Year Published: 2004
“Re” Word: Revelation
Dedication: “He who speaks without an attentive ear is mute. Therefore, Constant Reader, this final book in the Dark Tower cycle is dedicated to you. Long days and pleasant nights.”
While I do find this a little portentous, it is a nice sentiment and feels like a culmination of all the dedications thus far.
Overview: In the final book of the series, our ka-tet endures many battles and heavy losses, first in freeing the Breakers from Algul Siento, and then saving the life of a man named Stephen King. Once these tasks are done, Roland endures the final leg of his journey to the Dark Tower.
THE LITTLE RED KING
Almost from the moment of its publication, everyone I know has said this: these entire first seven chapters are actually the ending of SONG OF SUSANNAH and belong there. Putting them at the end of the previous work would have played so much better and strengthened it as a stand-alone book. These seven chapters feature the culmination of Callahan’s plotline, the resolution of the John Cullum/Tet Corporation plotline, the main villain of SONG OF SUSANNAH (Sayre) receiving his comeuppance, and the ka-tet’s reunion is even written in a way that feels like the ending of a book. These seven chapters just end plotlines; they don’t introduce new ones. I understand that SK felt some pressure to try and end the penultimate book of the series on a cliffhanger, but in doing so, he just shortchanged Book Six considerably to the point that it felt too much like an abrupt middle-chapter. So in short, whenever I critique the seventh book, I don’t even remember to include this section, because in my mind, this section is all SONG OF SUSANNAH.
BLUE HEAVEN and IN THIS HAZE OF GREEN AND GOLD
So now DT7 actually begins, and this first half is excellent. There are some beautiful pieces of writing including Eddie’s and Jake’s deaths. Two wonderfully heart-wrenching death scenes, showing how full circle each character came in his respective relationship to Roland. I had forgotten that Eddie calls Roland “Father” at the very end; that just chokes me up. I loved Pimli Prentiss, the misguided villain with depth unfortunately fated to be the one to kill Eddie. And then there’s Irene Tassenbaum, the middle-aged house wife who ends up becoming Roland’s companion and witness to Jake’s death. King’s description of their lovemaking is some the most moving and somber writing of his career. Roland’s visit to the Tet Corporation is pretty great as well. Pretty much everything in this section is great, even Ted Brautigan’s backstory, which felt more relevant and concise than the three chapters of backstory we got for Callahan.
THE WHITE LANDS OF EMPATHICA and THE SCARLET FIELD OF CAN’-KA NO REY
But then comes the second half of the novel. Our big climax has happened and some beloved characters have died, and so the pace grinds to a halt. WOLVES OF THE CALLA, SONG OF SUSANNAH, and the first half of DT7 all felt like a strong, interconnected trilogy where the momentum only built faster and faster. Yet all of this seems to dissipate when we reach our second half. Thank goodness Susannah was not killed off in the previous book as per SK’s original plan, or this second half would really have been boring with Roland having no one to talk to. Click here for a more detailed review I gave highlighting virtually every flaw that occurs in that second half, including Susannah’s anti-climatic exit, Mordred and the Crimson King being let-downs, and the tacked-on inclusion of Patrick Danville, who has God-like powers yet no one thinks to have him draw Susannah some legs! But this leads to another discussion.
Having now had ten years to digest the shortcomings of the saga’s end, I have to question how much was intentional. It would seem that SK intentionally meant to make let-downs and a feeling of anti-climax be a motif in this book. Consider all of the following:
1) Walter/Flagg was our original adversary, Roland’s lifelong nemesis, and WIZARD AND GLASS implied a major confrontation between the two, yet he is killed off early in this book by a baby. This is even more surprising when one considers Randall Flagg being one of SK’s most iconic characters since 1978!
2) Despite being minions of evil and trying to bring about the end of creation, most of the Crimson King’s forces (in particular Sayre’s minions and the staff at Algul Siento) are portrayed as inept and unprepared for conflict.
3) Sheemie is reintroduced into the saga in a charming surprise and he helps our heroes out. And then he dies suddenly in passing, with Roland not even around to witness it!
4) Of all of SK’s other books, INSOMNIA has always been cited as the one most directly tied to the DT series, and one every fan should read. The Tet Corporation themselves even tell Roland about this. Yet Roland ends up discarding the book; an indirect way of SK telling us “I’m retcon-ing that.”
5) The Castle of the Crimson King is described an evil place full of death, from which the Crimson King ruled over on his throne made of human skulls, but we just pass by the castle and don’t even go inside.
6) After being Roland’s companion for so long and going through so much in the name of the Tower, Susannah decides to just abandon the quest and exit the story at a random point because the plot just needs her to.
7) Mordred, the anti-Christ of this world, whose coming has been prophesized for centuries, is an inept little pissant who is weakened by food poisoning and bad diarrhea. He has multiple chances to attack our heroes but never does until the very end, and he is bested by Oy.
8) Despite being built up for books and books, the Crimson King turns out to be an odd cartoon character whom even SK himself tells us looks “comical” and comes off as more funny-crazy than actually evil or any kind of serious threat.
9) After being built up in INSOMNIA as a great savior, Patrick Danville is thrown into the final fifth of the novel, his backstory never really explained, appears simple-minded and is disliked by Roland, has God-like powers that the others just shrug off, and when he saves the day at the end, Roland resents it. The “unimaginable final battle” we were told would happen at the Dark Tower wasn’t really a battle at all.
10) Once Roland enters the Tower, SK actually stops the book and tells us not to keep reading because we won’t like how the story ends. He then reveals that Roland’s lifelong quest only results in an endless loop; his reward is his own damnation.
