(WARNING: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR THE DARK TOWER. THERE WILL BE A NO SPOILER LINE FOR PEOPLE WHO HAVE NOT FINISHED READING THE STORY SERIES. ENJOY THE SPOILER-FREE REVIEW FOR NOW.)
There comes a time in everyone's life where they should sit down and read a really good book, whether something new or old. There is no other feeling in the world much like diving head first into an unknown world of excitement, thrills, drama, suspense, et cetera. What I think the crowning example of this has to be Stephen King's most known book series of all time: The Dark Tower novels.
On June 19th, 1978 - November 1981, Mr. King released five intertwining short stories as part of the "gunslinger collection" and unknowingly kicked off The Dark Tower series. He intended to make a stories based off 1800s poem writer Robert Browning, and more accurately his poem, "Childe Roland To The Dark Tower Came". "The Gunslinger" was met with mixed reception with it's slow pace and experimental writing, but the book that really kicked the series off was with the second installment, "The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three". Even more praise was given as the third and fourth entries, "The Waste Lands" and "Wizard and Glass". All four of his stories were written with a couple years apart from each other, and after Wizard and Glass, many people were anticipating the next installment.
Disaster struck, however. On June 19th, 1999 - the anniversary of when "The Gunslinger" was published - King was struck by a driver in Lovell, Maine and was critically injured. While recovering, he came to the realization that he has to finish the story. So by determination and his fanbase, he wrote the next three books - "Wolves of the Calla, Song of Susannah, The Dark Tower" - all back-to-back. Finally, in September of 2004, King had finally published the last volume of what many consider the series to be his magnum opus.
But that is the history of the books and author. What about the ACTUAL story?
The story concerns us with our main protagonist Roland Deschain, the last gunslinger of a land called "Mid-World" and his hunt for the Dark Tower. The Dark Tower is said to be the nexus of everything in existence and is also said to keep the very fabric of time and space together. The problem is that the Tower's strength is failing by dark forces, and gunslinger is seeking to make sure the Tower continues to stand. With many destiny-bound friends he meets along the way, Roland will stop at nothing to travel for the Dark Tower, fix up whatever problem there is, and see what awaits for him once - and if - he enters the Tower itself.
On its own, "The Dark Tower" series sounds like a very run-of-the-mill adventure series inspired by the likes of Lord of the Rings. While it is true that the origins of inspiration are LOTR, Mr. King has brought forth some of the most creative storytelling I haven't seen in a book series to date. Dare I say it's even better than the likes of such popular 7-part story series like Harry Potter.
I think the biggest thing that separates "The Dark Tower" series from other novel series are its characters. It's no secret Stephen King is a very talented writer when it comes to making up likable and memorable characters, and "The Dark Tower" has easily some of the most interesting characters in any of his works to date. From the main protagonist Roland to his other destiny-bound friends he finds along his search for the Tower, I found myself connecting with those characters very early on and the strength of that bond continued to grow. When I learn more about the characters in this series, it actually matters since they all A.) have a common goal: to get to the Tower and B.) they have very interesting backstories and great personalities. There were rarely any moments where I did not want to learn about the protagonists I saw go about their journey, and it also helps that, with the exception of Roland and Mid-World, most people you meet in the Dark Tower are from our world or somewhat connected to it.
Another major contributing factor to “The Dark Tower” is that, while it was inspired by Lord of the Rings, also has a lot of different inspirations drawn from various sources. The biggest inspiration of King from this was Sergio Leone’s 1960s Western film “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”. The books also lend themselves to Arthurian tales, with elements such as King Arthur as well as his knights and men at the Round Table (however they are not seen, only referenced), medieval castles and general atmosphere. The Arthurian element is not introduced until several books in, with most of the Western inspirations drawing first and continuing throughout.
This marks the ending of the no-spoiler zone. Overall, I wholeheartedly recommend “The Dark Tower” as a fantastic read and one of Stephen King’s biggest accomplishments in the literature scene.
If you have not read the story and plan on it, or are reading through it now, BELOW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR “THE DARK TOWER” BOOKS 1-7.
