The Man In Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed.
So begins The Dark Tower, Stephen King's epic long-runner, a series of seven books published over nearly thirty years. The series is frequently regarded as King's defining work. It is a long and complex Mix And Match of Speculative Fiction, fantasy, horror, Post Modernism and Westerns.A proposed film adaptation and television series is currently in Development Hell. Prequel comics, initially adaptions of flashbacks in the novels and now original stories, are ongoing from Marvel.The books in the series are:
The story begins in a Scavenger WorldAfter the End. Roland Deschain, Gunslinger of Gilead in the barony of New Canaan, is pursuing a mysterious man across the desert, to get information about the eponymous tower. Roland himself begins as an enigma — for about the first third of the first book, he's referred to in the narration only as "The Gunslinger". As the series goes on, we learn more about him, his world, and what drives him on his quest.Roland is the last gunslinger, a sort of knight with revolvers, as well as the last survivor of his lineage, his city, and his kingdom. It's not really clear, even to him, how long it's been since Gilead fell and he began pursuing the Dark Tower. The very world he lives in, called Mid-World, seems to be unraveling — even compass directions and the passage of time are not reliable. "The world has moved on," as they say.He learns that to continue on to the tower, he must pull a select group of people from our world, including a lonely young boy, a heroin addict, and a woman with two personalities — one a civil rights and peace activist, the other a violent psychopath. And that's when the journey really begins.Unspoiled readers should use caution when reading this article. Although major spoilers are blocked out, some of the descriptions have minor spoilers for events later on in the books.The character page needs work. Please feel free to add to it.This series is not to be confused with the unfinished book in C. S. Lewis's Space Trilogy, also called "The Dark Tower".
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The Dark Tower Main Series
The Dark Tower novel series provides examples of the following tropes:
After the End: Far after. Though time has little meaning on All-World, thousands of years have passed since the devastating war of the Old Ones. And the world is still trying to heal.
A.I. Is a Crapshoot: The robots are all at least thousands of years old. Most of these that have not broken down completely have become homicidal. Blaine the Mono and Andy the Messenger Robot are two of the worst examples. Nigel and Stuttering Bill are the only two who remain friendly and helpful. There is also one robot wandering around the dead town of Fedic advertising for a brothel that has probably not operated for Gan knows how long, which just emphasises that the world has moved on.
And Man Grew Proud: Directly stated to be the reason the world moved on: the technologically-advanced Great Old Ones replaced the magical beams (which are the underlying structure of reality) with ones based on their technology, and sought to shape reality itself to their whims. They ultimately destroyed themselves in cataclysmic wars which left most of All-World devastated and poisoned. With no Old Ones to perform repairs and maintenance, their remaining technology slowly deteriorated, including that which supported the beams.
Anti-Hero: Roland, at first. He allows Jake Chambers to fall to his death, rather than be delayed to try and save him.
Anyone Can Die: And most do. Only Susannah and Roland survive of the ka-tet, and most of the supporting cast is also dead.
Apocalypse How: Multi-Universal Destruction! Almost Total Irreversible Destruction of All Reality, but the Big Bad wants a chaotic void leftover (i.e. his home).
Arbitrary Gun Power: When Roland gets ammunition for his guns in an Alternate Universe New York, he buys .45 (probably Colt) roundsnote .45 Long Colt rounds, which are similar in power profile to .44 Magnum rounds. Not .45 ACP rounds, which are more anemic., yet at various other points his guns are always described as being ridiculously powerful, more powerful than .357 magnums or other high-powered guns. At the end of the seventh book it is revealed that Roland's revolvers were made by melting Excalibur itself, thus, being at least partially imbued with magic.
Also, in the eighth (4.5th chronologically) book, The Wind Through the Keyhole, it is mentioned that the bullets use a 76 grain gunpowder load. It doesn't state whether its with blackpowder or smokeless powder however, but given that the original .45 Long Colt used between 28-40 grain blackpowder loads and had muzzle velocities of up to 1000f/sec, it's not a huge leap to assume Roland's guns are exceptionally powerful.It should also be noted that the ammunition is specifically noted as .45 Winchester when bought.
