Commala-Come-Come, the Story's Nearly Done

Some people read a poem and never think of it again. Some read the same poem and write another poem. Others are inspired to paint, or to draw or to make a sculpture. Some write a short story based on something from the poem that spoke to them. And every once in a while someone writes a series of books, spanning thirty odd years, thousands and thousands of pages and breaking his readers hearts. That person is Stephen King and the books are the Dark Tower series, culminating in the final book, The Dark Tower.

I put off reading this book for almost an entire year. I wasn't sure I wanted to know what happens. I've been following some of these characters for twenty years now and I knew that not all of them were going to make it to the final page. How do I know this? Neil Gaiman summed it up very well when he was discussing the difference between comedy and horror in the novel. He said, "In a comedy, part of the underlying agreement is that good people and bad people will get what they deserve, and that happy endings will be earned, and the universe rewards nice people and sensible ones. In horror the underlying agreement is that there is no justice and that good people may be fed to the lions at authorial whim."

In the world of Stephen King the lions might be giant spiders or insane clowns but the basic idea is the same, all bets are off when you're reading horror. I kind of thought I would be better off imagining these much loved characters questing on forever, battling new dangers but always secure in the comfort of their companionship so I put off reading the book. Then last week the middlemost member of the Quality Time team got his hands on the last book, read it and has been demanding that I read it so we can discuss. I gave in and picked it up and was swept into the story.

The Dark Tower starts off with everyone in trouble. Father Callahan, Jake and Oy are about to enter the Dixie Pig to rescue Susannah, who is mind linked to Mia, who is about to give birth to a child who, well let's just say he makes Damian of The Omen fame look like a cherub. Eddie and Roland are trying to get from 1970's Maine where they have impressed upon a lazy writer the universal importance of writing their story back to Susannah before all hell breaks loose. It's not just the characters who are in trouble; the entire universe is in trouble. The Dark Tower is ever closer to falling and when the Tower falls, all of creation falls, to be replaced by blackness and nothing. Could the stakes be any higher? I don't think so.

It's hard to imagine that all of the different spinning tops that make up the storylines, all of those ends tie together and all those characters from so many books (Ted Brautigan from Hearts in Atlantis has a starring lead in this one) will meld together to create a satisfactory ending. Indeed there is a lot of debate about the ending. Stephen King himself says in chapter one of the coda "Should you go on, you will sure be disappointed, perhaps even heartbroken." He's talking there about something he wrote for those who aren't satisfied with the ending he wrote, with the place where he feels the story ends but it works in a larger sense for the entire series. No matter how beautiful the language, how stirring the battles, the fiendish the enemies and how heroic the heroes, there will always be a part of the Constant Reader that doesn't want the story to end, that will think "that isn't really all, is it?" and of course it's not. One of the wonderful things about reading is that it's interactive. So long as you can imagine the characters moving on in new stories they will. As long as you wish them long days and pleasant nights that's just exactly what they'll have. Ultimately, dear reader, the fate of these worlds lies in your hands.