11) And then, even after we finish the novel, SK greets us in the afterword by saying “I didn’t really like how the story ended. I know I wasn’t really successful with what I set out to do. Oh well. Don’t bother me if you didn’t like it.” I’ve often wondered if SK is sincere here or if he’s “in character.” His sentiment here seems to contradict what he wrote in the dedication, where he seemed to love the fans.
So what was SK trying to say by making this such a strong motif of the novel? That Roland was selfish and we were wrong to root for him? I think some of these choices, such as Flagg’s fate and what Roland finds at the top of the Tower, are excellent and bold storytelling decisions; honestly, what else could have been at the top of the Tower? Some of the other choices, such as Susannah’s random exit and Mordred, strike me as ideas that could have worked but needed better execution. I’ve heard that the Crimson King was SK paying homage to the Wizard of Oz; after lots of build-up, he’s just an old humbug behind a curtain. But then again, the Wizard wasn’t the main antagonist of that story. The one flaw I do find unforgivable is Patrick Danville. It really does feel like he was a character thrown in as a contractual obligation.
Okay, so I’ve bashed and bashed this book in what’s grown into a very long article. You probably think I hate it.
Nope. I like it. Basically, it’s the polar opposite of what I said about SONG OF SUSANNAH. There, I liked many plot elements, but felt the story didn’t come together well. DT7 has a lot of plot problems, mostly in the second half, but it’s okay. When put all together, the book has a certain elegance to it (well, except for the passages about Hayliss eating boogers and Mordred farting). It knows it’s the final entry, and it proudly brings everything to a culmination.
So, criticisms aside, I like DT7. What it offers us is flawed but strong. In fact, it’s the strongest in this final trilogy of books.
-Longest book of the series at 288,000 words. However, if one removes the first seven chapters and puts them at the end of the previous book, as I recommend, then WIZARD AND GLASS becomes the longest, at 264,000 words.
-Walter’s Cameo: Walter makes his final appearance early in the novel when he is killed by Mordred. We finally learn his full backstory, and this his birth name is Walter Padick.
-Legless once more, Susannah never gets a permanent wheelchair in this book; instead she uses various contraptions before exiting the story on an electronic wheelchair.
-This book features multiple references to IT: Joe Collins/Dandelo takes on the shape of a clown before he is killed, the robot our heroes encounter is named Stuttering Bill, and we have a showdown with a giant spider (both Mordred and the giant spider in IT are clear homages to Shelob in LORD OF THE RINGS, another work SK frequently pays homage to).
-Being the end of the saga, this is the only book to include two epilogues, one about Susannah, and a Coda about Roland. Having extended or multi-part epilogues is a common device of SK’s, having also done so in IT and THE STAND.
-At the end of the book, Susannah travels to 1987 where she meets Eddie and Jake Toren. 1987 was the year Eddie Dean originally came from (as well as when THE DRAWING OF THE THREE was published). Returning to this year brings their story full circle.
-When SK started writing the series in early 1970, he was 22 years old. By the time he published the first story in late 1978, he was 31. By the time THE GUNSLINGER was published in book form, he was 35. DT7 was published on his 57th birthday!
The Book Itself: While flawed and featuring questionable plot points, DT7 is still very strong and ends the saga with a sense of dignity and epic scope. Not as strong as when the series started, but definitely the best of the final trilogy. Verdict: This is the FIFTH BEST book of the seven.
Afterword: As stated before, SK comes off as bitter in his afterword, outright chastising the fans, and seeming to show a lack of confidence in his work. I discuss this more here. Definitely not the way I expected a book that I’d spent years anticipating to end; though I question of this is really SK talking or if he is “in character.” Verdict: This is the SIXTH best afterword of the series.
Illustrations: These are beautiful! Michael Whelan returns and the artwork, pictured throughout this article, is lovely. The ka-tet at Algul Siento, Mordred in the snow, Jake’s burial, and the Crimson King on his throne are all great. But my absolute favorite is the one of Callahan below. Love it! Verdict: This is tied with THE GUNSLINGER for the FIRST and SECOND BEST illustrations of the entire series.
1. The Gunslinger (the 1982 afterword is a masterpiece and the 2003 foreword is also good)
2-3-4 (tie). The Drawing of the Three, The Waste Lands, Wizard and Glass (same basic idea)
5. Song of Susannah (basically an acknowledgments page, but a funny one)
6. DT7 (comes off as bitter)
7. Wolves of the Calla (what afterword?)
1-2. (tie) The Gunslinger and DT7 by Michael Whelan (fucking badass!)
3. The Drawing of the Three by Phil Hale (interesting Gothic approach)
4. Wolves of the Calla by Bernie Wrightson (adequate)
5. The Waste Lands by Ned Dameron (too cartoony)
6. Wizard and Glass by Dave McKean (an admirable failure)
7. Song of Susannah by Darrel Anderson (a miserable failure)
BEST OVERALL BOOK
1. The Gunslinger (not for everyone, but I find it a poetic, haunting look at an alien world)
2. The Waste Lands (a masterpiece that really builds this world)
3. Wizard and Glass (also not for everyone, but serves as a completion to that world-building)
4. The Drawing of the Three (a fun, straightforward action-adventure story)
5. DT7 (flawed but contains a beautiful elegance as the completion to the saga)
6. Wolves of the Calla (not bad; just not particularly good)
7. Song of Susannah (feels fragmented, dragged out, and unfocused)
And that’s all for me, Constant Readers! Long days and pleasant nights!