Thoughts on the Dark Tower Series by Stephen King

Yesterday, I finished reading The Wind Through the Keyhole, and in doing so, completed all of the books of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. With the series complete, I thought I’d share some thoughts on the books. I’ll give some general thoughts above the cut. Below the cut there will be spoilers so be aware of that. If you are reading this post via RSS, you might not see the cut, so I’ll include another warning below.

I started reading the books back on June 6, 2013. I read them in the order they were published, with The Wind in the Keyhole coming last, although falling between Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Calla in the timeline. I had a hard time getting started. I had started The Gunslinger two or three times over the last few years, but finally managed to get through it in June. Although the book establishes the premise of the series, I thought it was the weakest of all the books. That said, the value of each book increases with each subsequent book because, as more of the story is revealed, new meaning is added to the earlier books.

Okay, here comes the cut and the spoilers. You have been warned.

My thoughts on the Dark Tower series. Spoilers follow.

1. I was both blown away and disappointed by the ending. Let’s just get that out of the way up front. I was blown away by it because it was implied from the very start, and echoed through the entire series with refrains like, “Ka is a wheel…” At the same time I was disappointed, not because I did not like the ending, but instead because I had grown to like Roland Deschain, and hated to see him trapped in Ka’s wheel as he was. Yes, there was a hint that things might be better this time around, but still, I felt for the man.

2. My favorite book in the series was Wizard and Glass. I loved the look back into Roland’s life. At first, I thought it was going to bother me, because a love story was hinted at, and one that does not end well. But Stephen King did such a good job telling the story of what happened in Mejis, and the stories were so well interwoven that I ended up falling in love with that book.

3. The battle that takes place toward the end of Wizard and Glass was epic. Most people probably look to the final battle between Roland and the Mordrid (if it could be called a battle) as the battle of the Dark Tower series. I thought the western-style fight that took place in the canyon out near the thinny was epic. It was not a large scale battle a la The Lord of the Rings, but instead, was much closer to “The Apocalyptic Rock Fight” that takes place during It, which I think is perhaps the best battle scene in all fiction. The fight in the canyon comes close to that. During that fight, I was out of my chair, out of my body and there in the mix, choking on the smoke from the fire and hearing the warbling of the thinny keening in the distance.

4. The Wind Through the Keyhole was my second-favorite book in the series. I know that for people who read the series as it was written, there was a bit of a gap between The Dark Tower and Keyhole, and it is possible that made the book bittersweet. I loved it, not just because of its smaller scope, but because of how it cleverly wove a tale within a tale within a tale. As a reader, I became lost in the levels of recursion as, I imagine, one might become lost in the levels of the tower. And each time Stephen King popped the stack, and one of the nested tales ended, there was a strange feeling, one akin to being reminded that the early morning memories are remnants of dreams that didn’t actually happen. I loved the way the recursion worked in The Wind Through the Keyhole. I can’t think of a finer example in fiction.

5. Stephen King’s writing styles differs in the Dark Tower from his other books. Not his storytelling, which is as strong as ever, but it seemed clear to me, especially in the earlier books, that his writing style was deliberately distinct from his other books. The Gunslinger begins in medias res unlike most of his other novels outside the Dark Tower series. King use of language is different as well, in part to give a feel of a world different from our own. The earlier books also have a deliberate Western feel to them and much of that feeling comes from the way King uses language in the books.

6. I was a little bothered by how much the Dark Tower series tied in with other Stephen King stories. This surprised me because I went into the series knowing that it was supposed to tie together many of King’s non-Dark Tower books. The series carries this to an extreme in Wolves of the Calla with Father Callahan, who tells the story of what happened after he left Jerusalem’s Lot. What I found was that I didn’t mind little cross-overs, but the big ones bothered me. I think the reason is that now, when I consider a Stephen King novel, there is always a part of me wondering if this is just another level of the tower. Sometimes–as in “The Low Men in Yellow Coats”–it is obvious that it is. Other times, as in From a Buick 8, it seems like there is a crossover occurring, but it isn’t as clear. I don’t want to wonder this. Some stories I just want to be independent of anything else.

7. I loved the blurring of genre throughout the saga. The Dark Tower is chameleon in nature. At times it is a Western, and other times it is an epic fantasy, an urban fantasy, science fiction (North-Central Positronics) , mystery, adventure, or some combination thereof. I could see this bothering people whose appetite can only be sated by one particular flavor, but I found the variety invigorating.

8. Despite being a little bothered by the overdose on crossover, I loved Jake Chamber’s refrain, “There are other worlds than these.” For me, that had it’s most chilling effect while I read Doctor Sleep, where, at one point, Dan Torrence says those same words.

9. Overall, I am glad I read the series. It is very different from King’s more mainstream horror and science fiction novels. I had a lot of fun reading it. I think King set out to create a world in which he could use as a sandbox of story creation. Instead, he ended up creating an entire universe; one that rests on the back of an enormous turtle.