Review: The Dark Tower

The Dark Tower The Dark Tower by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Note: This review was originally written in the early 2000s and published for a no longer running website: AudiobookCafe. Stephen King wraps up his decades-spanding epic as well as his career with The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower. Our gang of gunslingers is fast approaching the dreaded Dark Tower where the Crimson King awaits them. In this racing tale of death and destiny, Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake, and Oy battle their way through different worlds suffering losses and barely surviving the increasing chaos that consumes the universe. Their mission is threefold: stop the Breakers from destroying the Beams of the Tower, make sure Stephen King survives a potentially life-ending car accident, and survive it all to see the Dark Tower.

Since the fifth book (Wolves of the Calla, published after 1999), Stephen King has placed himself as an active, even essential figure in this story. Reminiscent of works like “The Neverending Story,” King portrays himself as both an active character and passive medium to the story. This gimmick provides many surreal moments such as a scene where Roland and Jake race to save King from a car accident (King did suffer serious injuries from a car accident in 1999). His style of self-incorporation works decently to the extent that it keeps the plot progressing in unexpected ways. It falls short when King insistently continues with the apologetic rant he initiated at the end of “Song of Susannah.” He spends too much time justifying and explaining why it took him so long to finish the book.

Then, of course, there is the grand finale to the epic series. Can King design an ending that will meet the expectations created by a tale spanning generations with millions of people awaiting each installation? It’s a tough call. If you’re one of those folks who have long awaited the end of this tale, this tale may leave you unfulfilled. Like many long-anticipated events, it is hard to meet imagined expectations—a note that Stephen King makes just before the climax. But while it may not live up to the hype, the final installation does fit the story when all seven books are taken together in one piece.

Whether it’s a marketing ploy or just ingenious forethought, King’s final tale emphasizes the need to go back through most of his previous works in order to get a better understanding of the entire world he has created. His affinity for linking it all together and creating such a grand atmosphere of continuity puts him on par with some of the best epic fantasy writers. This becomes both a benefit and ban of his material. One can forever be enwrapped in understanding all the interconnected plot lines that he’s weaved over the years and thoroughly enjoy it. However, if one just wants to read The Dark Tower series, that person may feel like they are missing something that could further enlighten the story.

Stephen King once remarked that when he wrote, he heard a voice in his head—and that voice was Frank Muller. Regardless of whose voice he hears, King’s style has become one that lends itself quite well to the audiobook medium. The strength of the audiobook lies in its natural sound as if it were meant to be heard and not read. Award-winning George Guidall only adds to this by delivering a superb performance.

Kudos for Guidall picking up and carrying the standard set by Frank Muller in the first four books. Guidall’s talents show no bounds as he manipulates his voice from the youthful Jake to the aged Callahan to the distorted voices of the lowmen. Guidall reaches a new level of eeriness unmatched in his previous readings when he reads a children’s rhyme in a malevolent voice that could induce nightmares.

At the end of this all, listeners are lavished with a reading of “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came,” by Robert Browning, the poem that inspired King to write this epic tale. It is a shame this was not included in prior audiobooks as a reference. Not that it would shed much light on the story as a whole, but would be an enjoyable puzzle for listeners to figure out during the interims from one part to the next.

Due to the length and breadth of this series, it’s an unlikely bet that Simon & Schuster will put together an ultimate audio edition containing unabridged copies of all seven titles. But after listening to all 157 hours of this adventure, it’s hard to deny that it wouldn’t be tempting to purchase such a set.

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