Stephen King’s The Dark Tower: a re-read, hazy thoughts, and the Virtual

Mar 11, 2013 | Fiction/Lit/Movies

I’m re-reading Stephen King’s Dark Tower series (so I know the ending), and so far I’ve been very impressed.

Having re-read the earlier ones again (I’m on the sixth book, Song of Susannah, right now), some of the things that I was on the fence about, and the things that I know other people absolutely hated — I’m looking at you, number nineteen, Doctor Doom Wolves and Harry Potter “Sneetches,” and certain intertextual and metatextual cameos I know are coming up — now seem a lot better, and a lot more coherent, what with the internal logic established by the series.

Speaking of “internal logic established by the series,” I think internal logic is an appropriate term for at least a big part of what the “Dark Tower” itself stands for. The internal logic of a work of fiction, or perhaps a body of work. What “holds it together,” so to speak. The focus on “19” relates to King’s body of work being such a product of its time(s), the latter half of the 1900s, culminating in 19-99.  This again relates to the different times from which Roland pulls his ka-tet, to the breakdown of time being experienced in Mid-World, to the heavy focus on dialect and its relation to place and time, and to the role of a “gunslinger,” or the figure of the gunslinger, in a world that has moved on. Moved on from what? Other stories, other genres. There’s obviously a big focus on stories, genre and their relation to history, and to intertextuality.

For example, I just read the bit with Trudy Damascus in Song of Susannah. Trudy doesn’t believe in UFOs or fantastic stories, until she sees Susannah/Mia show up out of thin air, magically. The scenes focalized through Trudy make constant references to Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, in which Scrooge ascribes Marley’s ghostly presence to indigestion, a bit of underdone potato. The point here, with both A Christmas Carol and with the episode with Trudy, is that it doesn’t matter what *really* happened, in a way. What matters is that whether Scrooge’s or Trudy’s experience did or did not happen, they are fundamentally changed, forever. Trudy will never again scoff at people who believe in fantastic stories and UFOs; Scrooge will never look at Christmas the same way again, whether it was a bad dream brought on by indigestion or not. Even fiction has real power, in the “real” world. Our lives are, as Slavoj Žižek would say, governed precisely by that which is virtual, immaterial: fictional narratives we’ve absorbed so deep into our bones that we don’t even know we know them.

Many of my thoughts are very hazy right now, but I’ll have to write more on it, because I’m now thinking there is a whole lot going on.