The Futuristic Western: Stephen King and The Dark Tower
2. History and Myth
a. The Myth before the Myth
a. The crews as microcosms of society
b. The Women
c. The Social Outcasts
d. Homosexuality and Lesbianism
e. Inter-Racial Relationships
4. Forms of Government
d. Other Forms
5. Politics and International Relations
b. Treaties and Conventions
6. Law and Order through Time and Space
a. Traditional ways of settling legal disputes and reaching verdicts
b. About the contemporary legal system
c. Examples of contemporary Legal Dilemmas
Protection of Privacy
Freedom of Information
d. About the futuristic legal system
The Prime Directive
Time Travel and Time Machines
The use of Telepathy and Telekinesis
Definition and Rights of Intelligent Life
Laws of Robotics
The Internet and Control of Information
Election Laws and Procedures
Stephen King is a very prolific writer, who writes more than just Science Fiction and horror Novels. You can safely assume that every word he writes will eventually find its way either to the Big Screen or the Small Screen. Recent examples are Riding the Bullet, which began as an Internet story and should soon reach the Big Screen, the new (and rather narcissistic) adaptation of Lars von Trier's The Kingdom, The Dead Zone (which was actually a nice surprise), and the rather disappointing Secret Window. Interestingly enough, the Movie adaptations of his novels which were not necessarily Science Fiction or Horror Novels were far more successful (see The Shawshank Redemption, Stand by Me, The Green Mile, etc'). I will discuss The Children of the Corn later on.
One of King’s Novels, the incredibly funny The Eyes of the Dragon, is the exception that proves the rule in this context. In this Novel King tried to create a typical medieval myth of noble princes and evil wizards, and it presents evil and dealing with it a very interesting way. In one word - recommended!
The Dark Tower is a series of books which incorporates themes from multiple genres, including fantasy, science fantasy, horror and western. It describes a "gunslinger" and his quest toward a tower, the nature of which is both physical and metaphorical.
The series has become a linchpin that ties together much of King's body of work. The worlds of The Dark Tower are in part composed of locations, characters, events and other various elements from many of King's novels and short stories.
King has described the series as his magnum opus. Besides the eight novels that compose the series proper, many of King's other books relate to the story, introducing concepts and characters that come into play as the series progresses.
The series was chiefly inspired by the poem "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came" by Robert Browning, whose full text was included in the final volume's appendix (see also here).
In the preface to the revised 2003 edition of The Gunslinger, King also identifies The Lord of the Rings (King's style of location names in the series, such as Mid-World (Middle Earth) and his development of a unique language abstract to our own (High Speech), are also influenced by J. R. R. Tolkien's work), Arhurian Legend, Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, its stepchild The Magnificent Seven, Sergio Leone's "Man with No Name" trilogy (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly), and other works by Howard Hawks and John Sturges, etc'. He also identifies Clint Eastwood's "Man with No Name" character as one of the major inspirations for the protagonist, Roland Deschain.
Many direct references to popular culture are noted either by characters or via narration within the book's text. Such instances include:
The Wolves use weapons resembling the snitches found inJ.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series (which are actually stamped 'Harry Potter Model' - a direct reference to the Golden Snitch from the J.K. Rowling books and to the Dr. Seuss characters) and lightsabers found in George Lucas' Star Wars, and are revealed to be robots and to have Doctor Doom-like visages (see the Marvel Comics comic books).
A "messenger robot" similar in demeanor to the android C-3PO from the Star Wars movies, with the look of an Asimovian robot;
Also, in minor reference to the Harry Potter series, King makes use of the same font (for chapter titles) used in all seven Harry Potter books.
King also references an earlier, uncollected short story from the late 1980s called "The Reploids", which deals with people sliding between realities and also features denominations of money featuring President Chadbourne.
King saw The Dark Tower series as a first draft and was planning to rewrite it to eliminate continuity errors and possibly remove himself from the later books, but after revising The Gunslinger he decided a rewrite for the whole series was no longer necessary.
A mysterious force leads all living (and unliving) creatures. It is the will of Gan, the approximate equivalent of destiny or fate.
