Sunday, May 8, 2011
The Dark Tower Book 7: The Dark Tower
The Dark Tower Book 7: The Dark Tower
By Stephen King
There is no seam in the action between The Song of Susannah and the concluding volume of King’s magnum opus, the Dark Tower. The book picks up with Jake and Father Callahan preparing to enter the Dixie Pig to rescue Susannah.
Susannah, meanwhile, is now physically and mentally detached from Mia. She watches as Mia gives birth to an abomination – a spiderlike creature that promptly devours its mother. This creature, Mordred Deschain, carries his father’s surname and his father’s piercing blue eyes.
Susannah seizes and opportunity and is able to wrest a gun from one of her captors and mows down the medical staff and her guards in the proudest tradition of shooting by Gunslingers. She manages to land a shot on baby Mordred, leaving the arachnid with just seven legs as he flees the hospital compound – this compound that housed hundreds of twins from Calla Bryn Sturgis whilst the essence of life was sucked from their brains.
Jake, Oy, and Father Callahan enter the Dixie Pig and are set upon by Low Men and Low Women as well as Type I (low level) vampires. They go in guns ablaze and Oriza plates flying. They manage to defeat the Crimson King’s agents, but Father Callahan falls on his sword rather than being taken by the vampires. It is here that the member of the Dark Tower ka tet met first, way back in 1977, exits our story forever.
With Oy tracking her scent, Jake follows Susannah’s trail through the underground passages beneath New York and the Dixie Pig. The eventually meet and prepare to enter Fedic, the doomed town that Mia inhabited before she became human and the town was swept away by the Red Death.
Roland and Eddie are still in Maine and pay a visit to their old friend John Cullum who rescued them from the shootout at the convenience store. They had asked him to make himself scarce and head for Vermont, lest the Crimson King seek revenge upon him for aiding Roland and Eddie. But they know he has not done as instructed.
They go back to Collum and lay out their entire story, and an important business deal they need him to help construct as part of the Tet Corporation. After securing Collum’s allegiance, they find the door on Turtleback Lane where the “Walk Throughs” come in and transport themselves to the door from the one constant world of 1999 (where everything is real and everything is for keeps) to the door to Fedic. There, they encounter what is left of Richard Sayre’s men and gun them down without mercy.
Susannah, equipped with the password, is able to let Eddie, Jake, and Roland pass from New York 1999 to Fedic where the ka-tet is joyously reunited. They palaver and Roland learns that, while in New York 1999, Susannah was listening to the news and heard that a writer by the name of Stephen King was killed when he was hit by a car near his home in Bridgeport, Maine. This is an ill omen for Roland and his ka tet because Roland is certain that King has not yet finished his tale.
Meanwhile, Mordred is growing and maturing quickly. He is now in human form and has the size and maturity of a young boy. He is nursing his wound near the door to Fedic under Castle Discordia, near the ka-tet when he is visited by none other than Walter O’Dim, AKA Randall Flagg. Flagg is interested in striking a deal with Mordred to overthrow the Crimson King (Mordred’s red father), kill Roland (Mordred’s white father) and occupy the Dark Tower to rule the universe. Mordred responds by killing and eating Randall Flagg. Thus exits permanently from our story the second oldest character in the tale, first introduced in The Stand in 1978.
Roland and the ka tet decide to travel to Thunderclap which was the lair of the wolves that bedeviled Calla Bryn Sturgis. When they arrive, they find a semi-abandoned maintenance complex full of partially disassembled wolves and gray horses. Roland is troubled by excruciating pain in his right hip that slows him when he walks and affects his ability to shoot. He limps through the station at Thunderclap when they encounter two men who hide them before they can be discovered by the Low Men who patrol the area.
One of those two men is our old friend from Hearts In Atlantis, Ted Brautigan. The other is a guy by the name of Dinky Earnshaw. Both are breakers who are currently AWOL from an area known as Devar Toi, the campus upon which the Breakers live, eat, sleep, and do their work to break the remaining beams that support the Dark Tower.
Ted and Dinky see them safely to a cave properly stocked with weapons they have procured from various places over time. There, Roland meets a figure from his distant past. Sheemie, the sweet and dimwitted bar back who carried messages between Roland and his beloved Susan in Mejis. Sheemie, although slow on the uptake, has the mental capacity to be a breaker. He also has the ability to open doors between worlds – a power that will come in handy because Roland knows that once he’s saved the beams, he’ll have to go to 1999 and save the writer, King.
