A few weeks ago now I finished Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series after months of reading. They are long novels, and all told thousands and thousands of pages over seven books. After so much commitment, I wish I could be writing a glowing review, but unfortunately…
The first four novels, The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three, The Wastelands, and Wizard and Glass, were very good. I will even go so far as to say that the first (The Gunslinger) and the fourth (Wizard and Glass) were excellent. The first novel was very original, and its writing style unique (even in context of the writing of the rest of the series). The Westworld– esque world it portrayed was a post-apocalyptic nightmare, with enough hints of the world (ours or one like it) that had “moved on” for you to feel strangely comfortable in a world so twisted.
Wizard and Glass likewise, I absolutely loved. It is actually one of the best fantasies I’ve read and I would’ve like to have read an entire series set in that period of King’s world, not as far “moved on” as during the rest of the series, featuring a world-after-the-present that is at once Wild West, King Arthur, and fairy tale. There’s the failing remnants of technology mixed with bizarre magic, and a cast of unforgettable characters, vile and heroic.
Then, I read the final three books and felt, well, cheated…swindled…ripped off…and, overall, angry. Wolves of the Calla is an overly long episode that could have been much shorter, and exists solely to reinforce the case (revealed at some point) that King is interjecting bits of other things (in this case Kurosawa films) into his work. The final two novels I had to force myself to read, simply because I had already invested so much, and I hoped he didn’t take the story where it seemed he was taking it. Of course, he did.
At its core, you find out that The Dark Tower, called by so many King’s “mangum opus,” is essentially self-important, overly pretentious, metafiction. It is King stroking his own ego. It is, ultimately, masturbatory. You can almost, though probably don’t want to, imagine King sitting at his wordprocessor jerking off and making a mess all over the screen when he inserted himself into the story as god, or at least the interpretive voice of god. It isn’t clever. It’s a stupid trick.
It’s a stupid trick on par with the coordination and linkage between The Dark Tower books and (nearly) all of King’s other writings. I had plans before book 5 to go back and reread The Stand and also read Salem’s Lot, and perhaps some other novels that were related. Now, there’s no chance in hell I will do so, especially following the end of book 7, The Dark Tower.
When you finally reach the end, when you finally reach The Dark Tower with Roland of Gilead, finally reach the battle with the Crimson King, it’s anticlimactic. You don’t get the orgasm. King’s stolen it from you, having already blown his load all over the thousands of pages, and leaves you with a horrible case of reading blue balls, ones he tries to perpetuate ad infinitum once you and Roland finally reach the top room of the Tower and come to his cruelest joke of all, one I’m sure he found very clever. Instead, the lack of finality is pathetic. It shows that he couldn’t be bothered to write a real ending, or perhaps lacked the writing ability or imagination to do so, or, and perhaps worse, he gleefully manipulated the reader to further demonstrate his power as the author/god. No matter what the reason, the “ending” does nothing more than sour the entire experience even more.