Gan arose from the waters of the Prim who spun the physical universe from his navel and is the spirit of the Dark Tower. Others say Gan rose from the Prim and Mid-World emerged from him breaking apart into many parallel worlds. After the Prim receded the Beams and the Dark Tower remained forming the framework of the time/space continuum.
His wife Bessa invented riddling to entertain him and it is said he placed Buffalo Star in the sky.
It is thought by some that the tower itself could be the embodiment of Gan as the Sisters from Our Lady Of The Rose believe.
When Roland and Eddie cross paths with "Stephen King" in ''Song Of Susannah'', they theorize that he may be Gan himself, or an avatar of him, or at least strongly influenced by him, and thus place the protection of the writer as the second most important task entrusted to the Tet Foundation (after the protection of The Rose).
Two of Mid-World's most dangerous death goddesses (Can-char) are both beautiful temptresses.
Selena is known as the daughter of the moon, with Morphia being daughter of sleep. Some also see Morphia as Lady of the Black Moon and so is attributed to the dark side of the moon as well as black magic and banishing spells. She is also the mother of Walter Padick.
They share a similar purpose. They try to tempt men into the clearing at the end of the path before their true time is up. They seek those with dire illnesses and tell them to embrace the pleasure and ease of death, extending their arms to the men they wish to take. The men will often do as the temptresses say and leave the world of the living not realising it is their spiritual body that leaves the world, not their physical one.
The Dark Tower is an edifice of infinite power ruling a near infinite number of parallel universes, or the Multiverse. It is the cornerstone and the linchpin of all the universes. It is unclear who exactly built it, or when.
In every universe in the Multiverse there is a manifestation of the Tower itself. In our reality (the reality of Earth, the reality which we inhabit), this manifestation is a single red wild rose growing in a vacant lot in Manhattan.
The basic assumption is that if the Dark Tower is destroyed, the entire Multiverse will crumble and chaos will ensue.
This is the setting for the battle between the forces of good (the White), represented by the Tet corporation headed by Roland Deschain, and the forces of evil (the Red), represented by the Sombra Corporation headed by the Crimson King. The Crimson King seeks to destroy and/or dominate our universe by taking possession of the lot and bulldozing over the rose, while Roland Deschain’s mission is to purchase the vacant lot and prevent the Rose from being bulldozed over. That is only the first stage in the battle for the control of the entire Multiverse.
As I’ve mentioned in my analysis of Star Wars, combining the Western genre wth the Fantasy or Sci Fi genre is a pretty common occurrence, because of the great similarity between the rules of the two genres, and I’ve also refereed to the obvious influence of the Spaghetti Westerns (especially Sergio Leone’s the Man with no Name Trilogy starring Clint Eastwood) on the Dark Tower.
And the rules of the Western have always been very simple - the Good rides into town, encounters the Bad, gets beaten by him, fights him, defeats him, gets the girl and rides into the sunset (or in our case, to another universe) - with or without the girl...
The Western scenarios can be divided into three categories:
"The Good, the Bad and the Girl"; Two fight over a woman (or over something else), and a woman stands between them);
"The Good, the Bad and the Ugly"; Two fight and a third is required to take a side;
"The Good, the Bad and the So and So"; Two (or more) go out together to achieve a common goal.
To which category does the Dark Tower belong? We shall see…
This is what the universe looks like according to Stephen King:
“And so the man in black began to speak.
The universe (he said) offers a paradox too great for the finite mind to grasp. As the living brain cannot conceive of a nonliving brain — although it may think it can — the finite mind cannot grasp the infinite.
The prosaic fact of the universe’s existence single-handedly defeats the pragmatist and the cynic. There was a time, yet a hundred generations before the world moved on, when mankind had achieved enough technical and scientific prowess to chip a few splinters from the great stone pillar of reality. Even then, the false light of science (knowledge, if you like) shone in only a few developed countries.
Yet, despite a tremendous increase in available facts, there were remarkably few insights. Gunslinger, our fathers conquered the-disease-which-rots, which we call cancer, almost conquered aging, went to the moon —
(“I don’t believe that,” the gunslinger said flatly, to which the man in black merely smiled and answered, “You needn’t.”)
