“There they stood, ranged along the hillsides, met
To view the last of me, a living frame
For one more picture! In a sheet of flame
I saw them and I knew them all.”
—Robert Browning, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came”
Welcome to A Read of the Dark Tower series. Join me each week as I, Constant Reader, tackle the magnum opus of Stephen King’s career for the first time. If you want to discuss in general terms or talk about these or preceding sections, join me by commenting here.
Last week, we left Patrick behind and faced an end to the story as we began it: with the gunslinger alone.
The Dark Tower, Epilogue: Susannah in New York
We pick up the narrative when Susannah and her electric cart come through the door and land in Central Park. As in the dreams she’s been having, it is winter, snowfall is beginning, and Christmas carolers are singing “What Child is This.”
Among the onlookers is Eddie Dean and, like in her dream, he’s holding a paper cup that is probably filled with hot chocolate. Susannah is paralyzed for a moment, afraid he won’t recognize her, afraid he’ll turn and see a homeless black woman with no legs. Afraid he’ll turn and she’ll see Eddie the Junkie, brother of eminent sage Henry Dean, with hollow eyes.
In her head, she hears Roland’s voice challenging her to go, and she does, but not before she pulls out Roland’s gun. It’s plugged up and faded, and looks as if it hasn’t worked for decades. So she tosses it in the trashcan. The time of the gun is finished.
Before she reaches Eddie, he turns and sees her. To her horror, she sees puzzlement on his face. But he’s not on drugs—that, she can tell. And he smiles at her. He doesn’t know her, really. But he’s been dreaming of her, and knows her name is Susannah, and that, somehow, he loves her. “It occurs to her that he is going to kiss her again for the first time, and sleep with her again for the first time, and fall in love with her again for the first time.”
She asks who the president is, remembering that he told her that tall-tale about Ronald Reagan being president in his When, but he says it’s Gary Hart from Colorado (speaking of tall tales!). They compare dreams, and she knows everything’s going to be okay. “This time ka is working in her favor, and the force of ka is enormous.”
Eddie tells her it’s 1987, and when she asks if he lives in Brooklyn or the Bronx, he laughs and says no, he lives in White Plains, New Jersey, and brought his brother into the city to look at the polar bears. Susannah thinks he’s talking of his brother Henry Dean, but it’s his brother Jake that he calls to. Jake’s been dreaming of her too. Their last name, Eddie tells her, is Toren.
“And will I tell you that these three lived happily ever after?” Sai King the Narrator asks. “I will not, for no one ever does. But there was happiness. And they did live…That’s all. That’s enough. Say thankya.”
What Constant Reader Learns: I like the realization Susannah has that it doesn’t matter if this is the “real” world, the Keystone World. In this world, Eddie is alive again and who cares if he’s driving a Takuro Spirit and he lives in White Plains? I mean, I guess I could get all existential and talk about what reality is, anyway. We each have our own reality, our own version of a particular world. Each of us, in a sense, is the Gan of our own universe, right?
I feel very happy with this conclusion to the Eddie, Jake, and Susannah stories (and is it too much to hope, perhaps, that a dog named Oy ends up in their lives?), although it’s sad (but appropriate to the story, I think) that Eddie and Jake don’t remember Roland and he will soon fade from Susannah’s memories as well. It wasn’t so sweet as to strike a false note because, yeah, I’m still grousing about Eddie/Susannah “instalove” all this time later. But also not a downer. Perfect, sai King. I could end my story here happily but for one thing, and that is the fate of our gunslinger.
The Dark Tower, Coda: Found, Section 1:
Sai King our Narrator tells us he’s told his tale and is satisfied with it. “It was the kind only a good God would save for last, full of monsters and marvels and voyaging here and there.” It’s our fault, he tells us, we greedy, grim, “goal-oriented ones who will not believe that the joy is in the journey rather than the destination.” It’s our fault he has to continue, to show us what happens to Roland when he goes into the Dark Tower.
