The Dark Tower, a meditation

Ka like a wheel. Oh, and Taheen, lots of Taheen.

By David B. Grelck
September 26, 2004

And so we come to the end. One we were never sure was going to occur. History, as we know, is littered with unfinished artwork, music, fiction. Occasionally some well meaning publisher will take it upon themselves to finish a work that perhaps ka never deemed worthy to be finished. Or perhaps no end at all will suffice. Five years ago the candle that had forever been waiting for us at the end of the path towards The Dark Tower almost abruptly winked out on a gust of air drawn by a blue Dodge Mini-Van driven by a drunkard more concerned with his dogs in his cooler than staying on the road. He, as we all know well, plowed straight into perhaps one of the most well known and widely read writers in history, nearly taking The Dark Tower with him.

How can I pontificate like this? After all, it is ONLY a series of books by Stephen King who could shat a novel both before and after breakfast. Somewhere along the line The Dark Tower series became so much more than that, can I hear ya say thankya? I have moments ago closed the book. The last book (we’ve been assured) ever to be written regarding Roland Deschain and his ka-tet’s quest towards the omnipresent Dark Tower. This series is perhaps as close as our generation (and it’s spanned more lifetime than I myself have) will ever come to their very own Lord of the Rings. It is the most epic tale I’ve ever had the opportunity to read and, like Roland’s quest itself, it was nearly snuffed.

Forgive the meandering nature of this, well I hesitate to call it a review. I have, after all, reached the very end of a world. And a voluminous one at that. All told (judging from the editions residing on my bookshelf) we’ve spent three thousand, six hundred and ninety-three turns of the page from the first words: “The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.” To the last which I will not utter here. And that doesn’t take into account all the parallel stories, that of Ted Brautigan in Low Men In Yellow Coats, the co-written with Peter Straub The Talisman and its follow-up Black House winding closer into The Tower. Because all things follow the path of The Beam whether it please ya or not. So, instead I’ll call what follows a meditation on volume seven: The Dark Tower. And I’ll keep it generally spoiler free.

Loose ends are tied up. Glory be at that. Grant it, not everything is, of course. Wouldn’t be King were he to allow us something neat and tidy. And that rings true especially of the end. In King’s epilogue, he reveals that he isn’t crazy about the ending but that it was the only one that felt right to him. Something I completely understand. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it, do ya ken? It’s the sort of thing that makes one angry. Especially one in the circles I travel in. Don’t I have friends who are passionately angry at George Lucas for what he’s done in his own “galaxy far-far away,” indeed I do. And many will hate the ending. But only those who refuse to take the author’s advice and stop before it.

I’ve thought a lot about where my feelings might lie when the quest ends and we’ve finally seen The Tower, not just in a vision or a dream, but a real place. When the Crimson King finally makes his appearance. I’ve also realized that there is likely nothing that will live up to the expectations I’ve built up. But for the life of me I can’t even gather into coherent form what I wanted to see in the uppermost room of The Dark Tower. So who am I to bitch?

But I’m not. Not really. As I’ve told, the conclusion is rather satisfying once one sits back with some tea or coffee and gives it a good ole fashioned THINK. No split shot judgments here. No cries of “Foul!” And as that was what most concerned me at the outset, now I can finally look back on it as a whole and realize that endings for epics are often misunderstood or don’t fall with expectations. Leaving that behind now. Perhaps for another day, or for conversations with others at a later time. In any case. My quest to see The Dark Tower has come to an end. I’ve glimpsed it. It’s glorious.

As for the tale that’s drawn us there? Much of it is King at his finest. Though I think never again shall I see a tale as spectacular as The Stand come with the word King emblazoned on the cover (especially now that he’s “retired”) I can still count this as a brilliant effort. There is death, friends. And it’s painful death as only King seemingly can dish out. For here it isn’t angsty death as we’ve seen on television. It isn’t “Mom has cancer and who knows how long she’ll last” drama death. It’s brutal death, dealt swiftly and painfully. And more often than not, when we least expect it. King I’m sure would say that statement is foolish. For he always foreshadows his brutality. The moments of exquisite pain are always heralded in advance for those who chose to allow themselves to believe that the author would be so cruel as to let something like THAT happen to THEM! Like Wheadon and his cruelty, King knows who we love and that’s who he takes from us.

As has been said many times as the final three books in the series came, the universe of The Dark Tower encompasses everything. For The Tower is merely the hub at the center of all creation. All creation of course includes the town of Desperation, Nevada; includes a demonic clown named Pennywise; a dead boy named Gage Creed; a doomed caretaker of a nightmarish hotel called The Overlook; a misunderstood girl with a horrific gift who wants nothing more than to be accepted at the prom; and true friends, a man named Stephen King. A writer who writes what he’s told to write. Told by the voices of Gan, a being older than God and creation. Perhaps the being that created God.

As The Tower cycle wound down, this is what made me the most nervous. “He’s gone and written himself into the story,” I said with a grimace. At least he hadn’t proclaimed himself Gan and put himself at the top of The Tower, bent over an old typewriter. No, he had much more respect for us, his Constant Reader, than to do a thing like that. I was quite relieved when I realized that King fancied himself a mere piece of the puzzle. A spoke on the wheel of ka, do ya ken?

We have visits from old friends, one specifically from an earlier volume in the series and three from scattered stories along the path of The Beam if not directly on it. We also face an old enemy for the last time. His demise comes swiftly. Too swiftly I initially felt. But then, after I gained distance, perspective, I realized that he’d always been someone pretending to be better, more evil, more menacing than he actually was. I wouldn’t dream of spoiling who this is any more than making the veiled suggestion that if you thought about it hard enough, you could probably guess his name.

And does our ka-tet break? Perhaps the one thing we always knew would happen. Oh gorry does it. And as I’ve said, it hurts like nothing that came before. And does anyone remain to see the journey through, through all the way to the top? Surest thing you know. But who that one is (I won’t even say if it be human or billy bumbler.) will be a secret for you to come to on your own.

Suffice to say, after all this, (and I do again apologize for my rambling and length) that I’ve found The Tower to be what I’ve always hoped it would. Something maddening, and frustrating, yet beautiful and hopeful. Something that stories for ages will be spun about. Maybe, some years down the line, hopefully before I reach that clearing at the end of the path, someone will decide to treat The Dark Tower as lovingly as Peter Jackson treated Lord of the Ringsand we’ll be able to see it played out before us. The epic story. See our friends Susannah, Jake, Eddie, Oy and dearest Roland, a man not destined for tenderness and love, only designed to seek The Tower. A man that, in our heart of hearts, reminds us that we also have a singular drive towards something that perhaps we should allow to fall by the wayside if only occasionally.

If only to stop and smell the roses. For they are glorious.

Long days and pleasant nights indeed.