(2004) Stephen King, Hodder & Stoughton, £25.00, hrdbk, 686pp, ISBN 0-340-82721-1
So here it is, the final chapter. See also Song of Susannah, Wizard and Glass: The Dark Tower 4, and Wolves of the Calla. Susannah was taken at the end of volume six and now she waits to give birth to Roland's demon child. Father Callahan, Jake and Oy are hot on her trail in New York. Roland and Eddie are in Maine looking out for a certain writer. And the Crimson King awaits at the Dark Tower. So how does it all work out, and is it disappointing? I guess that depends on your point of view. You see, whenever you set up a 'quest', especially one with (implicitly) large consequences, it is like painting yourself into a corner - you leave yourself with few places to go. Total destruction; achieving godhead; circularity (as in the closing of a circle). Bearing in mind that there can be no 'happy ever after'; that would have been a cop-out. I will not tell you what happens, of course, but I will say that I was not a particularly happy bunny at the end. After God knows how many pages, words and years ploughing my way through this, I wanted more than King delivered. Oh, the writing is fine, but what do you expect. I think poor old Walter (Flagg) was wasted. I think there was a bit too much convenience at the end (notwithstanding that we've come to expect as much, primed by earlier volumes). And, despite nearly 700 pages, I thought this whole 'ending' was a bit rushed. Not that I would have liked to see it dragged out into another volume, but less digression earlier on would have allowed a more substantial ending. King also whines a bit about this not being a metafiction (on his dislike of the term), but if the cap fits, you gotta wear it. It is no use complaining at this stage that the 'Stephen King' character in the book is not an explicit authorial intervention, especially when he's done so much to link previous works into the Dark Tower sequence, both deliberately (with, say, Insomnia or even Black House) and retrospectively (as with 'Salem's Lot). Of course it is a metafiction! Just not a very satisfying one. Like 'quests', 'metafictions' come with their own set of problems, not least the whole air of deus ex machina that hangs about them.
This volume is illustrated by Michael Whelan; 12 mostly excellent colour plates and a whole bunch of black and white 'fillos' and chapter covers, though I also like Larry Rostant's cover (his Dark Tower is definitely the right one). The second volume of Robin Furth's concordance is yet to come, for the completist. As for the readers, well, I suppose a few of them will want to re-read the whole thing from the beginning, but it might be nice if it were possible to produce a 'timeline' so as to integrate the non-Dark Tower books at useful places. King has given me a lot of pleasure since I discovered him as a schoolboy, way back when (1974 in fact; has it really been 30 years?), and I will miss him if he truly retires, but time marches on and there are always new authors to read.
Also see The Dark Tower, A Concordance vol.1 by Robin Furth.
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