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Literature / The Dark Tower

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"Go then, there are other worlds than these."

"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 eight books published over nearly thirty years. The series is frequently regarded as King's defining work. It is a long and complex mix of Speculative Fiction, High Fantasy, Horror, Postmodernism and Westerns.

A series of prequel comics, initially adaptations of flashbacks in the novels and now original stories, are ongoing from Marvel Comics.

The books in the series are:

The story begins in a Scavenger World After 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.

The series is inspired by Robert Browning's poem "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came".

A movie adaptation spent a staggering amount of time in Development Hell as various writers and directors tried to find a way to turn the books' famously complicated material into a coherent film. Or series of films. Or series of films and an undetermined number of TV episodes. There were a lot of ideas. A film, starring Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey as The Gunslinger and The Man In Black respectively, was eventually released in 2017. The page for the film can be found here.

Unspoiled readers should use caution when reading this article. Although the later and more major spoilers are blocked out, events from the first four booksnote  can and will be unmarked.

Now with a new and much improved character page. 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".

To see tropes about the individual books in the series, please check out their individual pages above.

The Dark Tower novel series provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Advanced Ancient Humans: The Old Ones. While they managed to make some pretty amazing things, they eventually wiped themselves out with what appeared to be a nuclear war, though it's hinted that they used weapons that are far more arcane. The descendants of the survivors eventually became what little civilization All-World has left.
  • 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. If that weren't bad enough, it's implied that All-World is running out of gas, the laws of physics are breaking down in localized areas, and that the whole world might just go kaput in another few thousand years.
  • 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.
  • A.K.A.-47: Roland's revolvers are presumably analogous to some Earth-originating firearm, but the text never specifies anything beyond their having sandalwood grips and firing .45-cal cartridges. (That presumption may not be accurate anyhow, given that they are literally made from the steel of Arthur Eld's sword Excalibur, implying they were handcrafted and may be unique not just in our world but in Mid-world too.) In the film, they are "played" by highly modified designs based on Remington 1858 New Army revolvers. Although it doesn't in any way detract from the fiction, the guns in the books are all mixed up. Roland's guns are implied to be huge, long, Old West-style revolvers in .45 Long Colt, but feature swing-out cylinders (a mark of much later and smaller generation of revolvers), and he has no problems purchasing "Winchester .45" ammunition for them in 1960s New York, probably mixed up with much more modern and different .45 ACP. Ruger company also never produced semi-automatic handguns in any variant of the .44 caliber (such as the ostentatious, "Desert Eagle/AutoMag like" one Jake steals from his father). It is also an important point in the novels that cartridges will go bad if so much as submerged once in water, which is untrue (but would be disastrous if Roland used the older cap-and-ball ammunition the author probably was inspired by, with its separate poured powder, caps, and lead balls — which unfortunately can't be reloaded with uncanny speed of the gunslinger).
  • Ancestral Weapon: The ancient revolvers, handed down from father to son all the way back to Roland's ancestor Arthur of Eld (King Arthur in our world). Forged from Excalibur no less.
  • 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 risk losing The Man In Black.
  • Anyone Can Die: And most do. Come the series finale, Susannah and Roland are the only survivors 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).
  • Arch-Enemy: The Man in Black and Roland, the Gunslinger. In a more one-sided way, the Crimson King to Roland.
  • Arc Number: 19 and, to a lesser degree, 3 and 99.
  • Arc Symbol: The rose, which was associated with both Arthur and the Dark Tower. This becomes a plot point as the series progresses.
  • Arc Words: Many and many-a, as they say in Roland's world:
    • "See the TURTLE of enormous girth"
    • "O Susannah-Mio".
    • "The man in black fled across the desert..."
    • "Go then; there are other worlds than these."
    • "Commala-come-come" and "come-come-commala".
    • "Mordred is a-hungry."
    • "Blaine is a pain."
    • "The world has moved on."
    • "Ka is a wheel."
    • "O Discordia."
    • "Dad-a-chum, dud-a-chee, not to worry, you've got the key."
    • "Ka?" "Ka." "Kaka."
  • 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.
  • Axis Mundi: The Dark Tower acts as the lynchpin of all realities, holding together the many universes that make up existence. The primary antagonist, the Crimson King, seeks to topple the Dark Tower, end ordered reality and rule in the "Discordia" that follows.
  • Bad End: The entire series of books is this. The finale reveals that Roland has been going through his quest on a "Groundhog Day" Loop an unknowable number of times, and that he keeps on having to do it because he fails to meet a set of requirements that are unknown to both him and the reader. Most notably, it's revealed that Roland needs to use the Horn of Eld once he reaches the Dark Tower, a possession he ends up receiving upon his next time through the loop. It's unknown if there are more items that he needs, or if saving each member of his ka-tet is also a requirement (as Jake had been killed twice (once by Roland himself, an action he painfully regrets every moment after it happens), Eddie and Oy once, and Susannah, depending on how one reads it, is happy and alive in an alternate universe New York or stuck in a Lotus-Eater Machine.) Fans have different theories on how Roland can achieve the Golden Ending because of these inspecifities.
  • Badass Crew: 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.
  • Badass Creed: The Gunslinger's Creed:
    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.

