Commala come come, the Tower was quite fun. The interwoven story arcs are just example one!”– Joshua T. Calkins-Treworgy.
Warning: SPOILERS ALERT! All the spoilers, SO MANY SPOILERS!!! Do not read this article if you a) DON’T LIKE SPOILERS or b) haven’t finished The Dark Tower series yet and don’t want it SPOILED. I’ve seriously used the word SPOILER so much now that it looks wrong. Once more, with feeling, SPOILERS AHOY!!!
Right, now we’ve got that out the way, let’s start this thing.
Last week, I finally finished reading Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series.
It had been a long journey, over quite a number of years, and with some considerable breaks in-between. I think I actually read the first book twice, just because I had left it so long between finishing it and starting on the second.
However, the main reason it took me so long to get through The Dark Tower series was that I suspect (subconsciously or not quite) I just couldn’t really bring myself to finish it.
I’m not sure if I also began to tail off because it started to feel like more of a slog, despite the fact I had emotionally committed to the characters.
There were plenty of little things that irked me along the way, whilst reading The Dark Tower, but there were also plenty of things that made the journey wholly worthwhile.
And that ending! It was not quite what I had been expecting, leaving me with some very mixed emotions.
Anyway, I really wanted to give myself a bit of closure, so without further ado, here are (in my opinion) the best and the worst parts of The Dark Tower.
You may not agree with me about everything, and should my memory fail me at any time, feel free to correct me in the comments section.
WRITER’S NOTE: I can tell, just from writing the intro, that this is going to be a long read. But hang in there, I’ll try not to waffle on forever. Also, there are more ‘bests’ than ‘worsts’, if that helps you hold some encouragement.
The best: Roland Deschain of Gilead, AKA the Gunslinger
The one constant throughout the series, the sincere and humble Roland Deschain of Gilead. Son of Steven and Gabrielle, and the last in the line of Eld.
Just like his beloved Dark Tower, he is the glue that holds the story together, and as readers, we make a commitment to follow Roland until the end.
At times we may get frustrated with him, and like Eddie Dean, we may develop a love/hate relationship with Roland through the choices he makes, but we’re always there with him every step of the way.
Plus, you can tell just by reading what King later confirmed; the character was inspired by Clint Eastwood, back in the day.
The best: The fascinating inter-connected worlds King has created
When we enter into the Dark Tower series, we’re presented with a world not quite like our own; a world that has “moved on”. We’re not entirely sure what that means, but the Western-esque landscape really sets the scene for what’s to come.
On the journey, there are unforgettable characters of these worlds, most of whom speak in tongues that you strangely grow accustomed to as you move through the books, starting with his first encounter with Farmer Brown and Zoltan the crow; say thank ya.
To be honest, I kind of wish Zoltan had made a reappearance later on in the books, because he was quite a character, and it’s these little things I perhaps appreciate most from this quirky series.
The best: When Roland first meets Jake Chambers
You’ve got to worry about that Roland sometimes. He’s almost dead when he’s found by Jake Chambers at the way station, and gives him water and beef jerky. Jake’s a bit peculiar, in that he can’t really remember how long he’s been there, or where he came from.
Someone recently told me that having had a brain aneurysm, they enjoyed the fact that the character’s brains were often quite like her own – in her own words, ‘swiss cheese’. Unfortunately, Roland at this point decides to put his precious tower first.
The worst: Roland’s decision to let Jake die
Okay, this isn’t the WORST of the worst. In fact, it kind of sets the tone for the way Roland behaves throughout the series, for, at least in the beginning, the Tower always has to come first.
Despite this, you can tell that Roland is later sorry about his decision to sacrifice Jake to pursue the man in black – but sorry enough not to do the same again? Doubtful.
The best: The introduction of Eddie Dean
Eddie Dean is introduced in the second Dark Tower novel, The Drawing of the Three, and in quite a colourful way. I love how he’s in the middle of smuggling cocaine into New York, and the ingenius way Roland uses the door to help him get through customs.
