The Dark Tower is the pentacle of Stephen King’s magnum opus, and I’ve been terrified to get to it. King isn’t known for nailing his landings, and this one is especially controversial. I was afraid that, after reading 8,781 pages, or 3,951,408 words, on my long road to the Tower, I would be left feeling woefully disappointed, and as if I had wasted my time. I’m here to tell you that, thankfully, that isn’t the case. After reading the final pages of The Dark Tower I can safely say that this is my favorite completed series of all time. I’ve never read anything else like it. The only series that I think will eventually surpass it is Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archives, but it will be well over a decade before that is completed. In the meantime, The Dark Tower stands alone among completed series for me. As it should.
“The road and the tale have both been long, would you not say so? The trip has been long and the cost has been high… but no great thing was ever attained easily. A long tale, like a tall Tower, must be built a stone at a time.”
There will be some vague spoilers here, though I’ll not mention any name save Roland’s. I simply don’t know how else to discuss a final book in a series so large. Skip to the end or turn back now if you wish to go into or continue this series knowing as little as possible.
“Battles that last five minutes spawn legends that live a thousand years.”
A sense of foreboding permeated so much of this novel. And the foreshadowing King kept dropping did nothing but further whet my appetite to know what was actually going to happen. As things finally wrapped up and came to a head, he made sure to tell readers, again and again, that there wasn’t going to be a happy ending, and that very few of the characters I had so grown to love would make it to the end of the line. Even with all of the warnings, I was still enraged and devastated repeatedly. But isn’t it the mark of a good story, when you’ve become so attached to characters that you rage and mourn when you lose them?
“Do any of us, except in our dreams, truly expect to be reunited with our hearts’ deepest loves, even when they leave us only for minutes, and on the most mundane of errands? No, not at all. Each time they go from our sight we in our secret hearts count them as dead.”
I’ll not mention any character by name, save the Gunslinger himself, by King wrung out a surprising amount of emotion from me over the course of this book. There was a Communion scene, a Last Supper of the Ka-tet, if you will, that I found incredibly poignant and wonderfully moving. The religious imagery was beautiful and somehow appropriate. The foretold breaking of the Tet was unspeakably devastating, but I found myself so proud of each character and how they faced down their deaths. I was reminded of the movie Young Guns; they all went out in a blaze of glory, as gunslingers should. They stood, and were true, and no more could possibly have been asked of them.
“You needn’t die happy when your time comes, but you must die satisfied, for you have lived your life from the beginning to the end and ka is always served.”
The character development of Roland since his first appearance in The Gunslinger is astounding. And that’s not something that I really noticed as the series progressed. It hit me all at once, a little over halfway through this novel, in a moment that echoed and answered and recast a moment from that first installment. This was one of the moments were King’s storytelling shone the brightest, even in the midst of devastation. We so often view him as a pulpy writer, because of the types of stories he tells and the frequency of his publication. But he is truly gifted in his craft, and this entire book really displays his brilliance. The ways in which he was able to tie together so many little details from so early on in the series proves how deft a writer he is, in my opinion. There were still issues, of course: his villains remain wholly evil instead of multifaceted; his pop culture references and slang become quickly outdated. And I’m still on the fence about how he portrays women and people of color. But overall, King is an incredibly gifted storyteller who has worked hard to develop his craft, and The Dark Tower is a perfect example of exactly what the man can accomplish with words. I’m in awe.
“Even if the torture stops, I’ll die. And you’ll die too, for when love leaves the world, hearts are still. Tell them of my love and tell them of my pain and tell them of my hope, which still lives. For this is all I have and all I am and all I ask.”
I love King’s voice, especially when the narrator makes himself known, and that was done with especially great aplomb in this book. It gave a Dickensian feel to the novel, reminiscent of the voice I so enjoyed in Black House, which King co-authored with Peter Straub. But in The Dark Tower , that voice is distinctly and only King’s own, which was made doubly fascinating to me by the fact that King himself is a side character in the story. I know this was a controversial decision, but I felt that it leant an incredible power and reality to the story. Since the idea of the Tower has so dominated King’s mind and writing for so many decades, it only makes sense that he would include himself in the narrative, if only to explain his obsession.
“Because talent won’t be quiet, doesn’t know how to be quiet,” he said. “Whether it’s a talent for safe-cracking, thought-reading, or dividing ten-digit numbers in your head, it screams to be used. It never shuts up. It’ll wake you in the middle of your tiredest night, screaming, ‘Use me, use me, use me! I’m tired of just sitting here! Use me, fuckhead, use me!”
The Dark Tower itself didn’t disappoint. It was distressingly atmospheric, if that description makes sense. It felt so tangible that I found myself more than a little creeped out. And I have a new appreciation for roses after having read this series and witnessed their power in the story. It will be a long time before I can look at a rose without seeing it as potentially magic. Actually, I hope that never changes. Anything that causes you to see magic in reality is worth holding onto. But I digress. The Tower was beautifully disturbing, repellently compelling, and utterly mysterious. I better understand Roland’s drive after having laid eyes upon it.
“and so will the world end, I think, a victim of love rather than hate. For love’s ever been the more destructive weapon, sure.”
It still completely blows my mind that King got this entire world and series from spaghetti Westerns and a narrative poem written in 1855. I’ve read and reread Robert Browning’s “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” multiple times throughout my journey with this series, and I’m baffled by how King got this massive story from a poem that is 204 lines, or around 1,700 words, long. And I’m not sure I’ll ever look at Clint Eastwood or watch a Western the same way again. They will forever embody the Gunslinger who so grew on me over the course of his long, arduous journey.
“And will I tell you that these … lived happily ever after? I will not, for no one ever does. But there was happiness. And they did live.”
If you’ve been skipping ahead to avoid spoilers, you’re safe now. Here is where I wrap up my thoughts and bid goodbye (for now) to the Tower.
I can’t believe that I’ve finally reached the Dark Tower. It’s been a pretty incredible journey, and is certainly one that I’ll never forget. There are characters I grew to love along the way who I truly believe will always stay with me. This last installment in the series ran me through the gamut of emotions. I was amused, frightened, moved, enraged and devastated. I know the ending is highly controversial, and that many people despise it, but as I neared the final line I broke out in chills so strong they were painful. Was it a perfect ending? Of course not. But I do strongly believe that it was the right one. Ka is a wheel, after all, and so the story goes on. The Tower abides, and so will this story, forever, in my heart.
Long days and pleasant nights, friends.
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