Honors English 103
The Dark Tower
Steven King’s The Dark Tower series is a complex and interesting cycle of seven books that follows the character Roland Deschain and his quest that will save all worlds. The book series contains many themes including; the theme of the hero, portrayed by the main character Roland Deschain. The theme of addiction is also shown through King into his characters, and the theme of “ka” or destiny and how it relates to modern religion.
Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces portrays the common characteristics of the heroes and plot lines used in literature and many famous movies. Joseph Campbell investigated myths that have survived for thousands of years, Campbell found that the myths themselves have several key similarities that all myths share. Campbell called the base characteristics that every myth contained the monomyth. Everything from Star Wars, to the Lord of the Rings series uses the now famous monomyth storyline. Campbell summarizes the monomyth in the introduction of his book; “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” There is a call to adventure, a road of trials, a goal, the return to the ordinary world, and the application of the acquired boon.
There are many similarities that the Dark tower books and the hero Roland Deschain share with the monomyth; the hero Roland is born into royalty, Roland is the last gunslinger in the line of Arthur Eld, and Arthur Eld is the mid-worlds spin off on the king Arthur legend. The gunslingers are a police like force that were created to enforce peace. The gunslingers are the ones to send Roland on his call to adventure. They can be compared to knights from other myths from around the world.
The monomyth also states that there is a traumatic experience that will force or encourage the character to leave his home on his call to adventure. To become a gunslinger Roland had to be able to defeat his teacher in a duel of sorts that enabled him to travel as a peacekeeper. Usually, a gunslinger is a teenager when he attempts the test for the first time. Roland at age twelve defeats his teacher, and Roland’s father is frustrated over him becoming a gunslinger, he forces his son to leave, starting his call to adventure.
Roland’s world is known as “mid-world.”This world has “moved on,” meaning that disease, famine, war, and other disasters plague his world. But “mid-world” was not always like this. It once had a technology that relied heavily on magic. Roland’s quest is to get to the Dark tower at the center of all the worlds to correct what has gone wrong with “mid-world”, and subsequently all other worlds as well. Roland is accompanied by several companions, Jake Chambers who is a young boy, Eddie Dean a heroin addict, Susannah Dean who suffers from multiple personality disorder, and a dog like creature called a billy bumbler. The group named him Oy.
In the Dark Tower series there is a central world unlike the rest of the worlds in the series. This world is known as the keystone world. This world is the setting for the most important and plot revealing points of the story. The Return of Roland and his group to the keystone world is the hero’s return to the “real world” that Joseph Campbell describes in the monomyth.
Without spoiling the storyline the monomyth states that in the conclusion of these myths the hero dies; he is rewarded spiritually, and he applies his newly gained boon. This is not the case for Roland Deschain. Roland is rewarded with a horn, the boon received from his journey that could possibly change his future fate. The horn is a representation of the value of love and life that Roland had lost but has regained through his long and arduous quest. King’s hero Roland however, was not the only one to travel a life changing journey.
Steven king was an addict. King used copious amounts of cocaine, marijuana, and alcohol. He openly admits that the eighties were a drug fueled blur. King’s first novels were written while he was either inebriated or high. When king first started to gain publicity he feared that without drugs and alcohol he would lose his ability to write. So he continued to abuse drugs throughout the first Dark Tower books. King has written of his own addictions, in many of the afterwards in the books he writes about how he would party and get high to celebrate.
“An insecure child, plagued by nightmares in which his mother was laid out in a coffin and he saw himself hanging from a gallows, with crows pecking out his eyes, his anxieties included everything from a terror of falling down the toilet, to paranoia about death, deformity, and even clowns. As he grew up, he discovered that he could only deal with these bogeymen by writing stories about them, rattling away so furiously on his second-hand typewriter that the letter M eventually broke off and he had to write in the missing letters by hand.” (Leafe, David. “Stephen King’s Real Horror Story: How the Novelist’s Addiction to Drink and Drugs Nearly Killed Him)
King eventually kicked his habit only after his wife collected all of his drug paraphernalia in his house and confronted him, declaring that she would leave him if he didn’t stop. King felt that by writing out his horror stories, or fictional stories it would mean that the horrific events wouldn’t come true in real life. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case for King’s life, King struggled fiercely with his addictions and expressed his life problems with addiction through his fiction.
