The Dark Tower by Stephen King

Roland the gunslinger reaches the Dark Tower he’s been pursing for a thousand years.

Obviously there’s a lot more to The Dark Tower, book 7 in Stephen King’s epic series of the same name, than my one sentence synopsis implies. But essentially, that’s it. And, honestly, was Roland’s not reaching the Tower ever an option for King? The suspense has never been “will he?” but “what will it be like?”

But before Roland can reach the tower, he and his ka-tet (a former junkie, a legless woman, a kid, and a talking dog) have to save the world. And to do so, they need to save Stephen King himself from the car accident that nearly took his life in 1999. If King dies, the Tower falls and all of the universe will wink out of existence forever.

In every other version of America that Roland and co. have visited, the existence of the Tower and Roland’s quest have been unknown. Here, Roland goes to a version of New York City where his own Tet Corporation is protecting the rose that called to him from the empty lot. It’s a bit disconcerting to hear regular people using Calla-lingo and referring to things like Gan and the Prim and the can toi. It’s almost like seeing the story in its underwear. For me, it takes me out of the world of the story in a way that not even King’s inclusion of himself did.

Roland also has to face down his nemeses, the Crimson King and his bastard son Mordred. A bit anticlimactic, almost rushed–but King more than redeems himself with the nightmarish Odd’s End sequence. And the poignancy of the shattering of the ka-tet has depth and resonance to spare. King executes all of the emotional elements beautifully.

So what does it all mean? Well, ka is a wheel, and time is a face on the water. But like Ray Bradbury knew, one tiny breath can topple an empire. Am I satisfied by the ending? That’s not really the point. Do I think it’s the right ending? Yes. I may not like it, but I don’t think King could’ve ended it any other way, not with the cosmology and theology operating in the series. I don’t at all agree with his conception of ka, the cruel bitch that makes suckers of us all. I would love to see Roland’s journey rewritten in a universe with a good and sovereign God rather than fickle ka. It’s an interesting thought exercise.

I’m now curious to reread some of his post-Tower works to see if King fully exorcised Roland’s ghost, or whether he’s still on the path of the Beam. I did borrow the first two comic book compendiums from my brother, but I’m not going to read them. I don’t like comic books or graphic novels, and I’m not interested in reading Roland’s story in chronological order.

I think that might be my last reread of the Dark Tower series. (I doubt that’s true, but I’m not keeping the books in my permanent library.) Ultimately, the darkness of the meaning of the series overshadows the myriad pleasures I take from the storytelling.

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