Thursday, 26 April 2012

The Dark Tower, or "A Study on Love/Obsession"

The Dark Tower, or “A Study on Love/Obsession”

Stevie and I have often joked that I could teach a Doctorate Level class on The Dark Tower Saga.  Oft referred to as Stephen King’s “Magnum Opus,” the Dark Tower has kept the Constant Reader entertained for the better part of three decades. 

 Spanning seven (well, eight, as of yesterday) volumes, short stories, tie-ins and a host of Marvel published comic books, it drew me in immediately.  I was fascinated by All-World, and the connections to our world.  The things that fell through the cracks, like the George Washington Bridge, or a Citgo pumping station.  The bizarre mixture of reality and unreality appealed to me in a way that no other book had – and I’m a long time fan of King.  Based largely on part in Robert Browning’s epic poem “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came,” it is ultimately a tale of redemption, and of regaining lost love.

For those that wish to read, I’ll include the text of Browning’s poem here.  If you don’t, then skip over it:

My first thought was, he lied in every word,
That hoary cripple, with malicious eye
Askance to watch the working of his lie
On mine, and mouth scarce able to afford
Suppression of the glee, that pursed and scored
Its edge, at one more victim gained thereby.
What else should he be set for, with his staff?
What, save to waylay with his lies, ensnare
All travellers who might find him posted there,
And ask the road? I guessed what skull-like laugh
Would break, what crutch 'gin write my epitaph
For pastime in the dusty thoroughfare,
If at his counsel I should turn aside
Into that ominous tract which, all agree,
Hides the Dark Tower. Yet acquiescingly
I did turn as he pointed: neither pride
Nor hope rekindling at the end descried,
So much as gladness that some end might be.
For, what with my whole world-wide wandering,
What with my search drawn out thro' years, my hope
Dwindled into a ghost not fit to cope
With that obstreperous joy success would bring,
I hardly tried now to rebuke the spring
My heart made, finding failure in its scope.
As when a sick man very near to death
Seems dead indeed, and feels begin and end
The tears and takes the farewell of each friend,
And hears one bid the other go, draw breath
Freelier outside, (``since all is o'er,'' he saith,
``And the blow falIen no grieving can amend;'')
While some discuss if near the other graves
Be room enough for this, and when a day
Suits best for carrying the corpse away,
With care about the banners, scarves and staves:
And still the man hears all, and only craves
He may not shame such tender love and stay.
Thus, I had so long suffered in this quest,
Heard failure prophesied so oft, been writ
So many times among ``The Band''---to wit,
The knights who to the Dark Tower's search addressed
Their steps---that just to fail as they, seemed best,
And all the doubt was now---should I be fit?
So, quiet as despair, I turned from him,
That hateful cripple, out of his highway
Into the path he pointed. All the day
Had been a dreary one at best, and dim
Was settling to its close, yet shot one grim
Red leer to see the plain catch its estray.
For mark! no sooner was I fairly found
Pledged to the plain, after a pace or two,
Than, pausing to throw backward a last view
O'er the safe road, 'twas gone; grey plain all round:
Nothing but plain to the horizon's bound.
I might go on; nought else remained to do.
So, on I went. I think I never saw
Such starved ignoble nature; nothing throve:
For flowers---as well expect a cedar grove!
But cockle, spurge, according to their law
Might propagate their kind, with none to awe,
You'd think; a burr had been a treasure-trove.
No! penury, inertness and grimace,
In some strange sort, were the land's portion. ``See
``Or shut your eyes,'' said nature peevishly,
``It nothing skills: I cannot help my case:
``'Tis the Last judgment's fire must cure this place,
``Calcine its clods and set my prisoners free.''
If there pushed any ragged thistle-stalk
Above its mates, the head was chopped; the bents
Were jealous else. What made those holes and rents
In the dock's harsh swarth leaves, bruised as to baulk
All hope of greenness?'tis a brute must walk
Pashing their life out, with a brute's intents.
As for the grass, it grew as scant as hair
In leprosy; thin dry blades pricked the mud
Which underneath looked kneaded up with blood.
One stiff blind horse, his every bone a-stare,
Stood stupefied, however he came there:
Thrust out past service from the devil's stud!
Alive? he might be dead for aught I know,
With that red gaunt and colloped neck a-strain,
And shut eyes underneath the rusty mane;
Seldom went such grotesqueness with such woe;
I never saw a brute I hated so;
He must be wicked to deserve such pain.
I shut my eyes and turned them on my heart.
As a man calls for wine before he fights,
I asked one draught of earlier, happier sights,
Ere fitly I could hope to play my part.
Think first, fight afterwards---the soldier's art:
One taste of the old time sets all to rights.
