The Dark Tower, book VII
Reviewed: August 26, 2006
By: Stephen King
Publisher: Pocket Books
1050 pages, $11.99
I didn’t expect to get here this soon.
When I reviewed volume VI in the Dark Tower series a few weeks ago I wrote
that I would wait until VII appeared in a mass market edition before I had
my say about it in these pages. As it happened, that was the very same week,
so here I am again, travelling Mid-world and End-world with Roland of Gilead
and his Ka-Tet.
The Dark Tower saga started in the
mind of a 19 year old Stephen King as a head on collision between Sergio Leone’s
spaghetti westerns and Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Imagine the young Clint Eastwood
on a mystic quest to save the world and you have a picture of the Roland Deschain,
Roland of Gilead (in which there is no balm any more) or, as he was called
in the opening words of the first book, “the gunslinger”.
Gunslingers were knights in Roland’s
world, a feudal world held together by the power and skill of these flint
eyed men who lived by a code and tried to do the right thing. Along the way
we have learned a bit about how the world “moved on”, how things fell apart,
how the minions of the Crimson King nibbled away at the structures that held
the worlds in place until they began to weaken, crumble and break.
The “beams” that radiated through the
layers of reality were under assault by the King and his lieutenant, Randall
Flagg (one of his many names). Roland simply knew him as the Dark Man to begin
with, and pursued him for vengeance after the great final battle at Jericho
Hill, the battle which left Roland the last of the gunslingers.
Roland added more to that roster, picking
unlikely candidates from our reality: a junkie, and crippled woman, a teenage
boy and his doglike companion. They became gunslingers and fought their way
along the road, following the beam of the bear and the turtle, opposing the
will of the enemy and breaking his plans as they drew closer to the Dark Tower.
Volume VI, The Song of Susannah,
left them in a fine mess, separated in time and space and under the new threat
of Mordred, who is somehow both the son of Roland and the Crimson King, born
of a mystical rape, by Susannah and one other.
This volume deals with the confrontation
between Roland and his devil son, the fates of the members of the Ka-Tet,
the salvation of Stephen King, the reintroduction of several characters from
earlier volumes and other books, the secret of the Crimson King, and the way
in which the wheel of time seeks to heal itself from the damage which has
This sequence of books, thousands of
pages in length at the end, has been 34 years in the making, and came as close
as can be to never seeing book form. It started out as a series of connected
short stories and evolved into a complex mythos which has already spawned
a fan created concordance and a number of web based fan sites for those who
are trying to keep track of it all. Along the way Stephen King discovered
that about half the books he has written have something to do with this particular
tale, that the evil and the monsters came from somewhere and this was the
Small wonder that he began to talk
about retiring, or at least cutting back, when he finally got Roland to that
room at the top of the tower and saw where it was taking him. In his author’s
note King admonishes readers not to write him angry letters about that.
“I wasn’t exactly crazy about the ending,
either, if you want to know the truth, but it’s the right ending. The
only ending, in fact. You have to remember that I don’t make these
things up, not exactly; I only write down what I see.”
Since then, he has slowed down. Only
one book a year now, it seems, and some of those are even under 300 pages.
Well, I never thought he would stop entirely. He doesn’t need to do this for
the money any more, after all, and this is a man who even writes short stories,
a form of fiction that hardly repays the effort it takes to make them up,
just because he gets an interesting idea.
His last two books have been a hard
boiled mystery about a missing person and a horror novel that would really
make you think twice about using a cell phone. I expect there will be more.