Okay, I’m back. I haven’t lost my mind, or my grip on reality. Everything’s fine.
It took me a long time to read this final installment of “The Dark Tower” series. Sure, it’s super long, but it’s shorter than a few of the other installments. I just truly didn’t want it to end, so I stretched it out, found distractions and procrastinations, and delayed the inevitable.
This final chapter is less full of revelation, and doesn’t so closely ressemble a conspiracy theorist’s corkboard with pushpins and yarn (see also: Charlie’s Pepe Silvia wall in “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”). Though there is a certain amount of clarification of the complexities of the universe as we go, this is, for the most part, old-school storytelling: a steady and unrelenting quest with a lot of threshold guardians to vanquish along the way.
Stephen King excels at this kind of storytelling, and the reading is easy, if hard on the heart. By which I mean I cried a lot. I held it back on the subway, but when I was reading at home, the tears just came and came. There is a brief section in the story when Susannah describes a steady bout of weeping, and knowing that she was crying, too, made my tears easier and more natural. That’s how good King is, and this is why he gave us Susannah and Eddie back in Book 2, and Jake and Oy in Book 3. He gave them to us to give us permission to feel our way through this quest.
And through them, he also gave Roland permission to feel, which is probably the most hurtful but wonderful part. Back in Book 5 (Wolves of the Calla), when he really started to lean into Roland’s paternal nurturing of Jake, I talked about how much of a difference this added depth made for me. Roland’s feelings run deeper and deeper, and to great benefit for this narrative. Stephen King is nothing if not aware of his strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and knows full well that his greatest strength is in his character work. Without it, these books would absolutely collapse.
This series is an enormous achievement. The more he writes, the stronger the universe becomes. There are so many fantasy worlds that grow too big for their creators over the course of their tellings, becoming muddy and uncontrolled. Miraculously, and with great credit to King’s skillset, this universe gets tighter and more true over time. I couldn’t be happier that I stuck it out through The Gunslinger (Book 1) and into The Drawing of the Three (Book 2). I will read these again, and again.
I have reached the point in The Dark Tower when King pleads with the reader to stop. In the comments of my The Gunslinger review, Mim warned me to stop here. I stopped to write this review, but I’m going to continue on, because I have to. Mim told me to stop. King makes a very strong case for it, telling us:
I hope you came to hear the tale, and not just munch your way through the pages to the ending. For an ending, you only have to turn to the last page and see what is there writ upon. But endings are heartless. An ending is a closed door no man (or Manni) can open. I’ve written many, but most only for the same reason that I pull on my pants in the morning before leaving the bedroom—because it is the custom of the country.
… Should you go on, you will surely be disappointed, perhaps even heartbroken.
Warning appreciated. I’m going on, as Roland does. Because I’m not looking for a happy ending; warning appreciated, but I already knew those don’t exist, and I will go on as long as Roland does.
More in a minute.
I do see why I was warned, though. But I am quite glad I read on. Honestly, I would like to read on further.
There are no happy endings because there are no endings. Ka is a goddamned wheel.