It’s about Stephen King’s Dark Tower series.
I don’t remember if I received The Gunslinger as a gift or if I picked it out at the bookstore on one of the many times my Mum and I happened to accidentally stop at the bookstore on the way to get groceries. In our house, you remember, books were considered staples, like broccoli and milk. You will die after a couple of days without water, they tell me, but you can last for months without food. I’m pretty sure you can’t last for months without books. Or at the very least, stories.
At any rate, I read The Gunslinger. And it was good. It was very, very good. A post-apocalyptic/old west/steampunk/fantasy/romantic adventure story, it is. I also really enjoyed King’s/Straub’s The Talisman which was published after The Gunslinger but before The Drawing of the Three. Anyway, this isn’t meant to be a publications list for Stephen King’s readable books.
At its most basic, The Gunslinger is a wild west fantasy adventure story. It’s high fantasy set in a spaghetti western setting. I’m sure you can find plot summaries all over the web, or (better yet) you could just read the book. So I’m not going to do a plot summary or a review for you. If you haven’t yet read it, there will probably be spoilers, or some of this won’t make sense. For the record there are currently six books in the series, with King slated to write a seventh soonish. There are multiple novellas and graphic novels based on King’s Midworld and All-world setting. There’s even a television/movie series planned.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this series lately, because I recently got my fingers on the audiobooks, and I’ve been listening to the entire series every time I drive to and from work, or when I’m in the bath, or at bedtime, or whenever i’m at hockey practice. So something that stood out for me is the reason why I quit reading the series after the third or fourth book.
I read The Drawing of the Three, the second book in the series, close to when it first came out because I remember buying it in a bookstore in Florida. I was buying the collectors’ editions, with colour plates inside. I remember seeing The Wastelands, book number three, in the bookstore, and I was excited that it was finally out. I think I read most of it, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t read all of it. Probably just the first half. And now I remember why.
One of the characters, who first appears in the third book, is called Odetta Walker. She becomes Susanna Dean by the time the fourth book comes around. She’s a cripple in a wheelchair (yes, I *know* ‘cripple’ is considered to be politically incorrect, rude, insensitive, and all those other things). In fact, it’s not the fact that she’s short (ha ha) her legs below the knee that makes her a cripple; it’s an intensely disturbing “split personality” that makes her a cripple. She is both Odetta Holmes and Detta Walker; the former is a wealthy woman whose family fortune is inherited from her father, who pioneered dental materials, and the latter is a racist, misandrist bitch who has a problem with larceny and basic kindness.
This woman’s mental illness (a form of schizophrenia once called ‘multiple personality disorder’) stems from the time when she was hit in the head with a brick, and was exacerbated when she was pushed in front of a train and lost her legs. Well. She didn’t *lose* them. She *knows* where they are; they’re under a train. At any rate, the main reason I quit reading the series is because of this character.
I’m five books through the series, and I can’t yet figure out why King introduced her. And why she’s a female character. I mean, in theory, she’s a female character because she has two ex chromosomes, but I think the story would have been just as interesting without her in it. She’s two-dimensional. The other characters King writes in this series are absolutely not.
The main character, Roland, has more going on than a secret service Executive meeting. Talk about your onion with the layers. He’s a knight, he’s a criminal, he’s a lover, he’s not interested in romance…the guy is a study in juxtaposition. Every time you think you know him, he does something that seems out of character until you really start to think about it.
Jake Chambers is just a kid, but he goes from being a simpering child on the cusp of adolescence to a strong young man with imagination, initiative, integrity, and honour. King undertakes the formidable job of seeing this kid through the ‘tweenage’ years, and he does it admirably. In Jake Chambers, I see The Captain. I see myself at that age. I *remember*.
Even Eddie Dean, the ex-junkie from Brooklyn, is well-rounded. You get to know Eddie, and through Eddie you get to know Roland better. Eddie’s a smartass. He has problems. He’s selfish and immature and he feels like the world owes him something. But he grows, and changes, and …well…he Becomes. If that makes sense.
But Odetta/Detta? Her personalities ‘reconcile’ and she marries Eddie and becomes Susannah and then another personality shows up and every time she speaks, I wince. It really seems like King decided he needed a feminine touch to offer something to the ladies reading this series, and figured the easiest way to do that would be to throw a chick in the mix. But not just *any* chick. She has to have three strikes against her: she is a woman, she is a cripple, and she is a woman of colour. In the grand scheme of things, this makes her the ultimate underprivileged person. And maybe, just maybe, through the course of the story, she can **EMPOWER** herself. She can BE someone. Someone IMPORTANT.
But everything about her is forced. Everything about her is flat. Forced. Even the relationship she has with Eddie is ridiculous. I don’t mean ridiculous like it could never happen; I mean ridiculous in terms of it being the kind of relationship you see on soap operas and end up shouting at the television about. In fact, I cannot find one single redeeming thing about this character. The plotline involving her and her get in the fifth book of the series just makes me angry.
She is most interesting in book two (The Drawing of the Three) when she is talking about some of Detta Walker’s history. But one of the things that really bothers me about this character is the fact that her mental illness is used as a plot device. I mean, okay, she *could* be an interesting character…a black woman who lived through race riots and segregation? A black woman whose father was well educated? Educated enough to be a dentist and to have become a man of means? A black woman who was, herself, highly educated, but who did not need to work because of her family’s income? THAT’S INTERESTING! But there’s only really lip service played to it.
It’s kind of like King said: “oh look! Here is a black crippled woman with mental problems! This is going to be like throwing a badger into an overcrowded prison mess hall!”
Maybe I just don’t see the point. Maybe I’ve completely missed why King introduced this character. Maybe I just wanted this character to be like some of King’s other female characters who *are* strong, mysterious women. Three-dimensional, real women. Women who have pasts, futures, *and presence*, if you will. This character is thrown in as a toss-away plot device. She might as well be the moll who walks into the film noir detective agency and claims that someone has stolen her cat. *She* doesn’t matter. She’s only there to further the plot, and that makes me angry, because I’m wasting my time with her.
There are some other things about this series that are sticking in my craw, too. But I’ll maybe bring those up another time.