Revisiting The Dark Tower

I used to be a really big fantasy fan. Back when I was, oh, thirteen and fourteen, I read almost nothing but fantasy novels. Oddly enough, I read everything except the Lord of the Rings. They seemed too big, which is weird to think back on, considering some of the other huge novels I read as an 8th grader.

But still, I read every Terry Brooks novel, I read Terry Goodkind, I read probably ten other authors who never got beyond one or two books before being swept away into the pile of generic fantasy novels. I’m not even saying that Brooks and Goodkind were any better, just that I remember their names better than any other.

Somehow, fantasy fell off my radar in high school. I think part of it was my need for rationality at the time, for consistency in my worlds, and reading ten different books about ten different universes with ten diifferent rules for magic, with ten different versions of elves, with ten different classifications for dragons–I just lost interest.

Magic, in particular, was always a bother for me. In some stories, it’s something anyone can learn, but needs devotion. In others, only the select chosen people can learn magic. In some, magic calls to people, yet consumes them from within as they use it. The rules change so often that you wonder where the sense is in all of it.

(I started writing a fantasy novel in college, back in 2005, to try and confront that issue. Magic was a very rigid system, something that obeyed a slightly revised set of physics in our world, something that only a few people knew of because they practiced and understood physics, making magic more of a science that the ignorant commoners didn’t believe in because they didn’t understand it, but this is all beside the point.)

Anyway, I finally got back into fantasy with Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. As my then-girlfriend put it, “It’s King’s take on The Lord of the Rings. I think you’ll like it cause it has guns.”

Everyone has their take on The Lord of the Rings. I highly suspect many fantasy authors were blatantly copying Tolkien in their novels. Some of them happened to deviate just enough to set them apart. I’m looking at you, Terry Brooks (He did some great stuff after The Sword of Shannara, which was the entire Fellowship, Towers, and Return all crammed into one generic book.) So I figured, hey, why not. I’ve never read Stephen King’s fiction. Might as well start. (I read, “On Writing” because I am a writer and, again, Rachel recommended it to help me get along with my own work.)

The Gunslinger, the first in the series, did not wow me. I found it highly original, very well-written, but… Something didn’t hook me. At the time, I was working graveyards and didn’t have much time for reading, so getting through the book was a sporadic, sleepy attempt. I simply didn’t understand parts of it because I was not in a good reading mood.

But I liked it well-enough to try The Drawing of the Three, which I really did like. I had The Wastelands checked out from the library and started it as soon as I finished book two. Before I finished book three, I purchased books four, five, and seven from the used bookstore in town. (They didn’t have Song of Susannah, but they had a really good condition The Dark Tower and I knew I would read it someday.)

I finished book five, The Wolves of the Calla, and my wife surprised me with a complete set of trade paperbacks in good condition. I started in on Song of Susannah, then finished The Dark Tower. This was all pretty much last year.

The series is imperfect, but it is good. Some of my favorite literary moments come from these books. I highly recommend them.

Then Stephen King went and wrote a book that takes place in the middle of the series. Book 4.5, if you will. Some people may have found that a little, oh, uncouth, but I figure *SPOILER* that if you can make yourself a main character in your own fantasy series and make it work *END SPOILER* then you can do just about anything with it, including splicing new stories into the mix, and I’m okay with that.

The Wind Through the Keyhole is good. It’s really three stories, one nestled inside one, inside another, and it does not interfere with the main story. It might throw in some… pacing issues? if you read the entire series from start to finish in its new form, but only because both book 4 and 4.5 have a notable lack of Eddie, Susannah, and Jake. Starting book five with such a gap in character development may leave some wondering who these people are, but that’s not a real problem for anyone who understands the meat of the books. Ka is a wheel, they say.

So, The Wind Through the Keyhole is great. You don’t need to read the other books to enjoy it on its own, but there will be plenty you’ll miss out on if you don’t. More than plenty. I think a good, oh, fifty percent of the satisfaction in this book is how it fits into the Dark Tower universe. The stories are great, yes, but the details of the stories, so easy to pass off as nothing but names and traits, mean so much more in the overall narrative.

Everything beyond this point is a spoiler, cause I want to air my thoughts on the details of the story. Don’t ruin it for yourself. The joy is in realizing on your own.

*

Oh man. It feels good to get the reincarnation stories completely examined. Wizard and Glass did a great job of detailing the origins of Eddie, Susannah, and Jake as Cuthbert, Susan, and Alain. As soon as I started The Wind Through the Keyhole, well, as soon as I got to the story of Tim, anyway, I thought, “Yes! We finally get to see Oy’s origins!” And because I relate Oy so closely to Jake, I kept thinking that Tim was Jake. Yeah, I’m a little scattered at times. But it wasn’t until Tim is saved by his mom that I realized that it was Roland’s origin story.

And that made me so happy inside. Roland is so broken, deep down, so tormented, and it was nice to know that he had been able to save his mother from the blindness caused by the intruding man, instead of losing his mother to the blindness caused by the intruding man, ya kennit?

The parallel, the allegory, social blindness instead of physical blindness, forgiveness and regret, oh King handled it exceptionally well.

And I wasn’t even entirely wrong about Oy. I’m quite certain that Jamie DeCurry is Oy. Jamie doesn’t speak very often. Oy doesn’t speak often. Roland prefers to go into danger with Eddie (Cuthbert), but settles with Jamie (Oy). Jamie and Oy are magnificent trackers. Roland is eventually surprised by both Jamie’s and Oy’s capabilities.

Lastly, I was really happy to get a glimpse of what could be in Roland’s perpetual quest. In the final chapter of the final book, Roland has Cuthbert’s horn. Is the letter from his mother another one of those artifacts that would change his destiny? I can see situations where that horn would really alter the course of events in the books, and the letter? It may not serve a real physical purpose in Mid-World or End-World, but could it change Roland’s countenance? His capabilities for forgiveness? If he had that letter when he reached the Dark Tower, would his personal hell be forever ended?

A lot of stuff seems to hinge on the regrets of Jericho Hill, which I’m hoping we’ll get an account of someday. Apparently there is a comic that has a lot of those moments, but like I said a few posts ago, I’m not a huge fan of the comics. They’re too thin. They try too hard to be authentic.

Also, I really want to know what happens to Rhea and John Farson. I could swear that Roland said something about how he knew he would face Rhea again someday, and I kind of assumed it happened off-screen between book 4 and 5, but 4.5 seems to cut the intermission short on action. If there is anything I can fault 4.5 for, is that it makes it seem like the journey from Oz to Calla Bryn Sturgis took only a couple weeks. Before, Eddie’s account seemed to suggest that time had slowed so much that it may have taken several years. Perhaps that was only because Eddie is relatively impatient and has skewed perceptions of time. Susannah didn’t seem to notice the passage of time, but that was either because the chap was fucking with her or time was moving steadily along because she had some real markers by which to judge. Her weird menstrual cycle and the whole, “I’m pregnant! Oh, nevermind. Oh maybe I am! Oh maybe not.” thing.

I kinda love that there is just enough inconsistency to have these questions.

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