BooksReviews/Commentary

Reading Dark Tower 7: The Dark Tower

The final “Dark Tower” story opened in jarring fashion with Jake and Father Callahan’s assault on the Dixie Pig Restaurant as they tried to rescue Susannah from her captivity by the forces of evil. Callahan ended up sacrificing himself so that Jake and Oy could make an escape after the assault immediately turned bad, with Callahan technically committing suicide by turning his gun onto himself before he could be overcome by the Crimson King’s minions.

As mentioned in the summary of the prior book, “Song of Susannah,” the Dixie Pig contained a doorway back to the gunslinger Roland’s world and, specifically, that door led to the town of Fedic. In Fedic, Susannah had had herself somehow physically separated from the body of her pregnant alt-ego, Mia. Mia gave birth to Mordred Deschain and, owing to Mordred’s demonic roots, the baby shape-shifted into a spider creature that consumed the body of Mia for food. Susannah was able to escape from the scene and ended up being reunited with Jake back at the Dixie Pig’s cross-dimensional doorway.

While Mordred was injured during Susannah’s escape, this was not the last that readers would hear about him. He would go on to stalk Roland and his party from afar when their quest continued. Along the way, Mordred’s path would have him encounter the Man in Black and Mordred actually ended up being his slayer. Mordred saw through the Man in Black’s scheme to occupy the Dark Tower as a god-like figure and that plan cost the Man in Black his life. Given the character’s significance in alias roles in other King works, it was a surprisingly low-key way for the character’s story to be concluded.

Roland and Eddie made their way back to New York City and used a doorway to transport back to Roland’s world. They arrived in Fedic and Roland’s party (his ka-tet) was finally reunited since Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake, and Oy were again all in one place.

The quest to reach the Dark Tower then resumed and Roland’s party traveled to the odd city of Devar-Toi. A group of slave psychics known as ‘breakers’ lived there and the breakers had been enlisted to destroy the Dark Tower’s beams, one of which Roland’s party had followed toward the tower in the past. The story of the breakers ended up solving the mystery of the purpose of the wolves of the Calla, as the brain matter stolen from the Calla’s children was used to create pills that enhanced the power of the breakers.

Roland happened to know one of the Devar-Toi residents named Sheemie, who had been a mentally handicapped character from Mejis, mentioned during the flashback story in “Wizard and Glass.” Through Sheemie’s assistance, Roland and company were able to free the breakers but Eddie lost his life in the process.

Susannah stayed with Eddie’s body in order to mourn his loss and to provide him with a burial. At the same time, Roland, Jake, and Oy traveled Maine on Earth in 1999 on a mission to save Stephen King from being killed in a van accident that was about to occur. Their reasoning was that King needed to remain alive so that he could continue to write their story.

While King’s life was saved, the cost was high since Jake died in the process. At this point, Roland had lost Jake twice and had grown to consider the boy to have been his son. Roland returned to Susannah in Fedic with Oy via the doorway in the Dixie Pig.

The town of Fedic surrounded a tower-like castle named Castle Discordia, a building containing several hundred doors, some of which led to important historical events. Unfortunately, some doors allowed monsters to enter the castle. When Roland, Susannah, and Oy ventured through the castle, they encountered one such monster but they kept the monster at bay by burning salvaged bones as torches.

Roland’s party eventually exited Castle Discordia and made their way across a barren region known as the ‘badlands.’ While in this region, the party came across the former castle of the Crimson King and learned from the King’s minister of state that the Crimson King had committed suicide after ordering the deaths of most of his staff. His undead form then continued on to the Dark Tower.

Later, Roland and party encounter a psychic vampire that Eddie had warned them about named Dandelo. Stephen King assisted his own characters in the story by helping them to make that connection. After Roland and Susannah defeated Danelo, they freed a prisoner named Patrick Danville. Longtime Stephen King readers would recall Danville as having been designated a person of importance in the novel “Insomnia.” His appearance in “The Dark Tower” paid off that foreshadowing.

Danville turned out to have the ability to bring to life whatever he drew. While investigating Danville’s abilities, Susannah had the revelation that Roland needed to make his final push toward the Dark Tower without her. She had Danville draw a door that took her to another world but Oy decided to stay behind with Roland.

Soon after Susannah’s departure, Mordred confronted Roland. Roland ended up killing his partial-son but only after getting assistance from Oy that led to the dog-like creature’s death.

Roland and Patrick then continued on to the Dark Tower and found it, as expected, occupied by the Crimson King. A standoff of sorts ensued with Roland and Patrick trapped outside of the tower and the Crimson King attacking down at them from a tower balcony. Patrick Danville proved to be a game-changer of sorts when he drew a picture of the Crimson King. Roland colored the eyes on the drawing by using dye from rose pedals and then Danville erased everything about the Crimson King drawing except for the eyes.

At this point, Roland was able to enter the tower and he did so, leaving Danville outside as the Tower door closed. While that seminal event occurred, Danville witnessed Roland shouting out the names of all of his loved ones and lost friends.

The conclusion to the saga came in two parts. First, Susannah was shown in an alternate 1980s New York City, where she encountered the Eddie Dean and Jake of that world. They were brothers in this case but seemed to recognize a bond with Susannah. Although Susannah’s memories of her time with Roland began to fade, it was implied that she would end up with Eddie and Jake in a family unit. It was also even implied that they would have a dog not unlike Oy.

Stephen King then warned readers that they should stop at that point if they wanted a ‘happy’ ending. Those readers that continued forward were presented with the details of Roland’s climb up through the Dark Tower as he saw events from his life play out. When Roland reached the top of the tower, he was sucked back to the Mohaine Desert, finding himself in the same place where readers had first encountered him.

This might have seemed like a highly discouraging resolution to the story but King pointed out that Roland would be repeating his quest to reach the Dark Tower amid differing circumstances. This time, he would have with him an artifact known as the Horn of Eld, something that he had lost prior to his previous journey. King’s implication was that Roland would strive again to complete his quest and this next time he might just accomplish it.

The book then ended with the same line that had first begun the saga: “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

It was easy to see how the ending to the “Dark Tower” saga was divisive amongst fans. The ending was not horrible but the brisk pace of the last couple of books had given readers the sense that Stephen King was spooked by his near-death van accident. As a result, he seemed to be rushing to wrap up his masterwork before he really did kick the bucket. In hindsight, it was hard not to wish that King had taken more time with the books but revelations that the film adaptation(s) would serve as a sequel might give him just such an opportunity to get the story ‘right.’

Like with most King works, there were many great pieces and ideas sprinkled around the “Dark Tower” saga. Also like most King works, the resolutions were to given stories were often frustrating or underwhelming, made up for by the sheer power of his wonderful character work.

For those wondering if reading the entire saga was worth the effort, the answer would depend on if they could enjoy the journey as much as the destination.

Much was made amongst readers of the Horn of Eld that King introduced at the end. The horn ended up being a symbol of the mistakes that Roland had made in his last run through the quest and that he would have to correct. The ending ultimately left the reader to decide if they thought that Roland would finally perform his quest in such a way that he avoided mistakes that might otherwise lead him to repeating his cycle again. The hint was given that this next cycle might be the one to end Roland’s quest and optimistic readers were left to cling to that hint.

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