(The Dark Tower: The Dark Tower VII)
We’re here. To steal a quote from another epic series, one that this series owes a lot to: here, at the end of all things.
Except it’s not, not really. After seven books (plus an eighth that I won’t be able to touch on for a while yet) that span a good thirty years in our time, it seems like it should be the end of all things, doesn’t it? But of course, it’s not. Stephen King is still writing — this series may be the work of a lifetime, but his release schedule suggests that he still has work left to do in his life. His books still have Dark Tower connections, too, so that’s not really finished, even here in the real world. And while the series, and this seventh book, spends most of its space building toward a conclusion, the conclusion is: there’s never really a conclusion. Roland goes on. Stories go on. We go on. Until we don’t, I guess, but who knows — I suppose there’s always a possibility that we do, even after we’re gone, somehow or another. And in any case, even if we individually don’t go on, we as a collective — humans, people, living beings — go on. And I suppose that even if we all die off, the planet will go on in some fashion, for long enough that it may as well be forever from our perspectives.
Am I rambling? This series, and this book, in particular, makes me feel philosophical.
I’m also thinking about the end of things, and the cyclical nature of things, and the possibility of an apocalyptic event a bit right now. If it matters, I’m writing this on February 24th, 2022. If you happen to come across this at some time far in the future (or the past? Who knows how whens work anymore?) you can look up what was going on in my current when. But honestly, no matter when you happen to be, there’s probably something — if not in your present, then in your not-too-distant past or looming like a specter over the future — that’s made you think about these things too. Because things are cyclical, especially big things. Lots of people much smarter and more informed than I have observed that history repeats itself, or at least echoes itself. So whoever you are and whenever you are, there’s probably reason to at least think, and maybe worry, about the end of the world, or your world, or somebody else’s world. It’s just inescapable.
Once again, even rabid Dark Tower fans will disagree on this book. Some love it, some hate it. Some love it all except the parts that actually involve the “real world” Stephen King. Some love it all but hate the end. I’ve even seen the opinion that the introduction of Ted Brautigan and the sequence involving the Breakers was a distraction, a digression, and not interesting (I strenuously disagree with that one for plot reasons — it seems to me that if saving the Tower that’s being held up by Beams is the goal, or part of the goal, or anything that matters at all, then stopping the people who are actively breaking those Beams is a vital part of the story. Like, I could understand someone being bored by it, I guess, but I can’t see how it’s unnecessary.) Most of this is just subjective opinion. It’s not bad because anyone says it is, and it’s not good just because I say it is.
But for the record, my subjective opinion is that it’s good. I’m sure there are problems I could pick at if I really wanted to, but the fact is that I enjoy the story enough not to want to. I do realize that King putting himself into the book, in an even bigger way than he already has — incorporating an actual life-changing event into the book — is crossing a line. I think that 99 times out of 100, it would be a mistake for an author to even try. I think this is that 100th time. For me, it works. It works partially because of the way King handles himself. I actually somewhat doubt this is “real King” — he makes himself out to be… just kind of mediocre as a person. And the characters are mostly just mad at him and mad that they have to go deal with him, which I find kind of hilarious. He’s definitely not the hero of the story, nor does he try to make himself God. Which is good! But, um, I suspect that in person, not as a character in a story, he’s at least slightly more impressive than he makes himself out to be. I don’t know him personally, and I hate to get too caught up in declaring a celebrity that I’ve never met and will never actually know as a person is really a good person, because how on earth would I ever know that? But I feel like impressive would be a fair word for someone like me to use. Who knows how he sees himself — but I kind of get the feeling that he figured his readers would accept him being a literal character in the story if he made character-Steve not particularly impressive as a person and little more than a conduit for the story we’re reading. And he’s probably correct in that assumption, so fair.
Anyway, I feel like the accident belongs here. I feel like it belongs here more than in other books it’s worked its way into. After all, this is his world, and his universe/multiverse. If you take this series out of the equation, you could assume that most of his other books take place in our world. But the series makes it clear that 1) there are lots of worlds, and 2) some of those stories take place in worlds that look like ours, but aren’t. Roland’s world is new to us, but it also makes it clear that we’ve visited new worlds before. The Stand wasn’t some hypothetical for our world — it can work that way, but it also took place in a world that was a lot like ours, but not ours — you just wouldn’t know it unless you happened to run across something like, say, a Takura Spirit on the road. Or a can of Nozz-a-la at the store. Knowing that this is possible makes almost anything possible. Carrie might not have gone to a prom in our world, maybe it was a world where McGovern beat Nixon in 1972. There would be no real reason to mention that in the story, so we wouldn’t know. So we have this brand new kind of world that is like nothing we’ve ever seen before, and all of these other worlds that look a lot like ours too, and King created them. And King, like everyone else, is a work in progress, created by all the experiences he has, people he meets, things he does, and so on. Well, if King were a world, that accident in 1999 would be like… a worldwide earthquake or flood? A world war? Maybe a nuke? Something so massive and destructive that it changed the basic structure of the world. Permanently. Not so much that it ended, but that change is always going to be there. And his work changed with it. All of it. Maybe especially this series, though. I don’t know what the direction of the last three books would have been if he’d never been hit by that van, but I do know that we have this as it is because he was hit by that van. So as far as I’m concerned, the event that massively changed the creator of the world and the universe we’re reading about and therefore changed that world and universe from what they were at the beginning of the series, belongs here.
I only wish we hadn’t had to lose Jake for that to happen.
I understand why we did, though. It was always going to be Roland in the end. That’s evident from the first page of the first book. The others more or less had to go somehow. I hated saying good-bye to any of them. It’s hard to lose all of them, and particularly hard to lose Jake in service of saving Stephen King. But it had to happen somehow. And he had a good death. If anything, in a way I sort of wish that we could have had more time in-between each loss. But on the other hand, it would also have sucked to lose any of them in earlier parts of the story and lose their contributions to that story. On balance, I suppose I’d rather keep them all longer, even if it means that the losses come rapidly when they do come. That’s the cost. It’s high, but we pay it and keep going.
As for the ending — you know, the first time I read this, I really considered stopping at the point where the author tells you to stop if you want a happy ending. I suppose I was never really going to (I wonder if anyone does? I would love to hear about it, if so). Leaving a book unfinished is just not really a thing that I can imagine ever doing. I finish books I hate. But I thought about it. Because we’d been through so much with Roland. I didn’t actually like him much in the first book, but by the end of the seventh? I wasn’t really sure I wanted to see another horrible thing happen to him.
And if you imagine an endless repetition of this cycle, the end is horrible. I like the theory that since he restarts the cycle with his horn, which he didn’t have before, it shows that he can change, and can learn and that he will eventually end the cycle and find rest. I don’t know if that’s true, though, really. It’s certainly a reasonable theory. But, to return to my pontificating at the beginning of this post, if you think about cycles that we can see when we study history over long periods — they don’t ever seem to stop. They may be on a very long loop, and the details might differ at different times and places, but they eventually come around again. When do cycles end? When the world stops spinning? That makes me think that Roland will just keep doing this until his world stops spinning. Which really would be the end of all things.