He hopes most of us will simply stop reading, because “endings are heartless. An ending is a closed door no man (or Manni) can open….Endings are heartless. Ending is just another word for goodbye.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Ah! He tells us, when urging us to stop reading with the picture of Susannah and Eddie and Jake in Central Park, that soon or later Oy will also enter the picture, “a canine version with a long neck, odd gold-ringed eyes, and a bark that sometimes sounds eerily like speech.”
Ho-ho, sai King. Very clever. You have warned us that if we do not like your ending, we have only ourselves to blame.
The Dark Tower, Coda: Found, Section 2:
Fine. If we insist on continuing to read: “Here is the Dark Tower at sunset.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Because he must give us another three-sentence section. He just can’t help himself.
The Dark Tower, Coda: Found, Section 3:
Roland approaches the Tower with a sense of what Eddie and Susannah would call déjà vu. He’s called out the names of those he’s loved and lost, and the horn sounds and he realizes it’s the voice of the roses. He also realizes he should have picked up the horn of Eld on Jericho Hill, or he hears a voice that tells him so, and he realizes it’s the voice of the Beam. As he reaches the door, the feeling of déjà vu continues to grow—“almost as though he had been here after all.”
He looks up at the balcony where the Crimson King had been stuck, and sees two angry red eyes glaring back at him. At the door is the sigul for UNFOUND. He lays the last of his gunna and his remaining gun on the ground and when he looks again at the door, it now reads FOUND. The door swings open and he hears the voice of the tower: “Welcome, Roland, thee of Eld.”
The Tower, we’re told, is not made of stone but is a living thing—Gan himself, likely.
He begins to climb and, nineteen steps up brings him to the first landing. The stones of the wall (which aren’t stones) are carved with faces, and he recognizing Calvin Tower. On the far side of the room at this landing he looks in and smells the bag of pine sachet his mother once placed in his bed. In the room, on the floor, lies a small cedar clip wrapped in blue ribbon, as one would wrap around a newborn’s umbilical cord. “’Twas my own,” Roland thinks. Among the faces now is his own, as a baby. He goes to the stairs and climbs again.
What Constant Reader Learns: Okay, I’m going to wax on a little while about my theories before I let Roland actually enter the Tower further. From the early days, I have wondered if Roland were on some kind of “playback” pattern, doomed to repeat the past until he finally got it “right.” Not necessarily picking up the horn, but finding his humanity sooner, maybe. Making different choices, maybe. Not reincarnation exactly because he comes back as himself. Ka dictates that he work through to some sort of perfection until he is allowed to reach some kind of resolution and find the clearing at the end of the path.
I haven’t really seen anything to dispute that theory yet, although I can’t quite wrap my head around how Sai King fits into the story other than one of Gan’s tale-spinners. But that doesn’t quite work for me, either, because if he was the mere chronicler, he wouldn’t be able, one wouldn’t think, to a) insert himself into the story or b) influence the outcome of the story, which he indeed did, bless his deus ex machine heart.
Unless maybe Sai King is himself working through to his perfection. Maybe if he helps Roland reach his successful conclusion, he will relive his life without a drunk guy running him down in a van. Or maybe I’m overthinking. It happens.
The Dark Tower, Coda: Found, Section 4:
Nineteen steps more and Roland reaches a second landing, where he finds bits of a baby’s blanket scattered around—at the hand of the petulant Crimson King, he assumes. On the wall now, he sees the face of Mordred. “Roland saw no hatefulness there now but only the lonely sadness of an abandoned child.” The scent memory here is of talc, again that his mother used on him as a baby.
What Constant Reader Learns: And so we see the last of the pathetic old Crimson King, as Roland looks out the window onto the balcony and picks up the screamed thoughts, with CK daring him to come out and meet him yet again, “an eye for an eye, may it do ya.” “I think not, for I have more work to do,” Roland says, and we’re told it was his last words to the Crimson King.