    I do not shoot with my hand;
    He who shoots with his hand has forgotten the face of his father.
    I shoot with my mind.

    I do not kill with my gun;
    He who kills with his gun has forgotten the face of his father.
    I kill with my heart.
  • Badass Normal: Roland and his Ka-Tet don't have any magical abilities like The Man In Black. They're just really capable with guns.
  • Badass Preacher: Father Callahan in Song of Susannah. Though not a capable gunslinger, he earns his place in the ka-tet when he proves that faith can, in fact, hurt vampires.
  • Beast Man: 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.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Even more blatant in the Back Story Wizard and Glass when Roland was young and had a Love Interest and several older, uglier enemies.
  • 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".
  • Big Bad: Initially, it appears to the readers to be the Man in Black. Though later it becomes known that he's just a minion of the Crimson King.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The series finale, on two counts:
    • Firstly, Susannah decides she's tired of being a gunslinger and, weary from losing Eddie and Jake, has Patrick create a final "Unfound" door for her. After a bitter goodbye with Roland and Oy, she crosses over even though it could lead to todash darkness. An epilogue shows she went to another New York, meeting a parallel-universe Eddie and Jake, who are brothers in this universe and partially carry the memories of their dead selves. Feeling her own memories of Midworld fading, the three settle back into normal life, apparently crossing paths with an alternate Oy in the near future.
    • Secondly, 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 could be the final time he's forced to re-walk his path to the Tower.
  • Bizarro Apocalypse: The ultimate goal of the Crimson King is to cause one of these, via the complete destruction of the Dark Tower which binds all realities together. As his Breakers steadily destroy the beams holding the Tower in place, Roland's world "moves on," becoming a place where the compass points no longer stay in one place, mutant freaks and rogue robots roam and destroy, entire cities have become graveyards, and thinnies (holes between realities) are appearing everywhere.
  • Blasting It Out of Their Hands
    • Played with in The Drawing of the Three, when it causes the gun to explode in the holder's face; Roland managed to put a round down the barrel, something he notes he's only ever seen happen twice in his life. Later played straight with both a guard's .38 and a man's switchblade.
    • Played straight in Wizard and Glass when Roland's father does it in a flashback.
  • Book Ends: The first book opens with "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed." The last book ends with those same words because the entire series is a "Groundhog Day" Loop (with a small twist).
  • 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.
  • "Burly Detective" Syndrome: Roland Deschain is often referred to as simply "the gunslinger" (in the first book his true name isn't even used until several chapters in). Justified, as in his world "gunslinger" is an honored rank, and he is also the last.
  • Canon Welding: The Dark Tower draws in characters, plot-lines, and themes from about two dozen other King novels, including It, 'Salem's Lot, The Stand, Insomnia, The Mist
  • Chased Off into the Sunset: In The Dark Tower, The last line is the same as the first line of the first book: "The Man In Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed."
  • 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.
  • Compound-Interest Time Travel Gambit: In The Dark Tower, Eddie's plan to make the Tet Corporation more powerful than Sombra rests on making investments in 1977 that will reap huge profits by 1987.
  • Continuity Nod: Numerous, particularly towards the second half of the series once the connection to all of Stephen King's other works is firmly established. As an example, the events of The Gunslinger alone are referenced at least once in every other novel in the series.
  • Continuity Snarl: With the revised edition of Volume I: The Gunslinger, later volumes have references to elements that no longer appear in the revised work. Only those who have read both versions will understand some of the references.