Artifact of Doom: The thirteen different-hued crystal balls of "the Wizard's Rainbow"—the most dangerous of them all being Black Thirteen.
Ass Pull: Patrick Danville's ability to erase/create matter with his magical pencil being introduced conveniently a couple of chapters right before he erases the Big Bad out of existence. Lampshaded in that King deliberately admits that it's a Deus ex Machina. Justified in-universe (see Deus ex Machina) as King deliberately helping the characters after they save his life.
Author Avatar: Stephen King himself shows up in books six and seven. It's mentioned that the young Stephen King looks remarkably similar to Roland. They are also noted for being enthusiastic smokers. The three guardians of the Crimson King's castle assume King's appearance in book seven.
Author Existence Failure: Stephen King's near-fatal accident in 1999 becomes a major plot point in Book 7, leading directly to Jake Chamber's death, and King's decision (in-universe and in-reality) to finish the books.
Badass: Roland and his ka-tet . All of them save Oy are born gunslingers, and as such are capable of instantly mastering any weapon they come across.
BFG: Tricks Postino, one of Balazar's henchmen, likes to use a ridiculously-large M16 for every firefight he gets into. He affectionately calls it "The Wonderful Rambo Machine".
Bittersweet Ending: Roland climbs the Tower, entering room after room where he's shown imagery of key events from his life. He finally reaches the top, and finds a door which he opens. The door opens onto the desert in the first book, and Roland realizes the horrible truth: he's been here before. Many times over. And each and every time, he is cast on to the desert, with his wounds healed and memories erased. However, this time he has the Horn of Eld, which he had previously abandoned in haste, in his possession, and it's implied that if he does it right, this time might the final time he's forced to re-walk his path to the Tower.
Played straight in Wizard and Glass when Roland's father does it in a flashback.
Book Ends: "The man in black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed." is the first and last sentence in the series, from an internal perspective.
A Boy and His X: Jake Chambers of New York and Oy the Billy-Bumbler of Mid-World.
Brand X: The parallel Earths that appear throughout the series are differentiated from "Keystone Earth" primarily by the existence of different consumer products, like Nozz-A-La Cola, Takuro Spirit automobiles, and a baseball team called the Kansas City Monarchs. The latter is likely a reference to the Negro League team of the same name.
Canon Welding: The Dark Tower draws in characters, plot-lines, and themes from about two dozen other King novels.
The Chessmaster: Marten Broadcloak in the back-story of Roland's homeland of Gilead, who was responsible for organizing the forces that wrought its downfall. Marten's other alias, Walter, who organizes several "traps" for Roland in the Mohaine Desert.
Comedy as a Weapon: Eddie does this literally in Wizard and Glass. When it turns out that Roland is losing to Blaine the Mono in a riddling contest, Eddie realises that some of his nonsensical jokes technically pass as riddles. Blaine gradually breaks down mentally and eventually commits "suicide" when he realises he's lost.
Comic Book Adaptation: There are a series of comics written by Robin Furth and Peter David that tell the story of the events leading up to Roland's quest for the Tower.
Cosmic Keystone: The cosmic keystone to all other cosmic keystones: The Dark Tower. If it should fall, all of reality is undone.
Crapsack World: All-World. Much of the world is still heavily poisoned from the apocalyptic wars of the Great Old Ones, and several of their ancient weapons continue to wreak havoc. Aside from the Callas in Book Five, most of the world is a wasteland, with sparse human survivors from ancient times and the destruction of All-World's last true civilization, the Affiliation of Baronies. As if all of that weren't bad enough, the world itself is falling apart. Clocks and compasses no longer accurately record time, and distances seem to grow and shrink with no rhyme or reason.
Curbstomp Battle: Almost every fight that the gunslingers get into is finished quickly and without much effort, no matter what odds are stacked against them and no matter how much their opponent is built up beforehand. Some examples include:
The entire town of Tull, including a strangely formidable cult leader, turns against Roland all at once. He slaughters everyone without ever being in danger.
