The Electric Commentary

Monday, January 24, 2005

The 50 Book Challenge: The Dark Tower

I'm joining the challenge. And I'm starting with a double review:

#1: Song of Susannah, Stephen King, Book 6 of The Dark Tower Series #2: The Dark Tower, Stephen King, The final 7th Book of The Dark Tower Series

WARNING: LOTS OF SPOILERS AHEAD!

I started reading The Dark Tower Series almost 20 years ago, and finishing it turned out to be more of a chore than a pleasure, which is oddly appropriate as it seems that this was Stephen King's attitude towards finishing the series. It is impossible to discuss these books without noting that King was obviously affected greatly by his near-fatal car accident. More on that later.

Song of Susannah find the gunslingers Roland, Eddie, Jake and Oy dismayed, as Susannah, the legless 4th member of their group has been possessed by a demon named Mia, impregnated by both Roland and the evil Crimson King (don't ask), and forced into modern day New York City (circa 1999). They also learn that Stephen King is important to keeping their world alive as they find a copy of King's Salem's Lot in the care of an antique bookseller which happens to feature personal details about Father Donald Callahan, an auxiliary member of their gunslinging troop. Eddie and Roland are dispatched through a magic door to 1976 where they must buy some land from a man named Calvin Tower to protect the Rose of the Tower (which keeps our world going) and to check up on Stephen King. Father Callahan, Jake, and Oy are dispatched to find Susannah and stop her baby from eating her.

That's enough of that. This is the superior book of the two. While the tale of Roland and Eddie running around Maine drags at times, and Stephen King's inclusion (more on this later) is irritating and pretentious, the story of Jake and Father Callahan is quite good. They discover that Susannah has been taken to a restaurant called The Dixie Pig where, unbeknownst to the regular folk in NYC, Vampires and Low Men regularly dine on human (or "long pork" as they call it). Father Callahan, whose faith failed him in Salem's Lot, redeems himself by taking one for the team, allowing Jake to make his way into the underground.

Through more magic doors and gunfighting the troop is reformed shortly after Susannah/Mia gives birth to a werespider (like Pennywise in It) named Mordred which promptly eats Mia and Randall Flagg in a 4 hour span. And with that we move on to...

The Dark Tower.

The Dark Tower is a big Tower at the middle of all realities. Attached to it are Beams which hold up the universe. The bad guy (the Crimson King) has telepathic people working to break the beams and destroy the universe and they're almost done. It is in this book that Stephen King became intolerable.

First of all, he uses his presence in the book to abdicate all responsibility for what happened. His claims that he is merely a conduit for the story serve a purpose inside of the story, but externally they allow him to treat his characters with complete contempt.

Stephen King has developed a sort of template, what I like to call the Stephen King Mad Lib, for books like this. There's a big ugly creature (in Maine, usually) and a group of people can stop it if they do the right things. If they do something wrong, one of them dies. If there is one person still left at the end, they win. Usually even the lucky "survivor" is maimed or dies in the act of winning. For examples, see It, Salem's Lot, Desperation, The Stand, The Tommyknockers, etc. Here the template gets the best of him. Eddie is killed for no good reason at all while stopping the beam breakers. Jake is killed by the car which was supposed to kill Stephen King (yes, that car crash even worked it's way in). And Oy is impaled by Mordred. I was even upset at the quick dispatching of Randall Flagg, villain in so many King books including The Stand. He deserved more than to simply be eaten by It.

In the story, Stephen King's character must survive or the universe will fall. He implies that there has always been some writer telling this tale (Robert Browning before him) and so saving that writer is necessary. And yes, it was as annoying to read that as it sounds.

Anyway, the single worst thing that happens in this book, after enough walking to cause Frodo Baggins to become sympathetic, is the treatment of Roland.

WARNING: BIG SPOILER HERE!

When Roland finally reaches the top of the tower (after defeating the Crimson King, no more than an old man throwing grenades), a bunch of really stupid stuff happens.

King talks endlessly about how our universe (and Roland's) only moves forward in time, never backward. Yet the Tower sends Roland back to the beginning of his quest, without memory, and implies that he has done this thousands of times already. But if his world only moves forward, how is this possible?

Stupid thing number two: King implies that if Roland would have remembered to bring the "Horn of Eld" with him (lost to him in the distant past) his quest would have ended. On his "new quest" after being sent back by the tower, he has the horn. My question to King: If the stupid horn will end the quest, why didn't you tell us THAT story? Instead, he renders all that his gunslinger has accomplished over the life of this story meaningless and needlessly tortures him to boot.

And he justifies this because he's not in control. He's just a conduit.

Whatever.

So to Stephen King I say, thanks for nothing. And to the driver of the car that almost took Mr. King's life, you actually did succeed in killing the story.

I recommend reading the first three books, The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three, and The Waste Lands, and stopping right there (and get the "old versions" if you can. He's re-edited them). That is where the series truly ended.

Next up:

The Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies (which is fantastic so far), which includes:

Fifth Business
The Manticore
World of Wonders

2 Comments:

  • Omg Im not surprised no1 has commented here! I mean jesus christ could u be any more whiny? I cant believe this is wikipedia sublinked! Im sorry to say I think the dark tower SERIES is the best Ive ever read and thats all 7 books! I think the ending he crafted was deep and thoughtful. Besides the being at the top of the Tower, Gan if you like, can probably turn back time cos the notion is that God is a being out of time therefore unbound by it!
    Yes your blog is as annoying to read as it sounds!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:59 AM  

  • Thanks for that insight, anonymous. We are all 35% stupider having read it.

    By Anonymous Meph, at 6:24 PM  

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