Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Book(s) Review: The Dark Tower Series

Spoiler alert: don’t read this post if you plan to read the Dark Tower series, as there are some spoilers in here. Unfortunately, some of my critiques (good and bad) hinged on certain plot elements. If you do want to read the series, and don’t want it spoiled, I’ll sum up the post thusly: I like the series, and recommend it, as long as you can get past the first book, which, personally, I think is not written as well as King usually writes.

As most of you know, I’m a big Stephen King fan. I’ve been following a series of books that he’s been writing since 1982, called The Dark Tower. The books in the series are:

  • The Gunslinger (1982)
  • The Drawing of the Three (1987)
  • The Waste Lands (1991)
  • Wizard and Glass (1997)
  • Wolves of the Calla (2003)
  • Song of Susannah (2004)
  • The Dark Tower (2004)
I finally finished reading the last book this week, and thus the series. And I have mixed feelings. My feelings are mostly positive; I think it’s a good series, and I’m glad I read it, and I’ll probably go back and re-read it, in the future. But I am a bit conflicted about it.

First of all, I feel relief that it’s finally over. I’ve been reading these books since I was a teenager. As you might have noticed by the dates, there were big gaps in between some of these books, when the series lay dormant. King—in interviews, or forwards to his other books—mentioned the series all the time, and mentioned that he was a bit overwhelmed by it all, and wondered if he’d ever get to finish it. I’m glad he did, and that I was able to read it.

Second of all, as an amateur critic, I’d also have to say that the writing in the first book wasn’t as good as other Stephen King books. I don’t think King had found his voice as a writer, yet, when he wrote that. But by the time he got into the second book, it was a much more enjoyable read. Although that’s only one book out of seven, it’s still important, if people are considering reading the series, because that’s where they’ll start. Some people might never get past the first book, if they don’t like the writing. (I was actually surprised, a few years ago, when I went back to re-read it, because of the writing; I don’t remember noticing it being any different than other King books the first time I read it. I guess I was less opinionated back then.)

My final conflicted thought is that I’m not really sure if I enjoyed the last book. It seemed like King was in such a hurry to wrap it up that he just didn’t take his time with it. Killing off—or otherwise getting rid of—characters left right and centre; introducing others, who obviously had a single purpose in the book, and therefore seemed a bit two-dimensional; making huge deals out of certain plot points with foreshadowing, which turned out to be less important than the reader was led to believe. It felt like he was in such a rush to tie up his loose ends that he didn’t know what to do with the book.

I was also disappointed with the way he ended the character of Walter. I was really interested when I first found out that Walter was also Flagg, from The Stand. It became obvious, as the series wore on, that King was integrating all of his books into this one series, but I was especially enthralled with Walter being Flagg. But then King just seemed to discard him, and the “super villain” just turned out to be some dude who happened to be bad. Not even too smart, at that, since he’d got arrogant in his old age. Suddenly the character who had seemed so important became nothing.

I also know that a lot of fans were very confused by the way that King wove himself into the story—deus ex machina indeed! King was actually in the story, as Stephen King, the one who was writing the story. I reserved judgement, because I could see ways that this would be a great plot line. But, like some of the other aspects of the final book, it just didn’t seem to pan out. I don’t think it was a bad idea—in fact I think it was a great idea, the way he was implementing it—I just wish he had carried it a bit farther.

And finally, we get to the ending. We finally get to the Dark Tower. Roland has been preparing his entire life to get to the Dark Tower; all seven books have been leading up to this moment. What will he find there? What is the Dark Tower, really? What has Roland’s quest been leading up to? A moment that has been 22 years in the making has finally arrived. Before actually giving us that moment, King took a moment to give his readers a chance to put the book down, and not bother reading the end. He mentioned that the story is about the journey, not the ending. I completely agreed with him. The problem is that, after 22 years of waiting for this moment, there was no way King could write an ending that would satisfy everyone—or even most people. He fully realized that, and I wonder if it might have been one of the reasons the series took so long to complete (and felt so rushed for the final book). That being said, I liked the ending. I liked the way he handled Roland’s arrival at the Dark Tower, and thus ended the series. I’m sure a lot of fans disagree, and others probably have mixed feelings, which I can understand. But I can’t see any other way King could have ended the series, frankly.

Because of my mixed feelings, this might feel like a negative review, but really, I thought this was a great series, and I recommend it, for people who like this type of thing. “This type of thing” being epic quests to save the universe, and “knights in shining armour” (because that is, basically, what Roland the gunslinger was, even if he did have guns instead of swords).