Not it! I fancied Cuthbert's reddening face
Beneath its garniture of curly gold,
Dear fellow, till I almost felt him fold
An arm in mine to fix me to the place,
That way he used. Alas, one night's disgrace!
Out went my heart's new fire and left it cold.
Giles then, the soul of honour---there he stands
Frank as ten years ago when knighted first.
What honest man should dare (he said) he durst.
Good---but the scene shifts---faugh! what hangman hands
Pin to his breast a parchment? His own bands
Read it. Poor traitor, spit upon and curst!
Better this present than a past like that;
Back therefore to my darkening path again!
No sound, no sight as far as eye could strain.
Will the night send a howlet or a bat?
I asked: when something on the dismal flat
Came to arrest my thoughts and change their train.
A sudden little river crossed my path
As unexpected as a serpent comes.
No sluggish tide congenial to the glooms;
This, as it frothed by, might have been a bath
For the fiend's glowing hoof---to see the wrath
Of its black eddy bespate with flakes and spumes.
So petty yet so spiteful! All along,
Low scrubby alders kneeled down over it;
Drenched willows flung them headlong in a fit
Of route despair, a suicidal throng:
The river which had done them all the wrong,
Whate'er that was, rolled by, deterred no whit.
Which, while I forded,---good saints, how I feared
To set my foot upon a dead man's cheek,
Each step, or feel the spear I thrust to seek
For hollows, tangled in his hair or beard!
---It may have been a water-rat I speared,
But, ugh! it sounded like a baby's shriek.
Glad was I when I reached the other bank.
Now for a better country. Vain presage!
Who were the strugglers, what war did they wage,
Whose savage trample thus could pad the dank
Soil to a plash? Toads in a poisoned tank,
Or wild cats in a red-hot iron cage---
The fight must so have seemed in that fell cirque.
What penned them there, with all the plain to choose?
No foot-print leading to that horrid mews,
None out of it. Mad brewage set to work
Their brains, no doubt, like galley-slaves the Turk
Pits for his pastime, Christians against Jews.
And more than that---a furlong on---why, there!
What bad use was that engine for, that wheel,
Or brake, not wheel---that harrow fit to reel
Men's bodies out like silk? with all the air
Of Tophet's tool, on earth left unaware,
Or brought to sharpen its rusty teeth of steel.
Then came a bit of stubbed ground, once a wood,
Next a marsh, it would seem, and now mere earth
Desperate and done with; (so a fool finds mirth,
Makes a thing and then mars it, till his mood
Changes and off he goes!) within a rood---
Bog, clay and rubble, sand and stark black dearth.
Now blotches rankling, coloured gay and grim,
Now patches where some leanness of the soil's
Broke into moss or substances like boils;
Then came some palsied oak, a cleft in him
Like a distorted mouth that splits its rim
Gaping at death, and dies while it recoils.
And just as far as ever from the end!
Nought in the distance but the evening, nought
To point my footstep further! At the thought,
great black bird, Apollyon's bosom-friend,
Sailed past, nor beat his wide wing dragon-penned
That brushed my cap---perchance the guide I sought.
For, looking up, aware I somehow grew,
'Spite of the dusk, the plain had given place
All round to mountains---with such name to grace
Mere ugly heights and heaps now stolen in view.
How thus they had surprised me,---solve it, you!
How to get from them was no clearer case.
Yet half I seemed to recognize some trick
Of mischief happened to me, God knows when---
In a bad dream perhaps. Here ended, then,
Progress this way. When, in the very nick
Of giving up, one time more, came a click
As when a trap shuts---you're inside the den!
Burningly it came on me all at once,
This was the place! those two hills on the right,
Crouched like two bulls locked horn in horn in fight;
While to the left, a tall scalped mountain... Dunce,
Dotard, a-dozing at the very nonce,
After a life spent training for the sight!
What in the midst lay but the Tower itself?
The round squat turret, blind as the fool's heart,
Built of brown stone, without a counter-part
In the whole world. The tempest's mocking elf
Points to the shipman thus the unseen shelf
He strikes on, only when the timbers start.
Not see? because of night perhaps?---why, day
Came back again for that! before it left,
The dying sunset kindled through a cleft:
The hills, like giants at a hunting, lay,
Chin upon hand, to see the game at bay,---
``Now stab and end the creature---to the heft!''
Not hear? when noise was everywhere! it tolled
Increasing like a bell. Names in my ears
Of all the lost adventurers my peers,---
How such a one was strong, and such was bold,
And such was fortunate, yet, each of old
Lost, lost! one moment knelled the woe of years.
There they stood, ranged along the hill-sides, met
To view the last of me, a living frame
For one more picture! in a sheet of flame
I saw them and I knew them all. And yet
Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set,
And blew. ``Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came.''