Now onto the things that I personally found appealing while reading the series, and I’ll start from book 1-7. For the first one, I have no big opinion on, as I was not very invested with the story to begin with. Even with Roland met Jake Chambers and is chasing the Man In Black, I was not hanging on the edge of my seat compared to other books in the series.
“The Drawing Of The Three”, on the other hand, kept me engaged throughout the entire book. I thought Eddie Dean and Odetta/Detta/Susannah was a lovely addition to the story, the action in the story was plentiful (I especially loved Roland’s and Eddie’s fight inside Balazar’s office), and it made me even more excited to move onto “The Waste Lands”.
And oh my goodness was “The Waste Lands” the definition of a good sequel. TONS of stellar action sequences, every single moment felt like an energetic thrill ride, and some moments where I was hanging on the edge of my seat. Jake returning from the dead as a paradox between him and Roland was a very nice touch as well as Eddie yanking him through the doorway from his world into Mid-World, and I was especially nervous when Jake got stolen from the group by Gasher and the Tick-Tock Man. I didn’t really get too much interest with David Quick and the Tick-Tock Man, but the final moments when the Ka-Tet got inside Blaine the Mono before Lud went under felt good. Oh, and the cliffhanger? I HATED the cliffhanger, but I was glad they resolved it in “Wizard And Glass”.
The pacing then shifted from fast and exciting to a slow crawl when I got to “Wizard And Glass” for the first time. Out of all the “Dark Tower” novels, this one has to be my least favorite out of them all. I didn’t mind a story involving a young Roland and his love Susan Delgado, but some parts of the story like the Big Coffin Hunters, the sub-plot involving the mayor of Mejis basically wanting to impregnate Susan and such just dragged on. One of the characters that I really loved, though, would have to be Sheemie Ruiz. As much as he meant to be a disabled clumsy bartender, I really loved his personality and character, and I’m thankful and both saddened at his appearance in the final volume. And the ending with the Ka-Tet going through Kansas and re-enacting the entire last sequences from the “Wizard Of Oz” was intriguing but ultimately unneeded.
So yeah, “Wizard And Glass” was definitely a “low point” in the series. But did things kick into high gear when “Wolves of The Calla” came along. Okay, it wasn’t SUPER engaging in my eyes - “Song Of Susannah” filled that void, and I’ll get to that in a second - but after “Wizard And Glass”, I needed some thrills and a good time, and this book delivered on that. With the exception of Donald Callahan’s backstory involving how he came from Jerusalem’s Lot from “Salem’s Lot” (another working by Stephen King), which wasn’t too too engaging in my eyes, the rest of the story made me bury my head in the book. Whether it was to learn more about the Dogan, about Andy The Messenger Robot and the rest of the people in Bryan Calla Sturgis, this book was a joy to read. When the Wolves came, though, that segment made my heart pound. That was the first time a chapter from a book made my heart pound as well as made me sweat.
What really sealed the deal with getting back to engagement of the story was the next book, “Song Of Susannah”. I was shocked when I learned that the book was not as long as the other stories, but make no mistake. What the book lacks in length more than makes up for it with the build-up to the birth of Susannah/Mia’s baby Mordred. I found out from my father while reading that segment that Mordred is actually the name of King Arthur’s son, who murdered his father while he was in his sleep. I almost had a heart attack since Roland is revealed to be the father of Mordred after his sperm was transferred from the Oracle of the first book to Susannah in the third book (wrap your head around that one!), but I pressed on. Oh, and Stephen King being an integral person in the story of “The Dark Tower”? I LOVED that choice as well and was giddy seeing him helping Roland and the Ka-Tet out. “Song Of Susannah” as well as “The Waste Lands” will always be my high points in the storyline for me. Those are books I found so much enjoyment from, and it even made me nervous for what was to come in the final installment.
The last book in “The Dark Tower” storyline was appropriately called “The Dark Tower”, and at the point of reading the book, I had spent over half a year reading every single installment. I had even dabbled into some of the exclusive comic books made for “The Dark Tower”, which was in collaboration with Marvel and Mr. King. I had no idea what to expect when I read the story for the first time, and I will say for the very beginning, it was an energetic thrill ride. Callahan and Jake fending off the taheen while Susannah/Mia gave birth to Mordred, Roland and Eddie leaving King for now to try and find the Ka-Tet that split… it was such an opening to the book. My mind did begin to wander off when Jake became ensnared in the Mind Trap, though, and I think the story slowed back to that “Wizard and Glass” crawl when the location of Algul Siento of Mid-World was introduced.
