Friday, April 18, 2008

THE DARK TOWER by Stephen King

The Dark Tower is the seventh and final novel in Stephen King’s eponymous series. This is the longest book in the series by far, and it needs to be, after a bunch of nothing happened in Song of Susannah. After something of a slow start, the book picks up nicely, with a pace and urgency this series hasn’t seen in quite a long time. For the first time in a long time, the Dark Tower is suspenseful.

The Dark Tower also marks the expected appearances of a cavalcade of characters from King’s other works, as King (as he has stated) tries to tie practically his entire writing career together under the Dark Tower umbrella, and in that respect he does a fairly good job.

But The Dark Tower is far from perfect. This book is over the top in many ways – gruesome deaths and dismemberments, disgusting eating habits described in detail, and so forth. The “climaxes” at the end of the book are rather anticlimactic, as the resolution of the fates of three villains (Flagg, Mordred, and the Crimson King) are varying degrees of underwhelming. Many inexplicable and convenient developments occur, including but not limited to the handy teleportation seemingly available whenever needed. Deus ex machina is through the roof. King at one point even references his own use of it – and no, Mr. King, you don’t “hide it well.”

For the first time in the series, King shifts into first person narration here and there, and it’s extremely jarring. He mostly uses it to comment on or excuse what’s happening in the story: “Okay, someone’s about to die, it’s really sad, get ready, no, I don’t really want them to die either, but it’s out of my control, see?” In his author’s note, he again refuses to take responsibility, saying the story goes where it wants to. This is true to an extent, but King has always run down the field with it.

Many readers were no doubt upset by the fates of many long-running characters. But the fate of a character always remains completely within the author’s purview. If King says that’s what happened to Character A, then that’s what happened, and that’s the breaks. How a character meets his or her fate (and how it is portrayed) has a lot more to do with whether the writer did a good job than whether or not the author killed such-and-such a character.

As King himself says of this series in his author’s note: “I know that not been entirely successful.” This is quite true. But it has been successful more often than not, but not down the stretch, and not always when it counted.

All in all, The Dark Tower marks the end of an uneven, long-winded but worthwhile series that does not in any way compare to the classic epics like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (which King the character compares the Dark Tower series to at one point).