- and made or discovered a hundred other marvelous baubles. But this wealth of information produced little or no insight. There were no great odes written to the wonders of artificial insemination - (“What?” “Having babies from frozen mansperm." "Bullshit." "As you wish, although not even the ancients could produce children from that material.”)
— or to the car-which-moves. Few if any seemed to have grasped the Principle of Reality; new knowledge leads always to yet more awesome mysteries. Greater physiological knowledge of the brain makes the existence of the soul less possible yet more probable by the nature of the search. Do you see? Of course you don’t. You are surrounded by your own romantic aura, you lie cheek and jowl daily with the arcane. Yet now you approach the limits —not of belief, but of comprehension. You face reverse entropy of the soul.
But to the more prosaic:
The greatest mystery the universe offers is not life but Size. Size encompasses life, and the
Tower encompasses Size. The child, who is most at home with wonder, says: Daddy, what is above the sky? And the father says: The darkness of space. The child: What is beyond space? The father: The galaxy. The child: Beyond the galaxy? The father: Another galaxy. The child: Beyond the other galaxies? The father: No one knows.
You see? Size defeats us. For the fish, the lake in which he lives is the universe. What does the fish think when he is jerked up by the mouth through the silver limits of existence and into a new universe where the air drowns him and the light is blue madness? Where huge bipeds with no gills stuff it into a suffocating box and cover it with wet weeds to die?
Or one might take the point of a pencil and magnify it. One reaches the point where a stunning realization strikes home: The pencil point is not solid; it is composed of atoms which whirl and revolve like a trillion demon planets. What seems solid to us is actually only a loose net held together by gravitation. Shrunk to the correct size, the distances between these atoms might become leagues, gulfs, aeons. The atoms themselves are composed of nuclei and revolving protons and electrons. One may step down further to subatomic particles. And then to what? Tachyons? Nothing? Of course not. Everything in the universe denies nothing; to suggest conclusions to things is one impossibility.
If you fell outward to the limit of the universe, would you find a board fence and signs reading DEAD END? No. You might find something hard and rounded, as the chick must see the egg from the inside. And if you should peck through that shell, what great and torrential light might shine through your hole at the end of space? Might you look through and discover our entire universe is but part of one atom on a blade of grass? Might you be forced to think that by burning a twig you incinerate an eternity of eternities? That existence rises not to one infinite but to an infinity of them?
Perhaps you saw what place our universe plays in the scheme of things — as an atom in a blade of grass. Could it be that everything we can perceive, from the infinitesimal virus to the distant Horsehead Nebula, is contained in one blade of grass... a blade that may have existed for only a day or two in an alien time-flow? What if that blade should be cut off by a scythe? When it began to die, would the rot seep into our own universe and our own lives, turning everything yellow and brown and desicated? Perhaps it’s already begun to happen. We say the world has moved on; maybe we really mean that it has begun to dry up.
Think how small such a concept of things makes us, gunslinger! If a God watches over it all, does He actually mete out justice for a race of gnats among an infinitude of races of gnats? Does his eye see the sparrow fall when the sparrow is less than a speck of hydrogen floating disconnected in the depth of space? And if He does see... what must the nature of such a God be? Where does He live? How is it possible to live beyond infinity?
Imagine the sand of the Mohaine Desert, which you crossed to find me, and imagine a trillion universes — not worlds but universes — encapsulated in each grain of that desert; and within each universe an infinity of others. We tower over these universes from our pitiful grass vantage point; with one swing of your boot you may knock a billion billion worlds flying off into darkness, in a chain never to be completed.
Size, gunslinger... Size....
Yet suppose further. Suppose that all worlds, all universes, met in a single nexus, a single pylon, a Tower. A stairway, perhaps, to the Godhead itself. Would you dare, gunslinger? Could it be that somewhere above all of endless reality, there exists a Room...?
You dare not.
You dare not.
“Someone has dared,” the gunslinger said.
“Who would that be?”
“God,” the gunslinger said softly. His eyes gleamed. “God has dared… or is the room empty, seer?”
