It’s time for another book review, and this time I’m tackling a weighty tome from Stephen King titled, The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower. Yea, verily, it is the conclusion of the Dark Tower series, a set of novels that started out great and began to peter out right around the time the author got hit by a van. This novel was supposed to be it: all loose ends tied, all conflicts resolved, and all mysteries explained. The fate of Randall Flagg, our favorite villain from The Stand (among several other works) is told in this text, and the apocalyptic quest of Roland Deschain, Gilead’s last Gunslinger, comes to its end.
Too bad it sucks so freakin’ bad. It’s enough to make a strong man cry. The best part of this novel is the illustrations by Michael Whelan. Spoilers and ranting abound, so don’t read further if you don’t want the story given away.
On the other hand, if you want to save your money (and a considerable amount of time), you might be better off reading this review.
I first realized that the series was going downhill when in book 5, The Wolves of the Calla, the characters conceived a notion to meet this Stephen King person and ask him just what the hell was going on. Yes, that’s right: King wrote himself as a character into the series. As I said to Aggie, “You know a book series has jumped the shark when the author ends up as a character in his own novels.” It got worse when Roland and Eddie suffer the existential crisis of meeting Stephen King in book 6, The Song of Susannah, and try to make the sonofabitch finish writing the series. Apparently, King’s the author of the universe in some way or the other, and if he doesn’t finish writing The Dark Tower, all the multitude of universes that exist will fall into eternal darkness. But wait: it gets worse. One of the main conflicts of book 7, The Dark Tower, is Roland and Jake rushing to Maine in the Keystone Universe (think of a kind of Amber-style cosmology, where one plane of existence is more “real” than the others) to save King from being hit by a van. You know, like what happened in real life. I understand that being struck by an automobile and almost dying can be a life-altering experience, but most of us had hoped that King would’ve gotten that out of his system through the appalling Kingdom Hospital miniseries. Apparently not, and the reader suffers the consequences.
The end of Randall Flagg is somewhat pointless, anti-climactic, and even contradictory given his nature as a supernatural being. He gets eaten by Roland’s bastard son Mordred. That’s it. It’s not much of a fight. Good-by! Thanks for reading. Disappointed? Sucks to be you. Write your own story if you don’t like it.
Let’s talk about Mordred for a moment: why is he part-spider? No reason, other than spiders are gross. Why is his end, given his god-like nature, so like Flagg’s: pointless and stupid? Don’t know. Doesn’t matter. Roland shoots him. Night-night.
By this time, the deaths of the major characters (Jake, Eddie, Oy) come as a relief to the reader: at least they get to escape. Eddie gets shot in the head by one of the taheen. Jake gets hit by the van that should’ve killed King. Oy gets killed fighting Mordred. The build-up to these deaths and the aftermath of them feel more like padding than anything else, and I think the characters deserve better than a few lines of foreboding and several pages of grief. The worst part is that they’re not even allowed to stay dead: they’re brought back in another universe to be Susannah’s brother-in-law, husband, and pet respectively. I sort of felt bad for Oy, a little bit.
There are no great truths revealed here, and the upper levels of the tower don’t correspond to higher levels of being, understanding, or spirituality. The cosmology hinted at in Insomnia is mostly ignored. It’s the same old story of science vs. magic, with science being the evil, destroying influence and magic as the only thing that can save us all. Been there, seen that. And the Great Antagonist, the Crimson King, whose Eye is everywhere? A crazy old man who throws Harry Potter sneetches around and goes, “EEEE EEE EEEEE” when he’s really mad, which is most of the time. Yes, but who is he? Nobody. Don’t know. Doesn’t matter. Is he Satan? Can’t tell you. Stop asking. How does he meet his end? He, um, gets erased by a kid who has the Godlike ability to alter reality through drawing. Okay, then. Bye-bye, now.
The worst part for me is when the author had the audacity to literally upbraid his readers for wanting to see what happens at the end. Think about it: an author railing at the audience for wanting an ending to the book. He has the balls to do that. Can you imagine the cheek? The arrogance? Fuck you, man. It has to be read to be believed. If you didn’t want to write the goddamn thing, you shouldn’t've started. I’m sorry I hoped to get my money’s worth, Mr. King. I should’ve known better. I cry your pardon.
The next to worst part was the conclusion of Roland’s story. He doesn’t get to die, either. He goes through decades of striving and killing and loving and suffering. He reaches the Dark Tower, the Quest of all quests, and enters its mystery. What’s inside? A trip down memory lane. The smell of his mother’s perfume, the faces of his dead comrades. And at the top? A loop in time, where he must go through everything all over again. Perhaps it’ll be different next time. Who knows? Doesn’t matter. Well, I suppose it was fitting enough: he was damned through his choices from the beginning. Apparently, he doesn’t deserve the peace of the grave, or any kind of enlightenment. He’s placed back in the desert where the novels started, on the trail of the Man in Black.
I could go on about the Breakers, but there’s no point. It would’ve been interesting to see more of Roland’s past, as we were promised, but we don’t. It might also have been neat to get more story on the fight between the Tet Corporation and North-Central Positronics/The Sombra Corporation, but we don’t get that, either. For all that this novel desperately needed an editor, it was obviously rushed, and it’s quite clear that King was glad to have washed his hands of it. Does an author have a duty to his readers? That’s an interesting question. This book told me in no uncertain terms what King’s answer is: no, and stop asking. Be happy with what you got, schmuck.
This book gets a Waterglass Rating of 19% (for obvious reasons). Several percentage points are due to Whelan’s excellent illustrations throughout. It would’ve gotten a 20% or higher, but the one illustration of Jake with the Orizas under the castle looked more like a woman about to throw some dinner plates with a snarling wolf at her feet.