Tag Archives: Roland Deschain

The Dark Tower: My Journey Ends.

Where do I begin (or so the song goes, anyway)? It’s been a two month journey, but I finally completed all seven books of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower last weekend. So I’ve had a few days to let them sink into my consciousness, to absorb their intensity and work out what I really thought of them.

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? And be warned, there are spoilers ahead; minor ones, but spoilers nonetheless.

The Gunslinger introduces Roland Deschain, son of Steven, of the Line of Eld.

He’s an enigmatic character, a man of violence, born from tragic events from his past. He is the last of his kind, alone in a world that has “moved on,” may it do ya. It was my third time reading this book, but for once it took me into Roland’s world. This time around, I felt I could move on with the gunslinger and join his quest for the Dark Tower and follow along with him as he chased the man in black across the desert.

The Drawing of the Three is where it went wrong for me last time around. I wanted to stay in Roland’s world.

Eddie Dean of New York

But I forced myself to get into the mind of Eddie Dean, heroin addict. And it was through Eddie that I learned more about Roland and what he had to do in order to achieve his destiny. Eddie’s rescue from gangsters and his “cold turkey” experience endeared him to me. His interactions with Roland provide a fair amount of humour.

Susannah Dean

It was in helping Roland to secure the last of the “three” that Eddie met the woman who would change his life forever: Odetta Holmes Walker, she who was to become Susannah Dean. Odetta/Detta/Susannah lost her legs when a maniac serial killer, Jack Mort, pushed her onto the subway tracks, just ahead of an oncoming train. When Roland and Eddie drew her into Roland’s world, she and Eddie fell in love. But still, Roland’s ka-tet was not complete.

The Waste Lands brings back Jake Chambers, the boy Roland let die in book one. “There are other worlds than this,” Jake said as he fell to his death.

Jake Chambers sees the rose.

And there most certainly were other worlds. At the beginning of book three, both Roland and Jake are slowly going insane. Jake because he’s positive he should be dead; Roland because without Jake, his ka-tet is incomplete. In a wonderfully tense section, involving Jake, a haunted house, a rose that appears to be related to the Dark Tower itself, and a sex-mad demon, Jake arrives into Roland’s world. For his troubles he finds a pet: a billy-bumbler he calls Oy. By far the most disturbing sequence in the book is the introduction of Blaine the Mono. A psychopathic monorail with a penchant for riddles, the novel ends on the series’ first real cliffhanger.

The loyal Oy.

Wizard and Glass resolves that cliffhanger and shows once again why Roland cannot complete his quest alone. Each of his ka-tet brings their own uniqueness and talents to the table.

The book then takes us back to when Roland was a teenager. He and his friends are sent on a mission, part punishment for their impudence, but also because the Good Man John Farson has brought insurrection to Mid-World. It is on this mission that Roland meets the love of his life, Susan Delgado.

Susan Delgado

Roland and Susan carry out a clandestine love affair, but Roland is ever mindful that it will not – and cannot – end well. There is far too much at stake for something as trivial as love to come between him and his mission. The town of Mejoris, where Susan lives, hides a deadly secret: there are forces of evil at work here, and not just human ones. There is a glass ball that contains Roland’s ultimate destiny. It is the fight for the ball, and the routing of Farson’s men and machines, that brings Susan and Roland’s love to an end.

Roland shares this story with his ka-tet as a way of catharsis. Once it’s told, he can now move on with his quest. But it proves that wherever Roland travels, death is never too far behind.

Wolves of The Calla is King’s homage of sorts to The Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven. Calla Brynn Sturgis is under threat from the Wolves, creatures that appear once every 25 years to abduct children, specifically a twin. The townsfolk approach Roland and his band to help them. Not everybody is on the side of good, though. Inevitably there are some who wish that Roland would simply go away. In the end, there is a resolution of sorts – but at a cost to Susannah.

What makes this book stand out from the previous in the series is that King begins to link Roland’s quest with some of his own work. Wolves reintroduces Father Donald Callahan from Salem’s Lot and it here that we begin to see what the author is up to. The Dark Tower is a meta-narrative: a story about a story, a story within a story. King has gone all postmodern on his reader.

Song of Susannah is the penultimate novel in King’s series. It’s also the one that, or so I’m told, is the weakest of the seven. I suppose one of the books has to be. But I liked it for its brevity. It’s basically one set-piece after another. Susannah is in New York and is in thrall to a demon called Mia. Mia is the “mother” of the child Susannah now bears. (Remember the sex-mad demon from The Waste Land?) Roland is the “father.”

