If you have even a passing knowledge of the interconnectivity of the Stephen King universe, you’ll likely know that something’s up with the paperback cover of Gwendy’s Final Task — the conclusion of a trilogy of novels co-written with Richard Chizmar.
The bowler hat, the field of roses, the monolithic structure looming in the background … it all looks pretty familiar, right? While the hat has become an unofficial symbol of the Gwendy series as a whole (appearing in some form on the hardcover and paperback editions of all three novels), the flowers and the castle-like building come straight from the pages of King’s magnum opus, The Dark Tower. This begs the question: How much of Sai King’s other work will you have to have read in order to enjoy/understand Gwendy’s Final Task? Fear not, Constant Reader, because we’re here to break it down for you.
Luckily, there’s no “right” way to prepare for Final Task; your homework depends more on what kind of reading experience you want to have. Are you mildly curious, hoping to just drop in for the raw plot mechanics without having to study too much? Not a problem. Or maybe you’re a more encyclopedic student, hoping that your hours spent poring over The Dark Tower: A Concordance will pay off with a wicker basket’s worth of Easter eggs. That works, too.
Either way, we’ve got several categories of recommended reading for both of the above types and everything in between. With Gwendy’s Final Task now available on paperback, read on and figure out where you land (and what you need to catch up on).
Believe it or not, you could go into Gwendy’s Final Task completely cold and still understand what’s going on. Although it’s the conclusion of King and Chizmar’s trilogy, they efficiently catch you up on not only what the now 64-year-old protagonist has been up to since the second book, Gwendy’s Magic Feather, but on everything that happened in the first two novellas. From her receiving the mysterious (yet possibly destructive) button box from an enigmatic man named Richard Farris as a little girl to her adult career as a writer and senator, it’s all here as a kind of literary equivalent to a “Previously On…”
What’s more is that the two authors tackle the recap with elegance, gradually doling out bits and pieces during her jaunt to outer space. Given Gwendy’s interstellar trip and a health issue that we won’t spoil here, it only makes sense that the series’ hero would be in a somewhat reflective state.
Make no mistake, this might not be the most rewarding way to read Gwendy’s Final Task; the climax of her journey will definitely be more emotionally resonant if you’ve spent more time with her than just reading a swift (yet expertly told) summary. And that’s to say nothing of the connections to King’s other books. But you’ll still be able to follow the plot with relative ease.
The Casual Fan
What’s In Your Bookbag? Gwendy’s Button Box, Gwendy’s Magic Feather
As we said above, reading the first two books isn’t completely necessary for understanding the basic narrative of Gwendy’s Final Task. But it will definitely make the novel more satisfying from a character standpoint.
What’s In Your Bookbag? Gwendy’s Button Box, Gwendy’s Magic Feather, and all seven novels in the Dark Tower series
Alright, now we’re getting into the weeds (or, more appropriately, the Devil Grass). From the opening pages of Gwendy’s Button Box, it was clear that the series was going to have at least some minor ties to The Dark Tower, given that Richard Farris (a.k.a. “R.F.”) juuust might be one of the more prominent characters from King’s Western-fantasy epic.
But Gwendy’s Final Task has even more explicit connections to Mid-World and beyond, from its imagery to her real reason for going to space to a prominent phrase that just hits differently if you know its origins. The problem is, the Dark Tower novels aren’t exactly standalone, and if you’re hooked on The Gunslinger, you may as well finish the whole saga.
To be clear, you by no means have to read seven books outside the Gwendy’s series (and maybe The Wind Through The Keyhole if you’re feeling ambitious) to enjoy Final Task. But it will make the fairly breezy novel feel all the more epic.
What’s In Your Bookbag? Gwendy’s Button Box, Gwendy’s Magic Feather, all seven novels in the Dark Tower series, The Stand, The Eyes of the Dragon, It, and Hearts In Atlantis
If you’ve read the Dark Tower series, you know that all things serve the beam. Or rather, all Stephen King works connect to the story of Roland Deschain and his ka-tet (more on that in a bit). That being said, some books have stronger connections to the Tower than others, and in Gwendy’s Final Task, a handful of Tower-adjacent books figure a little more deeply into the plot.
Although you will have gotten plenty of R.F. in The Dark Tower, he plays an even more central role in The Stand and The Eyes Of The Dragon. Also, the main plot of the former ties into a real-world event featured in Final Task, not to mention that it reveals where R.F. may have gotten the specific alias that he uses in the Gwendy trilogy. As for It, let’s just say its main setting features prominently in Final Task. And Hearts In Atlantis should familiarize with terms that might pop up like “breakers.” Granted, you’ll hear that word many times over in the Dark Tower books, but this is about building upon what you already know. With the maximalist approach, you’re essentially ensuring that you’ll understand every last King reference in Final Task.
We could tell you to also read Insomnia (where you get more of Tower lore and the location from It) and the Dark Tower-paralleling The Talisman and Black House. And what about ‘Salem’s Lot? Which brings us to…
What’s In Your Bookbag? Everything Stephen King has ever written.
Stephen King had begun tying his books together in various ways long before 2004. But that’s the year that saw the release of The Dark Tower VI: Song Of Susannah, a novel that, through the introduction of a surprising new character, literally connects everything the man has ever written.
So for the completist out there, the ultimate reading experience for the end of the Gwendy trilogy (or anything written by King) means reading everything that came before it. A daunting task, for sure. But hey, a lot of you have probably done it already.
Gwendy’s Final Task is now available on paperback today via Gallery Books. Order a copy here.