Wednesday, January 26, 2005

50 Book Challenge #5 & 6: Song of Susannah & The Dark Tower

Ten years after beginning it, I have finally read the last of Stephen King's Dark Tower series. It's been 16 years if you count backward from my first exposure to King, which was his related work The Eyes of the Dragon. In any case, my journey along the path to the Dark Tower has been long and ardous (sneaking into my mother's closet for the paperback copies of books two and three she bought me for Christmas and surreptitiously reading them without breaking the spines was devilishly hard work), if not as difficult as King's. He, after all, nearly didn't finish the series due to an unscheduled encounter with a drunk driver. But last year the last two books of the series were published, and I have dawdled all this time before reading them. King claims he is retiring now that the great work is done. And it was a great deal of work; no less than 21 of his books are in some sense about the quest for the Tower. I've read them all.

That explains my dawdling, for I knew that any ending would inevitably disappoint. King already has terminal diarrhea of the word processor and is too big a name to submit to rigorous editing anymore. He wrote himself into the tale and out of it again. He took us on 800 page detours without giving more than the barest outlines of other past events. Yet I persisted. Like Roland, I had come too far to turn back.

Books 6 and 7 of the Dark Tower series cannibalize King's own writing, since he's using them to tie together the threads of his books that only elliptically refer to the quest. But they also needlessly cannibalize others' works, randomly snipe at "literary fiction" authors who King had a personal tiff with a few years ago, and whipsaw between reluctance to deprive the reader of a happy ending (mere saccharine pandering) and brutal savagery. I much prefer the latter, but even that sags; King's horrific images are repetitions of what he's given us in earlier books of even earlier chapters.

The quest has ended, and supposedly King's career has as well. I bid him farewell, and thank that younger King for the pleasure he gave. For the King in this world, the King who wove himself within the tale, I have less warm regard. But I respect him for at least partially repressing his urge to throw us all back into the journey again. For me, once is enough.
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