WHEN KINGS MET AT THE DARK TOWER
Will the long-awaited completion of Stephen King’s lifework, the seven-volume adventure/action/horror fantasy The Dark Tower, stir fans to love or sadness? The next-to-last volume, The Song of Susannah (2004), was less than exciting, and the final installment kicks off from the cliffhanger where Susannah ended, with the ka-tet split up into different towns and eras and the tripartite Susannah/Mia/Odetta in 1999 giving birth to Mordred and about to be drained and baked and eaten by dancing vampires in the Dixie Pig in New York.
Just like a Saturday serial, Father Callahan, the billy-bumbler Oy, and Jake show up outta nowhere and blast vampires, monsters, and ratheads to bits, but not before these grotesques pile fatally onto Callahan despite his glowing crucifix held high. But now we must not be spoilers who give away plot points fans won’t want to know. Even so, we can’t not tell you about Mordred, who we know already from Song of Susannah is supposedly slated to kill Roland Deschain, the Gunslinger headed for the Dark Tower of the Crimson King, axis of time, space, and all universes. His monstrous growth being one of King’s greatest inventions, Mordred is born with a full set of teeth in his lower jaw, an erection as big as Susannah’s little finger, a red birthmark on his heel, and Roland’s electric-blue eyes. He at once tears off his mother’s breast, eats it, drains her blood (Mia’s, not Susannah’s), and turns into a fat eight-legged spider with baby Roland’s face and eyes on his back. This kid could eat a horse—and does.
Mordred’s two fathers are Roland and the were-spider Crimson King, a paternity that feeds his physical supergrowth and vastly expanding and capable mind. That should suggest something about this whizbang bloodfest. Amusing turns feature Nigel, a comic Jeevesian butler-robot, knocked off from Asimov and Star Wars’s C-3PO, and the happy reappearance of all these characters’ creator, a sighing Stephen King, killed by a Dodge minivan herein but still around to tell the story. Many bizarre doorways to Mid-World and End-World and a short deck of new characters and extra-series characters such as Ted Brannigan from Hearts in Atlantis show up and integrate this series with several King books outside the Dark Tower series, so that King fashions for himself something of an all-inclusive lifework. As foretold, there’s bad news for nearly all the ka-tet. And for some fans there’ll be bad news when Kings meet at the Dark Tower and the horrormeister shunts aside the world-bursting galactic climax expected for a more formulaic end. Even King himself apologizes for falling short.
Multidimensional fantasy-leaps and grisly horror balance long ho-hum stretches that calm the waters between the tsunamis. Big literary laurels or hack masterpiece? Oil paintings (not seen here) and page drawings by the great SF illustrator Michael Whalen help. But what can you say when your lead character is less expressive than Audie Murphy (not Clint Eastwood, as King hints)—and far less compelling than Frodo or Harry Potter?