Mordred has also passed into the world of Fedic and Thunderclap and listens outside the cave as Roland and his group make their plans. He cares not for breakers or even the Dark Tower. He is fixated on Roland whom he has come to hate for wanting to kill him and his red father. Mordred begins hatching a plan of his own.
Ted sneaks Roland and his group into Devar Toi which closely resembles a liberal arts college. It has the charm of a small New England village – not unlike ‘Salem’s Lot. It has dormitories, libraries, restaurants, and movie theaters. It is also where the Breakers – most of whom enjoy what they do – do their work. Most of them enjoy what they do because, like all of us, they enjoy doing what they do best. Most know not or care not what the ramifications are of what they do.
Roland gets the lay of the land and develops his plan.
The plan is set and Ted and his friends put things into motion by creating the diversion (just like in the old westerns) that diverts the attention of the guards and allows Roland and the Gunslingers to get the drop on them. They systematically gun down all of those who are running the Breakers’ station and destroy the facility. As they stand among the bodies of the slain, one last shot is fired by the head of security, who lays in the street dying, but determined to take one final shot. The bullet takes Eddie in the head.
The wound is mortal. They carry him back to a dormitory and try to make him comfortable as he slowly succumbs to his wound. Susannah is emotionally stricken. Roland is burdened by guilt for he is certain, had his body not been wracked with pain, his shot would have been true and the man who shot Eddie Dean would have died when Roland’s bullet hit him.
Roland explains to Susannah that, with the beams now safe, he and Jake must move on to 1999 to save Stephen King. As Roland bids Eddie farewell, Eddie, who has donated a large portion of his brain to the cause, warns Roland to beware Dandelo. Nobody has any idea who or what Dandelo is. Eddie Dean, introduced in book two of the story, leaves our tale.
Roland tells Susannah to bury her dead, then head back to Fedic. When Jake and Roland have finished their business with the writer, they will meet her there and then head west to complete their quest.
Sheemie opens the door for them and Jake and Roland return to Maine circa 1999. They have less than an hour to find King and save his life. They arrive at the same convenience store where he and Eddie shot it out back in 1977. There, they secure the aid of Irene Tassenbaum, An exceptionally wealthy woman whose husband helped pioneer the Internet. She volunteers to drive Jake and Roland to the King residence on Turtleback Lane. Meanwhile the minivan – the instrument of King’s death – is getting underway from the campground where its driver is staying. They get to the King residence and find out Stephen King has already set out on his walk.
Here the novel reverts to some of the reality of what happened to King that June day in 1999 as he walked along County Road 5 near his home. A man by the name of Bryan Smith was driving with a cooler full of meet in his minivan, accompanied by two hungry dogs that kept trying to get into the cooler. Bryan Smith, who did not have an exceptionally good driving record, continually took his eyes from the road to keep the dogs from the meat. Two women, walking approximately half a mile from King, noticed his reckless driving. This is reality.
Roland and Jake, riding in Irene’s Mercedes, spy King and they stop. They are just about to warn him when the minivan crests the hill. In desperation to save the writer, Jake kneels in the road and prepares to open fire on the van. The van hits Jake, then careens into King, crushing his pelvis and peeling back his scalp.
Roland is instantly devastated and torn. To save his life and his quest, he must save the writer that has a minivan parked on his pelvis. Yet, Jake lies dying in the middle of the road. This is the boy who calls him father and to whom he has sworn an oath never to let die again.
It is immediately apparent by the concavity in Jake’s chest that his wounds are going to be his end. He asks Irene to stay with Jake and he goes to see to King. He entrances Bryan Smith and tells him to travel to the nearest place and summon help. He tries to tend to King’s wounds and notices that the pain that has so hampered him is now gone. He has passed it along to Stephen King.
He hypnotizes Stephen King who recognizes him. He tells King that he must live and that he must finish the tale. When he recovers, he is to finish the tale. King promises that he will.
Roland goes back to Jake to find the boy has died. He asks Irene if she will leave, then come back in a few hours after the emergency crews have seen to the writer, and pick him up. Irene leaves and King takes Jake into the woods to bury him. Irene returns and Roland asks for ride to New York where Roland must see to the doings of the Tet Corporation. Jake Chambers, introduced in the first book of the series and brought back in the third, has left our tale.
King arrives at the Tet Corporation offices to find Odetta’s Daddy Moses, now ancient and infirm, but with his mental faculties intact, firmly in charge, aided by Moses’s daugther. They know Roland as soon as he walks in and congratulate him on making it back to New York.
