Saturday, January 22, 2005

The Dark Tower


NOTE: This post is a huge spoiler for people who still haven’t read Dark Tower. Among my readers I know of, I guess I need to warn Rajneesh and Inder in particular to not continue reading this any further. If there is any unknown reader who likes Stephen King please beware!

I had been postponing the review of this book for quite some time. It wasn’t because of any time constraints. It was a simple case of chills – how on earth was I going to review an epic saga from the best writer the world has ever seen? The Dark Tower is a 7 part series concerning the story of Roland (who starts out as the Last Gunslinger) and his team of 4 co-adventurers. By the end of Book 7, Stephen King had managed to link this book to almost half of his other books. Well all this is easy to say, but now comes the tough part - the actual review.

The first thing I needed to do was to come out with a theory as to how people read books. By this mean I am talking about the degree of encapsulation. The answer to this question is pretty crucial in going along with the proceedings of the book. Here are a few of the theories my tired mind managed to conjure:-

1) The highest level – one where the book is just a book. The characters are completely fictional. And I read it like I would see a movie.

2) I go under the book, but stay above the characters. I follow their adventures as a third person would. I partially believe that all these things are actually happening and aren’t just make-believe.

3) I cease to think of it as a book. What I am reading is just things that are actually happening or have happened. It is not written by anybody, but are just mental images in my mind that are surprisingly in the form of words in front of me.

Most people would go with the 1st theory. A few might agree to the 2nd. But the 3rd one is pretty farfetched. Atleast that’s what I thought unless Stephen King did something to put me off-guard – make an appearance!

Yup, DT 6 and 7 talks about how the ka-tet (group) go meet Stephen King in the past and persuade him to continue writing the tale that he keeps hearing his head – ie the story of themselves!!! In technical terms the book becomes recursive. And take the ending into consideration and it has the capability to fall into the most common trap that recursion falls into – infinte loop. The only way to unravel the plot and continue is to follow my 3rd theory.

After this reorientation of the mindset, reading sub-plots such as how Jake dies saving King from a surely fatal accident (which, incidentally happened to him in his real life!) or how King decides to help Susannah by providing the deux es machina (the "god in the machine") at Dandelo’s Hut seem like normal happenings…in a Kingian sense.

(Side note on deux es machina: There are times when an author hits a blank wall – has no idea of how to move ahead. At times such as these he uses this writing tool – deux es machina – to move the tale forward. It is a mechanism to explain things in a highly convenient way. A good example of this would be from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The monster has zero knowledge of languages, manners, etc when it is formed. But it manages to converse with Frankenstein in proper English! Reason? It apparently finds a huge chest of English classics in a gutter and tutors itself to learn the language from these books.)

What separates King from the rest of the pack apart from his command over the English language, self-deprecating humour, black humour, thought-provoking conversations, rare unabashed grossness, emotions interplay, irony and non-linear temporal flow of story is his ability to make us feel sympathy for each of his characters. There is not a character that can be actually hated without a tinge of pity. More often than not, it is the circumstances that moulds persons and Kings is a staunch believer of this. Wishing that a particular character (most probably the one who gets your own sympathy) doesn’t die is a big mistake. The chances are that that character is going to be the first one to get bumped off!!!

For people who have seen The Green Mile and were hoping that John Coffey would somehow be released by a miracle would have been disappointed by the ending. If you are attuned to King, that is the easiest of endings to guess. Of course, he can surprise you with his positive ending in The Shawshank Redemption. But finding such “good” ending books of SK is as tough as finding books of Ayn Rand with an actual story! I guess you get the drift.

Another thing that King belives with deep sincerity is that most people never have their wishes fulfilled. Something bad is always around the corner waiting to happen. People who read newspaper reports such as “Tree falls on auto, kills passenger” and think “Hmm…such things can never happen to me!” need to read King. It wont take 15 minutes before he has you scampering for cover.


I guess the message is if you want to read quality stuff, read King. If you are the kind who likes “feel-good” books, “make you good” books, I-shall-talk-about-Fish-Cheese-Zen-Bikes-but-got-no-real-story-to-offer type of psuedo-trash (Courtesy: Rajneesh), please do not venture into this territory.

Right now I am beginning a long journey into the fantasy genre starting off with Kamba Ramayana. Hopefully I should be done with a lot of books before another favourite author of mine – Robert Jordan – comes out with the next installment of The Wheel of Time. That should be good fun!

As you can see I really haven’t been able to come up with a review. But I managed to fill up the blank spaces…without really moving forward. I guess that would make me a top contender for writing the next “Zen and the art of eating fish with cheese”.
And a Man Booker as well. :)


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