Stephen King’s Dark Tower

Unlike most Stephen King fans, my road to the Dark Tower only began a couple of months ago, when I packed The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower, Book 1)The Gunslinger and The Drawing of the Three (The Dark Tower, Book 2)The Drawing of the Three into our bags to go to Alaska: airplane reading. I had had all the books at home for months, but hadn’t gotten around to starting them, and our long trip seemed like the perfect time. But the days on the ship were busy, and I didn’t finish the second book until we were almost at Anchorage. With long hours on buses and trains ahead, one quotidian highlight of the trip was finding a used bookstore in Anchorage and picking up The Waste Lands (The Dark Tower, Book 3)The Wastelands for a buck. A week later, I finished that book just in time to return it for some credit at the same bookstore and pick up Wizard and Glass (The Dark Tower, Book 4)Wizard and Glass for the plane rides home.

I started with the revised edition of The Gunslinger, which has the forward by King explaining what it was like to write this book at the age of 19, and to come back to it decades later. The long gestation of this series shows: ideas, minor characters and plot points disappear or make annoying little cameos that have little point. Other devices appear out of nowhere. Walter, for example, makes cameos somewhat in the fashion that Lucas inserted Grand Moff Tarkin at the end of Episode III and meets an abrupt and unexpected end by Mordred. The Tick Tock Man seemed to loom as a major villain when the ka tet leaves Lud, but is vanquished pitifully a mere few hundred pages later. The idea of nineteen appears from nowhere (though King inserted “nineteen” in the revised Gunslinger apparently), though it plays such an important part in the final books. Other things, like factual mistakes King made about the location of Coop City in New York, were retrofitted into the plot to illustrate the differences between Keystone New York and its shadows. I suppose one contrast is to the Harry Potter series, where Rowling has mapped out the plot elements from beginning to end. But the Dark Tower is more ambitious, as it tries to bind together many of Kings works into one metaphysical framework, even though it only seemed to begin as some sort of youthful post-apocalyptic Western.

The series seems to pivot and change after Wizard and Glass. The last three books were written in a creative rush shortly after King’s accident (which, in a metafiction fashion is a major turning point in the last book), and their better coherence shows. Wolves of the Calla (The Dark Tower, Book 5)Wolves of the Calla introduces many of the key points for the rest of the series, and leads without pause into Song of Susannah (The Dark Tower, Book 6)Song of Susannah, and its cliffhanger makes more sense and works far better than when we left the ka tet with Blaine at the end of The Wastelands. And Song brings us naturally into The Dark Tower (The Dark Tower, Book 7)The Dark Tower, where the Breakers are stopped and the writer saved, and the Dark Tower in its field of roses reached. In some sense, the Dark Tower is more like two series, with the introduction of characters and the drawing of the three, an interlude in Meijis-that-was, and the trilogy that happens after the ka tet receives its gifts from the Wizard of Oz. True, you can’t begin the final trilogy without first introducing the characters in a fashion that makes Constant Reader care about them, but the disjointed feeling still remains: King created Roland and his ka tet, put the story down for a while, and was eager to find out what happens to them in the end.

All the same, this was a wonderful set of books, no matter how disjointed, and it drew me in deeply. It’s an ambitious effort, though it perhaps falls short of its full ambitions simply because it took decades to write, and people who are 19 are not the same as when they are 39. King’s writing, though perhaps not high art, has a way of seeping into your consciousness, perhaps because it’s woven to make books rather than to be admired in its own right. Calla idioms, for example, started to almost make it into the way I talk for a while: “it’ll do ya fine” and “thankee sai” were the main culprits. And the concept of Callahan’s inadvertent years-long travels through todash America was well married to the phrase “highways in hiding.” And there are haunting plot points that make this series memorable: the death of Susan Delgado, for example, and Susannah’s reunion with Eddie and Jake at a clearing at the end of her path through Roland’s world.

Of course, something has to be said about the ending. I would have been happy if the series had ended with clang of the Tower’s door after Roland enters it, and with Susannah in New York. King was right to be hesitant about writing about what happens after Roland begins to climb the Tower, because something built up so long over the years and the thousands of pages could only be anticlimatic, and King didn’t have an ending like “It’s full of stars” available. And so we have the metaphor that “ka is a wheel” made literal. It’s unfortunate.

One has to point out the great Stephen King/Dark Tower wiki at The Dark, which maps out the books and provides a rough concordance of the characters and places. I think I’ll pick up Hearts In Atlantis next. Since I already had a copy of Wizard and Glass, I sold the copy from Anchorage in a local used bookstore for a couple dollars credit. I’ll swing by there on Friday and see if they have it.

3 Responses to “Stephen King’s Dark Tower

  1. Mike D Says:


    Just finished the seventh book and I too feel bittersweet about the whole thing. I happened to like the ending, ths was not the series where a “happily ever after” ending would’ve been appropriate. I could’ve done without Sussanah meeting Jake and Eddie in Central Park, I would’ve like her ending to be a mystery, it seemed corny to me.

    Things I HATED about the series:

    1. Stephen King writing himself into the books, I read the explanation, but still to me this was almost jump the shark territory. It nearly ruined the entire series for me.
    2. Mordred, for everything that Mordred was supposed to be, he turned out to be little more dangerous to Roland than a Taheen guard or mechanical wolf that raided the Calla. For all the attention he received old Mordred was essentially a pointless character.
    3. Susannah having no legs, this just irked me the entire time. Carrying her around, the stupid carts, would it have been that difficult to write the character with some legs? Maybe Jack Mort (I think that’s it) raped her, or killed her sister or something instead.
    4. Jake was a gunslinger and a complete pussy…

    Things I loved:
    1. Wizard and Glass, any portion of any book in the series that speaks of Rolands days in Gilead or Mejis. King could write another ten books on that, just a really gripping concept.
    2. Roland, by far the best character in an epic series I’ve ever read about.
    3. Tying a lot of books together, believe it or not for awhile there I felt like the only one figuring this mystery out.
    4. Action scenes, at times few and far between but when they went down they were great.

    Overall I am glad the series is done, but also pissed I have no more books to look forward to. Maybe Steven King will write more on Roland who knows.

  2. Mike D Says:

    Just an addendum I knew that ending for a while. I started reading this book when I was 11 and I’m 28 now so I had a lot of time to think about it. I used to think about Roland’s time in Gilead and Mejis, and meeting Jake and there seemed to be an infinite amount of unaccounted for time in Roland’s quest. I thought the ending was perfect myself. I don’t agree with all the other critics who say they could’ve written a better ending.

  3. Cheng Says:

    Just to note: there will be more Roland stories: the Dark Tower Marvel Comics series will start next year.

    My impression is that these stories will fill in background to the Dark Tower novels. Not sure how, though.

    King isn’t writing them — I don’t think his writing style necessarily translates well into comic form, for that matter — those these will be under his direction, in some sense. I suppose they’ll count as canon.