The Dark Tower Series – Stephen King
Set in a world of ominous landscape and macabre menace, The Dark Tower features one of Stephen King’s most powerful creations—The Gunslinger, a haunting figure who embodies the qualities of the lone hero through the ages, from ancient myth to frontier Western legend. As Roland crosses a desert of damnation in a world that is a twisted image of our own, he moves ever closer to the Dark Tower of his dreams—and nightmares.
I finished Stephen King’s Dark Tower series in June, and I thought I’d do a review of the whole thing. I’ve never attempted to review a series before. I divided the review into categories, but maybe you should reverse the categories because I seem to love the things that everybody else hates. *This review contains spoilers.* Proceed with caution if you plan to read this series.
If you want to see my spoiler-free opinions, check out my reviews of the individual books: book #1 (The Gunslinger), book #2 (The Drawing of the Three), book #3 (The Waste Lands), book #4 (Wizard and Glass), book #4.5 (The Wind Through the Keyhole), book #5 (Wolves of the Calla), book #6 (Song of Susannah), and book #7 (The Dark Tower).
The Dark Tower Series Wrap-Up
World-building: The Dark Tower universe is one of my favorite fictional universes. It’s so vivid and believable. The characters have their own dialects, religions, cultures, values, etc. I am in awe of Stephen King’s world-building talent. Book #4.5 is pretty much nothing but world-building and I didn’t mind at all. In fact, I loved it.
Description and imagery: Stephen King is so good at writing description. I could clearly picture everything in this series. I love all the bizarre, unsettling details he includes in his stories.
The writing in The Gunslinger (Book #1): This book is more poetic and experimental than Stephen King’s usual style. I wish he would write like this more often.
The city of Lud: There are some moments in literature that you’ll never forget. The scenes that happen in Lud are something that I’ll never forget. In the city, weird, mutant humans murder each other whenever they hear music. Then, a computer malfunction causes the whole city to commit mass suicide. How screwed up is that? Even for Stephen King, that’s screwed up.
Wizard and Glass (Book #4): I know that a lot of people hate this book, but it’s my favorite in the series. I think I like it so much because I first heard this series described as a “Sci-fi/fantasy/western.” This book came closest to what I was expecting from a sci-fi/fantasy/western. It has all the cowboys and magic I wanted.
Mutant creatures and “Roont” twins: The creatures in this series are slightly off-kilter. There are giant white wasps, deer with extra legs, bears with satellite dishes sticking out of their heads, and towns where people only give birth to twins. I love how familiar creatures are a little strange in this world.
Cuthbert and Alain: I like both of these characters. This is another unpopular opinion, but I like them more than Eddie and Susannah. I think I’m just really interested in Gilead and want to know more about the people who grew up there. I wish King would write another book set in Gilead. Also, (this is going to sound weird and random), but I like that Alain died from friendly fire. That happens all the time in real life, but fictional heroes usually don’t mess up that badly. I like that the heroes accidently kill their friend. It’s realistic.
The overlap with King’s other books: I have read a lot of Stephen King books. I love that this series references some of King’s other books.
The end: A lot of reviews say that the end of the series is anticlimactic—and it is—but the anticlimax makes perfect sense to me. Roland has sacrificed everything to reach the tower. Is anything worth sacrificing the people you love? It makes sense to me that the villains wouldn’t be as great as Roland (or the reader) expects. Roland has built up the tower so much in his mind that nothing can possibly live up to his expectations. Even the room at the top is a letdown. Getting to the top of the tower may not have been worth the sacrifices. The ending gives Roland another chance to learn that lesson.
Mordred: I hated him when Susannah was pregnant with him. I never want to hear the word “Chap” again. But, I liked him once he was born. His birth scene is terrifying. Reading it made me feel better about my decision not to have children. Also, I’m scared of spiders, so a werespider is my worst nightmare. But, by the end of the last book, I felt bad for him. Even though he’s part giant demon-spider, he’s still a child. It’s sad to see him wandering alone through a blizzard, slowly dying from food poisoning and hypothermia.
The Wind Through the Keyhole (Book #4.5): Even though this book doesn’t advance the plot of the series at all, I still like it. The world is so interesting that I didn’t mind reading a book that is just world-building and backstory. The book is entertaining and short (compared to the rest of the series).
