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Literature / Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came

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A mid-length narrative poem by Robert Browning detailing the adventures of Childe Roland ("Childe" being a medieval term for a youth preparing for knighthood) as he seeks the Dark Tower, a quest which has already killed many of his compatriots.

The poem is told from Roland's perspective, and is both grim and dream-like, with sudden unexplained shifts in scene and a deeply portentous aura surrounding almost everything the narrator sees.

The poem was inspired by a line from William Shakespeare's King Lear, and, in turn, inspired Stephen King's The Dark Tower series.

This poem provides examples of:

  • Ambiguous Ending: Childe Roland apparently reaches the Dark Tower at the end of the poem. But what happens to him next is left entirely up to the reader's imagination. Roland appears to expect his own demise, though.
  • Evil Cripple: The poem starts with Childe Roland getting directions from a crippled man whom he fully expects to betray him.
  • Evil Tower of Ominousness: The titular Dark Tower is portrayed in a horrifying light, with numerous people having died trying to journey there and Roland having little hope about his own prospects of surviving its horrors.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: We never find out what's actually inside the Dark Tower, but it's certainly not good.
  • Scenery Gorn: The scenery of the path to the Dark Tower is gruesomely detailed. For instance, the grass is compared by Roland to the hair of a leper.
  • Tall Poppy Syndrome: One scene Roland passes through is personified thus, with the weeds themselves demanding that none of them be raised above the others.
    If there pushed any ragged thistle-stalk
    Above its mates, the head was chopped; the bents
    Were jealous else.
  • Title Drop: The last line of the poem.
    Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set,
    And blew. "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came."