The Dark Tower

December 12, 2017 at 7:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

towerThe Dark Tower by Stephen King

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As I was finishing this book, a friend of mine noted that it was clear to him that epic fantasy wasn’t King’s normal genre, and that the story felt like it was unfocused and was more a loose concept than a firm plot. I couldn’t help but agree with him, since, to me, it feel like King only ever wrote about what was interesting to him at the time when he wrote the books. It explains why the early books have such a different feel from the last three books, and why there’s so much deus ex machina in this particular volume.

At one point in the story, King acknowledges the use of deus ex machina in the story, but recognizing the use of it (with a sly, author-as-character wink to the reader, no less) doesn’t make it any less of a cop-out. It wasn’t just that the author uses these devices; instead, he had to drop himself into the story to provide them so the plot could keep moving. Considering that King (the author, not the character) also inserts himself into the story as a narrator to tell the reader about things that will happen, it gets a bit too metafictional for my tastes. If you’re going to go that route, you should at least make the book a satire.

Speaking of the deus ex machinas, Patrick Danville had to be the worst of the bunch. I’ve read before that the true protagonist of any story is the one who defeats the antagonist at the end, and that stories should focus their attention on the protagonist. Based on how The Dark Tower ends, Patrick Danville is the true protagonist of the story (and, in turn, the entire series), but we don’t even see him until past the halfway point of this book. I know he was featured in Insomnia, but it’s never explained how he came to be in End-World, and it’s never explained how he gets out, either. He’s literally brought in to serve a purpose — defeat the Crimson King — and then taken right back out again. He’s as much a tool as any of the other characters in the story, all there to support Roland in his damned quest.

Speaking of the other characters being tools, Eddie, Jake, and Oy all die on the quest to the tower, which is to be expected, since that was in the prophecy Walter gave Roland in the first book. Susannah, though, chooses to leave him before reaching the tower. I didn’t understand that move at all. Yes, this is Roland’s quest, not theirs, and yes, the ka-tet is broken as soon as Eddie dies, but several times in the story, Susannah tells Roland that she’s in it for the tower. Why does she back out at the end? King attempts an explanation, but it doesn’t sit well with me, because Susannah’s supposed to be the one who’s best among the gunslingers, and is principled enough to stay on the journey. King doesn’t convince me that she would make that decision.

The Dark Tower is a long book, mostly because it comprises several distinct stories: Jake and Callahan versus the vampires; stopping the Breakers; saving Stephen King; fighting the Dandelo; and then the final approach to the tower itself. Each of these stories could have been novels unto themselves (and with as little as happened in Song of Susannah, I was surprised they weren’t), and the end result is that unfocused feeling my friend noted about the series. It’s most prevalent here, since the other stories have their own plots and stories to carry them. A lot happens, but most of it is rushed, giving the book the feeling of being too short and too long at the same time. I think the cyclical ending is a good fit for the series, but it’s marred by King’s “foreword” where he tries to discourage you from reading it.

I’m glad to have re-read the series, but my conclusion is it’s overhyped. It starts off strong, but in the end, it gets overwhelmed by the multiverse King created to support the tower. By itself, it doesn’t have the epic feel of other epic fantasy series, but when you look at the entire multiverse, it does. Unfortunately, that means the actual series is flat and uninteresting, and the central character of the entire thing isn’t the most sympathetic character of the series. At the very least, this has been an enlightening read.

Started: September 2, 2017
Finished: September 12, 2017

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