in the multiverse.
Keystone Earth is where we live (it’s also where Stephen King lives in the books, but we’re definitely not going to get into that meta-narrative if we don’t need to). It’s the only other world in the multiverse besides Mid-World where time flows in one direction, meaning that Roland and his ka-tet can’t fuck up when on missions on our world because there’s no way to reverse it.
Unlike the other worlds in the multiverse, Keystone Earth doesn’t have its own version of the Tower. Instead, it has a separate nexus of reality known as the Rose, which is still vitally connected to the Tower. If the Rose were to be destroyed on our world, the Tower would be destroyed.
We never actually see the Rose in the movie, but there are teases of it in Jake’s drawings. Of course, he may just like drawing roses.
The Devar-Toi is Walter’s weird Bond villain base in the movie. It’s also a prison for powerful psychics known as the Breakers, who Walter is using to shoot beams of psychic energy at the Tower. There’s a key battle at the Devar-Toi in the last Dark Tower novel, but the movie pretty much nullifies that in its third act.
Oh, we are entering easter egg territory. 1408 is the number the bad guys use to travel to the Devar-Toi. It’s also the number of the haunted room in the King short story of the same name. Fun fact: the room 1408 in the story is down the street from the Dixie Pig, a hideout for the Crimson King’s forces on Keystone Earth. Coincidence? I think not.
While Roland and Jake are sleeping in the woods, the boy is seduced by a demon, who looks like Jake’s dad. This happens in The Gunslinger except the scene is way more fucked up. You see, the demons of Roland’s world feed off humans by mating with them.
There isn’t a big gun fight or monster in the book. Instead, Roland saves the boy by having sex with the demon… This would later lead to the birth of Roland’s son, Mordred, who was half-human and half-spider. Uhh…
We’re not going to dwell too much on this because Maerlyn’s magic spheres only show up for one scene in the movie. It looks like Walter uses Black Thirteen, the most powerful and dangerous magic ball of all to follow Roland’s footsteps. There are 13 colorful spheres in total: Crimson, Orange, Yellow, Pink, Dark Blue, Dark Green, Indigo, Lime, Azure, Violet, Brown, Pearl Grey, and Black. Each has a different power, whether it be a window into another world or teleporting, and represents a different thing. Black Thirteen represents the Dark Tower itself.
Dutch Hill Mansion
This evil mansion is located in Brooklyn and is a portal to Mid-World. The only problem is that the house is a demon that will try to kill anyone who enters it. That’s bad news for Jake, who needs to go through the house to get to Mid-World for the second time. In both the movie and The Waste Lands, he prevails. (The mansion doesn’t give up as easily in the book, though!)
I already went over this in the “Jake Chambers” entry, but for the sake of being thorough: Jake has the power of “the shine” in the movie, which is a direct reference to Danny Torrance’s power in The Shining. It’s sort of a gratuitous nod, but go with it.
I mentioned the Breakers above as well. They’re powerful psychics who the Crimson King captures in order to take down the Tower. Several Breakers show up in the latter half of the series and many of them were first introduced in other King novels. Perhaps the most famous Breaker of all is Ted Brautigan, who first showed up in the novella “Low Men in Yellow Coats.”
In the movie, the Dixie Pig looks like an underground Mos Eisley that Walter uses to rally his forces on Keystone Earth. In the books, the Dixie Pig is a restaurant. Stuff happens here, but not like what happens in the movie. Enough said.
Sayre is probably Richard Sayre from the books. He is a high ranking can-toi and resides at the Dixie Pig. He is played by the very talented Jackie Earle Haley in the movie.
When Abbey Lee was cast as Tirana in the movie, people assumed that this very minor character in the books would have a major role in the film adaptation. That is not really the case. Tirana is a Can-toi in the books and she appears to be one in the movie. She exists so that Walter can make suggestive remarks at her and later burn her face when he’s mad. I’m rolling my eyes as I write this.
The Rita Hayworth poster from the great King novella “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” makes an appearance during a fight between Roland and Walter in the gun shop. It’s a blink and you’ll miss it moment. In the novella, main character Andy Dufresne uses the poster to cover up a hole he’s digging to escape prison.
There’s one shot in the movie where a woman is walking a St. Bernard in the street. This is without a doubt a nod to Cujo, the rabid dog who terrorized a boy and his mother in a novel of the same name.
This is a not so subtle It easter egg. A sign reading “Pennywise” once welcomed the people of Mid-World to a theme park. I probably don’t have to tell you that Pennywise is the name of the killer clown in King’s infamous novel about a monster who eats children.
The Overlook Hotel
A picture of the Overlook Hotel can be spotted in the psychiatrist’s office. This is a reference to the hotel where the events of The Shining take place.
This image of twins cannot be ignored. You can spot these twins sitting in the nice little community in the Devar-Toi. This is yet another reference to The Shining. You remember the creepy twins who want Danny to play with them, right?
There’s a toy 1958 Plymouth Fury in the movie that’s undoubtedly a reference to the novel Christine about a teenager and his killer vehicle. And I don’t mean killer as in “cool.”
The Smiley Face
Brady Hartsfield, the serial killer in the novel Mr. Mercedes, uses a smiley face as his calling card. Walter leaves a smiley face for Roland and Jake after he pays the boy’s parents a visit.
A book called “Misery’s Child” makes an appearance in the movie. That is, of course, the novel that drove Annie Wilkes to kidnap and torture writer Paul Sheldon. The fictional novel features the death of Annie’s favorite character. That’s a no no.