Shardik, an enourmous and ancient cyborg bear, is defeated by Suzanne with a shot to its weak spot.
The Tick Tock Man is an enourmous badass who displays quickness on par with or quicker than Roland to Jake's eye. He's defeated twice without putting up much of a fight.
The three hired guns in Mejis don't even get a shot off against the heroes before being unceremoniously gunned down.
Walter, in spite of being Roland's nemesis through most of the series and being apparently immune to his bullets, gets defeated by Mordred in a manner that Mordred finds pathetic.
Mordred, in spite of his demonic parentage and with seemingly unbeatable mind control powers, does nothing but charge Roland when he's asleep and gets gunned down the same as any other villain.
The Crimson King, in spite of being some sort of immortal demi-god, does nothing but hurl sneetches at Roland when they finally cross paths. He's defeated by a deus ex machina after putting up no more of a fight than a random mook.
Dark Is Not Evil: The title Dark Tower is the axis upon which the countless realities and universes spin, and is implied to be the manifestation of the creator Gan Itself
Deus ex Machina: Played entirely straight (and lampshaded) with Stephen King showing up in Book Six and has a direct hand in Book 7.
Disney Death: Jake. The first time by falling to his death, the second time by leaping in front of a car to push Stephen King to safety.
Door Stopper: The Gunslinger is the only book shorter than 400 pages in length for the hard-cover. Books IV, V, and VII are exceptionally long, with each being well over 700 pages in length (and Dark Tower VII being nearly 900 pages in length).
Dropped a Bridge on Him: Flagg, Eddie, and Jake are all killed off suddenly in the final book. Flagg is killed by Mordred when his nemesis, Roland, isn't even present. Eddie is abruptly shot by an almost-dead villain after he survives the Battle of Algul Siento. Jake is hit by a car driven by a random reckless driver in Maine when he pushes Stephen King out of the way.
Eldritch Location: All-World. North may be southwest the next day, distances seem to grow and shrink almost at random, and time is so warped that clocks are unreliable.
Evil Plan: The Crimson King's ultimate goal is to destroy the Tower and the universes created by it, via destroying the beams that hold the Tower up through the use of psychics.
Fantasy Gun Control: One of the most prominent aversions in fantasy. Roland's guns are made from the melted-down sword of his ancestor Arthur Eld, King of All-World. It's quite heavily implied that Arthur Eld is theKing Arthur. Which would make his sword Excalibur.
Fastest Gun in the West: Played with a bit, in that the gunslinger candidates of Gilead who aren't good enough are "sent west" in exile.
Fictionary: We hear bits and pieces of the High Tongue, but there's no real sense of a separate grammar or syntax distinct from English.
First Episode Spoiler: The Man in Black is really Marten Broadcloak, the Wizard from Gilead who had an affair with Roland's mother. And Roland's quest isn't to kill Marten... it's to interrogate him so he can find the Dark Tower.
Four Eyes, Zero Soul: Every character who is said to wear glasses is either a murderer or a traitor.
Full-Frontal Assault: In Drawing of the Three, Balazar forces Eddie to strip naked to prove that he's not hiding his cocaine. Once Eddie figures out that Balazar killed his brother, he and Roland have an all-out gun battle with Balazar's goons. While Eddie's naked.
Gainax Ending: Susannah goes off to live in an alternate universe with Replacement Goldfish versions of her dead friends, and Roland finds out that he's been stuck in a "Groundhog Day" Loop his entire life. Also, the Dark Tower turns out to be filled with relics from Roland's life, and its top floor houses a time warp that takes him back to the beginning of his quest.
Roland's new ka-tet, despite being from different universes and not blood relations, display characteristics of his old ka-tet, though not always in the same way.
Roland is a descendant of King Arthur. Both of them went on a grand quest for a magical artifact, and both had an illegitimate son conceived through magic who betrayed them. In both cases, the son was named Mordred. And, since King Arthur only had one canonical heir, the new Mordred is a Generation Xerox of the old, though he has two fathers and inherits characteristics from both.
