The Dark Tower by Stephen King: the final chapter in King's magnus opus, The Dark Tower series. (I've posted this at BiblioBlog as well, but since this is the second longest post I've ever written, I wanted to put it here also.)
Warning: This will contain spoilers, so if you haven't read the book, you may want to stop now.
I honestly don't know what to say here. I've been reading the Dark Tower series since I read The Gunslinger for the first time in the late 80s. There was something about the book that hooked me and I was desperate for the next novels in the series. The Drawing of the Three drew me even further into Roland's universe and with the additions of Eddie and Susannah, made me wonder what was going to happen and fear for these characters that I was beginning to love. The Waste Lands, with Jake coming back into Roland's life, and the new band of gunslingers left in Blaine the Mono's insane grasp only underlined this fear. And then the waiting began.
For almost six years Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake, and Oy sat in Blaine and I waited to see how their dreadful rhyming contest would end. When Wizard & Glass was finally published, putting an end to Blaine and giving us all the information we needed to see why Roland became the man that he became, I was estactic. Surely, this would be the greatest series ever written. Surely, a series with four incredible novels like these could only be destined to be the best epic ever told.
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Alas, it was not to be. While Wolves of the Calla was still pretty much classic Dark Tower, you could tell by Song of Susannah that the path to the Tower had been lost. This is not to say that they aren't fine books - they are; I particularly enjoyed Wolves of the Calla. But looking at the Dark Tower series as a whole, they don't hold up to the previous books. I believe the difference in the change of tone of the series is King's insertion of himself into the story line as a character, and one that is more important than even Roland himself.
Which brings us to final book in the series, The Dark Tower. For the first four hundred pages or so, despite my misgivings over King becoming a character in his own novels, I still felt that the book was fairly true to the Path of the Beam, if you will. However, after the battle at Algul Siento, where Eddie is shot and killed, breaking the band of gunslingers ka-tet irrevocably, that was no longer true for me.
This is not to say that I didn't expect any of the gunslingers to die; I did, though honestly I thought it would be Roland that did not make it to the Tower's top. What I disliked and thought was untrue to the series was the way that the group disintegrated with that death. At that, the novel quit being about the people that I have loved and worried about became characters in a story.
To me, ever since The Drawing of the Three, this series has been about the people - Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake, and Oy. By destroying the bonds between them so that I barely recognized who they were anymore. The scene between Susannah and Roland where she elects to leave him and try her luck in the alternate New York is an example. In that scene Oy barely remembers Jake, his best friend, and I just don't buy it. Despite the emotion between Susannah and Roland and the despair that was felt, it all just fell flat for me. Never should their ka-tet have been broken so easily. Logically, I understand that this breaking apart had to happen so that the ending could play out as it did. In my heart, however, I just can't accept it. Thoughout these novels, one of the underlying themes was the way that Roland was able to feel again and learn redemption, especially with Jake. The changes in him have been profound and I don't believe he would let his ka-tet fall apart like that, even if he had to fight Gan himself.
Circling back to King's own role in the story, I did not like it. When the idea of King as a part of the story was introduced at the end of Wolves I remember being apprehensive and thinking that this would either be a brilliant or a horrible move for the book. It's hard for me to really put it into words, but the whole thing came off as a cheat, a way to get out of having to come up with any real story. I'm sure that lots of you will disagree, but that was all that was going through my head the more that I read of The Dark Tower.
In a way, I can relate it to the deus ex machina that was used at Dandelo's house. The first time I came across the term (literally meaning machine of the gods, it's an "unexpected, artificial, or improbable character, device, or event introduced suddenly in a work of fiction or drama to resolve a situation or untangle a plot" - definition from Dictionary.com) was in one of King's books, perhaps Misery, though I'm not entirely sure. In Misery Paul Sheldon was faced with the difficult task of bringing back to life a dead character, but in a way that was fair; in other words, her death just couldn't have been a dream or some other nonsense. Paul Sheldon was able to pull it off without a deus ex machina; Stephen King was not. I think that right there is telling enough of how the series degenerated.
However, the biggest give away that the novel is not up to par, is King's imploration not to read the coda - where the ending is - and the author's note. In the coda we find out that Roland has been completing his quest for the Dark Tower countless times over. Every time he reaches the top of the Tower, only to begin again in the desert where The Gunslinger began. This revelation made me feel cheated.
I've been reading these books for about half of my life. To have no true ending (though one may argue that since Roland picked up the horn of Arthur Eld that maybe the next iteration will be the final one) is disappointing beyond words. The only redeeming quality is that maybe in the future a final Dark Tower book may be written or that at least I can create an ending that I find more fitting in my own imagination.
I've always looked forward to reading the Author's Note that are usually included at the end of King's novels. In these notes I've always felt that King is, while maybe not my friend, friendly and both respects and appreciates me. In the final paragraph, though, when King says that he doesn't want anyone to drop in on him to discuss the ending and that, "(m)y books are my way of knowing you. Let them be your way of knowing me, as well," I almost feel insulted. Never before has he had to warn readers away from him and a note like this isn't going to change some crazy, determined reader from visiting him and the rest of us already know not to. It's almost an admission that he knows he did not end the series rightly, fairly, and this is his way of avoiding taking responsibility.
I'm afraid that this long-winded post has not been able to truly express how I feel and there are other parts that I didn't even get to (For example, why was the battle at Jericho Hill never explained? We found out nothing more about Cuthbert, Alain, and the others past Wizard & Glass. I also believe that Randall Flagg - a truly evil, sly figure - wouldn't have died as easily as he did at Mordred hands). This series has been such a big part of my life (there were years where not a day went by that I did not think of Roland and his ka-tet and what the future held for them) that maybe no ending would have been able to satisfy me, but deep in my heart, I know that to be untrue. I needed this last novel to give me more closure than it has. Maybe in my dreams Roland will reach the Tower and be able to halt his quest and hopefully, Eddie, Susannah, Jake, and Oy will be there as well.
Completed on October 11, 2004.
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Ok, now you've made me need to post some of my thoughts on the ending. While I thought along the lines of King about the ending (It's not a good ending, but the right one), there were some points that really bothered me, like the ease that the ka-tet was broken. Crap, I'll need to post something when I have more time tonight.
Posted by amber at November 9, 2004 08:08 AM
I agree that King failed to deliver at the end of "The Dark Tower." In "The Gunlsinger" King hints at something huge during the conversation between Flagg and Roland. One of the most exiting things about the series was the sheer size of the concept King was hinting at. The idea of the universe being tiny and insignificant in the grand scheme of things shows the enormity of what King hinted at unvieling. Clearly he never knew how the ending would pan out, but he could have done better. In my opinion he couldnt answer the questions he asked in the the first book of the series and this is the result. I love the series and enjoyed all of the books immensley, but felt utterly cheated at the end, because nothing happens. The tower itself is a symbol of resolution, closure, and whilst I didnt expect much closure, I hoped for at least some. A hint at the concept that must have been dancing on the fringes of Kings mind when he thought up the idea of the tower, but in the end nothing. Another great book, but alas, another that fails to live up to the hours of suspense that came before it.
Posted by Dan at April 12, 2006 02:35 PM
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