I wrote here about how I had decided to … well, slog through Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. That was two months and ten days ago. Today, I finally finished … the slog. And slog it was. Particularly with the final book in the seven book series.
As I wrote back then, King has acknowledged that the first book in the series is “out of sync” with the end of the series. I think this is what bothers me the most about the whole enterprise.
So, before I go further, as I’ve done with each chapter in my report on Dark Tower, read no further if you don’t want any spoilers. If you don’t want any idea of how the thing progresses and ends. Leave now.
As I made my way through books six and seven in the series, my memory was refreshed about an element of the series I had forgotten. It wasn’t just that Roland, the last gunslinger got to the Dark Tower, only to find out that he would simply have to start over. In other words, there was no real end to this slog through seven books. The joke at the end, as Roland finally reaches the top level of the Dark Tower is that he will wake with his memory erased, but with one imperative. To find the Dark Tower. Again. As he has done repeatedly through the cycle of time and worlds.
What I re-discovered in this reading is that King makes himself the center of the story as it winds towards the end.
There was this thing I started noticing as I read King stories over the years. Every once in awhile, you’d find a sly reference in one story to a character or an event from another story. As though, somehow the worlds of King’s stories were connected in some way. I thought it was an intriguing idea and played well to me as a fan of his writing — to see those connections and references to prior stories.
What he does with The Dark Tower series is attempt to slam all of it, everything he has written, every character, every event, every location somehow into one world. And the reality is, it’s the world that exists in his brain, within his storytelling. On some level, I get it. On another level, I don’t.
Besides cribbing from his own stories, as he winds through The Dark Tower, he also cribs from many others — the Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Wizard of Oz, and who knows what else that I didn’t even recognize. He even steals from the tragedy of 9/11.
But let me go back to that whole the beginning is “out of sync” with the ending concept. The first book, The Gunslinger, promised me something as a reader. It was, to me at least, a clean story. Almost pure. I was first exposed to it when a portion of it showed up in one of King’s short story collections, and then when I found a copy of the book — with a longer version. He wrote it back in 1970. The final two books in the series were published in 2004. All those years later, the story goes in a direction that clearly was never contemplated when he first wrote The Gunslinger. King even alludes to this when he inserts himself into the story in book six.
What I want is the story promised in that first book. What I got instead is a thing that became as bloated as King’s ego. There’s just so much wrong with how this story winds towards its end. First, book seven very possibly is the worst book I’ve read in a long time. Second, there are continuity problems. An example — Roland, the last gunslinger, loses several fingers on his right hand in book two. Until then he was an ambidextrous gunslinger, unleashing bullets from guns held by both hands. But once he loses those fingers on his right hand, he can only shoot with his left. Which makes one wonder why, in book seven, when he pulled his gun and approached a dangerous situation, he rested the gun in the hollow of his right shoulder.
There are other problems like this.
And did I mention how he steals all sorts of ideas from other stories?
Third, what I think the first book promised and what King intended all of those years ago was to write an epic tale of good versus evil. Kind of like Lord of the Rings. What he wrote instead was a seven book tale covering thousands of pages filled with symbolism — obvious, contrived, obtuse, and confused — that reflects that fiction is just a figment of the author’s imagination. Well guess what? We already know that!
The best movies and plays I see are the ones where the story is so good and the acting is so good that I forget I’m watching actors perform. The same is the case with a book. The more I forget that I am reading an author’s words, the better the story is. What King did with The Dark Tower is kill the epic tale he promised with The Gunslinger and replace it with a tale that demands that I wallow in the idea that I was reading his brilliance.
Only it wasn’t brilliant. The whole thing gets worse and worse as each book bleeds into the next. It bleeds with his arrogance. With his ego. With his inability to tell a story in a manageable number of words and pages if he can stretch it out far beyond the needed length. It’s just so crappy in the end.
So, yeah, I read it again. I won’t read it a third time. Anybody want my copies of the books?