  • Corporate Conspiracy: Several corporations are involved in unsavory practices, ranging from attempting to use "breakers" to destroy the beams holding up the dark tower to trying to combine technology with magic. Companies mentioned include Trans Corporation, North Central Positronics, and the Sombra Corporation. Tet Corporation is the good counterpart to these corporations, tasked with thwarting the efforts of those corporations, protecting the rose, and protecting Stephen King.
  • Cosmic Flaw: The titular Tower is the center of all existence, and the "Beams" that support it are weakening, which causes the different realities to drift, blend, and intersect at random intervals. The main characters are trying to find and enter the Tower for their own reasons, only some of which have to do with preventing its fall.
  • Cosmic Keystone: If the Dark Tower falls, all of reality will disintegrate into formless chaos.
  • 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.
  • Crisis Crossover: A number of characters from King's other books, including The Stand, 'Salem's Lot, Insomnia, Hearts in Atlantis, Everything's Eventual pop up throughout the series, and the plots of many other novels are tangentially linked to Roland's quest.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Eddie.
  • 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 with only a few wounds that do nothing at all to slow him down.
    • Shardik, an enormous and ancient cyborg bear, is defeated by Susannah with a shot to its weak spot.
    • The Tick-Tock Man is an enormous 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 seemingly unbeatable mind control powers, does nothing but charge Roland when he's asleep and gets gunned down the same as any other villain. This may not qualify under the trope, since Oy has to die to buy the Gunslinger time to wake up and kill Mordred.
    • 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 titular 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.
  • Desert Punk
  • Determinator: Roland has a tendency to simply will his way through situations that would kill another man several times over. Among other things, he even manages to fight and kill a large group of mafia enforcers while nearly dead from infection.
  • Deus ex Machina: Played entirely straight (and lampshaded) with Stephen King showing up in Book Six and has a direct hand in Book 7.
  • Died During Production: Stephen King's near-fatal accident in 1999 becomes a major plot point in Book 7, leading directly to Jake Chambers' death, and King's decision (in-universe and in-reality) to finish the books.
  • Disney Death: Jake, who falls soundlessly into an abyss in The Gunslinger.
  • 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).
  • The Dragon: Randall Flagg is this to the Crimson King.
  • Driven to Suicide: Narrowly subverted with Eddie in The Drawing of the Three. After Roland inquires as to why he stopped, Eddie initially tries to deflect with a joke before revealing to Roland that he couldn't let him die.
  • Driving Question: What lies at the top of the Dark Tower?
  • 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.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Roland, himself a ruthless and hard-hearted hardass, was overwhelmed and disgusted by Jack Mort's malevolence and love of killing for its own sake. Ironically, Mort himself was terrified of Roland's near-inhuman discipline and drive (and also by the fact that Roland was basically overriding control of his own body).
  • Evil Chancellor: Marten Broadcloak, a.k.a. Randall Flagg, served as Court Mage to Gilead. He also had an affair with Roland's mother in a ploy to end Roland's destiny before it properly began, and also abetted in destroying Gilead from within. Notably, this wasn't the first time he took up this role.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Oy (although not technically a dog) fills this role at some points during the story.
  • 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.
  • Evil Sorcerer: Randall Flagg in all his forms and disguises.
  • Fantastic Honorifics: "Sai" is a gender-neutral, catch-all honorific.
  • Fantastic Measurement System: A "wheel" is equal to about 1.5 miles.
  • 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 the King 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.
  • Fictional Age of Majority: There's no fixed age of majority for a gunslinger; rather, you're considered of age if you can win a battle against your combat instructor with any weapon other than a gun. If you win, you become a gunslinger, and if you lose, you are "sent west" into exile. There's no fixed age for when the trials take place, but generally if you don't take the test by the time you turn 25 then it's assumed you never will take the test and will instead become a freeholder. Roland is the youngest to ever have passed the test, at age 14 (his father did so at age 16), while most gunslingers take their tests at around age 18-20.