Roland also needs his help, having just had a recent (and pretty bad) injury from ‘the lobstrosities’.
It’s quite an action-packed little episode, resulting in the death of Eddie’s brother (from accidental overdose) and a shoot-out, before the pair get hold of some antibiotics for Roland, who has developed an infection.
They return to Roland’s world together.
The best: Odetta Holmes, Detta Walker and Susannah Dean
Otherwise known as the ‘Lady of the Shadows’, Odetta Holmes is a black woman who happens to have a dissociative identity disorder.
She plays an active role in the civil rights movement, and is fairly wealthy, however, she’s also missing both legs below the knee – the result of being pushed in front of a subway train.
Detta Walker is Odetta’s alternate personality, and one she’s entirely unaware of to begin with. While Odetta is polite, reserved and conducts herself in a calm, kind manner, Detta is the complete opposite; a violent, deeply disturbed, predatory force that you don’t want to mess with!
Detta first came into being when Jack Mort dropped a brick on Odetta’s head from a height, when she was just five years old. This resulted in a coma, and some brain damage.
Eventually, these two polar opposites merge into the final character that we all grow to love; Susannah Dean. She’s sort of the best of both worlds, and she’s still one badass bitch without the help of Detta – although the latter still makes the occasional appearance.
The worst: Too many squeezed-in references
Okay, some of King’s references in The Dark Tower – outwith those of his own novels – were quite fun and interesting. But for some reason, the Harry Potter references just seemed to get on my nerves a bit too much. I also found the Oz ones a bit annoying and random – or out of place – at times. I remember thinking to myself: “Was that really necessary?” a lot.
Here’s a list of 19 books King made reference to in the series. Despite this, I do have to say that the use of the golden snitches as weapons was quite a good call. So, there’s good AND bad here, I guess.
The best: Susannah and Eddie’s relationship
It might have seemed a bit of an obvious choice for Eddie and Susannah to fall in love, but I actually kind of like that they do. They’re both strangers, two very different people, thrown into a strange world together, and with each other’s love, they manage to overcome their own demons.
They are soon married by ka, although Detta still isn’t much of a fan of Eddie’s, which I found quite amusing. Later, when things turn darker, and ka-shoom begins, I feel pretty devastated about the whole thing.
The best: Roland’s memories with Alain, Cuthbert and Susan
I really enjoyed Wizard and Glass, and Roland’s memories involving Alain and Cuthbert. But there was also the budding romance between Roland and Susan Delgado – the beautiful young woman who spent a lot of time in her father’s clothes.
Unfortunately, it’s not the right time for it, as she had just agreed to be the mayor’s gilly, or long-term mistress, and feels tricked into the arrangement by her Aunt Cordelia.
By reading in-between the lines, you can tell that it’s all bound to end in sorrow, but nothing can prepare you for what happens next…
The worst: Susan’s death
Susan’s death is utterly tragic, having been burned alive as a traitor to her town. Roland can only watch, powerless, and I have the feeling that if there’s anyone Roland could go back and save, it would be her.
The best: Jake getting a second chance
Got to admit, I was happy that the boy Roland let fall in The Gunslinger came back and got another chance to join Roland’s ka-tet. Although Jake is still a boy, he finds himself having to mature quite fast, and soon becomes a gunslinger in his own right.
The best: Father Callahan’s return
If you’ve ever read Salem’s Lot, you might find yourself pleased by the return of the character Father Callahan.
I really love how King weaved Callahan and the vampires into The Dark Tower books, so this is one reference I definitely won’t be complaining about. Callahan plays quite a significant role throughout the series, and this pleased me greatly.
The worst: Father Callahan not doing more damage
This isn’t a huge complaint (no, really!) but surely he could have taken out at least a couple of more vampires and gone down in a blaze of glory? I think he deserved that much. Shame on you, King.