Roland learns that besides all of the investing in Microsoft and other directions provided by the preternaturally prescient Eddie, the Tet Corporation has dedicated a staff of researchers, writers, and readers dedicated to studying the works of Stephen King, searching for links between his works and clues. These researchers believe that the key to Roland’s tale lies in one of King’s works known as Insomnia. The chief antagonist in the novel, Ed Deepneau, is a distant cousin of Aaron Deepneau, Calvin Tower’s lawyer friend and the architect of the foundation of the Tet Corporation. In that book, Ed Deepneau is trying to kill, among others, a precociously talented artistic young boy named Patrick Danville.
They hand Roland a copy of Insomnia with its half red, half white dust jacket and urge him to read it to learn more of this Patrick Danville and how he might fit into Roland’s story. Finally, before Roland can take his leave of them, they present him with a gold pocket watch, engraved with a rose and a gun.
Roland returns to the lobby of the black tower that sits upon the once vacant lot that held the rose that entranced young Jake of 1977. He finds Irene Tassenbaum entranced by the rose that grows in the planter in the lobby. He asks two final favors of her. He asks her to take him to the Dixie Pig where he will travel the underground tunnels back to Castle Discordia and on to Fedic where he’ll meet Susannah, their ka tet reduced to just her, Roland, and Oy who once so talkative, has lapsed into silence upon Jake’s death. He also asks her to return to Jake’s grave and to plant a red rose there.
Roland arrives back at the Dixie Pig and Oy is able to lead him through the passages beneath New York to the door that passes into Castle Discordia. He enters Fedic to find that Ted and all of the Breakers have moved on to what other lives they can find.
Susannah and Roland head south to the Dark Tower. To get there, they must pass through frozen lands. They are followed by Mordred, who now has the strength and mental capacity of a teenager and the hate of an ancient devil.
They travel across that flat plains and eventually enter a strange and deserted town. A banner welcomes Roland and Susannah to the realm of the Crimson King. They encounter three guards there. They claim to be the ego, super ego, and id of the Crimson King. After questioning, taunting, and banter, between Roland and Susannah and the three, they go for weapons. Roland and Susannah are two quick for them and they gun down two. The illusion is shattered and all that remains is one old, feeble man. He once served as the Crimson King’s minister of state. He tells them that the Crimson King poisoned his people and fled for the Dark Tower where he now resides.
Susannah and Roland move on. Not long after their departure, Mordred shows up to eat the old man before continuing his pursuit of Roland, Susannah, and Oy.
The continue on and soon find a small, ruined town that sits at the intersection of Odd’s Lane and Tower Road. An old man name Joe Collins lives in a small house in the abandoned town whose roads are neatly plowed by an ancient robot tasked with the job eons before. Roland and Susannah stop to visit with Collins who, as it turns out, is also from New York. Once upon a time, he was a teacher, but turned to stand up comedy as a way of life.
Tired and depressed from the death all around them, they ask Collins to cheer them up with a bit of his humor. Collins starts his act which both find uproariously funny. Susannah, who has seldom heard Roland laugh, is struck by how deeply funny he finds the comedian. She herself has trouble catching her breath for laughing so hard. She finally decides she must go to the bathroom lest she pee her pants. When she gets in there, away from Collins and his comedy, she gets the feeling that Collins and his act are more than just A-material from a B-comedian gone todash.
When she gets to the bathroom, she finds a hand written note repeating the name of the street, Odd’s Lane and instructs her to think about it. Finally, she finds the note from Stephen King that tells her that Joe Collins is Dandelo. King also informs her that he has saved their lives and he considers his debt to Roland repaid.
Dandelo, who has maintained the illusion of a human living in a tidy little cottage is instead a vampire that feeds on emotions. Fear is tasty, but so is humor. Roland is laughing so hard, he can’t breath. Susannah sees Joe Collins – Dandelo – for what he really is: an evil clown, quite similar to the one that inhabits the sewers beneath Derry, Maine. Susannah, quick on the draw, puts a bullet in Dandelo’s head and saves Roland. He recovers and they explore the cottage, now not so quaint, undergoing the change from homey little abode to rickety old shack with the death of its master.
In the basement, they find a teenage boy locked in a cell. Roland instantly knows that this is Patrick Danville, also late of Derry, Maine. A boy who barely escaped a catastrophic plane crash into that city’s civic center – a plane aimed at him.
Patrick has no tongue for Dandelo took it out long ago. Through his pantomime, Roland and Susannah are able to discern that Joe Collins tortured the boy by making him laugh and inflicting pain, and sucking on the emotions that came forth.
