Nearing the final moments of a story that’s been 34 years in the making, Stephen King pauses to address you, Constant Reader, with a word of advice he knows will fall on deaf ears. How and why he does this are things best left for private discovery and are not the subject of these musings. Of far greater use is an accessory point, pertaining to Roland and company but with implications owning far vaster reach:
“I hope you came to hear the tale, and not just munch your way through the pages to the ending. For an ending, you only have to turn to the last page and see what is there writ upon. But endings are heartless. An ending is a closed door no man can open.”
I ignored King’s admonishment, compelled (like Roland) towards that door whether I wanted to be or not. Ka is a wheel, irresistible in its never-ending motion. And so I’ve finished reading the seven volumes that comprise one incredible story which began (for me, last summer; for Constant Readers, over forty years ago; for King, when still a teenager) with the simple words: The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.
To “review” that experience is a task I’m afraid I’m not fit to tackle; others, more distant, perhaps more heartless, might try to quantify it. Beauty may be objective, but we all experience it uniquely. For me? I’m grateful to have done so. We read a great many books in our lifetime (and a great many more when born to the literary life), but few of these stories will stick with us for long. Basic plotlines, broad strokes, the shadow of an odd character here or there (perchance even the shadows’ names).
Yet I have seen In-World, Mid-World, and End-World, and Roland Deschain of Gilead will never leave my mind. Nor will Eddie and Susannah Dean; nor John “Jake” Chambers; nor, even, Oy the brave of Mid-World. Every new riddle will echo with Blaine’s faux drawl, and I won’t soon forget why it’s prudent to beware the Dandelo.
King has done more than craft a universe; he has put his finger on some great truth about reality and fiction’s place in it. He melds himself into the literature in a way that’s beyond meta, and though I know a real Stephen King exists somewhere and has crafted all of this from his imagination — that these characters aren’t made of the same substance as you or I — I know also that, in a way, we really are all just characters in a massive story beyond any of our hands. The upshot is that these stories intermingle, and though those crossovers may be fiction in part, they are also partly fact.
I turn, now, towards those crossovers. On (seemingly) every page there’s a new reference to something — some song I’ve never heard, some book I’ve never read — just waiting to be discovered or rediscovered. Be it the Lord of the Rings books that inspired a young King, other novels of his which point back towards Roland, the song “Hey Jude” or the (still not sure if clever or silly) sneetches echoing a certain Rowling, I have no doubt that I’ll be seeing the Tower all around me from now on, even if I think I’m leaving it behind. It’s been a thrilling ride, no doubt — one I may (like a wheel) come around to again someday. But for now, it’s time to leave the gunslinger and his ka-tet to their ka, and discover what the future holds for me.
And we all say thankya, Sai King, thankya big-big.