Genre Savvy: Literally the case in Book Five, when some of the characters start to get suspicious of how certain situations pop out, a certain number keeps repeating (19), and so forth. They eventually figure out that they're creations of Stephen King, and confront him in "our" universe.
Good Is Not Nice: Roland can be a real dick sometimes, and he has little patience for softness or weakness.
Hard Work Hardly Works: It seems that becoming a gunslinger is more a state of mind than the result of rigorous training. It seems to take only a few months of casual training to make Eddie, Susannah and Jake into gunslingers, the baddest asses in any dimension.
King Arthur: Roland's greatest ancestor is Arthur Eld, his universe's equivalent of King Arthur who conquered and ruled All-World more than a thousand years before Roland was born. His sword was melted down to create the two guns that eventually became Roland's.
Knight Errant: The gunslingers are updated versions, descended from Camelot.
Kudzu Plot: King adds an increasingly large number of side-plots and characters in the later books. We have Father Callahan, Mia and her "chap", the storyline with Stephen King, their attempts to get Calvin Tower to sign over the least for the plot with the Rose, and so forth.
Limited Special Collector's Ultimate Edition: All of the books were released as this initially. In the case of The Gunslinger (in part because King assumed most of his casual readers wouldn't be interested), it took six years before it got a trade release.
Limited Wardrobe: Surprisingly not any of the main characters. It's more the Can-toi, the Crimson King's own personal Mook army; they all wear yellow coats in our world to disguise themselves, so their nickname is "Low Men in yellow coats". This phrase was also the title of the first part of Hearts in Atlantis, where Ted Brautigan (a Breaker that appears in the final book of the series, The Dark Tower) is first introduced.
Lost Technology: The Great Old Ones left a wide range of advanced relics behind when they destroyed themselves, including Blaine the Slow Trans Mono Train, Shardik the Bear, war machines such as tanks, and so forth.
Mad Lib Fantasy Title: The "Dark" in The Dark Tower is not the most inventive of descriptors, although it is certainly evocative.
Meanwhile, in the Future: Several events in Book VII happen in different time periods of the same universe simultaneously.
Mook: Rank and file enemies never present any threat to the gunslingers. They're mowed down almost casually no matter how many there are.
Multi-Ranged Master: Gunslingers are especially known for their expertise with revolvers, but they tend to be crack shots with any ranged weapon they pick up, including slingshots and sharpened plates. Part of their creed is "I do not aim with my hand. He who aims with his hand has forgotten the face of his father. I aim with my eye."
The Multiverse: The setting for The Dark Tower series, as well as what Roland and his Ka-Tet are trying to save.
Must Make Amends: Roland, the "good guy," ends up letting Jake, a boy he has grown to love, fall to his death by dropping him off an underground railway into a bottomless cavern in order to continue his quest. However, Jake is only in the same universe as Roland because he re-incarnated there after being killed in New York City. Roland unexpectedly ends up in Jake's New York, and, because Roland still loves him and regrets his previous decision, takes the opportunity to prevent the original death. This not only saves Jake, but creates a horrible paradox solved only when Roland helps him cross again to his world, where he embraces him as a son and trains him to take part in his quest.
To borrow from George R. R. Martin, Stephen King (in-universe and in Real Life) is a Gardener-type of author; that is, he doesn't plan his novels so much as lets the writing itself dictate the story. What Roland did is what King felt was true and in-character for him, so really he can't decide if Jake's death is his own fault, or Roland's, but either way he was too disturbed to write the story for a long while afterwards.
Myth Arc: For many Stephen King works, and for King himself. Stephen King is a self-professed fantasy geek, and always wanted to write an epic fantasy series to be remembered by; most of his other works tie in with The Dark Tower in some way or other.
Nietzsche Wannabe: The Crimson King's goal is to destroy the universe — so he can create a new one in his own image.
No Fourth Wall: The author of the series is a character within in, and characters discuss the possibility that they're works of fiction.