“I don’t know.” Fear passed over the man in black’s bland face, as soft and dark as a buzzard’s wing. “And, furthermore, I don’t ask. It might be unwise.”
“Afraid of being struck dead?” The gunslinger asked sardonically.
“Perhaps afraid of an accounting,” the man in black replied, and there was silence for a while. The night was very long. The Milky Way sprawled above them in great splendor, yet terrifying in its emptiness. The gunslinger wondered what he would feel if that inky sky should split open and let in a torrent of light…”
(P 289-295, the 1982 edition)
A ka-tet is a group of beings brought together by ka.
"We are ka-tet. We are one from many," says Roland Deschain on the day before the Battle of Algul Siento.
Ka-tet is the belief that a group of people can be tied together by fate, or ka. It is said that a group has shared "khef" or the water of life. Sometimes the symbol of water is used literally, as in a ritual Roland and his ka-tet performs the night before the battle of Algul Siento.
In the seventh novel, Susannah Dean, who ends up understanding ka maybe more than Roland himself, concluding that in simple terms, "ka-tet" means family. This a concept frequently used by King, even in books that do not use the terms ka or ka-tet, such as It, The Stand, Desperation, Insomnia, Dreamcatcher, and Duma Key. (See Kurt Vonnegut's "karass").
Through his actions both in his world, and in Eddie, Susannah, and Jack Mort's world, Roland saves Eddie and Susannah. He saves Eddie by curing him of his addiction and bringing Susannah, whom Eddie loves. He saves Susannah by helping her fuse her former personalities, Odetta Holmes and Detta Walker, into a stronger single personality, Susannah Dean. Both owe their lives to Roland, and Roland is acutely aware that he may need to sacrifice them to reach the Tower. Each of these people is essential for Roland to continue his quest. They are all part of a ka-tet, defined as "one made from many" and "sharing the same destiny."
A cold blooded gunslinger, the only thing faster than his hands are his whistling bullets.
The symbolic (and later adopted) son of Roland. First appears in the seriesin the Gunslinger but gets killed by the second half of the book. Returns to life and the Dark Tower in the third book, the Wastelands
"The Prisoner" is Eddie Dean, a heroin addict who is in the process of smuggling cocaine for the drug lord Enrico Balazar. Since Eddie was headed deeper into addiction (at the hands of his brother Henry) or prison (at the hands of the government), or worse (at the hands of his drug lord), he decides to throw his lot in with Roland, although with deep misgivings that he occasionally gives vent to in the form of angry outbursts.
"The Lady of Shadows," so called for her multiple personalities and metaphorically, multiple shadows, is Odetta Holmes, a black woman who is active in the civil rights movement. She is wealthy and missing her legs below the knees after being pushed in front of a subway car by a person named Jack Mort. Odetta is completely unaware that she has an alternate personality, a violent, predatory woman named Detta. Roland and Eddie are forced to contend with both of these personalities when Odetta's body is forcibly abducted into their world.
An unusually intelligent billy-bumbler (which looks like a combination of badger, raccoon and dog with parrot-like speaking ability, long neck, curly tail, retractable claws and a high degree of animal intelligence), named Oy by Jake.
One main female character – Odetta-Detta- Susannah (A Trinity?)
Here too, each of the Ka-Tet (including Roland himself) is a social misfit.
The Can-Toi are unofficially but more commonly known as low men, as in Low Men in Yellow Coats, due to their often garish yellow clothing. Their first appearance was in the 1999 collection, Hearts in Atlantis (although coyotes in the 1996 novel Desperation were called by this name) and they later made appearances in the final three novels in the Dark Tower series.
Marvel's Dark Tower Almanac describes the can-toi as being the results of human/taheen interspecies mating, tending to exhibit "the most undesirable characteristics of both species". Unlike the taheen, which have the heads of various animals, the can-toi always have the heads of deformed rats.
The can-toi have extremely poor hygiene (many are infested with fleas and lice), and many carry diseases such as rabies. Their teeth are constantly growing, but are worn down by constant chewing.