  • Fictional Greetings and Farewells: a common greeting in Mid-World is "Long days and pleasant nights." Customary reply to this greeting is, "And may you have twice the number."
  • Fictionary: We hear bits and pieces of the High Speech, but there's no real sense of a separate grammar or syntax distinct from English.
  • First-Episode Twist: 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: In the last book, 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. The only thing that stops it from being a full blown example of this trope is that now Roland is now carrying the Horn of Gilead, marking the first significant change in the loop thus far.
  • Generation Xerox: A few odd examples.
    • 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 Mashup: The series mixes elements of fantasy, Western, science fiction and horror.
  • 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.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: Even Jake begins smoking to better emulate our hero and champion smoker, Roland.
  • Greek Chorus: Stephen King, except for when he appears.
  • The Gunslinger: Roland Deschain and anyone from his old and new ka-tets. The order of Arthurian heroes in Mid-World are even called Gunslingers.
  • Hand Guns: While longarms and weapons besides firearms appear from time to time, the primary weapons of the heroes are revolvers.
  • Handicapped Badass: Roland from the second book, since he loses his first two fingers on his right hand. Susannah is in a wheelchair, since she - or strictly speaking Odetta Holmes - lost her legs from the knees down after she was pushed in front of a subway train.
    • Subject to a slight Retcon in Roland's case, since he originally lost his right big toe as well in The Drawing of the Three; but from the introduction of The Waste Lands onward, no mention is made of that injury.
  • 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.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Calvin Tower and Aaron Deepneau. Later Finli o'Tego and Pimli Prentiss.
  • Hidden Villain: The Crimson King isn't mentioned until Wizard and Glass. The revised editions have him mentioned at least once (or inferred to) throughout the first three books.
  • Homicide Machines: Almost every machine that is sentient has degenerated into this by the time the story takes place.
  • How We Got Here: The books following the original novel in publication order are this to the original novel, since the original novel is actually the end of the story.
  • I Am X, Son of Y: This form of introduction is common in Roland's world.
  • I Call It "Vera": Tricks Postino and his M16, "The Wonderful Rambo Machine".
  • I Have Many Names: Randall Flagg (real name Walter Padick), the Crimson King's Dragon (and The Starscream to boot), also appears as Marten Broadcloak, Walter o'Dim, anything with the letters 'RF' in it, and in a brief scene even impersonates The Wonderful Wizard of Oz himself.
  • I Just Knew: Insights driven by "ka", or destiny. It's a central tenet of gunslinger philosophy and spirituality in Roland's world in general.
  • Iconic Item: The rose, Roland's revolvers, and of course the Tower itself.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills
    • Gunslingers all have this skill, with whatever weapon they're using.
    • The Oriza dish-throwers, some of whom can cut a turnip in half with what are essentially razor-edged frisbees.
  • Informed Attractiveness: We know almost nothing about what Susan looks like except that she's blonde and beautiful, which we're told repeatedly.
  • Informed Flaw: We're repeatedly told that Roland is a slow thinker and has no imagination, yet he's intelligent and inventive enough whenever there's a need for him to be.
  • Interdimensional Travel Device: The doors that allow the characters to travel between different timelines and alternate universes, including one in which they meet Stephen King.
  • Jedi Mind Trick: Jake's key in Book III. Also Susannah's turtle in Book VI.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Roland, who may be a gunslinger through-and-through, eventually loses his stern exterior and even becomes friends to his ka-tet.
