Written by: Stephen King
Published by: Scribner
Reviewed by Ismael Manzano
I picked up the first installment of the Dark Tower series a couple of years ago on a whim; I had no idea that Stephen King had written a pure fantasy series and I was curious to see what he had done with the genre. Two months later I was pining for the sixth installment to be released so I could continue the journey that I’d begun. A week after that, I was pining for the seventh book. I couldn’t imagine what it must have been like to start the series when it had first come out and have to wait so long to read more.
It began as a collection of short stories; it became an epic that spanned twenty-two years, seven full-length books, three worlds, several alternate universes, a few genres and the imaginations of millions upon millions of readers. The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King, brings to life the ultimate fantasy novel, following Roland Deschain, the last gunslinger, on his quest to find the man in black and, eventually, the Dark Tower, a mythical construct that is believed to help hold up all the realities. The Dark Tower is breaking down, the world has moved on, and Roland must journey through an ever-expanding Mid-World filled with Slow Men, harriers, mutated creatures, all kinds of evil, and a vast desert to find it.
When the story begins, we know very little about Roland: he’s searching for the man in black, he has lost everything he once loved, and he has been wandering for twenty years. There is a very strong old western movie feel to the first book, The Gunslinger, which in itself is unusual for a fantasy novel and was enough to pique my interests. Roland is a man obsessed with revenge with little room for anything else. That point is never more evident than when he lets a young boy by the name of Jake Chambers—whom Roland saved and befriended—fall to his death in order to keep his pursuit. When Roland finally catches up to the man in black, the story truly begins, for the road to the Dark Tower is finally revealed and his destiny is sealed.
Before Roland can find the Tower, he must first find three doors; behind each door, another gunslinger. The first, a junkie from a version of our world, named Eddie Dean, was reluctant to say the least, to join Roland on his quest or any other quest that didn’t involve a fix. The second, a legless woman with a severe personality problem—one personality, Detta Walker, wants to kill Roland, the other, Odette Holmes, is a pacifist—has to struggle with who she is and the tragedy that has tormented her before she becomes whole, Susannah. The third—making a long story short—Jake Chambers, young and supposedly twice dead already, has the vivid memories of his other life and the deaths he’d endured.
Together, under Roland’s tutelage, this group of unlikely misfits become true gunslingers: fast, sharp, cold and lethal. More than that, they become a family, and as a family of death they trek through this world and many version of our own world, fighting vampires, warlords, mechanical wolves, spirits, guardians and one personality disturbed monorail named Blaine—all for the cause that becomes as important to the others as it had been for Roland all along.
Through the journey, more of Roland’s past is revealed. In a truly western style flashback, the story of a young Roland—his first pair of guns hanging from his belt—and his true love is told, and in that story we learn how his obsession with the Dark Tower began.
We also learn about the Beams—twelve structures that form six paths that intersect at the Dark Tower—and The Crimson King who has masterminded a plot to ‘break’ the Beams and collapse the Tower. Though the Crimson King does not show up until the very end, his presence throughout the story is felt and his minions are as relentless as they are ruthless.
Through a complex story, Susannah becomes pregnant with Roland’s child and Mia—another personality—emerges. Mia is fiercely loyal to her ‘Chap’ (her baby) and will kill anyone who tries to hurt it. But her ‘Chap’ is also the son of the Crimson King and will help destroy all realities and is destined to kill his ‘white father’ (Roland).
The road to the Tower is harsh and treacherous and this group of gunslingers does not make it there unscathed. Tragedy is around every corner and each step they take takes them deeper into the clutches of the Crimson King. But nothing will stop Roland Deschain, last of the gunslingers, from climbing to the top of that Tower, opening the last door and seeing who or what is inside.
With all that said, let me make something perfectly clear: I’ve never been a huge fan of King’s works in the past; I will even go so far as to say that drudging through most of his other works—for me, at least—has been an exercise in time disposal. I say this to make my next statement more poignant: You and anyone you know who likes fantasy novels MUST READ THIS SERIES! I am not joking; it should be a law.
The Dark Tower Series is a brilliantly warped and wonderfully twisted story that has a host of devilishly deviant characters and edgy personalities. King’s usual gritty style adapts well in this genre and adds a touch of reality that is sorely lacking in other fantasy novels.
That’s not to say that there weren’t any potholes in my reading odyssey; far from it. I could perhaps write a whole rant about the number of confusing, irrelevant, and just down right weird things that happened in Roland’s world. To name a few there was the Emerald City, complete with a Wizard of Oz theme—I mean, ruby red slippers and all—the seemingly unnecessary plug for King’s novel Insomnia, the reintroduction of Father Callahan from Salem’s Lot, the out-of-the-blue way King seemed to introduce new villains—such as the Crimson King, the seemingly I-just-thought-of-this-at-the-last-moment, way King changes the lore of the world, his inability to keep to any one person’s point of view at a time, the way he would make references to events that have yet to happen—breaking the flow of the prose—and my personal favorite, the introduction of Stephen King to the story.
No, that wasn’t a typo, you’re eyes aren’t going blurry. Mr. King makes an appearance as—at first—a god like figure to his characters, and later—and without justification for the sudden change in Roland’s opinion—as a worthless, drunk scribe to the true God. He even throws in his near fatal car accident into the story, which I did not think was really necessary or in good taste.
With all that said, my previous declaration still stands. And from a literary point of view—if this was what Mr. King was going for—all of the above mentioned flaws almost make sense.
The more the Beams were broken, the closer the Tower came to collapsing, the more far-fetched—even preposterous—the story became. If that was his intention, then Mr. King deserves applause for his success. If it wasn’t intentional, well…
One final note about the Dark Tower Series: The ending alone and the justification for it, is worth reading the entire series. It is, by far, the best and—any avid fantasy-lover would agree—the only way the story could have ended. That King gives the reader the option of how much of the ending they can read by adding a disclaimer, proves that he not only knows his audience, but is a true fan of the craft himself.
The paperback of the last installment comes out this month, so there’s no longer any excuse for anyone not to buy the entire series. You won’t be disappointed—as long as you ignore the ruby slippers part; I mean really…what’s was up with that?