The most remarkable section in this book is where Stephen King brings himself into the story. To his credit, he doesn’t come out too well. He’s well aware of what type of person he was back in the day: a soon-to-be chronic alcoholic, a lazy writer who didn’t want to finish his magnum opus. Roland and Eddie, realising that King is the focus point of their quest, turn up on his doorstep and convince him to complete their story. (Which, as we all know, he did…eventually.)

The Dark Tower is the last volume of the series, a massive 800 page conclusion to all that has gone before.

And it’s a belter. I’ve not read a book that size in such a short space of time. Though I tried to stretch it out as long as I could, I needed to know what happened at the end. I lost sleep reading it – and I don’t regret a single moment.

But did it end well? Did Roland reach his fabled Tower? Yes, of course he did. Did he make the final journey on his own, just as he thought he always would? I’m not giving too much away by saying that yes, he did.

But what of his ka-tet? I’m pleased to say that each character is gifted with an end that’s fitting. I’m not necessarily saying that they all lived happily ever after, or even if they lived at all. There is bloodshed and there are tears. There has to be. But what of the end? Those of you who have read the series know what I mean by the end.

Well, I have to say that I was waiting for it. It kind of ends where the story begins. It’s not a “reset button,” I don’t think. But it makes sense in a way that Lost couldn’t and didn’t. Would I revisit Roland’s world again? I would…but not for a while. I want to savour it for now. I want to remember it for what it is: a bloody good story, an epic tale, packed with characters that fill your head; a book that I can now say, with head high, that I’ve read and enjoyed.

Mr. King, thankee-sai.

The Dark Tower: Vol VII

The Dark Tower Vol VII: The Dark Tower

What would you do if two of your main characters turned up on your doorstep and asked you why you haven’t completed their story? You’d no doubt take a long look at your alcohol and drug habit, thinking it might just be a hallucination.

This is exactly what happened to Stephen King in the/his novel Song of Susannah, the sixth in The Dark Tower series. I had been told that this was the weakest of the saga; the least liked and most hated. I didn’t think that at all. Colour me prejudiced, but I’ve taken to King’s epic like a Jesus to a child. But this was the one where it all went a bit weird.

Characters, like Father Donald Callahan, found out that they, in fact, creations of King’s imagination. But it goes much deeper than that. Because there are an infinite number of multiverses, all centred around the Dark Tower, it makes sense that even universes of the imagination would co-exist along side our own. It’s a concept that takes some getting used to. One has to think so far outside the box that the box doesn’t exist anymore.

Susannah Dean becomes Susannah-Mia, an entity created by a Crimson King-designed pregnancy – a ruse brought about to frustrate and ultimately bring down Roland Deschain’s quest for The Dark Tower.

Our heroes are separated and find themselves in the United States at different times: in 1999 Susannah-Mia are about to give birth; Jake, Father Callahan and Oy set out to save her; in 1977 Roland and Eddie meet their “creator” and somehow convince him to carry on with their story. King writes himself very well. He acknowledges his burgeoning alcoholism as well as the accident that so nearly killed him.

So, by no means is Song of Susannah the weakest link in The Dark Tower chain; it’s a necessary step King took in order to bring about the climax which comes in volume seven. I loved it and will defend it until I reach the path at the end of the clearing.

Song of Susannah

The Dark Tower Vol. VI: Song of Susannah

It was late last night (or early this morning, actually) when I put down Wolves of the Calla, the fifth volume of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. I have to be honest, I didn’t know what to expect from this book. On first glance it appeared to be “filler” material, a sub-plot taken to its extreme, a ploy to get another book squeezed in there somewhere. My initial impression was that this was a needless side-step from the quest: The Magnificent Seven meets Little House on the Prairie. As usual, I was wrong.

Not only is this volume necessary to the ongoing plot of the series, when you take into account character arcs and development, it’s also a rip-roaring adventure story. The Gunslingers ride into town and save the local townsfolk from marauders. Cue Elmer Bernstein’s theme tune. But it is so much more than that.

As a friend recently pointed out, Wolves is stuffed to the gills with pop-culture references. Vampires are all the rage at the moment, but we tend to forget where they came from. Stephen King’s second novel, Salem’s Lot, was among the first to put a modern spin on them. He made them terrifying again. One of his characters from that novel, Father Donald Callahan, is a major character in Wolves, and to be honest with you, I wasn’t really sure if that was going to work. Too much postmodernist play-acting. A writer losing control of his focus. Those thoughts were prevalent in my initial reading of Wolves.

Doctor Doom on horseback.

But it all makes wonderful sense. Of course it does – it’s Stephen King, after all. This is his universe; these are his creations. If the author can’t play around with his own characters, who can?