When Sheemie and other newer characters were introduced, however, that’s when the story started to pick back up substantially. One of those characters, Ted Brautigan, became to be one of my favorite, as he had a very interesting backstory and just wanted to fight to keep the Tower standing. Fun fact: after reading “The Dark Tower”, I started up another of King’s works, “Hearts In Atlantis”, and the first half of the story was DIRECTLY linked to Brautigan and “The Dark Tower”! I thought that was so cool of King to do that, and it turns out even more of his stories connect to this series in one form or another!
Ahem, right, back on track with the final story. Well, if we’re getting into the nitty gritty of spoilers, I would have to say that the biggest one is all the deaths suffered in this novel. Eddie’s death came out of nowhere and left me infuriated as well as saddened as I was attached to the character, but I felt Jake’s death came too soon afterwards. It happened almost a day or two after Eddie’s death, and it just happened way too quickly for me. Oy the Billy Bumbler’s death was sad, yes, but that was by the end of the book. I felt saddened as well but also glad inside that he helped Roland out before Mordred killed him.
Oh, and before I get into the finale of the book, how about Mordred? If there’s one thing I will knock off the entirety of this book for, it’s Mordred Deschain’s anticlimactic buildup. From “Wolves of The Calla” onwards, there was an evil power resonating in Susannah’s and Mia’s belly that would be the Crimson King’s rightful son of the Dark Tower. Yet, since Mordred’s birth, all we have seen him done is hunt Roland down and be on his tale for the ENTIRE last back. There’s no special interaction with him and Roland, and there are even some moments where King wants us to feel sorry for the demon baby for who he is and how he’s alone in his quest while his real father is residing at the Dark Tower. I’m sorry, but I don’t feel any remorse for a baby that is going to bring the downfall of the entire universe alongside the Crimson King. It is cool how he is a spider-human hybrid, but I don’t feel any emotion for Mordred… other than him getting his head blown off by Roland near the end.
What’s possibly the most controversial and the BIGGEST “Dark Tower” spoiler of all, though, has to be when Roland enters the Tower for the “first time”. Everyone who has read it knows what I’m talking about: what the room at the top of the Tower resides inside for Roland. After reading that ending, I felt a large pang hit very deep in my heart, because now I know that Roland’s journey is NEVER over. He will always trek through the desert, he will always go through the exact same adventure over and over for hundreds, if not thousands of years! And the more I thought about it, the more I came to an awful realization: Eddie, Susannah, Jake, the Crimson King, Mordred, Callahan, and every single major character in this Dark Tower series? They all technically have to go through the same thing as Roland for however many times he has to go through it as well! Every single accomplishment, every single downfall, all the gruesome sacrifices and risks they all took for Roland to get to the Tower - it doesn’t mean anything because it all loops! His curiosity will always make him go the top of the Tower, only to realize upon opening the door what lies at the top - a portal to the desert where he was chasing the Man In Black in the first book - and the Tower sucks him into the portal and he has to start his journey all over again.
The gunslinger of Gilead will never die, and the Tower will never fall because of Roland’s journey. That’s a terrifying way to end the story, isn’t it? I would much rather NOT knowing what happens to Roland inside the Tower and let the ending of Eddie, Susannah, and Jake together be the true canon ending. But because of that curiosity in OUR minds - on what happens behind the Tower door and what Roland experiences - we had to continue reading, and what’s worse is that King acknowledges to stop where we are. To let Roland and his Ka-Tet be and to let that be the canon ending. But we wanted more, and he was willing to provide us with the ending we now know.
...So hey! If you’re still here after reading all that, thanks for tuning into what I have to say about “The Dark Tower” series. I deeply appreciate every single one of you for reading my long and descriptive thoughts about the story, characters, and my personal thoughts, and I hope you enjoyed my review. Have a great day, everyone!