The Dark Tower, Coda: Found, Section 5:
On the third landing, Roland finds a corduroy dress that he’d worn as a one-year-old. Among the faces here is his father, but a younger version than the stern one Roland remembers. This one is imbued with the scent of Steven’s shaving cream, and he’s looking with pride on his young son Roland.
On the fourth floor is the collar of his first dog, Ring-a-Levio, aka Ringo. He’d died when Roland was three.
On the next floor Roland comes to he finds a bundle of feathers that had belonged to the hawk David. And Roland sees David in flight on the wall here, his wings spread over the people gathered in the courtyard of Gilead—including Marten. He also sees the face of the whore with whom he spent the night after he’d bested Cort.
What Constant Reader Learns: Apropos of nothing, my own first dog, when I was five or six, was named Ringo, after Ringo Starr. He too met a sad end.
Ick. Roland has an erotic flashback involving the whore and his mother touching him after his bath, and gets aroused. In case you missed me saying it earlier, ICK. And “Roland fled that room in fear.” Thank Gan. Not soon enough.
At the rate his life is flashing before his eyes, this is gonna be an awfully tall tower.
The Dark Tower, Coda: Found, Section 6:
The sky has grown dark outside the Tower, leaving Roland very little light to go by, but he still pushes on toward the top, even as he compares himself to one of the robots made by the Old People. Like them, he keeps doggedly pursuing the task he has been assigned or will die trying. And as he climbs, each room he encounters has a memento, a scent, more faces. In the thirty-eighth room, he finds the charred stake to which Susan Delgado had been tied, and her face on the wall. He forces himself to look at her, to hear her voice saying she loved him.
“This is a place of death, and not just here,” he thinks. “All these rooms. Every floor.” To which the Tower replies, “Yes, gunslinger, but only because your life has made it so.”
He begins to climb faster.
What Constant Reader Learns: It’s kind of an odd cycle, I guess. If he made other choices along the way—a choice to stay with Susan, for example, he would never have reached the Tower. So maybe making different choices is not the end game. … Hm. Because, damn it, sai King, I am one of those narrow-minded people who needs an ending.
The Dark Tower, Coda: Found, Section 7:
From outside, Roland had guessed the Tower was about six-hundred feet high, but as he reaches room number two hundred, he figures it has to be at least eight times that. His rational mind tells him there could not stand a tower as tall as this one, but still he continued to climb.
Roland passes a room with Zoltan, and one with the atomic pump from the Way Station. At some point, he realizes he’s seeing daylight through the windows again, and he’s had about enough. He begins to climb faster and stops looking into the rooms, stops noting the aromas of memory. Finally, the curved walls of the Tower narrow until he can barely pass through. In one final open door he glances in and sees Patrick’s pad with everything erased but two eyes. “I have reached the present,” he thinks. “I have reached now.”
The sunlight is brighter now, and harsher. There’s an unforgiving wind. He looks up into the narrow opening and counts nineteen steps to the room at the top. “I come,” he calls.
While the rooms along his climb have been open, this room at the top is closed. The name on the door is ROLAND. He grasps the doorknob and turns it.
As soon as the sun—“the sun of the desert that was the apotheosis of all deserts”—hits him, he understands that he has been turned back—“not to the beginning, when things might have been change and time’s curse lifted.” Instead he’s at the moment in the Mohaine Desert.
“How many times had he traveled a loop like the one in the clip that had once pinched off his navel…How many times would he travel it?” The hands of the Tower, of Gan, which “knew no mercy,” pulled him forward, propelled him through the door, and closed that door behind him. At that point, he has no memory of having done it before, and it’s always the first time.
What Constant Reader Learns: This eternal Tower reminds me of the biblical story of Jacob’s ladder. Jacob dreams he sees a stairway resting on the earth, with the top reaching to heaven, and angels were going up and down the stairway to heaven. (I badly want to make a Led Zeppelin reference but will refrain.)
That fits with the idea of the Tower being the mind of God, say thankya, and Roland needing to reach the top before finding his eternal rest. Maybe the faces he’s seeing along the way as he relives his life are the angels. And if there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now.
