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“Well Met in the House of the Rose” The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower

October 11th, 2011
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“We’ll go,” he said.  “We’ll find the Dark Tower, and nothing will stand against us, and before we go in, we’ll speak their names.  All of the lost.”

“Your list will be longer than mine,” xxx said, “but mine will be long enough.”

(Name withheld to prevent spoilers!)

And so, at last, I have arrived at the end.  The clearing at the end of the path.  The conclusion of Stephen King’s monumental magnum opus, The Dark Tower.  Seven books written over the span of over thirty years, which I have spent the last year-or-so reading.  (I read the first three novels last summer, book four last fall, and the final three novels over the course of this past summer.)

Long-form stories like this (whether one is talking about novels, movies, or TV shows) rise or fall, ultimately, on the strength of their ending.  (For five wonderful seasons, I would have told you that Lost was one of the greatest television series ever made.  Then that disastrously terrible final season destroyed almost every ounce of my affection for the show.  Conversely, for five seasons I felt that Babylon 5 was an entertaining but fairly mediocre sci-fi TV show.  But the incredible, heartbreaking final episode was so good that it somehow elevated, in my mind, all that had come before.)

I will admit that, as I approached the seventh and final book in the Dark Tower series, I was a bit nervous.  Book VI, Song of Susannah, while still enjoyable, had nevertheless been my least-favorite book in the series to that point.  It felt to me like the narrative was spinning its proverbial wheels, and with so much story as-yet unresolved as I began book VII, I wondered how Mr. King could possibly tie up all of the myriad dangling story-threads.  I also couldn’t quite conceive of what the resolution of the Gunslinger’s life-long journey towards the Dark Tower could be.  At the start of book VII I, as a reader, had not much more idea than Roland himself as to what exactly the Dark Tower was, and what Roland might find there should he actually be able to enter the tower and climb to the highest room, as was his proclaimed goal.  The tower was so mysterious, and the source of so much speculation on my part (and, I’m sure, the part of every other reader ever to make his or her way through this saga), that I began to fear that any resolution couldn’t possibly live up to all of that anticipation.

Well, Mr. King, I cry your pardon.  I should never have doubted.

The Dark Tower Book VII: The Dark Tower is a magnificent conclusion to the saga, everything I might have hoped for and more.  It is thrilling and devastatingly heartbreaking, a thoroughly satisfying conclusion to this epic saga and, even more than that, one of the greatest novels I have ever read.

Big words?  I stand by them.  The novel is so good that it makes me want to start the whole series over again right now.

Where Song of Susannah felt slight, The Dark Tower feels like three or four novels stuffed into one.  The book is mammoth, and so filled with plot that, as I got towards the end of the novel, I found it hard to believe that the events I’d read in the book’s first two hundred pages or so had actually occurred in the same novel.  Story-lines that had begun all the way back in the first book come together beautifully.  Long-standing questions are answered, and so many characters and story-points I had thought long-forgotten are referenced or brought back in a major way.  (I was so happy to see a certain character from Wizard and Glass again!!)

I found myself quite satisfied with the resolutions given to each of the character’s in Roland’s ka-tet. Not every story has a happy ending, oh no.  When the tet shatters, as one knew it ultimately would, it is heartbreaking.  And while I was saddened by the tragic event that happens to the tet mid-novel, in the town called Algul Siento, it’s what comes later, on a street in Maine, that I found even more devastating.  (Not to mention the events of the approach to the scarlet fields of Can’-Ka No Rey.)  The entire second-half of this novel packed an emotional wallop that I was completely unprepared for.  It was a wrenching experience, and there were times when I quite literally did not want to turn the page, because I feared what I would read in the words to follow.  All of this is a testament to Stephen King’s magnificent skill as a writer and a story-teller, and to the incredible bonds that readers built up with his characters over the course of this series.  And to return to my original point, while there is much sorrow and grief in the denouement of the saga, the resolutions to the stories of all of the beloved characters all felt somehow RIGHT to me.  That’s an intangible thing, but so critical in bringing a series like this to a close.

As stuffed with circumstance as this novel is, I was pleased that Mr. King somehow still found time for some wonderful digressions (such as our peek into the life of Pimli Prentiss, the master of Algul Siento) and to introduce and develop some fascinating new characters (such as Ted Brautigan — though apparently he’s one of many Dark Tower characters who has an origin in a different story by Stephen  King — and Patrick Danville).  This novel is filled to the brim with characters and ideas, and even here at the end of this extraordinarily lengthy saga I found myself wanting to spend more time with these characters, to learn more about their histories and the many secret corners of this incredible fantasy world.  (Worlds, actually!)  I don’t mean to suggest that I felt that things were left unsatisfactorily unresolved, just that there was so much life in this saga, even here at the end, that I would have happily read several more books in the series!  (Though the fun thing is that apparently the Dark Tower saga spread its tendrils into many other of Mr. King’s novels.  So while the Dark Tower books are over, I find myself eager to read The Stand to learn more about Randall Flagg; ‘Salem’s Lot to read more about Pere Callahan; Low Men in Yellow Coats to read more about Ted Brautigan, and on and on.)

And, in fact, the Dark Tower saga isn’t really over at all!  Though all of the characters’ stories reach very definite conclusions in book VII, Mr. King recently announced that next year will see the publication of an eighth Dark Tower book: The Wind Through the Keyhole, set in between Wizard and Glass (Book IV) and Wolves of the Calla (Book V).  And I have high hopes that even that novel will not be the end.  I dream, as an example, of one day reading the story of the founding of the Tet corporation.  Stephen King himself gave me the idea that this would make an excellent novel, as in the section in which Roland meets Moses Carver (Susannah’s godfather and guardian), we read: “These three men — Carver, Cullum and Deepneau — had come together, almost magically, to fight for the rose in their old age.  Their tale, the gunslinger believed, would make a book in itself, very likely a fine and exciting one.”  I agree!  I hope to read it some day!

But, for now, I am completely satisfied, satiated and content, with having reached the end of this journey towards the Dark Tower.  Stephen King set out to craft an epic saga on par with The Lord of the Rings, and I would argue that, by every measure I can bring to bear, he succeeded.  I am confident that this is a series that — like the very best of fantasy and science fiction, sagas like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Asimov’s Foundation, and Frank Herbert’s Dune — I shall relish returning to many times in the future.  I can’t wait.

Can you give me hallelujah?

Thankee-sai.

Now somebody yell me a big old God-bomb amen.

Josh’s Dark Tower Reviews: Entering The Dark Tower — The Dark Tower Book I: The Gunslinger – The Dark Tower Book II: The Drawing of the Three – The Dark Tower Book III: The Waste Lands — The Dark Tower Book IV: Wizard and GlassThe Dark Tower Book V: Wolves of the CallaThe Dark Tower Book VI: Song of Susannah

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