Once again, I’m not going to spoil what happens for those of you who haven’t read the series. You have to experience it for yourself. The one thing I will say is, I got this book. I took every idea, every concept that King created and went with it. It’s a journey I’m very much enjoying. So much so that when I finished Wolves, I immediately headed straight to Song of Susannah. If any of you out there have all seven books, ready and waiting, that’s how I suggest you do it: read one after the other.

How in the hell did his readers wait all that time to finish the series? I know I couldn’t have coped.

Wolves of the Calla

The Dark Tower Volume V: Wolves of the Calla

The Dark Tower Vol V: Wolves of the Calla

So as I head straight into volume five of Stephen King’s magnum opus, I wish to share some thoughts with you about the previous one, Wizard and Glass. Each volume so far has offered something special to me, the first-time reader.

With The Gunslinger, it was the introduction to a world that was somewhat like ours, but not quite. I still don’t know if there was a nuclear war that destroyed a modern civilisation, and thereby creating a world that Serge Leone would have been proud of. It is, to me, The Good, The Bad, The Ugly…and the Fucked-up. Roland Deschain is an enigmatic a protagonist as you’re ever likely to read in modern fiction.

With The Drawing of the Three, I was captivated by Eddie Dean and the woman who would eventually become Susannah Dean, Odetta Holmes. It also pointed out that our heroes were not guaranteed to come out of any given situation intact. I felt their pain, their joys and their terror. It was the start of what was going to be a long, long journey – a journey that might end in death for each of them.

With The Waste Land, it was the return of Jake Chambers, the introduction of Oy the billy-bumbler, and the enormity of the quest ahead of this disparate group of travellers. It was my favourite of the three book so far. Scenes of intense and horrible violence permeated through each section; scenes that still cause me to sit back and marvel at King’s artistry.

Susan Delgado

Susan Delgado: Loved and Lost.

Wizard and Glass was something else altogether. Contained with its passages of action, heroism, sacrifice and more violence is perhaps the most romantic love story I’ve read since The Prince of Tides. Here Roland told the tale that had haunted him for god knows how many years (time flows differently in Mid-World): how he met – and lost – his one true love, Susan Delgado. The word “heartbreaking” can be overused and indeed, in the wrong hands, one such story can come across as sentimental, irrelevant and trite. One of the reasons it took King so long to write this volume was that he wasn’t sure if his talent could handle romance in its truest form. But the mark of a good writer is when he or she can follow a path, work through their fear and uncertainty, and arrive at their destination having learned a valuable lesson.

I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy Wizard and Glass. King was sidelining Eddie, Susannah, Jake and Oy for an extended flashback. But it was a story that needed to be told and I’m very glad that he did. I can say with hand upon heart that I will shiver, as my friend Liz Czukas does, at the mere mention of the phrase “Come, Reap” for many a dark night to come.

But the killer touch comes at the end of this volume; when Roland and his friends take one further journey into the Wizard’s Glass and see…well, if you haven’t read it yet, I recommend you do so now. I’m not going to spoil it for you. I’d be doing the book and its author a disservice.

Wizard and Glass

The Dark Tower Vol IV: Wizard and Glass

I think if we look back on our childhood, we will remember that book. You know the one I mean: a book for kids that frightened the living daylights out of you. It was supposed to be a bright, breezy, carefree sort of book. But you, as a young reader, saw only darkness. What was meant to entertain and make you feel good only served to feed your fears and mess up your sleep for a long time. For me, it was Enid Blyton’s Noddy in Toytown; for Jake in Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, it was Charlie the Choo-Choo.

Volume III of the series, The Waste Lands, is my favourite so far. Now, we all know that no one writes horror quite like The King. But what I didn’t know is that he’s more than a dab hand at fantasy, too. The Dark Tower is quickly becoming top of my list of all-time fantasy faves. Why? As I said before, it’s the characters, stupid! We have our good guys – Roland, Susannah, Eddie, Jake and Oy the Bumbler (Ake!Ake!Ake!) – and in The Waste Lands the bad guys showed their cards. There is Gasher, Jake’s abductor; there is the Tick-Tock Man, the leader of the Greys; and at the end The Ageless Stranger puts in an appearance.

But all of these are shadowed by Blaine the Mono: a super-computer who is also a train. He will take the questing party to the Dark Tower (or Topeka) as long as they keep asking them riddles. If he answers each of them correctly, he will self-destruct, taking Roland and his friends with him to his grave. They need to figure out a way to outsmart Blaine. That’s how The Waste Lands ends; and that’s where Wizard and Glass begins. A friend suggested to me not to read the series in one go. It’s too big, he said. Each book is longer than the last. But I don’t see how I can’t not continue. I’m on this quest with Roland and the others, and I have to follow it through right to its end.