Gunslinger (Stephen King, 1982) / The Dark Tower (Stephen King, 2004) – The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed. And so begins his quest fraught with danger towards the mythical Dark Tower.
It is the journey, not the destination that matters in Stephen King’s tour de force.
A year ago, I put down The Gunslinger with a disparaging, “That’s it?”
Surely there must be more to Stephen King’s acclaimed work than a meandering walk through the vast desert, I thought. How wrong I was to have dismissed the story this early on, and thankful I am to have persisted. I write on with minimal spoilers, in hopes that you yourself might embark on this journey towards The Dark Tower.
What lies at The Dark Tower, you might ask? That I cannot tell. What you can learn however, is who to follow. In The Drawing of the Three, Roland Deschain of Gilead finds his ka-tet in ex-heroin addict Eddie Dean, troubled child Jake Chambers and afflicted lady Susannah. He draws death and danger too, in search of the elusive Man in Black.
Before long, I was travelling among friends through the trials in the Wolves of the Calla. Darkness, with a hint of uneasy humour, beckons. Never had I read a 900-pager this quickly in my life. Twists and turns abound, the immense western glides across genres and ventures even beyond fiction. I savoured one of the most rewarding build-ups in my reading history, before moving on in mad anticipation.
Enter Stephen King in the Song of Susannah. In likening his own obsessive pursuit of an end to the Gunslinger’s, he boldly crafts a complex multiverse with admirable ease. Only King can write himself into his very own novel and make it an essential play. How can one not love his guts – not to mention capability – in letting his thought processes become part of the tale?
Magnitude does not hinder King from fleshing out a coherent story. The magnum opus remains riveting in his magnificent construction of a giant fantasy universe and above all, brilliant characters. All of whom cast such vivid shadows that there are times they seem as real as you and me. I can only dream of calling onto a ka-tet of such authenticity in their conviction.
And so the band soldiers on for a good 30-odd years. In 2004, Stephen King/Roland finally arrives at the end of his weary quest. Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came. His adventure has been long and at times, draining. It bears a heavy cost, as the ka-tet whom we have grown to love falls apart.
The bold and divisive end feels right, even if not entirely satisfying. But as King puts it, the joy is indeed in the journey rather than the destination. As The Dark Tower thudded close, I reiterated, “That’s it?”
Only this time, I wanted more.
May our beloved wordslinger’s inspiration never die.