  • Just Before the End: All-World is deep in a millennia-long post-apocalyptic collapse, but this is just an extended slide into total oblivion. It's eventually revealed that reality once rested on six Beams. By the start of the series, only three remain, with one of them being intentionally destroyed by the Breakers near the start of The Song of Susannah. The implication is that if the threat of the Breakers isn't ended quickly, only a single Beam will remain, causing all of reality to topple over it with no side support.
  • 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 lease for the plot with the Rose, and so forth.
  • Lack of Imagination: Roland Deschain, the last gunslinger, is described many times as being completely lacking imagination. This has the interesting effect of making him an almost totally fearless killing machine, and also The Comically Serious (sometimes even a Deadpan Snarker).
  • Last of His Kind: Roland's the Last Gunslinger.
  • Lemony Narrator: The narrator becomes increasingly apparent as a personality toward the end of the series.
  • Ley Line: The Beams, invisible spokes of energy holding the titular Dark Tower together. If too many should fall, the Dark Tower will falter and all reality will be destroyed.
  • Literary Allusion Title:
  • 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.
  • MacGuffin Location: The tower itself.
  • Meanwhile, in the Future…: Several events in Book VII happen in different time periods of the same universe simultaneously.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: Billy-Bumblers, small creatures described as having a gray and black striped coat and a cross between raccoons, woodchucks, and dachshunds. Smart ones could also talk like parrots.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Jack Mort. Gasher. Mordred.
  • Neglectful Precursors: The Old Ones, who were technologically advanced, yet managed to wipe out their entire civilization. They made advanced robots, portals to other worlds, even some magitek to go with it. It was also stated that they ended up destroying themselves and set the stage to undermine the Dark Tower due to overconfidence, which was brought about since Maerlyn was advising from the shadows to do things that were, in the long run, against their best interests.
  • New Old West: The series has elements of this; much of the action takes place After the End, but there are also parts in which Roland and his fellow "gunslingers" enter the modern world for a while. Most of these instances are grim (Eddie taking on the drug dealers he used to work for), but once or twice Hilarity Ensues.
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: The Crimson King's goal is to destroy the universe — so he can create a new one in his own image.
  • Noble Tongue: The Gunslingers of Gilead, essentially a feudal knightly order, use "High Speech", which is considered a "civilized" language when compared to the Low Speech of everyday communication.
  • No Fourth Wall: The author of the series is a character within it, 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.
  • Omnicidal Maniac: The Crimson King wishes to undo all reality, which would thus kill everyone, though he and perhaps a few others would survive this cataclysm. What would be left over is his native home of endless void, of which he would be the de facto ruler.
  • One-Steve Limit: Subverted, as two pivotal characters going by variations of Sue — Susan Delgado, Roland's first love, and Susannah Dean, an eventual member of Roland's ka-tet. For bonus points, Susan's father is named Patrick Delgado; the boy Roland and Susannah rescue in Book VII has the very similar name Patrick Danville, and he treats Susannah as a parental substitute. Ka is a wheel indeed.
  • Otherworldly and Sexually Ambiguous: The demon who had sex with Roland in the first book and raped Susannah in the third book could change sexes.
  • 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.
    • 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, and possibly molded after an entity that appears to be a benevolent metaforce in the verse. The brooch's powers are left somewhat vague, but anyone holding it tends to come out unscathed during fights.
  • Race Against the Clock: Outside of the whole "reach the Dark Tower" for the central objective, there tends to be a "serious impending deadline" plot-thread once per book:
    • The Drawing of Three: Roland spends the book racing to draw his three before the infection from lobstrocity wounds can work its way into his heart.