None of King’s characters in the Dark Tower series are addiction free. Susannah was addicted to shoplifting, something that was easily remedied when she was transported to a world with nothing to steal. Jake Chambers was addicted to Roland, the absent father figure in his life. Eddie Dean, like Steven King was a drug abuser, specifically a heroin addict. In the Dark Tower series Roland Deschain’s addiction, along with all the characters, was to the Dark Tower itself. In fact all of King’s characters in this storyline were obsessed with it. The tower represents many things in the book, but the most prevalent theme of the tower is that it represents the addiction that every person faces throughout their lives. The Dark Tower is the center of all universes; and for many people addiction is the center of their world.
Roland Deschains story line takes place in a place called “all world”. “All world” contains the "Keystone Tower” in the Dark Tower series. The Keystone tower implies that there is a tower in every world, but this world contains the Dark Tower in its physical form all other worlds contain a representation of the Tower, such as a rose. From All-World, it is possible to actually enter the Dark Tower. All-World is divided into three regions, In-world, Mid-world, and End-world. Most of the machines in “mid-world” are run by magic the machines of mid worls however, are failing, and nature is slowly taking back the world. In the Dark Tower There are many connections that can be made between “mid world” and our world.
In this series King attempts to meld fiction with reality by using events in his life that intertwine within his book series. Roland in his quest must travel between these worlds to reach his end goal. King was hit and almost killed by a red van. In the Dark Tower King uses this real event but adds a fictional twist; Roland Deschain, the main protagonist of the story saves King’s life. Roland also hypnotizes the Stephen King of the fictional world into writing the Dark Tower series that the reader is reading at the same time, adding to the feeling that somewhere, far away, Roland is trying to save all of the worlds.
King also uses references to baseball teams and corporate products to blur the distinction between reality and fiction. The the Kansas City Royals become the Kansas city monarchs. Coca Cola became Nozz o la brand cola, and the classic Charlie the choo choo book series become the Blaine the mono series. The list goes on and at every alteration, the modern reader feels more connected to the fictional storyline.
The last theme that I wish to discuss is the theme of “Ka” and how it relates to religion. The word “Ka” is best defined as your destiny or fate that you have to live through. Ka is most prominent in the “keystone world.”
The novels in this series go beyond many books in exploring the personality and conflicts of the hero, his motivations and the choices he is forced to make can all be defined as the characters “Ka”. Ka is described as an ever turning wheel of life, and in this definition of destiny or fate, it is represented by a circle with neither a beginning nor an end. Many of these ideas are central to religion.
The “keystone” world is the only world in the series that symbolizes awe and belief in divinity. Ka is neither good nor evil, and balances both. Much of the story that is created in this series revolves around “ka” and its importance to the hero Roland.
Steven King states that he considers the Dark tower series to be his magnum opus. In the series King uses many themes and the quest of the hero throughout the books. Three of those themes are; the hero, that follows the monomyth of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a thousand faces. The theme of addiction that King struggled with and which his characters struggle with, and the theme of “Ka” that symbolizes the role of religion and divinity throughout the Dark Tower series.
1) Leafe, David. “Stephen King’s Real Horror Story: How the Novelist’s Addiction to Drink and Drugs Nearly Killed Him | Mail Online.” Home | Mail Online. Web. 04 Oct. 2011. <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-1178151/Stephen-Kings-Real-Horror-Story-How-novelists-addiction-drink-drugs-nearly-killed-him.html>.
2) “The Dark Tower – Official Web Site.” Welcome to StephenKing.com. Web. 04 Nov. 2011. <http://www.stephenking.com/DarkTower/>.
3) “The Drawing of the Three – Book Review | DauntlessMedia.net.” DauntlessMedia.net | Reviews and Analysis of Modern Media. Web. 04 Dec. 2011. <http://dauntlessmedia.net/the-dark-tower/the-drawing-of-the-three-book-review.html>.
4) King, Stephen, and Michael Whelan. The Dark Tower. Hampton Falls, NH: Donald M. Grant, in Association with Scribner, 2004. Print.
5) King, Stephen, and Michael Whelan. The Gunslinger. New York: Penguin Group, 2003. Print.
6) “Stephen King: The Dark Tower–Theories.” Malakoff & Co. Web. 16 Nov. 2011. http://www.malakoff.com/skdttheo.htm
7) Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Novato, CA: New World Library, 2008. Print.
All Websites Were active as of November 22nd 2011