See?  Fucking long.  I should take this time, to say that I *hate* epic poetry.  I can’t read it, it makes no sense to me, but given that I love the story that was extrapolated from it, I felt compelled to read it.  
Enough of this shit, back to our regularly scheduled program.
I have to thank my Baby Sister, for introducing me to The Dark Tower.  One Christmas, she bought me The Dark Tower II:  The Drawing of The Three.  I read it, and immediately was taken.  I devoured “DT:I” and “DT:III” as fast as I could, and then I stumbled across the same frustration that every would-be Gunslinger felt:
According to Wikipedia the books were published in these years:
4.    The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass (1997)—Locus Award nominee, 1998[8]
5.    The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla (2003)—Locus Award nominee, 2004[9]
6.    The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah (2004)—Locus Award nominee, 2005[10]
7.    The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower (2004)—British Fantasy Award winner, 2005[10]

You’ll notice, that books 5, 6, and 7 were published back to back.  It is here, that I diverge into the meaning of 19.
“It’s All Nineteen”
This has become a catchphrase of sorts, with Stevie and I.  A way of saying, “Everything is going according to plan, even if it’s not the plan we planned.” – if you dig.   It’s all Nineteen. 
The occurance of this number arose in The Dark Tower V: The Wolves of the Calla.  The significance is this:

On June 19, 1999 at about 4:30 p.m., King was walking on the shoulder of Route 5, in Lovell, Maine. Driver Bryan Smith, distracted by an unrestrained dog moving in the back of his minivan, struck King, who landed in a depression in the ground about 14 feet from the pavement of Route 5.[15] According to Oxford County Sheriff deputy Matt Baker, King was hit from behind and some witnesses said the driver was not speeding, reckless, or drinking.[32]  (http://en.wikipedia.og/wiki/Stephen_King)

King had treated The Dark Tower as a retreat until that point.  A place for him to go, to feel at home.  It wasn’t until this accident, that he realized that he owed a debt to those of us who had followed the Ka-Tet over the years.  Now, keep in mind, I don’t believe that any writer owes a single thing to his or her readers.  Write because you have to.  Not because you want a paycheck, or to make people happy.  I think he realized, finally . . . that the “Mean-Ass Patrol Boy” finally caught up with him.  As timeless as his works are (I fully believe that he will be taught alongside Shakespear, Dickens, Poe, and Hemmingway regularly in the future,) he is not.  I started reading The Dark Tower when I was seventeen (not quite nineteen).  I’m thirty-five now, and I’m noticing the gray in my hair.  I’m noticing the wrinkles where there were none.  However, as I recently learned, I will not fight my Patrol Boy.  I’ll embrace him.  I’ll learn from him – and hopefully, I’ll grow old with him.  He was introduced to me on September 21, 2005 (not June 19, 1999, but I met him all the same).  That fuck had a handful of chips with my name on them, but decided to not cash in.  Instead, he said, “Let’s see what this kid can do” – at twenty-eight, I was stuck forever at nineteen. 

Back on topic: 

September 21 was the release date for The Dark Tower VII:  The Dark Tower.  One of my three best friends brought a copy to the ICU, after I met my Patrol Boy, and left it there for me to read – not that I remember it, thank you Demerol.  I cheered, I screamed, I cried, and basically made the nurses think I was going batshit insane.  However, going back to All-World, and living with The Ka-Tet gave me a chance to heal.  It let me fade inside myself, and find a place where I could start healing. 

I should add, I remember nothing of my first reading of that book.  I had to go back months later, and read again.  I only remember telling the nurses all about it, as if the characters were real.  As if they were my friends.  To me, they were.  They still are.  Roland, Jake, Eddie, Susannah, and Oy, sweet Oy.  They were as much my friends, as my true friends who came to visit me were.  I’ll paraphrase King here, in that I followed Jake’s story longer than he’d been alive.  They weren’t just characters to me.  I knew them, as well as I knew myself.  I knew immediately why Jake understood “The Truth,”, and I knew about “The Great Sage and Eminent Junkie.”   I knew Detta Walker, and the dark recesses of that hateful bitches mind.  That being said, it wasn’t until Roland climbed the Tower, that I truly understood him.  I understood that he was a man whose regret was always in the fore of his mind. And I was the same.  I still regret the things I did in the past, but that is part of who I am.  It’s shaped me, and as unsavory as those things are, I wouldn’t change them.  I was once taken with addiction, and later a love of “Graf”.  

It’s still part of who I am. 

I realize now, that this has turned from a post into the Greatness (yes, big “G”,) of the Tower, into self reflection.   I simply want to say, that after I’ve rambled on this far, I truly thank my friends – Roland, Eddie, Jake, Susannah, Oy, Stephen King, Joshua, Jeremy, and Mitchell, for truly saving my life.    

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