The Dark Tower Review (Part 3)
The following ends The Gunslinger (1982) & begins The Drawing of the Three (1987) by Stephen King, concerning the Crimson King & the Dark Tower.
Black & Red
Roland the Gunslinger has been chasing the Man in Black for time untold. However, the Man in Black is not the Gunslinger’s ultimate destination, nor his final villain. Once Roland emerges from the mountains after letting the boy, Jake Chambers, fall to his death with the Slow Mutants, the Gunslinger sits with the Man in Black around a campfire and they have a long palaver.
They talk about many complex & confusing ideas such as the death of Roland’s friends & the insignificance of the Gunslinger’s life, but after the conversation is over, Roland is sent into a deep slumber filled with psychedelic dreams. When he wakes, the fire is out, his hair has greyed, and the Man in Black is now just a dead skeleton wrapped in the ancient rags of his black cloak. Now Roland can move on; the Man in Black was only his first step on his path to the Dark Tower.
Because events in this book series double back on themselves and things become infinitely more complicated, I feel it’s important to clarify this campfire story now. Where the Man in Black has lead Roland is a place outside of time & space. If the Dark Tower represents all of existence, then they were hanging out on a balcony, connected to the Tower, but not inside of it. Everything is about to get a little esoteric.
Once Roland was asleep in his trance, the Man in Black was able to sneak away and fill his own clothes with a decayed skeleton in order to throw the Gunslinger off of his trail. No reason to keep pursuing a dead man. (And because of this bit of trickery, I hold out that the recent Dark Tower movie could still be salvageable in sequels or tv shows, but that is for another time.)
As for the Dark Tower itself, it kind of represents all things. First and foremost: obsession. Roland is going to get to the Tower even if he has to climb through hell to get there. He will abandon all friends & loved ones, leaving them behind, letting them die, or killing them himself. It also stands for all of existence: the floors of the Tower can be seen as the many different worlds & dimensions stacked on top of each other.
At the end of in-world, or maybe the beginning of end-world, the Tower stands supported by “beams” that connect different realms. These beams are somewhere between literal, physical support girders and a divine energy that balances on the protectors of the realms, like giant bears & turtles. If none of this makes sense, think of the belief about the world being balanced on the back of a giant space turtle. The example given in the books is of a scientist questioning a woman with this belief, “if the world is on top of a turtle, what’s under the turtle?” And her response is along the lines of “you can’t fool me Mr. Science Man, it’s turtles all the way down.”
Eventually more answers are given as to the literal, physical Dark Tower, but these abstract ideas are all the crumbs that can be gathered at the beginning of Roland’s trail. And it seems like the forces of evil are seeking to both rule & destroy the Dark Tower. Before his “death” at the campfire, the Man in Black reveals that he is actually a minion of the Crimson King, a madman who has wreaked havoc throughout mid-world and hopes to topple the Tower so he can rule whatever chaotic existence comes next.
It is implied in one of the books’ prologue “arguments” that the Crimson King is another possible alias for the Man in Black, but this is utterly untrue; they are two completely different people. Think of the Crimson King as the Emperor Palpatine to the Man in Black’s Darth Vader. Although I believe in Stephen King’s other works like Insomnia & The Stand, it is implied they are both manifestations of Satan or pure evil. (I hope to include those books in these reviews once I’ve read them.)
Side note: there is another archenemy from Roland’s past that we never actually get to meet. The Good Man, John Farson, was kind of like the General Lee of Roland’s world. This is, of course, assuming you are a sane person and think of the Confederates as the “bad guys.” Farson led an army of soldiers to destroy Roland’s home town of Gilead, as well as killed the last of Roland’s friends during a final battle at Jericho Hill. While only brief bits of John Farson are peppered throughout the books, both he & Jericho Hill become important figures in my ultimate interpretation of the Dark Tower.
Remember how the Man in Black served as Roland’s father’s wizard, under the name Marten Broadcloak, when the Gunslinger was a boy? Well the Man in Black also served as John Farson’s wizard using the name & face of Walter o’Dim. The same way he now serves as a pawn the Crimson King. Just because it’s important for clarity’s sake, these are three different people: the Crimson King, the Man in Black, and the Good Man John Farson: side note over.
The Man in Black believes he is smarter & more capable than the Crimson King, and will be able usurp his power & lord the Dark Tower is his stead. So the Crimson King wants to destroy it, the Man in Black wants to rule it, but Roland… kind of just wants to see it. His goal is not to save the Dark Tower, but it’s something he’ll have to do if he wants to see it while it is still standing. (Again, the movie version didn’t get as much wrong as its harshest critics suggest.)
At one point, Roland suggests God may live on the top floor of the Dark Tower, and the Gunslinger has a few questions he’d like to ask the Almighty. But it doesn’t seem like this is something Roland truly believes, he just has an obsessive desire to see the Tower & climb it if possible. His quest for the Dark Tower becomes our quest to read these books, to observe Roland’s journey and join him in the Tower.
So as the first book, The Gunslinger, ends, Roland leaves the mountains to sit on the shore of the western sea, and looks out across the water picturing a Tower he hasn’t yet seen with his own eyes. And he rests before taking his next step on his long trek. While he’s sleeping on the beach, poisonous lobstrosities come out of the water and bite a couple fingers off of his right hand, including his trigger finger. Thus begins book two of the Dark Tower, The Drawing of the Three. A poisoned & dying Gunslinger scrambling along the beach, missing fingers from his favored gun-hand.
To Be Continued…