No Ontological Inertia: King in-novel is one of the cornerstones of reality just as the rose and tower are, and his characters eventually come to realize they only exist because he is writing them. This existential binding is so great that the injuries King sustains during his impending car crash start to manifest on Roland similar to acute, fast-acting arthritis until things get down to the wire, when he realizes they're a full-on skull crushing and hip smashing waiting to happen. After they save King and make him finish the story, Roland gets better.
No Sense of Humor: We're told several times that Roland has no sense of humor, but he makes a deadpan snark from time to time.
Our Vampires Are Different: There are several "types" of vampire. Type 1 are classic vampires who are powerful and intelligent. Type two get burned by the sun, aren't very intelligent and have a terrible thirst, so they don't last long. Type three are more like regular people who occasionally need to drink blood. Type four are a Worm That Walks pretending to be healer nuns. There are also inhuman psychic vampires that feed on emotions.
Petting Zoo People: The Can-toi and Taheen. Officially they are free moral agents and have as much capacity to be good or evil as humans, but practically all of the ones we see are in the service of the Crimson King.
Can-toi are always rat like and bestial; they find upside down pictures to be the height of wit.
Taheen can resemble any animal and are very similar to humans. One even has a nice discussion about literature with a supporting character.
Power Trio: Roland's original ka-tet, which included the joking, slingshot-wielding Cuthbert and the sombre, strongly psychic Alain.
Protective Charm: The "skoldpadda" ("turtle", literally "shield-toad" in Swedish), a brooch representing the Turtle, one of the Beam Guardians. Its powers are left somewhat vague, but anyone holding it tends to come out unscathed during fights.
Ragnarok-Proofing: Played with. While some of the Great Old Ones' technology continues to function thousands of years later, most of it is breaking down, ranging from their trains to the Beams holding up the Tower.
Real Life Writes the Plot: Stephen King was run over and almost killed by a van between writing the fourth and fifth books. This winds up being very important in the story, foreshadowed through the fifth and sixth books and seen in the seventh, where Roland's ka-tet are directly responsible for his survival.
Reliably Unreliable Guns: Mostly averted, but played straight with anything fully automatic. Machine guns always jam, and things typically get worse for their wielder from there.
Replacement Goldfish: After Eddie and Jake are killed in the final book, Susannah goes off to live in an alternate universe where they're still alive. In the new universe, they're brothers named Eddie Toren and Jake Toren. The commentary from King suggests that they will eventually get a replacement Oy to be the family dog.
Retcon: In The Waste Lands, Oy is distinguished from his fellow billy-bumblers by missing his tail. In later books, he is described wrapping his long cork-screw tail around himself occasionally. This is never explained. Later editions remove the mentions of him being tailless. He merely has sever scarring on his haunches, and the ka-tet theorizes he was forcibly kicked out of his pack for being a chatterbox.
Revolvers Are Just Better: Revolvers are the weapons of gunslingers and they always outperform other weapons. However, the specific revolvers that they use are also very special.
Schizo Tech: Several groups (including the Crimson King's) have put remnants of ancient technology to work. We also see some of the Great Old Ones' war machines being worked on in the back-story of Gilead's fall.
Science Is Bad: The reason the Great Old Ones fell was because they were deceived by the "false light of Science", and thus replaced the eternal magic with technological and scientific support, which would eventually break down after they used that same technology to destroy themselves.
Series Goal: Reach and enter the Dark Tower. In order to do so, however, the Ka-Tet must save it first.
Serious Business: Riddling is very serious business in Mid-World. Lethal brawls have been started during Fair-Day festivals over it, and riddles play an important role in The Wastelands, when Roland and his ka-tet must use them to save themselves from Blaine the Mono.
Snicket Warning Label: Before the coda, King asks the reader not to read it, saying that the journey should have been satisfying enough.
Sole Survivor: Roland was the only survivor of the battle on Jericho Hill.
Suddenly Always Knew That: Roland occasionally brings up an amazing skill when the plot requires. Examples include his hypnosis abilities, his knowledge of riddles, his dancing skills and his ability to keep perfect time.