After a respite in the Collins cottage to wait out a blizzard, they set out again on Tower Road, just miles now from the end of Roland’s life quest. They encounter the robot who cleans the roads. His name is Bill. A malfunction in his circuitry has led him to stutter, and before they moved on, the locals took to calling him Stuttering Bill – just like the leader of another ka tet who descended into the sewers of Derry and defeated It. Stuttering Bill clears Tower Road for them and they head off to meet their destiny with the forever silent Patrick Danville accompanying them.
As they travel, with Mordred in pursuit, Danville reveals his gift for quickly sketching items that predict the future and come true. One thing that Susannah figures out from Patrick is that she is not meant to see the Dark Tower and that Roland must enter alone.
Patrick draws for her a door, much like the one through which Roland brought her into his world and his tale. The door appears on the frozen plain, and after she bids adieu to the Gunslinger, she passes through and out of the tale. Susannah Dean, introduced in the second book of the series, has moved on from our narrative.
Of the original ka-tet, only Roland and Oy come within sight of the Dark Tower, spiraling into the sky on the horizon, surrounded by fields of roses. Patrick has drawn Roland a picture that shows the Dark Tower, with a white face with red eyes looking out one of the windows in the middle of the tower. The Crimson King has not yet reached the top. Roland, Patrick, and Oy push on.
Roland, finally exhausted, decides he must sleep and leaves Patrick to stand watch. Meanwhile, Mordred, now a young man, but afflicted with fever and his own exhaustion, decides to make his move. He advances on Roland, knowing that the meek and weak Patrick Danville is no threat. In his spider form, he’s just about to pounce when Oy, silent and morose since Jake’s death, makes his final stand. Oy screeches to awake the Gunslinger and attacks Mordred, deflecting him from Roland. With a few quick bullets, Roland disposes of his only biological son – a demon born of the seed of man and woman.
The fight with Mordred has left Oy impaled on a sharp tree branch. Roland goes to Oy and strokes his fur and stays with him until he dies. Oy of Mid World, who came to us in the third book, has passed from our tale.
Roland is now in the home stretch. He advances on the tower. He hears a familiar humming in the air and knows that a Sneetch – Harry Potter model – has been launched at him. He and Patrick take shelter behind a rock. From the mid-point of the Dark Tower, the Crimson King attacks. More sneetches are launched and Roland aptly shoots them from the air. But the draw of the Tower goes to work on Roland’s psyche. Soon, he will not be able to resist its call, or the siren song the Crimson King sings, and will move into the open where he will be easy prey.
Roland, who as we’ve noted, is not the most imaginative of creatures, comes up with an idea that he is sure will eliminate his adversary. He asks Patrick to draw the Crimson King in the Dark Tower, then erase the King, eliminating him from the picture and reality.
Patrick completes the drawing quickly but both he and Roland realize that it is incomplete. Some crucial element is missing. It is the crimson. Patrick and Roland concoct a crimson ink out of Patrick’s blood and rose petals. Just as Roland feels his resolve about to crumble, Patrick puts the red into the Crimson King’s eyes and begins to erase. Little by little, the Crimson King begins to disappear, screaming and howling into the end. Eventually, all that remains is the eyes which can not be erased from the paper.
Roland approaches the door to the Dark Tower and proclaims himself Roland Deschain, last of the line of Arthur Eld. He demands entry in the name of Eddie Dean, of Susannah Dean, of Jake Chambers, and of Oy. The door opens and Roland steps in.
The story then takes us to Central Park where Susannah finds herself with no idea of how she got there. It is 1986 and it is Christmas time. A children’s choir sings Christmas carols to a crowd. A man approaches her with a cup of hot chocolate and offers it to her. He says his name is Eddie and he knows somehow that he was to meet her here – he and his brother. Susannah, who has just the sketchiest notion of who Eddie is, immediately fears that Eddie’s brother’s name is Henry and is a junkie. No, Eddie tells her. His brother’s name is Jake. Jake is there with his dog, Oy. With what little memory Susannah has left fading, she asks Eddie if Ronald Reagan is President. He looks at her funny, then says no. Gary Hart is president and all is right with the world. They proclaim their love for each other even though they are not quite sure how they know each other and turn to watch the carolers.
King stops here to tell us this is where his tale ends. Where it should end. But he knows that some readers will demand to know what Roland finds in the Tower. Readers will want to know what was there that drove Roland through many worlds and drove him to shed so much blood to achieve. King warns us we won’t like it and cautions us to stop now. However, he feels duty bound to tell the final stanza of his version of Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came. . .
