Reflections on the Dark Tower Series (Spoilers Everywhere)
I finished the last mainline book in the Dark Tower series yesterday, and my head is swimming with thoughts and feelings about it. If you haven’t read the series and plan to, I recommend abandoning ship on this post! I’m going to talk spoilers from the last book and throughout the series, and some thoughts about the finale. I also did a couple of sketches last night, which I’ve popped in here as well. The drawings are pretty rough, but I actually like them a bit better than my original Dark Tower drawing a couple months ago. Full discussion, including unmarked spoilers everywhere, can be found below the dotted line.
…still here? Okay, well…let me start with how impactful the deaths were in the final book. By the second half of the series, you could argue there were eight central characters to the narrative; Roland, Susannah, Eddie, Jake, Oy, Father Callahan, Walter/Flagg, and Mordred. Nine if you want to throw in the Crimson King, but he is mostly just a background plot device until the very end. I was really surprised at how willing Stephen King was to kill so many of them. Of those eight, he killed six! 75% of his main characters!
I wasn’t surprised at knocking Callahan off at the beginning of Book VII, and I thought if King was going to kill one of the original ka-tet members, it might end up being Eddie. His death was really sad because I loved the character, but I thought I could handle that. I was not prepared for Jake’s death though, especially so quickly after Eddie’s. And Roland and Oy’s grief about Jake felt very real. I was also completely surprised by Walter Padick/Randall Flagg getting eaten by Mordred. I fully expected Walter to be there at the end, for a final showdown with Roland. I think I understand why Walter had to go – it established that Mordred, a relatively new character, was to be feared. And Walter’s downfall was a byproduct of his arrogance, reminding me a bit of how he lost in The Stand.
As for Oy the Billybumbler. I think his death hit me the hardest, even though we knew it was probably coming. In Book IV, when Roland entered Maerlyn’s Glass, he saw a vision of Oy impaled on a tree. We knew Oy was dedicated to fulfilling Jake’s last request, to protect Roland from Mordred at all costs. Oy even seemed to know that was his day. But the event was still incredibly sad, as was Oy’s sustained grief during the months after Jake’s death as they traveled the Badlands and Empathica. Just imagining him barking the words ‘Olan or ‘Ake makes me sad about the Bumbler all over again.
Now, to the ending. After finishing the last book, I dove into various forums and wikis to clear up a few things, and learn trivia tidbits. It seems some people didn’t care much for the end, which had Roland finally reach the top of the Tower, and get pulled right back to the first book, in the desert on the hunt for Walter. Ka is a wheel, right? I actually loved the ending, and thought it brought the book right where it needed to be, and opened up many discussion points. I’ll bullet some random thoughts on it:
- How many times has Roland been to the Tower? Is the appearance of 19 throughout most of the series because this was his 19th trip? That does seem to fit. (Edit: I remembered later that 19 was associated with the “Keystone World,” which is probably a more likely explanation. It could be both, but that certainly makes the 19-Tower-Trips theory less likely)
- Is Roland learning and changing as he completes trips to the Tower? Maybe understanding love and friendship, making better choices. Righting the wrongs he made in previous trips. Is correcting these wrongs the key to stopping the cycle?
- Is this is last trip now? The Tower has gifted Roland with the Horn of Eld at the end, which he lamented losing several times in the series. Is that the key to ending this cycle? He had dreams of blowing the horn at the Tower…
- Or, does the Tower simply want Roland to drop his single-mindedness, and give up the quest for the Tower itself? Give up the Tower and realize he shouldn’t sacrifice everyone in his wake for it. And that is the key to ending the cycles perhaps?
- Are these repeated trips Roland takes what the Tower needs to fully regenerate and heal the Beams? All things serve the beam. Maybe the Tower needs this.
- Is Roland actually a manifestation of the Tower? Or of Gan? Perhaps the Tower needs to travel itself to Mid-World and In-World to more fully heal the beams, and Roland cycling through repeated journeys across the map is facilitating that somehow.
- If Roland is further healing the beams/worlds/tower, won’t the Breakers start up again on Roland’s next cycle? It seems like that would cause damage all over again. Perhaps the Tower is actually sending Roland to different versions of his world, and he has to heal them one at a time?
- I liked the ending for Susannah, leaving Roland and finding another version of Eddie and Jake who were called (by the Tower?) to her. It makes me wonder though; as Roland continues through his next trip to the Tower, which world’s Susannah/Eddie/Jake will he pull through the Unfound Doors? Will it be from random ones, or will he call the same Susannah (or Odetta)? What would happen if he pulled the Odetta, Jake, or Eddie from our world – the Keystone World where there are no do-overs?
