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Monday, 21 May 2012

The Dark Tower

This is the final part of my read-through of 'The Dark Tower'. Part 1 is here, Part 2 is here, Part 3 is here, Part 4 is here, Part 5 is here, Part 6 is here and Part 7 is here. Once again, here be spoilers.  

So I'm finally done. Roland has reached the tower, after all the years and miles. Was it worth it?

Well, yes and no. Unfortunately I think this is one of the weakest books in the series, which is a real shame; you always expect a series like this to go out with a bang, and it doesn't. But, in the context of the ending, that sort of makes sense and sort of works, dissatisfying as it is. We'll get to that, though.

Throughout the other books - particularly from Wolves onwards - there's a feeling that the world, all the worlds, and growing tired and slowing down. With this one, though, I got the sense that King himself had grown tired of the story and wanted to be done with it. I can't point to any examples of why I felt this, but especially in the middle section of the book I felt like the prose dragged and the pace slowed to a near crawl. I also spotted King using deus ex machina to move the plot along, whereas in previous volumes he has made use of things that showed up earlier in the series. You could argue - and you'd be right - that this is how he used Sheemie, but what about Patrick Danville? He plays a major role - you could say the most important role in the series - and yet he only shows up in this book, with only two purposes; to remove Susannah from the story, and to defeat the Crimson King.

I didn't feel much tension reading this book, either. Even when Mordred is stalking the ka-tet - and later Roland, Susannah and Oy - there is no sense that he may catch up to them. It never feels like they are in any real danger, and that turned the book into a bit of a slog.

Let's talk about death. King handled the deaths of Eddie, Jake and Oy beautifully. Each of them is deeply moving in its own way, and we finally see some emotional depth to Roland. There's a real sense of loss surrounding each of the deaths, and King allows Susannah to grieve in a way that is emotionally resonant and seems true to the character. He lets the characters wallow and feel helpless in their grief, and that's something that I don't feel is shown enough in epic fantasy. Characters die, and the rest move on without a thought. Not so here.

On the other hand, let's talk about death. Specifically Walter o'Dim/Randall Flagg and the Crimson King. King delivered with the deaths of the gunslingers, but here I felt cheated. Flagg's death in particular annoyed me. Here is Roland's mortal enemy, the man in black, a character introduced in the series even before Roland arrived - The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed, remember? He's set up as nearly omnipotent, canny, intelligent, almost impossible to outwit. Yet when we see him facing Mordred he seems a different character completely. He appears as a tittering fool, a man of little intellect, and Mordred fools him easily. I feel like King robs us of seeing Flagg get what he deserved, and he robs Flagg of a death befitting of his place in the series.

The same goes, to some extent, for the Crimson King. In the last few books the King takes on an aspect almost as terrible as that of Walter. I don't mind the way the King was portrayed at the end - we've been told that he's a lunatic, that he's lost his mind, and he behaves in a way that fits with that. But we've been robbed of a final showdown with Walter, and now King robs us of one with the King as well. Roland cowers behind a rock, shooting sneetches out of the air, while a character who has only been in the book for about a hundred pages destroys on of the series' main protagonists with a pencil and a rubber. I felt cheated, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Still, the ending itself - love it or hate it, and I love it - is perfect, and I like the fact that there are still unanswered questions. For example, what exactly happened at Jericho Hill? What is the significance of the horn, and how will Roland's quest be different this time around now that he has it? More importantly, why is Roland destined to spend his life questing for the Tower? That last one has, in fairness, been answered throughout the series - ka is a wheel, after all. But still...why Roland, and why this quest? One thing I'm particularly interested in - and I think this is because I'm interested in the craft of writing - is to see whether or not that moment of remembrance Roland has after first reappearing in the desert is present in the opening pages of The Gunslinger. I would love it if it is - if King had already showed us how this series would end - but I have a feeling, based on knowing sort of how King writes, that it isn't.

But anyway. Thus ends my read-through of The Dark Tower. If you haven't read them yourself, I highly recommend them. Despite the shortcomings I've touched at in these reviews, they are hugely enjoyable and, for all their flaws, I think they stand as one of King's best works.


  1. A decent review. I was slightly underwhelmed by the last books and really the series peaked with Wizard and Glass, my favourite of his Dark Tower books.

    Having just finished 11/22/63, I have come to believe that SK is just too darn famous to be edited properly. For example, there were some real terrible mistakes in Dark Tower 7. Did you spot Susannah (for those who haven't read, she has no legs all seven books) managing to both leap "to her feet" and "fall down on her knees"?

    My favourite SK book is IT and that never feels flabby in its 1000 odd pages. My hunch is he was just being edited better back then. Now I guess no one feels qualified to criticise the man which is why I think the series fell flat for me in the end.

    1. I hadn't spotted that with Susannah; if that's true then you may well be right about him becoming too big to be edited. It's similar to what happened with the last couple of Harry Potter books - they were sub-par and I think everybody knew it, but it felt like the editors at Bloomsbury were too afraid to make Rowling rewrite the books.

      As I think I said in this review, for me it just felt like King wanted the series to be over and done with. The writing felt tired and it didn't feel like he was enjoying it any more. You're probably right that that would have been fixed with a decent editing job.