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JWR 3.43 - The Darkest of Towers
ďThe man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.Ē Ė First line of The Gunslinger: The Dark Tower I
When I was a freshman in high school, I foundĖliterally foundĖa Stephen King book on a cafeteria room table. It was a paperback copy of Needful Things. The cover was bent and torn in places, well fingered through and read. For about three days I actually tried giving it away to various people, but for some reason nobody would take it. So, I stopped humping it around with me and took it home, eventually read it and very much enjoyed it. I became a fan and read a lot of his books. Junior year, for some reason, one of the social studies/history teachers and I were talking about his books and she asked to borrow my copy of The Talisman, another Stephen King book (co-written by Peter Straub), over the summer break. I said, sure, and she went off to Africa with my book. The next school year she told me she lost it someplace in the Sudan, which is the greatest excuse for anything Iíve ever heard. But she was kind enough to bring me a new copy, which she didnít need to do, but I appreciated it. I think itís kind on entertaining to think that copy is still over there, maybe being passed from person to person. Maybe the Bushmen have it now.
About a year after I found that copy of Needful Things I bought The Gunslinger: The Dark Tower. It was a strange mix of a fantasy world and the real world. At the time, there were three volumes of The Dark Tower series printed and I bought and read them all right in a row. In the authorís notes I found it pretty inconceivable that Stephen King thought the entire series would run seven or eight books. I didnít think it odd that he would write that much (if youíve read the thousand pages of The Stand youíll know); I found it tough to believe that I would be able to read all of that. And I donít really know why.
Volume I was first published in 1982, Volume II in 1987, Volume III in 1991. It was a very long wait for the next volume. I remember going to the mall to go to Waldenbooks when Volume IV came out in 1997. It was shortly after I had jaw surgery and I still had this bit connected to my upper jaw, and my lower jaw was still only opening slightly, something I had to work at for a long time. There was some girl in the mall who was selling magazine subscriptions. I bought US News and World Report for Fatherís Day for my dad. Itís hard to say no to a pretty girl, you understand? Itís hard to say no to an ugly one because you donít want her to think youíre saying no because sheís ugly.
Anyways, I bought it. Then after I read it, I kind of forgot about it in a weird way. But never totally. I started noticing strange things. During the fourth book in the series, there was a reference to The Stand. The characters were walking along and there was a comment about others on a journey kind of like the one they were on, but in a different world, but still so close, like on the other side of a page in a book. After that, I continued reading other King books and was kind of shocked to find references to The Dark Tower and the Dark Tower mythology in several books. Some had to do with ďlow menĒ who were servants to the Crimson King, the evil force at work in The Dark Tower. Other characters were ďbreakersĒ who the Crimson King tried to capture, whose job it was to break the beams that held the dark tower up; the dark tower, of course, being some kind of nexus that holds all the worlds together.
For a while, I kind of thought it was a waste. The fourth book in the series, I didnít like too much. It was slow, I thought. I felt like, why is he wasting his time referring to another of his stories? Then, pretty recently, I read a book of Kingís short stories, Everythingís Eventual. One of the stories was called ďThe Little Sisters of EluriaĒ which was about Roland, the main character of The Dark Tower. The story really has nothing to do with The Dark Tower, but it re-piqued my interest in The Dark Tower, especially that part in the introduction to the story where he said that Volume V was done. The reason that story revitalized my interest was because of the presentation where everything was so alien, but at the same time, there was a familiar ring to much of it, not only because I knew the character, but also because there is a sense of dichotomy in The Dark Tower because that world and our world are so close.
When Volume V came out, I didnít read it. I went back and read each of the first four volumes; this was right around the beginning of the year. Normally, I donít read books more than once, Iím always moving on to the next one. Books take much more effort than watching movies. Thereís a commitment involved. I tore through them all and rediscovered that whole world, all the characters, discovered things like they were new, reminded myself that some scenes were from other books. I found myself enjoying Volume IV, which was mostly about Rolandís younger years and was a love story more than anything. I remembered virtually nothing about Volume IV, and thought it was very complimentary to the other volumes. I came back five and ten years after my first readings as a completely new person.
Part way through Volume V, I started thinking I knew what the ending was. I knew what was in the dark tower and what it meant. Spoiler alert: I donít know if Iím right, but Iím going to tell you what I think and maybe Iíll hit it right on the head. If you want to read these books from a fresh perspective, stop here.
Stephen Kingís name pops up in Volume V when the characters run into a rare book dealer. Itís too complicated to go into, but I feel like when Roland reaches the dark tower, and who knows who from his ka-tet, if any, will reach it with him, heíll climb the stairs, arthritic bones screaming all the way up and Roland will enter the chamber at the top with his sandalwood gripped pistol leading the way. A figure will be sitting on a chair in the center of the room, his back to Roland. Roland will come around and will be face to face with Stephen King. Roland is the product of imagination. Thank you for coming on this ride. The tower falls, the show is over, and Stephen King will retire from writing.
Volume VI just came out a month ago and Stephen King actually pops up as a character for a few chapters. Roland and Eddie are in this world (in the Ď70ís) and they go see the writer who is scared shitless because he recognized Roland despite not actually having written about him yet. I could be wrong about the previous paragraph because in Volume VI, King himself is frightened of the Crimson King, whom he hasnít seen, but has felt.
Six volumes, 3000 pages and counting.
So, the final book, Volume VII, is coming out in September, and to be honest, I kind of donít want to read it. Of course I will, Iíll buy it the first day itís released and will read it even if Iím in the middle of American Psycho or something by Vonnegut, but I have a little fear in reading it. A story like that should not end, maybe. I never thought it would. Ten years ago when I read Volumes I, II, & III, my brain was still developing quickly and I lusted for great, crazy worlds I could sink my teeth into. Why are artifacts from our world in theirs? The last three Volumes are coming out within a year of each other, and thatís such a treat for me. No more waiting. Apparently Chaucer had lofty ideas for The Canterbury Tales. That was supposed to be his multi-volume epic. ďWhen Alexander saw the breath of him domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer."
Stephen King always intended The Dark Tower to be his Lord of the Rings, and it does share some aspects of that series, purposely. You know, I have an epic. Itís called Johnís Weekly Ramblings. And that shit just goes on and on.
Iíve always kind of thought Stephen Kingís books are thought of in less than respectful terms. Almost like they are something to be ashamed of reading. Heís the horror master, whatever. If youíve read his novellas Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption or The Body you know how well he can write. If you read Bag of Bones you know how deeply he can write. If you read The Eyes of the Dragon you know how fantastically he can write.
ďGo, then. There are other worlds than these.Ē - John ďJakeĒ Chambers
Copyright © 2004 John Lemut