- Many characters had intuitions or feelings about what to do, or what will happen…probably because it had all happened before! Possibly many, many times in Roland’s previous trips to the Tower. Deja vu on steroids.
I also really liked the message from Stephen King after Susannah’s Epilogue and at the start of “Coda.” He tells us Susannah’s ending was the best place to stop. He says you can see Roland at his Tower if you can’t resist, but it won’t help you and that such endings are heartless and unfulfilling. It really drives home the idea that readers at this point of a journey are obsessed, just like Roland is with his Tower. We can’t resist going on, even though Susannah’s happy ending was right there for us to enjoy. Instead, the reader does push on, and finds potentially an infinite purgatory with Roland and his never ending quest. It’s quite an interesting thing to consider. In the end, the reader and Roland can’t resist making the same choice, and are the same in their single-mindedness. It seems both could be happy if we give up our quests before achieving the Tower.
To me, short of some unknowable cosmic revelation about existence, this was the best way the series could have ended. In hindsight, the only way it should have ended. I can certainly see wanting a more climactic battle between Roland and Walter, or Roland and the Crimson King and son (I was hoping for those things too). But, there seemed to be a lot of resolutions in the story that defied expectations, which seemed intentional. It certainly is my favorite of any ending in a Stephen King novel. Regardless, what a ride! I enjoyed it very well, say thankya. May it do ya fine.
Speaking of that Calla-style language, a little side note on verbiage. I just have to say I absolutely loved the dialogue in this book. Especially the way the folks in Calla Bryn Sturgis spoke. I’ve found myself often thinking various phrases from the books lately, like “hear me I beg”, “say thankya”, and “if it does ya.” But trying not to say them out loud, so people don’t think I’m a weirdo. I loved this Calla dialect, as well as the one King put together for the residents of Lud (those trig coves, wery pert so they are).
The series also had some really memorable quotes to go with that fun language. Here are some of my favorites:
“You needn’t die happy when your time comes, but you must die satisfied, for you have lived your life from beginning to end and ka is already served.”
-Jake remembering guidance from Roland
“All things serve the Beam.”
-Multiple characters throughout the series. Spokes of the wheel that moves all of creation; my interpretation is basically that the Tower is everything, and represents the ultimate reality of the universe. Seeing the Tower for what it is means seeing all the strings connecting to it…connected to everything. Another interpretation could be “everything happens for a reason.”
“In the fierce furnace of his mind, the gross carbon of wish and opinion was often blasted into the hard diamonds which he called facts…”
-Author’s description of Roland (I think as a young man or child)
I can’t fit it all here…but the ENTIRE palaver between Roland and Walter at the end of book one. Really fills me with wonder, and got me primed to fall deeply into this series.
“So do we pass the ghosts that haunt us later in our lives; they sit undramatically by the roadside like poor beggars, and we see them only from the corners of our eyes, if we see them at all. The idea that they have been waiting there for us rarely crosses our minds. Yet they do wait, and when we have passed, they gather up their bundles of memory and fall in behind, treading in our footsteps and catching up little by little.”
-As Roland rides past Susan’s house, sees her in the window.
“Dad-a-chuck dad-a-churtle, don’t worry girl, you got the turtle!”
-Susannah’s inner monologue after she finds the little Maturin figure.
I got a real kick out of anything that involved lobstrocity chatter.
“Speak if you would speak, my time is short and my patience shorter.”
-Roland, probably multiple times when he’s getting restless. Maybe even with his patented two finger “hurry up” twirl.
“Time is the thief of memory.”
I can’t remember if this was a character, or monologue from the author. I can’t even remember where in the story it popped up (Mejis maybe?). I thought it was a great quote, though.
“There will be water if Ka wills it.”
-Roland and other characters, said fairly often. Sometimes, it was also said as “there will be water if God wills it” or I think “…if Gan wills it.“
Well, thanks for reading these random thoughts on the Dark Tower. It was good to write them all out; sort of cathartic, to get some of this discussion out of my system. And I got a solid tribute to the true hero of the story Oy, and one for his sidekick Roland. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that King does some spin-off novels someday, perhaps showing tales from the Tet Corporation battling Sombra/North Central Positronics, the adventures of Ted, Dinky, and the rest after they left Susannah, or maybe stories from other parts of Roland’s world (other beams, if ya ken). As it’s also almost time to flip the calendar over, I’ll just say Happy New Year in the style of Mid-World – long days and pleasant nights! (And may you have twice the number)
For more Dark Tower art, see:
- Susannah, Jake, and Oy Goofing Around. https://jonamdall.com/2018/01/13/back-to-the-dark-tower-susannah-jake-and-oy-drawing/
- Campfire Outside of Lud. https://jonamdall.com/2017/10/08/dark-tower-drawing-campfire-outside-the-city-of-lud/