    • The Waste Lands: Jake must be pulled back to Mid-World with a perfect key at the right time lest he be killed. Later, after Jake is kidnapped by Gasher of the Greys, Roland and Oy must follow Gasher through several booby-traps before they lose his scent. Finally, the ka-tet must escape Lud before it is destroyed around them.
    • Wizard and Glass: Blaine the Mono has to be bested in a game of riddles before they reach the end of the line, where Blaine will deliberately crash and kill the passengers in spite.
    • Song of Susannah: One of the primary plot threads, as the ka-tet effectively sidelines the Dark Tower to rescue Susannah from Mia, among other things.
    • The Dark Tower: Firstly the ka-tet has to liberate Thunderclap before the Beam is broken, and then must save Stephen King from being hit and killed by a van.
  • Ragnarök Proofing: Played with. While some of the Great Old Ones' technology continues to function thousands of years later (including the city of Lud, which is still standing), most of it is breaking down, ranging from their trains to the Beams holding up the Tower.
  • Recycled In Space: Much of the series is strongly influenced by The Lord of the Rings and other works; Volume V, in particular, openly admits to lifting its main storyline from The Magnificent Seven, which causes Eddie to realize he may be a character in a work of fiction.
  • Regretful Traitor: Deconstructed several times.
    • Roland's father had a cook who was a Friend to All Children, was kind to Roland and his friends when Roland was a kid, and was reluctant to obey Farson's orders to poison guests to a feast. After the cook was caught and executed, Roland's father summed it up by saying that the man only betrayed them reluctantly... but that reluctance wouldn't have stopped children from dying in agony after being poisoned.
    • Several of the higher-ups of Mejis from Wizard and Glass have private thoughts where they regret allying with Farson and come to doubt that any good will come of it. They never do anything to make up for the betrayal, however, and are promptly killed by Jonas and the Coffin Hunters for being a potential liability and to frame Roland and friends.
  • Reliably Unreliable Guns: Played straight with anything fully automatic. Machine guns always jam, and things typically get worse for their wielder from there. In one of Roland's training flashbacks, Cort explains that every gun is ruled by the Devil, and will jam at the worst possible time.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Invoked with Jake, who serves as his own replacement. He wakes up in Mid-World after he dies on Earth, and he dies again when Roland abandon's him to chase the Man in Black. Later, Roland telepathically visits Earth in the head of Jake's killer, and overrides him from murdering Jake, preventing his death and causing a paradox; granted, he carries the same thoughts and is effectively the same person, but the fact remains he's not the same entity that Roland left to die.
    • Also invoked in the final book. After Eddie and Jake are killed for real. 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, who know and love Susannah by proxy as they carry their alternative selves' thoughts through dreams. 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 severe scarring on his haunches, and the ka-tet theorizes he was forcibly kicked out of his pack for being a chatterbox.
    • Also in The Waste Lands, Roland tells the others that one symptom of the Tower's degeneration is that time itself is falling apart, and even the past is rearranging itself in important ways. This can be taken as an in-universe explanation to account for the inconsistencies readers have noted from book to book.
  • 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.
  • Rewatch Bonus: The first book makes a great deal more sense if the entire series has been read. Several vague events, ranging from Roland's nightmares of a sacrifice, remembering his friends and Jericho Hill, recognizing Sheb the pianist, and even his tarot reading at the end all act as confusing foreshadowing on the first read, but can actually be enjoyed the next time around.
  • 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 Waste Lands, when Roland and his ka-tet must use them to save themselves from Blaine the Mono.
  • Shoot the Dog: As per Walter's taunts and Jake's premonition, Roland charges across the collapsing bridge and leaves Jake clinging to the side. Roland narrowly makes it, living to catch Walter and further pursue the tower, but at the cost of the boy he adopted and loved.
  • Shout-Out: To many different stories, from the Fantastic Four and King Crimson's In the Court of the Crimson King to T. S. Eliot's poems, and in particular to Robert Browning's Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came.
