This is a guest article by a friend.
The Dark Tower’s Last Stand
(Stephen King and Epic Fantasy)
James D. Hahn
Part one of a three part series
We have begun to see elements of epic fantasy showing up in
many different genres around the literary world. This series will take
a look specifically at the elements of Epic Fantasy within the confines of Stephen King’s writing and his use of epic fantasy within his work.
“ am coming to understand that Roland’s world actually contains all the
others of my making.” Stephen King (The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass)
Some simply know him as the King of Horror, a household name in the genre of the dark and terrifying. Yet, Stephen King has become much more then that, he is now being compared to the likes of Charles Dickens, Mark Twain and other legends of great literature and rightfully so. He is one of the greatest writers of this generation and only time will tell his full impact upon the field of classic literature. Now, with the final book of the Dark Tower Series completed, we, the Constant Reader, can look back over the scope of his work, and begin to see the completion of a universe unlike anything else imaged in the scope of ancient or modern writers. His stories have held us spellbound and captivated for thousands of pages. Year in and year out, he has topped the best sellers list like no other writer has ever done before. It would be enough to simply say that he is a great writer, but there is something more here then simply the telling of a great story. We have now seen the storyteller become the legend.
The Dark Tower series is in and of itself a classic story; it is a blending of old western, sci-fi, epic fantasy, romance, action-adventure, and perhaps another half dozen genres mixed together and placed carefully on a broad canvas. It has something for everyone and if the story is to be believed, it is about everyone and everything. It is in the most simplest of terms, a tale about good and evil and those caught in that struggle. It is perhaps his greatest work, it is at the very least one of his finest works.
We do not yet know the full impact that Stephen King will have upon publishing and storytelling in general; he has proven to be very unique in the world of the written word. Only time will tell his full tale.
It is the epic scope and techniques of Stephen King’s works such as the Dark Tower series that I would wish to examine in this series of articles. I believe that by looking at the arching storylines of his novels as a whole we might gain some understanding of how the work of Epic Fantasy can be made more accessible to both the casual reader and the serious fan of the genre.
By setting his horror in the everyday and allowing the normal to become the supernormal, the reader is brought along with the characters of the story as the events, however bizarre unfold. This allows the reader to greatly identify with the characters and to make that all important emotional attachment to the character as a person.
While this is not always possible in the setting of most epic fantasies there are still common components which can allow for this emotional connection. The making of a meal, the longing for a loved one far away, the simple act of saving another person’s life can cause the reader to identify with the motives and see the character as a hero or heroine more easily. The smallest tasks preformed by the characters can have greater meaning later on in the story, like a ripple in a still pond.
I would at first like to examine just one of the main characters found in many of Stephen King’s novels. I would want to take this time to see how a well developed character can take on a life of his own and at times, even haunt the author. Of course I am speaking of none other then, The Walking Dude, himself, Randall Flagg. Now if you were to jump online and do a search of the Walking Dude, you will find a great wealth of information. I know because I did just that and found a long entry about him on wikipedia.org, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Randall_Flagg) and several other sites talking about his role within the battle between good and evil. He is a powerful player on the chess board of the Dark Tower series and throughout the other novels tied to this series. In all his various guises, his various names, his cold-hearted nature, he is a character we love to hate; we love to read about, we would love to see him destroyed, well? at least after one more story, another book. All things must come to some kind of end. But, Flagg as a character had staying power, a presence about him that could not be denied by anyone even his creator, Stephen King. Flagg became a symbol for many of King’s fans, they began to see him in places where he was not, and this was a major part of the mystique that formed around Flagg as a character. Even though he was the incarnation of evil, he was fatally flawed and most Constant Readers of Stephen King could at some level sense that flaw about this remarkable character. It is because we could see that flaw within him, we could identify with him, it is like the car wreck on the freeway, you don’t want to look into the horror of the crash but something within us wants us to look. The struggle between the duality of our nature, the purpose and the random, i.e. the good and the evil, is within all of us. Flagg became that symbol of the darkness within all of us, the Constant Readers, it is why Flagg was our favorite villain, why we hated him but loved to read about him and began to see him everywhere.
The rise and long life of Flagg until his strange death at the hands of Mordred Deschain, Roland’s own bastard son, shows the staying power of a well developed character in the hands of a writer who allows that character to tell his own tale within the confines of the larger story. There were many fans who felt that Flagg needed a better final ending. A showdown between Rowland and Flagg would seem fitting. But Stephen
King went another way, taught us all a brief lesson in how the world does not play fair, even with Flagg. This flawed character; he lied and cast illusions, then lost his tongue and then his eyes in that final bloody scene. Perhaps this was a fitting end to his reign of terror; perhaps there was a purpose to that horrific scene. Either way, King wrote what he saw and the quest for the tower ended for Randall but continued on for our hero, Rowland. Randall Flagg is a perfect example of how a character can take on a life and almost a will of their own and become something more then what was originally foreseen for them. Within Epic Fantasy we must learn to give time to each character to find their voice, find their way, to say what they need to say. We do not know the full telling of the story of the Dark Tower, there are still gaps that Stephen King, may or may not, fill us in on. It is rumored that there may be a forthcoming third Talisman book, but this
may not happen. It has been suggested that it was the story of the Talisman which set the events within the Dark Tower in motion. When
young Jack Sawyer takes the Talisman in order to save his mother’s life,
he may have allowed the Crimson King’s plan to destroy the tower to
manifest; even perhaps the vile Crimson King caused the cancer in the first place since he does enjoy causing chaos in various degrees. If this proposed theory, which is found in the book, _The Stephen King Universe*_ is true, it explains much, but still, King leaves the reader with questions to ponder and perhaps that is the best. That we alone work out the finer points of our understanding of this great struggle between good and evil, or as Stephen King would say, between the Purpose and the Random. Is that not the real reason behind such heroic works, to cause the listener, the reader, to ponder the deeper things of this world, this life, what is beyond? I do believe it is.
James D. Hahn
June 22, 2006