Roland begins to ascend the Dark Tower. At each floor there is an artifact of his life. His umbilical cord is the first. Chapters of his life unfold in each of the chambers as he ascends levels. He relives his battle with his teacher, Cort, and his dalliance with the whore afterward. He relives his time in Mejis and the death of the only woman he loved. He relives the Battle of Jericho Hill (an account of which we, the readers, were never made privy) where his first ka tet met its end. He relives the various encounters of life told in Stephen King’s tale.
Finally, he reaches the top floor and he enters. The door closes behind him. With horror, Roland realizes his folly. He realizes what he has forgotten. When he gets there he finds. . .
The Man in Black fled across the desert and the Gunslinger followed. . .
First my thoughts on the book as it stands alone.
For the climax of such an incredible tale, the book was not one of King’s finest, standing alone. King fell into the trap that captures so many writers of fantasy: the long foot journey across some barren land. The trek across Empathitica was entirely too long and seemed to be there only to pad the narrative. The interlude at the Castle of the Crimson King seemed rather foolish and unnecessary. I would have liked it better had they found their clues through some exploration of the castle than what amounted to something resembling a Lewis Carroll encounter.
I was unhappy with which the ease Randall Flagg was dispatched. This supernatural being laid wastes to worlds, but was undone by an angry infant. I thought Flagg deserved a more important demise. Randall Flagg is a King fan favorite. His demise was entirely to anticlimactic.
King attached some importance to the character Dandelo. But it was just another encounter on the journey. The book really took on the feel of the literary version of the Wizard of Oz as the characters kept meeting people along the Yellow Brick Road.
Eddie, Jake, and Oy were given fitting ends and rebirths. They were heroes and died heroes deaths. As per the mythos of Roland’s world, each promised to await the other at the clearing at the end of the path when their lives ended. They did and were there to meet Susannah. With the Dark Tower still in existence and the beams that supported it intact, the infinite number of worlds that existed within it went on. The clearing for the ka tet was 1986 New York and each found the other at the clearing. It was touching, for I came to love these characters more than I’ve ever loved any character in anything I’ve ever read – including Tolkien’s Hobbits.
Many did not like the end. I loved it. The pressure on Stephen King to come up with the endings to end all endings must have been immense. Instead, he made it simple and took it back to the beginning. Back to the beginning of Roland’s tale, and if you believe in metaphors, back to the beginning of his writing career. King went full circle. The tale began at the beginning of his writing career, brought in elements from every stage of his writing career, and ended the story ended his career as a full time writer.
Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings still stands for me as the best told tale in the history of tales. But King’s Dark Tower ranks a close second. More knowledgeable people will correct me if I’m wrong, but never before has any writer undertaken such an expansive tale, weaving in bits and pieces of many stand alone tales into such an epic fantasy.
Reading King’s magnum opus in the manner in which I have just read it has been a special journey for me and undoubtedly the most profound reading experience of my life. Revisiting works such as ‘Salem’s Lot, The Stand, Eyes of the Dragon, etc. and reading them in a much, much larger context transformed those novels that I had read several times before and created a new reading experience in these tales I’ve enjoyed several times since I first read them more than 20 years ago. No other writer has ever done this for their entire body of work. When you consider how large King’s body of work is, the accomplishment becomes even more immense.
Reading just the seven novels of the Dark Tower is a daunting task by itself. Consider that the first book is by far the weakest and it is remarkable that the series ever got completed. King, who weaves simple tales and complex tales, was intimidated by what he started – nearly so intimidated that he did not finish. He put it off for many years. One must conclude that his near death experience gave him the nudge he needed to see Roland to his Tower and his friends to the clearing at the end of the path.
The most casual fans of reading know of the breadth of King’s work and how extensive body of work is. Unfortunately, few too many have delved into the Dark Tower and taken ALL of it in to appreciate what a genius this man really is. Yes, he has written some clunkers and has written at least one book that is so bad as to be nearly unreadable. If he published nothing else BUT the Dark Tower, he’d still be my favorite author.
Like Roland, I have journeyed through this odyssey to find the Tower. I’d put forth my journey was longer because I lived the lives of Father Callahan, of Randall Flagg, of Ted Brautigan, and Patrick Danville. I consumed more than 10,000 pages of text in getting there. Every single word on each of those pages is a treasure.
I am sure sometime in the coming years, I’ll revisit the Dark Tower series. But never again in the manner that includes the WHOLE story. That was a once in a lifetime experience and rather than try to repeat it, I’ll let it stand alone and let the writings in this blog be my journal of that wonderful experience.