The best: Blaine the Mono
You wanted a malevolent yet super-intelligent pink steam train that just loves riddles? You got one in the shape of Blaine the Mono! With a top speed of over 900 miles per hour, Blaine was able to produce a sonic boom and had become a very lonely, fucked up choo-choo.
He’d gone a bit wonky over the years, becoming suicidal and also seeming to have developed a multiple personality disorder in ‘Little Blaine’ (who actually tried to help Roland and his crew, albeit unsuccessfully).
He also seemed to love doing John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart impressions, implying he knew there were other worlds apart from his own.
The worst: Eddie’s death
Okay, so King gave us fair warning that *something* was about to happen, what with this whole ka-shoom thing implying death of one or more of our beloved characters. You can sense it about to happen, too.
The one last joyful moment the gang experienced as ka-tet – at least we as fans got allowed that much, before Eddie was cruelly taken from us.
Do we blame Roland? I don’t think we should, as I’m sure if there was something he could have done to prevent it, he would have. They were all taken off-guard, but I don’t think it was necessarily anyone’s fault.
It’s not just the fact Eddie died, it was also *the way* Eddie died. Shot in the eye and lying in pain with Susannah at his side as he grew weaker and began to slip away. It was heartbreaking, but at least Susannah got to say a proper goodbye.
Afterwards, she chooses to experience her grief in full, without the aid of the Breakers’ healing powers.
The best: Oy the billy-bumbler
Oy is a billy-bumbler; a distinctive combination of a raccoon, woodchuck and dachshund. He has black and grey striped fur, a spiral tail, and gold-ringed eyes. But he seems a little different from other billy-bumblers, and seems to want the company of Roland’s ka-tet.
He can also talk! When they first encounter Oy, Jake calls to him: “Come on, boy!” to which Oy replies: “Oy.” We later find Oy can’t actually pronounce syllables at the start of words very well.
However, he soon becomes a member of the tet in his own right, and we grow to love him and the comfort he brings Jake.
The best: Jake and Oy’s relationship
Of all the people Oy decides to attach himself to, his relationship with Jake is no doubt the strongest. Maybe because he senses that Jake needs a new best friend.
This is a heartwarming relationship, and when that bond is finally broken, it’s overwhelmingly sad.
The worst: The (second) death of Jake
When Jake dies for the second time, it’s to save that damned writer we keep hearing about, Stephen King. He’s hit by a truck driven by a complete idiot, as he tries to save King from the same fate.
It works, but unfortunately Jake is killed, and Roland misses the chance to say a proper goodbye – although Jake does leave a final message with Oy.
What’s also heartbreaking about Jake’s death is that Oy is never quite the same afterwards – although he does still manage the occasional word.
The worst: The death of Oy
Sorry, Oy. You could have chosen to go onto another world with Susannah, but you were loyal to Roland until the very end. Probably because you sensed he’d need you. Unfortunately, it was to your downfall. “Olan.”
OH, THE FEELS!!!
The best: Walter (Randall Flagg) doing his usual thing
Yes, of course we *have* to talk about Walter, AKA Randall Flagg, AKA Walter O’Dim, AKA Rudin Filaro, AKA Raymond Fiegler, AKA Richard Fannin, AKA Walter Hodji, AKA Walter Farden, AKA The Walkin’ Dude, AKA The Covenant Man and AKA Marten Broadcloak. ‘Kinell, that’s a LOT of aliases!
Walter has been seen in many worlds, and done many things, and yet in The Dark Tower series we find out he’s a demonic sorcerer and emissary of the Crimson King. Well, of course that makes sense. Much like the Crimson King, Walter wants to get to the top of the Tower and become ‘God of All’.
The worst: Walter gets killed by a Spider-baby (Mordred)
This, in my eyes, is one of the worst things about The Dark Tower series. After all, Walter was such an integral character to the series – Roland’s nemesis, in fact – yet he was written out so easily.
