Tower Analysis


This is the lesson to be learned from the Dark Tower series, by Stephen King, as I have come to understand it. It is my own interpretation and your mileage may vary. If you haven't read the entire series of seven novels, the context won't make sense. Those caveats out of the way, here's the gist:


Roland Deschain, the primary protagonist, ultimately failed in his quest. He achieved his objective, yes, but he did not succeed in his ultimate goal, which was to become a god. Like Icarus, he flew too close to the sun, to use a more familiar name for Roland's archetype.

So, let's look at archetypes. The Protagonist is a good place to start, because he is you/me/us. Usually a he, or she, or they, -but rarely an it, which is also telling, yes? ;) The rough definition is "The Good Guy." He's the hero of the story, sometimes the narrator, but the one we are intended to identify with. The one we're intended to learn from, in one way or another.

Roland Deschain's story is a familiar one, which is what makes him an archetype. The beginning is usually truncated a lot, because we all know that the story doesn't get good until the hero is at least able to walk and talk and do stuff, right? Up until the age of reason, which is also -coincidentally? - almost universally recognized across cultures as the onset of puberty and sexual awakening. At that point in any good story, something happens to the Protagonist's comfortable world, triggered by a Call to Action from a trusted authority figure.  

What follows is something so ingrained in our collective subconscious mind that nearly every epic tale follows the same pattern: The Hero’s Journey. Gilgamesh was the first in recorded history, and there have been literally millions of such stories ever since a nameless Babylonian storyteller chronicled the adventures of the titular character. Neo. Roland Deschain. Luke and Anakin Skywalker. Dorothy. Sally and Gillian Owens. Essentially, the Hero must go somewhere and do something for a great Cause. There are many obstacles, and as many friends to help out, along the way. Ultimately, the Hero either succeeds, and we have a happy ending, or he fails, and we have a tragic ending. When the story ends with a tragedy, we don’t get the Homecoming part of the story, either. It’s just a bad scene all around, man. Icarus failed. As did Oedipus, Sisyphus, Elphaba, and Roland Deschain.

Now, Roland does reach and enter his precious Dark Tower, and ascends to the top. Spoiler Alert! However, upon reaching the pinnacle of the Tower, he is sucked through a doorway, and planted right back at the beginning of his long, strange tale, where we first met him: right at the edge of the desert. The first and last line of the series are the same: “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” Stephen King pointed out, in the author’s notes at the end of Everything’s Eventual, that he has an idea that hell “may be repetition.” Although he was referring to “That Feeling, You Can Only Say What it is in French” in that case, the same could be said for poor, eternally damned Roland Deschain. He became a monster, perhaps, in attaining his prize by sacrificing the lives of innocents: Jake, twice, Eddie Dean, and even Oy. Susannah was spared, even got her own happy ending, her own version of Heaven, if you will.

However, there is a promise made to Roland, just before he starts out on his quest yet again: “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 has the Horn of Jericho now, and the scent of roses, faint in the nothing-smell of the vast desert. Those things, and a promise, that he will inevitably forget. These things give him hope, as they must have given Stephen King hope, and as they have given me hope.

Thanks, Steve. You’re a good guy, even if you are warped.


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