  • 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.
  • The Starscream: Late in the series, it's revealed that Flagg wishes to displace the Crimson King and climb the Tower himself in order to become "God of All", and has been working towards doing so since before the events of the first book.
  • Succubi and Incubi: The demons of Roland's world include the equivalent of succubi and incubi. In fact, some can be both incubi and succubi.
  • 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 going through a Heroic BSoD the first time he takes a sip of cola, due to the rarity of sugar in 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 no description of Roland's reaction. By contrast, he does request tunafish later on.
  • Temporal Paradox: Jake's presence in Mid-World. To elaborate:
  1. He was killed on Earth, which resurrected him at the Way Station, though he dies again just weeks later. Roland could have and desperately wanted to save him, but his drive to reach the Tower forced him to leave Jake to die a second time.
  2. In Drawing of the Three Roland is sharing a body with Jack Mort, the man that killed Jake the first time, and guilt and love for the boy causes Roland to override Jack and save him from that first death. Because he didn't die the first time, it causes a split timeline which causes the both of them to slowly go mad from remembering both timelines. Though it's more pronounced with Jake,Roland doesn't show much outward strain.
  3. During The Waste Lands everything is resolved by Roland's ka-tet bringing the now surviving Jake into Mid-World. Though it didn't quite erase the paradox, but their memories stabilized and Roland had effectively made both of the mutually exclusive options of saving Jake and getting the information needed to continue his journey towards the Tower.
  • Thin Dimensional Barrier: "Thinnies" show up throughout the works of Stephen King. Here they're explained to be a symptom of the ongoing collapse of the multiverse.
  • 13 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". His ka-tet also realize that they can understand the high tongue, though it should sound like gibberish to them.
  • 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.
  • Ultimate Final Exam: Those aspiring to be Gunslingers must ultimately defeat Cort, their instructor, in single combat. The students can use any weapon, but it must be a non-firearm weapon. Plus, Cort really doesn't play nice.
  • Walking the Earth: Roland decided to take up this path as a youth as a quest to seek out the Dark Tower. He's often alone until he starts to form a ka-tet, and he sometimes suffers physically as a consequence, nearly costing him his life in The Gunslinger.
  • Welcome to the Real World: Roland visits the Earth at a few points through the latter 20th century, first to bring Susannah, Eddie, and later Jake to Mid-World. Then again at a few later points.
  • 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.
  • World of Weirdness: The metaplot plays out like a mystical Arthurian legend, with old west gunslingers instead of knights, set to a Weird West backdrop setting similar to that of Fallout. All-World is set After the End after the mind-bendingly advanced Old Ones wiped out their civilization, leaving much of the world an irradiated wreck populated by mutants and ruins and now-ancient artifacts, and occasionally the functional piece of high-tech. And then the world contains magic, demons, spirits, and all sorts of supernatural phenomena, including the Dark Tower, which the Old Ones were aware of as being a Cosmic Keystone. And then the world is plagued by a strange set of physics that are worn down and variable; time is noted as being "soft" and inconsistent, compasses and clocks don't consistently work, distances seem to be variable, thinnies and todashes appear without rhyme or reason, and the sun doesn't always rise in the east though it always sets in the west.
  • 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?". Since Timey-Wimey Ball is an explicit side effect of the Dark Tower's slow weakening, it may also just be the past sliding out from under her.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: A central tenet of the entire concept of ka, which means not just "fate" but also "personality." There are certain things that will always be true for, or of, certain people, because that is just their nature.

"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."