Sweet Tooth: Strangely averted for Roland. After gong through a Heroic BSOD the first time he takes a sip of cola, due to the rarity of sugar on his own world, he never once expresses any desire to eat anything sweet while in America. Even when they discover Nozz-a-la while traveling through Mid-World, there is not description of Roland's reaction. By contrast, he does request tunafish later on.
Thirteen Is Unlucky: The thirteen orbs of Maerlyn's Rainbow, magical crystal balls which allow their wielders to spy on certain actions.
To Become Human: A succubus actually wants to become human so that she can have a child. With a Deal with the Devil, she becomes effectively human, but she wasn't born with gametes, requiring a little more effort...
Town with a Dark Secret: Both Hambry (human sacrifice as an agricultural rite) and Calla Bryn Sturgis (breed stock for part of the Crimson King's master plan).
Translator Microbes: At the Tet Corporation lobby, there is a sign which always appears in the readers native language, Roland immeadiately realizes this because his language has been dead for thousands of years. Also, it's implied a few times that Roland hears his companions in his own language, and has great difficulty using words that don't exist in Gilead's language, such as "aspirin" and "tuna fish".
Twin Telepathy: A major plot point in Wolves of the Calla. Every year, the Wolves of Thunderclap ride kidnap someone from each pair of twins. It turns out that the Crimson King wants the chemical that gives twins a natural telepathic connection. He plans to use it to enhance the powers of the telepaths working to bring down the Tower.
Twofer Token Minority: Susannah—black, in a wheelchair, has multiple personality disorder, and the only woman in the ka-tet.
What the Hell, Hero?: Roland's new ka-tet often finds him hard-hearted and exasperating, and they're not afraid to tell him so. He's specifically called out in the final book when he insists on continuing his journey to the Tower, even after destroying the Crimson King's "breakers." It's pointed out to him that he's actually won; the Tower is saved, the beams will regenerate and the multiverse will survive. But by going to the Tower himself, he puts everything at risk once again, all to serve his obsessive quest.
World Tree: The Tower itself is the axis which holds the worlds together.
Writers Cannot Do Math: It's inconsistent what year Susannah came from. In the second book, it's stated that it's been three months since the assassination of JFK; that means it's February 1964. Not much later, it's stated that August 19, 1959 (when she lost her legs) was five and a half years before; that means it's February 1965. In the third book, the year is several times said to be 1963. In the following books, it's consistently stated to be 1964. However, in the sixth book, she reminiscences about the murders of Civil Rights activists James Cheney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, which happened in June 1964. It might be a lampshade on this that Susannah thinks in the seventh book that she lived in America until 1964 "or was it '65?".
The Dark Tower Comic Series
The Dark Tower comic series provides examples of the following tropes:
Adaptation Expansion: Pretty much the entire purpose of the series. It expands on Roland's past, particularly the fall of Gilead.
Canon Discontinuity: King's interquel The Wind Through the Keyhole effectively negates much of the background material introduced in the comics; for example, in the comics, Maerlyn is effectively the Big Bad responsible for the origin of nearly every source of evil is, in Keyhole, a he's a kindly old wizard who is vulnerable enough to be imprisoned for years in the form of a 'tyger'. In response, Robin Furth wrote in the appendices that the comics take place on a different level of the Tower than the novels and are thus not a direct prequel.
Wham Episode: The endings of Treachery, Fall of Gilead and Battle of Jericho Hill. While all Foregone Conclusions to fans, the sequential deaths of Roland's friends and parents are shocking because what was given a Hand Wave in the books is rendered in full tragic detail here.
Whatever Happened To The Mouse: Where exactly the doors that bring Eddie and Susannah come from are never fully explained. They are vaguely hinted at coming from some higher power (the Tower itself possibly). Also, exactly why Flagg can't outright kill Roland and his band with all his power and instead has to attempt indirect methods is also never fully explored.
"Time flies, knells call, life passes, so hear my prayer. Birth is nothing but death begun, so hear my prayer. Death is speechless, so hear my speech."