And I *know* I’m not the only one that has a problem with this outcome for Walter. Many of us envisioned a battle of some sort, a stand-off between Walter and Roland.
After all of the dreadful deeds Walter has done, after all the chaos and suffering he has created, he dies at the hands of a Spider-baby! In the form of Roland’s half-son, Mordred.
You see, Walter saw Mordred as a naive boy he could manipulate to try and open the door of the Tower for himself, but Mordred isn’t as green as he seems, and forces Walter to feed him various parts of his own body before killing him in quite a horrible way.
Killed by a Spider-baby?! Just… argggghhh!!!
The best: Mordred’s naive yet burning need for revenge
Since we’re on the subject of the Spider-baby, let’s discuss Mordred for a minute. He’s technically a were-spider, if you’ve ever heard of such a thing, and can transform from a baby into an atrocious, giant spider-like thing.
The half-son of Roland Deschain (his White Father), and the Crimson King (his Red Father), Mordred goes through his pathetic life seemingly always a-hungry – and missing a leg (having been shot by Susannah).
Being created and born in very unique circumstances, Mordred is filled with a hatred for his White Father, but somehow feels a devotion to Red Father that causes him to keep following the Crimson King’s instructions towards his own doom.
As we learn more about what goes on inside Mordred’s mind, we also begin to feel really quite sorry for this pathetic, hungry, shivering and hateful wreck of a being, having never experienced love, or companionship, and just being downright twisted and bitter as he watches the ka-tet from afar. He’s really nothing more than a pawn.
The worst: Mordred’s hollow death, having learnt nothing
Eventually, a sick and struggling Mordred makes a move against Roland and Patrick Danville (The Artist), but neglects to remember that Oy is still a threat. Big mistake.
Before he can pounce, he’s grabbed by Oy, alerting Roland and Patrick of the danger. Roland then finishes him off, but not before he can save poor Oy.
What I didn’t really like about Mordred’s death is that he doesn’t really learn anything in the end. It’s a bit of a hollow death, for such a bitter and malevolent being – would Mordred ever have been capable of love? Maybe. I mean, he certainly seemed lonely, bitter and jealous until the end, partly because he’d never been shown it himself.
The best: The Crimson King’s malevolent promise
The malevolence of the Crimson King is intriguing later on in the series (although he’s barely mentioned in books 1 – 5) and our interest builds as we gradually find out more and more about what he’s doing to bring down Roland’s precious tower and bring about Discordia.
We build up an image in our heads, although what he actually looks like is a mystery. What we do find out later on in the books is that he’s a descendant of Arthur Eld, and shares joint fatherhood of Mordred (the spider-baby) with Roland.
We also find out the Breakers, who are using their telepathic powers to break down the beams of the Tower, are also there down to him. He’s even the cause of the ‘roont’ children.
So, it’s fair to say that he’s pretty darned evil, and possibly a bit mad, too. Why take down the entire universe for your own ends? To believe you’ll live on to become a god and shape the world into your own desires seems quite frankly a bit insane. But oh well, we can assume at least Roland has a worthy foe in the Crimson King.
The worst: The Crimson King being killed by an eraser
When we finally meet the Crimson King in The Dark Tower, we (well, I for one) have built up certain… expectations. What we’re met with instead is almost a caricature of the intimidating being we’ve come to expect.
He looks a bit like an evil Santa Claus, and he’s stuck at the top of the tower screaming at the top of his lungs, whilst occasionally throwing golden sneetches in Roland’s direction.
I’m sorry, but I find this final scene with the Crimson King a little disappointing. Even more so, when he’s so easily snuffed out with an eraser (despite however brilliant that idea was to involve The Artist) in such a way. I also quite like the idea of his red eyes still there, watching.
However, my thoughts and feelings on the Crimson King can be summed up in one way:
The best: Tying in so many different King universes
I love the fact that so many of Stephen King’s stories are connected and interwoven in The Dark Tower.
