The Dark Tower is the Best Series and if you Disagree You Can Catch These Hands
So it’s important to know that I’ve been reading some Stephen King lately…like, a lot of Stephen King. If you’ve been following SH for a while, you may already know that I tend to publish articles with a lot of strong feelings about things. Well, welcome to the marriage of Stephen King and strong feelings, friends. It’s time to set aside the cultural implications of horror and sci-fi for a few minutes in favor of me just gushing about The Dark Tower books 1-5. We might get to some cultural stuff in here though, so keep your shirt on if you’re really concerned about that.
For reference, I read a lot of fantasy stuff. I am a big fan of GRRM’s Song of Ice and Fire among your other standard series for my generation like Harry Potter and such, although I will admit that I gave up on The Wheel of Time after like 2.8 books. The Dark Tower is in a category of its own, and I’m going to talk about why. Also, spoilers ahead…medium spoilers, so if you are totally unfamiliar it may ruin things for you.
Time(s) Keeps on Ticking
FIRST – let’s talk about the fact that this series of books employs time travel in one of the least annoying ways possible. I get it – time travel makes things mucked up and also way too convenient most of the time. Fortunately for all of us, using time as an unraveling part of the world(s) that Roland, Jake, Eddie, and Susannah are trying to save create some unique narrative opportunities. King addresses some of the common problems with time travel after Jake’s unfortunate exit at the end of Book 1. The parallel stories come back together, along with some excellent threading of plot points in book 3. Pere Callahan’s story, wherein he wanders throughout different threads of time. He realizes he’s in different periods as he starts to see different faces on money and other subtle clues.
One of the best things that King does with time travel is the great balance of getting questions answered and keeping things super disorienting. It’s not as focused on the “rules” of time travel, because the rules are all falling apart like the rest of the world(s). The fact that he’s using time travel without getting bogged down in the minutiae is nice, but also that it doesn’t leave glaring plot holes is even better.
Oh the Places You Will Go
NEXT I’d like to bring to the table the general weirdness of this series. Literally everything you want can be found somewhere…contemporary pop culture references in random places? Yes. How about the combination of spaghetti western, Dirty Harry characters and wizards? Oh, absolutely. But what about a multiverse with parallel worlds and also a bunch of old timey saloons and shootouts? Check. A maniacal, riddle obsessed monorail? Nuclear fallout mutant people? Robots with nefarious purposes? Mysterious and powerful supervillians?! FUCKING I-70 HIGHWAY?! Yes, friends, all this and more (Wizard of Oz references and the most adorable badger/dog creature ever) can be found in the first 5 books of this series.
What a Group of Characters
ALSO can we talk for a second about the characters in these books?
Roland, who I’ve discussed at some length previously, is fascinating. He must balance his calling to the Tower with his love for his ka-tet. He is crippled in multiple ways, but continues his journey doggedly forward. In book 4, his history with Susan reveals the shattering grief that Roland carries with him all the time. He is hardened but vulnerable, intelligent but not always intuitive.
Jake Chambers is a boy wonder who must constantly live with the knowledge that his leader and father figure, Roland, let him literally fall off a cliff in order to learn about the Tower. In Roland’s defense, he pulls Jake back into the story and works to train and protect him; however, that doesn’t totally erase the enormity of sacrificing a child that you love for the sake of the Tower. Jake is strong and compassionate, with some telepathic abilities that are useful throughout the story. He is also just a kid, which is often brought to the fore with heartbreaking clarity.
Eddie Dean begins his story as a strung out coke addict, trafficking for a mid level crime boss in New York. At first he and Roland are enemies bound by a desire to survive, but they save each others’ lives in turn and slowly become partners. Eddie is complicated and often unsure of himself. His love for Susannah, Jake, and Roland, is strong and grounding. He, like Roland, carries grief and loss close to him; his is complicated, however, because his life before Mid-World was rife with drug abuse, emotional manipulation, and toxic relationships.
Susannah Dean/Odetta Holmes/Detta Walker/ MIA??!!?!?!? is a strong and unique character. In the beginning, her dissociation from Odetta to Detta creates tension for both her and her captors/strange but nice gentlemen. Eddie falls for Odetta quickly, and the feeling is returned. Their love is refreshing and sweet. Once she has been reunited with herself, Susannah is a vital part of the ka-tet. She is smart and perceptive. Her physical impairments make travelling difficult at times, but do not prevent her from being a formidable gunslinger. While the “one girl in the group” trope is clear and present, Susannah does not fall into the oft used mothering role. The love she feels for Jake is palpable; she sacrifices something very important to bring him into Mid-World in the first place. She also cares deeply for Roland, and her marriage to Eddie demonstrates their love and commitment to each other. She is generally badass, and specifically awesome.
In addition to these folks, there are some wonderful characters who serve various roles for Roland and his crew. In true Stephen King fashion, some characters from other novels appear throughout the series. The different settings through which the characters travel bring with them their own set of interesting people that the ka-tet gets to know; they must inevitably leave, however, and continue their pursuit of the Tower.
I am not done yet!!
The last thing I’ll say about the series is that I’m not done with it yet, and part of me doesn’t want to continue it because that will mean that it will eventually end. Each book is totally different in its mood and style. Each one is beautiful and complex and interesting. There is so much that these books have to offer, and I hope that you give them a shot if you haven’t yet.
What makes The Dark Tower series great to you? Are there other series that you gush about? Tell us in the comments!