The can-toi and humans
The can-toi seem to possess an oddly ambivalent attitude toward humankind, both idolizing and mocking its culture at the same time. Their religion states that tcan-toi will replace humans once the Dark Tower falls. Because of this, the can-toi wear synthetic human masks, made from a living latex that is grown by them, which they believe is their first step to becoming human. These masks have bleeding red holes on the forehead in order to breathe, which are described as always welling up but never actually bleeding. These red holes may "dry up" depending on which world they are in.
Their clothing is garish, usually consisting of vibrant colors and clashing patterns. When "Earthside" they tend to get around by driving replicas of classic American cars. Their cars are strongly hinted at being alive; in one instance a tire extruded a tentacle to snatch at a piece of litter.
The can-toi also have a practice of adopting names from American pop culture once they reach adulthood, with occasionally absurd results (such us Van Gogh Baez).
The can-toi are described as functioning in two major areas of service for the Crimson King: guards at Devar-Toi and as trackers. Their role as guards at Devar-Toi appears to be mostly in subservience to the Taheen supervisors. As trackers, they seem to be allowed a much longer leash as they direct and carry out missions as varied as the recruiting, testing, capture (and in the case of Ted Brautigan, the recapture) of new Breakers and the hunting down of enemies of the Crimson King, such as was described in Wolves of the Calla, through the recollections of Pere Callahan.
The Can-Toi methodology in these seeker/hunter escapades is in-line with their overall absurdist take on human culture. They reach their targets via lost-pet posters and obscene graffiti.
Can you honestly say that this doesn’t remind you of the biblical story of the Tower of Babylon?
In the original version of the first Dark Tower novel, The Gunslinger, it was implied that the world of the Dark Tower series is a decayed future version of present-day Earth, thus the Great Old Ones are a future stage in the development of contemporary civilization. However, as the series evolved, it was revealed that All-World (the world inhabited by main character Roland Deschain) and Earth (or, more specifically, "Keystone Earth") are parallel worlds, or different "levels" of the Dark Tower, rather than a single world at different points
The Taheen are mostly mammals and birdlike creatures, and most are under control of the Crimson King. They are first hinted at in the revised edition of "The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger". The Taheen are mentioned but not named when locals describe the kind of horrors that lie beyond Thunderclap. They are described by Roland as "Creatures neither of the Prim, nor of the natural world, but misbegotten things from somewhere between the two." They are sometimes known as "The Third People."
Finli O'Tego, first mentioned in the fifth book, is the best-known Taheen in the final book. Finli is over 300 years old and has the head of a weasel, but brief characters in Song of Susannah and final book include Taheen that have bird heads, such as Meiman (dubbed "Canaryman" by Susannah and "Tweety bird" by Jake for his yellow head) and Jey (who Susannah calls "Hawkman" for his brown feathers).
Taheen are long-lived and, allegedly, superior to humans physically and mentally. Most of them regard humans (or "humes", a pejorative term) as inferior, although some enjoy human arts, such as literature, and some human activities, such as basketball. They are not to be confused with the Can-toi (or low men) who are mostly rat-faced, wear human masks, and are admittedly inferior to humans. In Book VII "The Dark Tower" it is also hinted that they have a culture of their own (a name-change ritual is mentioned) and that their religious beliefs (if any) are quite different (praying seems to puzzle Finli O'Tego).
"Taheen" seems to be plural as well as singular. ("I saw a bird-faced taheen." "I saw some taheen playing basketball.")
Do the police, the president, the government, exist in the Dark Tower Universe?
Some form of a local government does exist, but the State-Federal structure is unclear. For instance, There is no royalty, because the Crimson King is not a king, but a corporate CEO.
Did the corporations completely replace the central government? There was obviously a war over the control of the Dark Tower universe between two corporations – the Tet Corporation (controlled by Roland) and the Sombra Corporation (controlled by the Crimson King).
Wild West Laws?
One of North Central Positronics' major products is said to be the "Asimov-class robot". But is the "messenger robot" indeed an Asimovian robot? Do the Laws of Robotics apply to it?
There are three major corporations in the Dark Tower universe, two are controlled by the Crimson King and one by Roland Deschain’s Ka Tet.