Sorry. If I have to hear it inside my head, so do you.
Yep, yep, yep. Perfect.
The Dark Tower, Coda: Found, Section 8:
The gunslinger sways on his feet, and for a second thinks he has already found the Tower, that he’d just been there. But the sensation fades and all he can think of is his thirst, and his determination to succeed on his quest.
He thinks of something Cort said to him: “You’re the one who never changes. It’ll be your damnation. You’ll wear out a hundred pairs of boots on your walk to hell.” He stops and shifts his gunna, touching the horn of Arthur Eld that he’d picked up at Jericho Hill when Cuthbert fell. He thinks he smells a hint of roses, and a voice whispers, “This is your sigul. This is your promise that things may be different, Roland—that there may yet be rest. Even salvation. If you stand. If you are true.”
He shakes it off and begins to walk.
The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.
What Constant Reader Learns: First reaction: This was the perfect ending. Absolute perfection.
What Constant Reader thinks, after reading the Author’s Note and pondering the story for a day or two.
When we began this journey just over three years ago(!), I was awaiting the publication of my first novel. My ninth recently came out, with three more in the release queue, and, to quote that eminent sage Jerry Garcia, what a long, strange trip it’s been. The constant through it, say thankya, has been my time as Constant Reader.
Truth is, I expected the resolution of the Dark Tower saga to be, as sai King’s “big bads” often are, anticlimactic. I remember reading It for the first time and finding the big reveal down in the tunnels to be disappointing. (WTH. A giant spider? It has more meaning now.) It is still my favorite Stephen King novel behind The Stand, but like many other SK books, including The Stand, the resolution is my least-favorite part. It’s the journey that matters, the buildup, the inner journey of the characters, and the way King can make them real for us in such a Ganlike way.
And so I expected that of the Dark Tower, especially when, like the Great Oz, the Crimson King turned out to be little more than comic relief after dreading and fearing him for thousands of pages.
Roland’s journey to the top of the Tower was a perfect ending for me but not because we needed the litany of smells and artifacts from his long life, or because the Tower was impossibly huge, or because we finally had confirmed what we suspected the gunslinger was about all along, running along the hamster wheel of ka and seeking not the Tower but his own humanity.
The story ending was perfect for me because it so beautifully wrapped around itself, ate its own tail, and restarted Roland’s cycle the way it began, with that single, magnificent sentence—only with a possibility that next time, or the one after that, or the one after that, he might make it to the clearing at the end of the path.
The “subplots,” if it do ya, remain the themes to ponder.
About the idea of worlds upon worlds.
About what constitutes “reality,” if indeed there is such a thing—or the presence of a “keystone” world where “reality” lives while we orbit around it, each in our own reality or world as we create and interpret it.
About the nature and origin of creativity and art. About whether, as the sole creators among God’s many creations, man is a part of the Godhead. And how that reflects in Stephen King’s forewords and afterwords to these novels, particularly the last, where he addresses his own presence in the books. “I never meant it to be pretentious,” he writes in the Dark Tower author’s note, “but only as a way of showing how life influences art (and vice-versa).”
I think, although I had varying reactions to it over the course of the novels, that he succeeded in avoided pretension and that his presence added an interesting wrinkle to ponder moving forward from the immediacy of the read.
Another thing to ponder: about what happens after death. About time. About immortality and humanity.
You know, big themes. The quests we’re all on, gunslingers or not.
So I will end with sai King’s words:
“I thank you for coming along, and sharing this adventure with me…I would not give back a single minute of the time that I have lived in Roland’s where and when. Those days in Mid-World and End-World were quite extraordinary.”
Luckily for us, in 2012, Stephen King made a late mid-story addition to the world of our ka-tet. In two weeks, on Monday, August 4, we will begin a read of The Dark Tower Book Eight: The Wind Through the Keyhole, when we’ll have a chance to visit yet again with our old friends from Mid-World.