The final volume of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series begins with a bang as Jake, Oy, and Pere Callahan burst into the Dixie Pig to rescue Susannah as she and Mia give birth to the mysterious child Susannah has been carrying for the last three volumes of the series. Before long, the ka-tet is reunited as Roland and Eddie find a way to 1999 New York. But with the series drawing to an end, it becomes evident that this reunion might be short-lived. On their way to the Dark Tower, Roland and his friends must first end the destruction of the Beam that supports it and then ensure the safety of Stephen King, whose life in 1999 in the keystone world is in danger. Will the entire ka-tet survive these quests? What other dangers will they find on their way? And if they make it to the Tower, what will they find there?
Teresa: In comparison to the mess that is Song of Susannah, this is a solid addition to the Dark Tower series. Reading this book, I felt like I was back in the world that I’ve grown to love, spending time with characters who matter to me. There was no Mia, no little towns to save. The quest for the Tower was once again the focus. The book has serious problems, and overall I don’t think it’s nearly as good as The Wastelands or Wizard and Glass, but in its best moments, it gets close.
Jenny: I agree with everything you say here. It’s a relief to be out of the last book, and King more or less pulled it together to make a solid entry, but there are a lot of problems here for the final (or is it final?) entry in a wonderful series.
I think my main complaint is that the focus seems to have shifted. I agree that the quest for the Tower has returned — that’s not what I mean. Instead, King seems to have forgotten who Roland is. Roland’s central tragedy as a character — something we spent the first four books learning — is that he will sacrifice anything, anything at all, to get to the Tower. It’s something he has to bear, and something that tests his soul in this ka-tet. But in this book, outside events take that responsibility off his hands. He doesn’t really have to sacrifice anything or make the big decisions, and I think it seriously diminishes him as a character.
Teresa: That is an interesting point that hadn’t really occurred to me. It was bothersome that so many of the tragedies in this novel felt almost incidental to the actual quest. In a sense, I liked that because it’s how life works. What happened to Eddie came out of the blue, but shit happens, you know? But I don’t know; it felt anti-climactic, and I think you’ve hit upon why. And it’s true that there’s nothing to touch the sacrifices Roland made in The Gunslinger or in Wizard and Glass. Jake and Oy both choose their fates, and Roland has to carry the fact that he brought them to the point where they would choose as they did. So there’s that, but it’s secondhand. Maybe if when Susannah went through the door, Roland could have gone too?
My problem is, at heart, the same problem I had with Song of Susannah. The chap. That whole storyline seemed useless. Some aspects of Mordred as a character were kind of cool, but with all that build-up, all you get is a were-spider who’s starving for most of the book? Sorry, but Dandelo, who gets scarcely any build-up, is far scarier. Mordred could just about be excised from the series without doing it any harm at all. Given how much attention he gets, that’s a problem.
Jenny: I completely agree. I felt the same way about the Crimson King. We’ve heard about him through all these books as the ultimate villain (and he finds his way into some of King’s other books, as well, as a frightening presence) and he winds up as a crazy old guy throwing hand grenades, who can simply be painted out of existence by a minor character? EARTH TO STEVE I WANT SAURON BACK. And honestly, I felt like Real Susannah got Fake Eddie and Fake Jake. I wasn’t sure I bought that happy ending.
Now, I don’t want to give the impression that this book was all bad. There were good scenes — I really liked Feemalo, Fimalo, and Fumalo, which I would not have predicted, and like you, I thought Dandelo was very frightening. Here’s the ten-thousand dollar question, though. What did you think of the ending?
Teresa: I know the ending is controversial, but I loved it, and I loved it even more the second time. For one thing, I like a dark ending, and this was a good one. That moment when Roland opens the door and realizes what is happening is devastating. Plus, I’m not sure there was another ending that wouldn’t be anti-climactic, given all the build-up. Could the Tower contain anything that rivals the story about it? This whole series, again and again, references the stories we know and share. Even the author of this story becomes a character in it. And stories never end, so it feels right that this story will keep cycling back on itself. Perhaps the story itself is ka.
The ending also helps explain the characters’ bursts of intuition and unexplained knowledge of what’s to come. How could Jake know, all the way back in The Gunslinger that “there are other worlds than these”? The mention of Cuthbert’s horn, which I didn’t notice at all on my first reading, makes me think that not every cycle is the same. The characters take new pieces of knowledge with them, even if they don’t know it. (And I’m going to be looking for that horn in the new book!)
Jenny: See, I loved the ending, too! I completely bought it. I know others might have felt betrayed in some way, but I thought it was perfect. And all the way back in The Gunslinger, I was shocked on this second read-through to notice that it says Roland “had progressed through the khef over many years, and had reached the fifth level. At the seventh or eighth, he would not have been thirsty…” This could be a reference to something else, but I honestly take it as a glimmer, even then, of where this was going. The wind blowing through the author’s mind, somehow.
And you’re perfectly right about the way this is all, all about stories. From Oz to fairy tales to Westerns to Charlie the Choo-Choo, it’s all about the way we inhabit each other’s worlds, decayed and mad though they may be, every time we share a story. The series may have cracks in it, and it may have a few broken-down waystations, but overall, it’s one of the grandest fantasy series I’ve read. Well worth reading, and highly recommended. Thanks for doing this with me!