North Central Positronics
North Central Positronics appears in multiple works of Stephen King, in the Dark Tower series and related works. It is a huge corporation which manufactures technologically-advanced items such as robots, computers, and weapons.
Many of the products are prominent in the Dark Tower series, where the few remaining North Central Positronics products still functioning have gone insane, preying upon life and the remnants of civilization. This is related to the phenomenon affecting much of reality; everything is falling apart. As stated in the books, the world has 'moved on'.
By the time it is encountered by Roland and his ka-tet, North Central Positronics is part of the Sombra Group, owned by the Crimson King, the personification of Satan and evil in the world of the Dark Tower. The Crimson King's stated goal is the destruction of the multiverse/all reality.
Among NCP's creations in the books are dipolar computers, a number of androids and cyborgs and Blaine the Mono, a sentient monorail system that enjoys riddles.
Sombra Corporation is controlled by the Crimson King. Sombra Corporation rose to power in the late 80s and fully monopolized high-tech R&D and manufacturing for an unknown, but certainly long period of time. It is affiliated with LaMerk Industries and North Central Positronics. It owns the TranCorporation, which finds and recruits young people with paranormal powers to carry out assassinations and eventually become Breakers. In the Keystone World, the reign of Sombra Corporation was challenged and possibly halted by the Tet Corporation, which was founded by Roland and his ka-tet specifically for this purpose.
In the novels, Sombra Corporation's main act of 'evil' was to purchase the vacant lot in Manhattan which contained the rose, the manifestation of the Dark Tower on this plane of existence. The purpose of this move was to demolish the land to build condos, thus destroying the rose and, perhaps in the process, weakening or destroying the Dark Tower, the lynchpin which held the multiverse together.
The short story 'Everything's Eventual' is from the viewpoint of a 19 year-old drop out that was being trained to be a Breaker. After being paid to kill seemingly random people for an undetermined amount of time, he eventually turns against the Sombra Corp and makes plans to escape.
Note: "Sombra" means "shadow" or "shade" in Spanish and Portuguese
The Tet Corporation was founded by Roland Deschain and his ka-tet to prevent the destruction of The Rose by stopping the Sombra Corporation from purchasing the vacant lot on which the rose grew.
To preserve their quest for the actual Tower and save our universe in the process, Roland Deschain used the financial resources of a member of his group (ka-tet), Susannah Dean-specifically, the dental fortune her father, an inventor, entrusted to her uncle-to purchase the lot under the name of the Tet Corporation. This phantom company bought the lot to protect it from the malefic Sombra Corporation, headed by the Crimson King (Roland's Archenemy) and thus save our dimension of the universe from ultimate destruction. The Tet Corporation built a black skyscraper on the lot without harming or even moving the rose. The skyscraper, located at 2 Hammarskjöld Plaza (an actual building upon which an actual Black skyscraper stands, likely the reason Stephen King chose this building to be the location of the rose) was believed by Roland to be the Dark Tower's image in that world, built to protect the rose.
In the seventh and final book of the series, Roland is introduced to the modern-day head of the Tet corporation: Moses Carver's daughter, born after Susannah departed New York for Roland's world. Moses Carver is the last living "founding father", ceding control to his daughter after the deaths of John Cullum and Aaron Deepneau. The Tet Corporation uses a mixture of modern technology as well as supernatural, monitoring Roland's progress with a team of trained psychics and even training their own Gunslingers (one of whom is Carver's own daughter). They also review books written by Stephen King, in hopes of finding information that relates to the Dark Tower. In a meeting with Roland, they restore to him the silver cross given to him by Aunt Talitha in The Wastelands (to whom he promised it would be carried with him to the Tower), valuable information regarding his path towards the Dark Tower, and the Stephen King book Insomnia.
The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger (1982)
The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three (1987)
The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands (1991)
The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass (1997)
The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla (2003)
The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah (2004)
The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower (2004)
The Dark Tower: The Wind Through the Keyhole (2012)
"The Way Station"
"The Oracle and the Mountains"
"The Slow Mutants"
"The Gunslinger and the Dark Man"
"The Little Sisters of Eluria"