The Dark Tower is a fantasy fiction, science fantasy, horror, and western themed series of novels by the American writer Stephen King. The series has been described as King's magnum opus - besides the seven novels that comprise the series proper, many of his other books are related to the story, introducing concepts and characters that come into play as the series progresses.
The series was inspired by the poem "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came" by Robert Browning, The Wastelands by T.S. Eliot and in the preface to the 2003 edition of The Gunslinger, King also identifies The Lord of the Rings and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly as inspirations, identifying Clint Eastwood's character as the genesis of Roland of Gilead.
The central character, Roland, is the last living member of a knightly order known as gunslingers. The world he lives in is quite different from our own - politically organized along the lines of a feudal society, it shares technological and social characteristics with the American Old West, as well as magical powers and relics of a highly advanced, but long vanished, society. Roland's quest, his raison d'etre, is to find the Dark Tower, a mythical building said to be the nexus of the universe. Roland's world is said to have "moved on", and indeed, it literally appears to be coming apart at the seams - mighty nations are being torn apart by war, entire cities and regions vanish from the face of the earth without a trace, and even the Sun sometimes rises in the north and sets in the east. As the series opens, Roland's motives, goals, and even his age are unclear, though events in later installments shed light on these mysteries.
But all it leaves... is questions.
Characters in the series
Roland, son of Steven, a Gunslinger, was born in Gilead. He is now the last Gunslinger, with the sole charge of finding the Dark Tower, in some hope of reversing the erosion of time and the universe. As the series opens, he chases Walter, the Man in Black, across a desert. He finds Jake Chambers, an 11 year old boy from 1970's New York City and befriends him. Jake was walking down the street one day when someone pushed him under a Cadillac; then he woke up at a way-station in Mid-World and was quickly found by the gunslinger. Roland's relationship with Jake in The Gunslinger defines his personality: He can be friendly but is usually distant; he is wise and skilled but ignorant of our ways; he has no real sense of humour but is noble. However, ultimately he fails Jake; when confronted with the choice of saving Jake from an abyss or pursuing the Man in Black, he lets Jake fall. He catches up with Walter, the Man in Black, and he tells Roland's fortune after a long discussion. Roland falls unconscious, to finally wake up next to what seems to be Walter's skeleton. He is attacked by a flock of bizarre lobster creatures, which sever a toe and the index finger and middle finger of his right hand. These wounds become infected and Roland begins to fall gravely ill.
Eddie makes his debut in The Drawing of the Three, in which Roland encounters three doors that open into New York City of our world in different times. Through these doors, he draws companions who will join him on his quest, as the Man In Black prophecized. The first to be drawn is Eddie Dean, "The Prisoner", a drug addict and coke mule. Eddie lived with his older brother and fellow junkie Henry, who Eddie revered despite the corrupting influence Henry had upon his life. Roland helps Eddie fight off a gang of mobsters for whom he was transporting cocaine, and who have already killed Henry. After passing through the door out of "our" reality, Eddie faces horrible withdrawal symptoms but also shows a strange affinity for the ways of the gunslinger. Unwillingly at first, Eddie becomes Roland's companion through Mid-World, and soon falls in love with Odetta Holmes, the next member of Roland's ka-tet.
Also hailing from New York City, Susannah is an African-American woman with two major afflictions: her legs below the knee were severed in a subway accident, and a childhood head injury left her with dual personalities. She is "The Lady of Shadows", the second companion predicted by Walter to be drawn through the mysterious doors.
Initially, her dominant personality is that of Odetta Holmes, a sweet, well-mannered woman active in the civil rights movement. In dark times, however, she is taken over by Detta Walker, an murderously psychotic but incredibly crafty woman neither Eddie nor Roland can control.
The third door leads to New York in the mid-1970s. Here Roland finds himself inside the mind of "The Pusher", a sadistic psychopath named Jack Mort whose callous acts of random violence have shaped the lives of Roland's companions. When Odetta was five, Mort dropped a brick on her head (which led to the emergence of her multiple personalities); he also pushed Odetta in front of a subway car when she was a teenager (not knowing or caring that she was previously a victim of his cruelty); on this day in he is planning to shove a young boy (who turns out to be Jake Chambers) into traffic. Unable to let Jake die once again through his inaction, Roland takes control of Mort's body and forces him to throw himself in front of a subway train. In the midst of this struggle, Roland also manages to trick Detta into looking through the door, which forces her to acknowledge her dual personalities. The two successfully merge, yielding the true third party member, Susannah, who marries Eddie soon afterward.
In helping to bring Jake back to Mid-World, Susannah is raped by a demon and impregnated. When the offspring of this evil union is born, it is a murderous monster that can transform into a spiderlike creature. Using magic, the Crimson King caused the demon to fertilize Susannah with a corrupt combination of Roland's essence. The monstrous creature is named Mordred Deschain, and he wreaks havoc throughout the final two books of the series.
The eleven-year-old boy Roland left to die reappears in The Wastelands due to a bizarre paradox. Since Roland caused Mort to kill himself, Jake was never shoved into traffic. Thus he never appeared at the way station in Mid-World, and was never left to die under the mountains... but he can remember all of these things happening. Roland also bears these conflicting memories, and both of them are slowly going insane because of it.
In the first half of The Wastelands, Roland's ka-tet figure out a way to draw Jake into Mid-world where he belongs. Eddie obsessively whittles a key out of wood as they approach another door, this one set into the ground and guarded by an invisible demon. Susannah distracts the demon by allowing it to rape her, while Eddie perfects the key and opens the door. On the other side, Jake has been drawn into an abandoned house filled with evil spirits, narrowly escaping death again when Eddie draws him through the door. Once in Mid-World again, the tormenting dual memories cease for Roland and Jake.