From Randall Flagg/Walter/The Man in Black’s involvement in other stories, to references from Salem’s Lot, The Talisman, The Mist, Rose Madder, Insomnia, The Regulators, Bag of Bones and more… if you’re not an avid King reader, it’s easy to miss some of these, but it just makes you realise how big this whole thing really is.
The worst: SO much Stephen King writing about himself!
It did get a bit much, and it was a little cheesy, you have to admit. Was it really necessary to introduce himself as a character in such a way? And did some of it get a little too self-promotion-y?
There are mixed views about this, and personally, I had some mixed feelings when I got to the parts where he involved more of himself in the story. Let’s just say it left a bad taste in the mouth.
However, I suppose it does spell it out how much time King had put into the series, how many years went by, and some of the personal demons he was struggling with over the years. The decision to tie Roland’s painful hip into his own injury was also a very interesting touch.
The worst: Where the hell is Susannah?
Okay, so maybe Susannah sensed it wasn’t going to end well for her if she continued down Roland’s path to The Dark Tower, but the way she left seemed a little… wrong, to me. I didn’t like it.
What I liked less, however, was the fact that she ended up in a different world with a new version of Eddie and Jake.
I mean, of course it’s nice to think of her being happy elsewhere, and maybe it’s the Tower’s way of showing her a kindness, but it’s not the Eddie and Jake she had come to love.
It just feels NOT RIGHT. Of course, there’s always the possibility she’s gone insane in todash space, but that wouldn’t be right, either. I don’t know why King felt the need to write that in, to be perfectly honest.
Even if he’d just left it with Susannah going through the door, and not knowing what had become of her, I would have been happier keeping it in the realms of my own imagination than being presented with this alternate reality. Urgh.
The best AND worst: Realising the truth behind Roland’s journey
And the fact that he has to do it all over again. It’s shocking, frustrating, and it hits you right in the gut. but at the same time, it makes absolutely perfect sense.
However, there’s seemingly no real reason why Roland is set back to the same particular point the first book starts; or if there is, it eludes me.
Is he doomed to repeat the same pattern over and over again? It’s implied there’s hope for his redemption yet.
Roland’s choices throughout the book make me think he still had a lot to learn, but despite the fact that Oy, Jake and Eddie died, he DID allow Susannah to live on. Not that he knew it at the time; she could just have easily been lost in todash space.
Could Roland really have saved Eddie? Or Jake, or Oy for that matter? I’m not sure he could have. Did he always put the Tower first? Yes. Perhaps if Roland learns to love, he’ll make the right choices. Which brings me to my next point.
The best: Roland now has the horn of Eld – a key difference
When Roland is returned to the starting point of the first novel, he finds himself with the horn he had previously lost in the Battle of Mejis. Some think this means his actions in the previous ‘wheel’ mean he was granted a few extra seconds to pick up the horn, and will get access to the Dark Tower at least, this time around.
However, I know a few others whose opinions differ on that slightly, instead concluding that the horn is only one piece in the puzzle.
Over time, he may be granted a few more seconds to save Eddie, Jake, Oy and even Susan, so that eventually he deserves to reach the top of the tower – even if that means living through a thousand more turns of the wheel.
I’m sceptical about the Susan part; if Susan were still alive, would Roland still seek the Tower at all? Would he still meet the others, and embark on his quest? I’m not sure, but I do know that Susan shouldn’t have died the way she did, and if he could somehow prevent it from happening, that could be his redemption.
The best: “Ka is a wheel, and everything comes around in the end.”
This is something King had been signposting (at least subconsciously) quite a while before the end of the series, so the ending perhaps shouldn’t come as quite a shock, when you think about it.
The ending is the beginning, and the beginning is also the ending. And you know what?That’s just perfect.
Thankee, sai King.
And if you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading.
- Stephen King’s Dark Tower Collection.
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