This is your last chance – if you don’t want the ending of The Dark Tower spoiled for you, click the back button on your browser. You have been warned.
“The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed.” –Stephen King
So begins Stephen King’s amazing Dark Tower series, which focuses on Roland, a Gunslinger in what amounts to an alternate universe – a sibling of our own. (That’s a bit of an oversimplification, but it will do for the purposes of this entry). Gunslingers, in the world of The Dark Tower, were a little bit sheriff, a little bit warrior, a little bit diplomat, a little bit knight errant. The world we see when the series starts, though, is a hollowed-out, dying shell of what it once was. So we see Roland, a Gunslinger, holder of the office in charge of keeping peace and order throughout a world where peace and order are no longer possibilities. So instead, Roland tries to catch the Man in Black (the bad guy – again, something of an oversimplification), and quests for The Dark Tower.
The Dark Tower is, among other things, the hub of the network that keeps the universe from unraveling completely. The goal of Roland’s quest is…murky, but one of his hopes is that the Dark Tower holds the secret to restoring the world to what it once was. For seven books (or eight, depending on how you count), Roland moves onward in his quest, righting wrongs along the way, but always in service of his final goal: reaching the Dark Tower. Throughout his journey, Roland experiences unimaginable pain: failures, fallen friends, and the slow creeping rot of his own self and sensibilities. But at the end, his vision becomes a reality and he finds himself in a field of roses at the center of which lies The Dark Tower.
A page later, there is a message from Stephen King to his reader. King urges the reader to close the book and let that be the end of Roland’s story: a short jog across a beautiful field to the completion of his life’s work. He says that reading further will only depress and disappoint, and that we have been warned.
I remember the moment when I read that vividly. I actually did close the book and stare at it for a few minutes, and then I walked around the room for a while. It was a seriously conflicting moment for me. There are several writers whom I have come to trust implicitly, and King is definitely among them; and here was a message from him, one of my heroes, urging me not to read any farther. What the hell was I supposed to do with that? How could I, who had gone with Roland on this unimaginable journey, not stick with him all the way to the end?
And ultimately, that’s what won out: I owed it to Roland. I opened the book again, and I finished reading the story. Roland entered the tower, like he always knew he would, and he climbed to the top, like he always knew he would. When he got to the top, he went through a door and found himself in a vast desert: An “apotheosis of deserts.”
“The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed.”
We find out that Roland is doomed to repeat the entire journey, with all its trial, triumph, and pain, over and over and over, maybe forever. (Again, this is a bit oversimplified, but it will do for the purposes of this entry).
King tried to warn me, and in so doing, he issued a test of my allegiance. In that moment, I was asked to whom I owed my loyalty: King or Roland? In an outcome that surprised me, but that I doubt would surprise King, I realized that I owed my loyalty to Roland. Because by that point, Roland had ceased to simply be words on a page. He had long been a person. Synergy. Whoa.
Another ramification of this that didn’t occur to me until I had nearly completed this week’s entry (more synergy – that stuff is everywhere) is that the author was powerless against the story’s synergy, too. Stephen King is a strange man, but he’s no sadist. However much I love Roland, King loves him more, and there is no way that he wanted to doom his creation that way. But that’s just it: there comes a point when the author is no longer fully in charge. I believe that King finished The Dark Tower that way because that was the way the story ended.
Synergy is a bitch, sometimes.
If you haven’t read the series, do yourself a favor and check it out. There are many places in this entry where I had to simplify and leave things out because the work is so incredibly vast, and it resists summary in a thousand word blog entry. I’ve even oversimplified Roland’s fate – so my spoilers aren’t complete spoilers, I guess – because the fullness of it is really, really complex.
I’d like to say a big “thank you” to author Stephen King.
And of course, thank you to all of you for reading. More to follow.
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