Marmite Ending: An Analysis of The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King
Love It or Hate It
BEWARE: HERE BE SPOILERS. If you're even thinking of reading the Dark Tower series by Stephen King, please don't read this.
Of the things that cause the most comment when in reference to Stephen King's novels, one of the most common seems to be the endings. The ending that generates the most criticism is, perhaps understandably, that of the Dark Tower series. Yet this in itself arguably makes a comment on the topic of novels and their conclusions.
Firstly, after the initial effect of the ending has faded somewhat, retrospective consideration should reveal that we have been prepared for it throughout the series. Again and again we are hammered with the phrase "Ka is a wheel", so the circular structure should not be a complete surprise. Secondly, for those who feel that this ending condemns Roland, who has probably come to be many readers' favourite character, the cicular structure gives hope for him. Instead of a definite ending which either dooms him or saves him, we know what he, although trapped to repeat the journey, one day he will finally 'do it right', for want of a phrase. If it were truly a punishment, he would be forced to repeat with no improvement, and to remember each and every journey, like in a short story of King's that depicts hell as repetition.
It is my belief that what Roland needs to understand is that it is not the Tower itself, but the journey that he takes that is important. It is his and his ka-tet's duty to remind people of the days before the world moved on, to bring back the days of Eld, but before he can, he needs o remember them himself. There also seem to be hints that this journey has been done many times before -- the ka-tet's ability to take to gunslinging so quickly, Eddie's finding that he knows how to ride a horse, small nuances like that. There has likely been improvement in every one -- perhaps the first time, Roland even grows so disgusted with Eddie that he kils him on the beach on which they meet, as is threatened in The Drawing of the Three. This is merely speculation of course, but serves to reiterate the point that the story contained in the books is not the first journey, but one in which we have been invited to join. It certainly seems like a turning point, with Roland finally remembering to pick up the horn of Eld. If readers despair to find Roland's only 'reward' at the top of the Tower is to repeat it all again, then the penultimate moment where he touches the horn at his side must bring back some hope (indeed, a great deal of hope should be contained in that artefact of old).
As mentioned, this conclusion seems to be a comment on the attributes of endings. Like Roland, the reader is being reminded that the journey is equally as important as the consummation. It does seem to be the habit of some readers to race through a novel, determined to reach the climax, and immediately move onto the next book. The circular structure also serves as a reminder of the nature of books -- they are not linear, once the final page has been read, one can read and reread it. And like with Roland's journey, it can improve with each new read; indeed, in my opinion, this series needs to be read many times to get the full effect. There is simply too much going on to be able to pick it all up on the first handful of reads.