The Dark Tower by Stephen King
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
This will be a slight rant, born out of disappointment, and probably a long one at that. I love Stephen King, but here I’m afraid he put his foot in his mouth just one time too many. Also this, which we will call ‘review’, but which is only really a pretense for a rant, will contain serious spoilers, so if you haven’t yet read the seventh and final installment of the Dark Tower, consider yourself duly warned.
Where to start? The meta fiction, the plot devices, the author’s apologies or the destroyed characters? So much to rant about, so little time.
Were you as disappointed in the last chapter of the Harry Potter books as I was? Having a feeling of disconnectedness when the author brings up an entire chapter which is there for the author only, not the reader? Sit tight then, for there’s not only one such chapter in this book, but two. So let’s start there then (where I, when I realized what was happening, actually swore out loud): Susannah in New York. There are so many things wrong here it’s ridiculous, but let’s begin with the authors blatant robbing of experience; character and reader.
I call it the ‘time travel paradox cheat’ named from a couple (OK, actually more than a couple) of episodes of Star Trek Voyager. The ship and its crew would get into a trap, be almost destroyed, people would get seriously hurt, maimed and die, but you’d grow closer to those who didn’t, suffer with them, and watch them grow in experience and, in some cases, and if the story was good, in wisdom. And then the writers would cheat you by invoking a time travel paradox, and at the end of the episode nothing had actually happened, and the crew would make a joke about deja vu on the bridge as they’d continued on. But in so doing, the writer rob the characters of their experience, and more: he robs the viewer from his deepened involvement, his emotions as he suffered with the characters, and leaves only a shallow ‘entertainment value’.
When Eddie is brought back, King doing exactly that: what about Eddie’s suffering, his losses and his loves? Gone. What about his learning, his growth in wisdom and his sense of fate? Gone. And him casting away the shadow of his older brother? Gone. Besting his drug use? Gone. And so on, and so on. But worse than that: how about the reader’s involvement in the character and everything he went through? Gone with the wind, bye bye, say sorry.
If that’s not bad enough, how about this: The Eddie resurrected cannot possibly be the Eddie we know. Not only is he robbed of all he learned in Mid-World and onwards, but he also isn’t the haunted younger brother of Henry the eminent junkie. So who the hell is this character? He certainly isn’t anyone I have an emotional connection with, and I doubt Susannah would have either. Oh, and Jake as his older brother?! You’ve gotta be kidding me. We know Jake as the quasi-son of Susannah and Eddie, and now he’s transformed into an older brother and potentially brother in law? Oh my head…
That’s two characters utterly destroyed, so how about Susannah you ask, shouldn’t we kill off her as well? Oh yes, we should: how about making her casually throw away Roland’s gun, the gun of his father and the line of Eld, while contemplating if she must choose between the gun and her man? Really?! You’ve brought on stage a puppet Eddie and a puppet Jake for a cheap feeling of ‘oooh, isn’t that nice’ and now you want me to believe that the gunslinger Susannah throws away the heavy gun with the sandalwood grip for a bloody semi-chauvinist cliché?! No, I refuse to believe that.
So that’s three out of five beloved characters thrown aside as so much cheap waste. In one single chapter. Nice move.
Then we have the imbecile, mute plot device. I won’t call him by name because he’s not a character, his only function is to give Susannah a way out, and Roland a way in. And he’s a fairly transparent plot device at that. Cheaply made, cheaply thrown aside. And the plot points he’s summoned up to solve? Only to remove a main character from the stage, with no apparent reason more than ‘ka wills it’, and to solve the entire last confrontation. Which could have been the climax of the entire series, where Roland finally faces the tower, and must conquer the greatest villain of them all. But no, we’ll leave that solution, and any potential heart wrenching sacrifices or hard won emotional triumphs that could have followed, to a bloody plot device, and have Roland do some easy target shooting on a handful of silly Harry Potter sports devices instead.
This rant is getting long, so I’ll do a fast forward: for an author that professes to hate meta fiction, he sure uses in it a lot. In fact, the words that kept crawling into my head at the end of The Song of Susannah was ‘self indulgence’. And when the writer is a character, who exactly is it talking, when the author steps out and starts addressing the reader personally? And starts giving the reader hints about the story? Hm?
It simply doesn’t work.
Oh, and you should be wary of an author that apologises (or indeed any performer at all). Which King does repeatedly in this volume, both as the story voice (‘say sorry’) and as the author (‘you might not like the ending, but that’s how the story goes’). Yes, Stephen King warns you to not read the ending as you might not like it. And he’s right, I’m sorry I did. I think the sentiment was good, but the execution horrible, and as such it brings more questions than it does answers.
Let’s end this with a biggie: does the final book destroy the entire series? Does it feel like I’ve been cheated of the real ending and wasted my time? Almost, yes. I loved the first book, and apart from the meta fiction the other books were fine, and in some places brilliant. Although I’m not usually fond of cross-world fantasy I thought Stephen King mastered it and made it work; dance to his pen as it were. Even in the last book there are places of brilliancy that are worth reading.
So it’ll be a two out of five rating, and that second star is mostly because I can’t bring myself to score the final book of the Dark Tower lower than that, but also because I’m fairly certain it doesn’t deserve all the bile I threw up on it above.
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