Finished the Dark Tower this afternoon. Good Lord. The ending—I’m talking the last two or three pages—almost redeemed at least this last book from being a total failure, but the more I think of it, the more I just feel horribly cheated by Stephen King.
Yeah, yeah, I know the whole Comic Book Guy routine—he doesn’t owe me anything, but I read the first three books in 1994, and they’re nothing short of astonishing. I’d rate the second one as probably the best thing he’s ever written, and the first and third rank up there. I had to wait a few years for the fourth book, which was terrible and a big disappointment—which only made the (all told) decade I waited for him to finally finish the story more unbearable. “He has to redeem himself for this crap heap of a book…right? Right?!”
Wrong, motherfuckers. I’d rather be sentenced to an eternity spent reading that fourth book over and over again than ever touch books five, six, and seven again.
Full disclosure: I actually really, really liked the sixth book. It geared me up for what I assumed would be a kick-ass ending. It was short and sweet (for a Stephen King book—dude doesn’t shut up!), and very focused and lean because most of the legwork to set up the plots and subplots had been established in the previous BORING AS SHIT installment. However, in hindsight of what all those storylines became in the seventh book, I’ll gladly lump Song of Susannah together with Wolves of the Calla and The Dark Tower as the three worst books he’s ever written. No, maybe Black House is still worse. Tough call.
There may be some spoilers ahead, but I’ll try to dance around the big events because I’m not convinced anyone cares enough for me to tag every spoiler (and I’m not convinced any of these will be spoilers if you’re DT fan, even if you haven’t finished the books). Also, I think this should serve as a warning if anyone is a fan—you should willingly let me spoil it, because my vague synopses and criticisms couldn’t possibly be worse than the books themselves.
So the main thing I really hated about these last three books were the meaningless entrances and exits of characters from King’s other books. It was kind of cute/creepy when the gunslinger and his ka-tet stumbled into the universe of The Stand. It was less cute and not at all creepy when other random characters started popping in.
I’ve been outspoken for a long time about my disgust over King intentionally writing novels and short stories whose sole purpose of existence is to bridge the “real” world with the universe/story he created in DT. Aside from a trip to Iowa where I had so little to do I kept picking up Stephen King paperbacks Lucy had lying around her apartment and reading out of sheer boredom, I haven’t tried to read a “new” Stephen King novel or short story since Black House. Before that, it was Insomnia. These two rank among the worst books he’s written, and—not coincidentally—they both exist almost exclusively to tie two of his earlier works to the DT world (The Talisman and It, respectively).
To add insult to injury, none of this means anything. None of the random DT references and character “cameos” in other books, none of the references to his other novels within the DT—none of it amounts to jack shit in the long run. These characters, who have been gracelessly inserted into the Dark Tower story, serve three functions:
- “Oh isn’t that cute—it’s that guy from that short story about the kid who meets the guy everyone thinks he’s crazy”-type recognition factor. (I list this first because, I hate to say it, but I really think this is the only reason King did this—about as close to written masturbation as you can get without a mild hallucinogen.)
- To run into the gunslinger and the ka-tet, vomit out as much expository dialogue as possible in a short amount of time, maybe involve themselves in a plot point or two, then either die or disappear into the sunset.
- To keep the story moving. At this point in the story, at the places these folks visit on the last few legs of their journey, they wouldn’t discover any of the information they get without help from these other characters.
Sure, King could have put them in other places. Like, say, instead of dominating the whole of Wolves of the Calla with an extraordinarily bland rip-off of The Magnificent Seven—well, I don’t know where he could have set it, but he spends so much goddamn time on that stupid storyline, he could have just as easily removed the entire thing and had a book-length number of pages to come up with something without inserting characters from other books.
The worst affront? Inserting himself into the story. Sure, it’s occasionally amusing that even in the fictional world, everybody either thinks he’s a hack writer or incredibly lazy (or both), but—WHY THE FUCK DID HE WRITE HIMSELF INTO THE STORY? What does it add, other than convolution? In the end, it adds nothing.
And that’s the biggest disappointment: the conclusions of every single character’s stories, the conclusion of the overall plot itself, and the very last pages of the book render the entire seven-volume book pointless. Every death—meaningless. All seven books, the epic quest, the drawing of the three from our world, the plot developments, character developments—meaningless. The villains, whom he spends the cours of three entire books developing and who are both killed in about 30 seconds. The Tower itself—meaningless. Right, right, it’s a metaphor, but I ain’t talking in metaphors, I’m talking in fucking endings, I’m talking about making an investment in seven books and, at this point, 12 years (for some who were with it from the beginning, more than 20), for a book that amounts to nothing.
I’m not even necessarily talking about the very, very, very last-three-pages end, either. I’m talking about the last, oh, 100-150 pages, where everything really comes to a boil. Every single thing that happens is just, for lack of a better word, lame.
It’s incredibly disappointing that King himself spent over 30 years on this project, and aside from forming the ka-tet and continuing the quest for the Tower, the overarching “save the universe” plot itself didn’t really kick in until the fifth book. It’s just horribly disappointing that King decided to go with these storylines—writing himself into it, bringing back characters, the stupid “we must get back to America-side and form a corporation” bullshit, Susannah’s pregnancy. I was even willing to put up with that “who’s really the father and what kind of freak am I carrying?” pregnancy, the most operatic of all soap opera plotlines, if it had led to something remotely interesting. In the end, it didn’t.
After creating such a rich universe, such great characters, and hinting at interesting storyline possibilities, it’s tragic and disappointing that these three books are the final product.
It’s funny—a few pages before the epilogue, King has this pretentious and obnoxious rant about how he’s fine ending it where it is (where there hasn’t even been an actual fucking ending) and remembering these characters without knowing what happens to the gunslinger inside the Tower. It’s irritating because he implies we’re assholes for wanting an ending with real finality after investing time and energy in over a half-dozen books that span two decades, thousands of pages long.
Me? I really, really wish I could travel back in time (even mentally, to attempt to erase these books from my head) and remember the characters on Blaine the Mono, in the middle of a riddling contest with an insane, sentient train, unsure of where they’d stop (if they stopped or survived), their fates uncertain. Sure, you knew they’d survive—but what would happen once the monorail stopped? The hints of storylines and possibilities all spread out before you, allowing you to just pluck at random and come up with any story you want, sharing your own imagination with the imagination that created this world in the first place.
So yes, I’d recommend people read the first three books: The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three, and The Wastelands. And sit back, contemplative but pleased, in love with these characters and this world, trying to guess what could happen next. Because guess what—anything, and I mean anything that your imagination comes up with will be at least one million times better than anything that happens in Wizard & Glass, Wolves of the Calla, Song of Susannah, and The Dark Tower.
Fuckin’ Stephen King, man.