Roland Deschain: I don’t like Roland as a person, but he’s fascinating to read about. Some of his mysteriousness does start to wear off by the end of the series. I liked reading about him more at the beginning, but he held my attention the whole way through. He’s an unusual character.
Susannah: I hated her from the moment Roland dragged her through the door from her world to his. I hate the annoying way she speaks. I hate her multiple personalities. I hate that we get to learn so much about Odetta/Detta/Maya (her personalities) and nothing about Susannah herself. Susannah seems to be the complete absence of personality. Who is she? I think I was supposed to be sad when she left at the end of book #7, but I was ecstatic that I wouldn’t have to read about her anymore.
Confusion: These books are weird, especially at the beginning of the series. Not much is explained. The reader is expected to go along with the weirdness and confusion. I was fine with this for a while, but then I started wishing that someone would just tell me what the heck is going on.
Bloated books: These books are long. Some of them are over 800 pages. Almost all of them are unnecessarily bloated and needed editing. It’s obvious that Stephen King didn’t have a plan for the series when he started it. The story meanders a lot. There are dropped plot threads and dead ends. I would have liked the series more if some of this excess stuff had been edited out.
Stephen King as a fictional character: I have mixed feelings about King putting himself in his own books. It’s hilarious because Roland hates him, and King doesn’t paint a very flattering portrait of himself in the books. Fictional Stephen King is a whiny loser. It’s funny, but it also pulls the reader out of the story. When I’m reading fiction, I want to be immersed in the fictional world. Seeing the author as a character made me way too aware that I was reading a story. I couldn’t achieve the level of immersion that I wanted.
Wolves of the Calla (Book #5): I’m conflicted about this book. Some of the best world-building occurs in it, but it’s so boring. I spent hundreds of pages waiting for something to happen. The book is 700+ pages long, and all of the action happens in the last 50 pages. It was tedious to get through.
Deus ex machina: Stephen King relies a lot on deus ex machina, and he makes sure the reader knows that he’s using it. I wasn’t bothered by it at first, but I think he overdid it. It started to feel too meta for me. I was pulled out of the story. I don’t want to be that aware of an author’s writing process while I’m reading.
Insta-love: Eddie and Susannah fall in insta-love. The explanation for this is “Ka” or “Destiny.” They’re in love because they’re meant to be in love. There isn’t much of a romance. They meet, and then suddenly they’re calling each other “Husband” and “Wife.” Since I like Eddie and don’t like Susannah, I never understood their relationship. I don’t know what they see in each other.
Blaine the Mono: Blaine is a monorail that enjoys riddles. For some reason, I was supposed to find him scary. I just found him stupid. Stephen King is so good at writing villains. I’m not sure what he was thinking with this one. I couldn’t take Blaine seriously.
Cutesy rhymes and annoying dialect: There is a lot of dialect and simple repetitive rhymes (such as “Blaine is a pain”) in this series. The repetition of the rhymes got on my nerves immediately. The dialect is fine when the characters use it, but when the narrator also uses it, it becomes too much. It started to remind me of my undergrad lit classes when I had to slog through whole books written in dialect. I’m just not a fan.
Song of Susannah (Book #6): Ug, this book. Nothing happens in it. At the end of book #5, Susannah goes into labor. I was so excited to finally see her demon baby. By the end of Song of Susannah, she still hasn’t had the baby! She doesn’t have the baby until book #7. Do you know what happens in book #6? Susannah takes a taxi from a hotel to a restaurant. That’s it. The book is 300+ pages of weirdness and nothing.
The Wizard of Oz references: There are a lot of them. I just don’t think they are necessary. Sometimes it feels as if King is trying too hard to cram a reference into a scene where it isn’t needed. I didn’t think the references added anything to the story. They’re just distracting.
Overall, I enjoyed this series. I’m glad that I finally had a chance to read it. I don’t think it’s Stephen King’s best work, but it’s worth reading. I had a lot of fun with it. The series is especially worth reading if you’re a fantasy author who wants to learn more about world-building. The Dark Tower universe is stunning.