While crossing the desolate city of Lud, Roland finds that he may have to sacrifice Jake again to ensure their safe passage. Despite the danger, however, he rescues Jake. Like Eddie and Susannah, Jake becomes a full-fledged gunslinger.
Roland often seems to be almost a surrogate father to Jake, but he often wonders whether he would be able to abandon his quest for the Tower for Jake or any of his companions.
On the road to Lud, the group finds a wounded "billy-bumbler". These animals are described as looking like a cross between a racoon and a dog, with a corkscrew-spiral tail. When Jake first sees the bumbler, he calls "Come here, boy," and the animal mimicks the sound with "Oy". The bumbler is friendly and intelligent -- Roland explains that used to be common for billy-bumblers to speak and even be able to perform simple math -- and Jake decides to call him Oy, after the first word they heard him say. Seemingly a mere pet at first, Oy proves to be strangely helpful and nearly human at times. Roland concedes that Oy may quite possibly be meant as another member of their ka-tet. Oy dies valiantly while fighting Mordred Deschain in the final book, The Dark Tower.
Walter, the Man in Black
He appears in many books of Stephen King, such as The Eyes of the Dragon and The Stand, always as a nearly-demonic sorcerer. He is virtually the Devil, and his only desire is to spread chaos, discord and evil wherever he goes. He seems to serve the Crimson King. His true name is Walter Padick, but has taken many aliases, among them being Randall Flagg.
The Crimson King
The ultimate in evil, this mysterious figure wishes to conquer the Dark Tower and raze it to the ground. Since this will destroy nearly the entire universe, he is naturally cast as the villain in The Dark Tower books. He is also present in another Stephen King book, Insomnia, and a King-Peter Straub collaboration known as Black House. He is also known as Ram Aballah, and once ruled from his castle in Thunderclap, but now is imprisoned on a balcony in the Dark Tower. He believes that when the Tower falls, he will rule the darkness that was once the multiverse. He is the one whom Walter/Flagg serves, whom the low men and taheen serve, and has opposed Roland of Gilead from the beginning. Like Roland, he is descended from Arthur Eld, but there is speculation among Tower fans whether or not he and Arthur Eld are the same individual.
An invading spirit who possesses Susannah Dean's body in Wolves of the Calla. Originally an immortal spirit similar to a succubus, she saw and fell in love with a baby. After plague ravaged the city of Fedic and the child was taken away, Mia struck a bargain with Walter. If she would give up her formless immortality, Walter would give her a baby. Mia's purpose in Walter and the Crimson King's plan is to bear Roland's child; prophecy has foretold that this child will be Roland's doom.
Son of two fathers and two mothers, Mordred was born of Susannah's egg fertilized by the seed of both Roland of Gilead and the Crimson King, and carried to term by Mia. Mordred is half-human, half-godly, and if his fate is fulfilled, he will kill both Roland (one of his fathers) and topple the Dark Tower itself. However, neither the seers nor fate itself could protect Mordred from the death of magic infecting Mid-World as the tower falters. Mordred becomes deathly ill after eating poisoned horse meat, and is slain by Roland at the threshold of the Dark Tower.
The Low Men (Can-toi, Fayen Folken)
First introduced in "Low Men in Yellow Coats", these soldiers of the Crimson King are half-taheen and half human, and originate in the todash spaces between worlds. Richard P. Sayre is a prominent Low Man in the Dark Tower Series, and so is Flaherty. They also appear in Black House by King and Peter Straub.
Pere Donald Callahan
Callahan is the damned priest in Salem's Lot, and makes his first appearance in the Dark Tower series in Wolves of the Calla. He entered Mid-World and arrived at the Way Station in the beginning of The Gunslinger, but readers don't know this until Wolves of the Calla. He assists the ka-tet in the Battle agsinst the Wolves, helps on Susannah's rescue mission from 1999 New York, and makes his final stand in The Dark Tower against the can-toi (low men) and the vampires. This is merely speculation among Tower fans, but many believe he ascended to Heaven, if that truly exists in King's multiverse.
Richard Patrick Sayre
The leader of the can-toi and the head of the Sombra Corportation, Sayre is the individual who lured Callahan to his death in 1983. He is the one who witnesses Mordred's birth at the Dixie Pig, and he meets his end when he is shot twice in the chest by Susannah.
Jack Andolini is a New York gangster and affiliate of Enrico Balazar, whom readers first met in The Drawing of the Three . In that novel, in 1987, while trying to kill Eddie, he followed Eddie and Roland into Mid-World and met his death by the hands of the lobstrosities. However, he reappears in Wolves of the Calla as a representitive of the Sombra Corportation, in 1977. When Roland and Eddie enter the Maine of 1977, Andolini and his gang ambush them at the East Stoneham General Store. This version of Andolini, however, meets a not so horrible fate: in " The Dark Tower," he is imprisoned in a Maine county jail.
Books in the series
All these are preceded by "The Dark Tower #:", where # is the book's place in the series.
- The Gunslinger (1982, originally published as separate short stories. Revised edition released in 2003)
- The Drawing of the Three (1987)
- The Waste Lands (1991)
- Wizard and Glass (1997)
- Wolves of the Calla (title originally announced as The Crawling Shadow) (2003)
- Song of Susannah (2004)
- The Dark Tower (2004)
Connections to other works of King
The series has become a linchpin that ties much of King's work together. The worlds of The Dark Tower are in part composed of locations, characters, events and other random elements from many of King's novels.
The following is a list of specific connections between books. Note that all Dark Tower books are connected to each other chronologically.
- The Gunslinger
- The Drawing of the Three
- The Waste Lands
- Wizard and Glass
- Wolves of the Calla
- Song of Susannah
- The Dark Tower (2004 novel)