On re-reading or listening to a series of books that I loved enough to keep.

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.

cenobyte
cenobyte is a writer, editor, blogger, and super genius from Saskatchewan, Canada.

9 Comments

  1. Hmmm, I hadn’t thought about her in that way. But it has been a while since I read the series. Book 7 came out years ago BTW, and the end of the series is one of the best things he’s ever written. As to the things in the series that work (and don’t) I was much more concerned when he wrote himself into the book. I didn’t dislike Odetta/Susanna, but I she fairly un-memorable to be sure. King certainly has an easier time writing guys.

  2. I had forgotten all about these books. I remember reading the first couple and then getting distracted by something shinier. The series eventually lost it for me. I can’t remember what it was about it that caused me to lose interest. It might have been Odetta but I doubt it. Now I want to read them again to find out why I lost interest. Great. And I already have too many books to get to. lol

  3. Atually I find some of King’s portrayals of women to be quite good. And with Susannah she is a plot device, but I also found that the weakness of her character comes from the weakness in her. She is a cypher for everything that influences her. She is someone who latches onto whatever comes along and while she is a gunslinger she is the weakest of the ka-tet. She always struck me as a bit off King’s dig at that certain class of folks who now engage in slacktivism. That was the way I always saw the character.

    1. I didn’t get that at all.

      In fact, that would be *something*.

      She didn’t seem to me to ‘latch on’ to anything. She just did what she was told, and came up with useful stuff whenver the plot needed it. In gaming terms, she was the tavern keeper in every tavern in every roleplaying game ever invented. Faceless, nameless (even though she has four names), and passionless.

      1. Well I always saw her as the woman destined to provide the fall of the hero. Which is essentially what she is. While the Tet Corp that is set up out of Holmes Dental is protecting the rose in the Prime World (sorry if I’m laying out spoilers) you get the distinct feeling that they’re just casting a net and getting lucky because our heros are still on their path to the tower.

        She is a strange combination of Gwennivere, Morganna, and the Lady of the Lake, Roland’s sister, wife, and arch-enemy.

        1. I respectfully disagree with you.

          She is not noble enough to be Guenivere, nor is she passionate enough. Only one aspect of her broken psyche comes even close to being as evil and conniving as Morgana, and as for the Lady of the Lake, she isn’t even the Bitch of the Puddle. The only time she could even vaguely be compared to the Lady of the Lake is when Mia mucks about in a waller, popping the head off of frogs. And even THAT is a stretch.

          I also don’t see her as anything like Roland’s wife OR arch-enemy. I haven’t read the Song of Susannah in its entirety yet, but I cannot even conceive of King being able to pull that off. Not even remotely.

          And if she has anything to do with the hero’s fall, it will be just like every other situation that character is put in; she will be used because she is there, not because there is any reason for her to be a foil or catalyst. I have other theories about what causes the fall of the hero, which I might eventually talk about. Maybe.

          But I can’t see this character being anything other than a one-dimensional (two-dimensional *at best*) plot device. Of course, I’ve only read five of the seven books, so in theory, King could completely redeem her in one of the remaining two. I strongly, *strongly* doubt it, but I’m doing my best to keep open-minded about it.

        2. I respectfully disagree with you.

          She is not noble enough to be Guenivere, nor is she passionate enough. Only one aspect of her broken psyche comes even close to being as evil and conniving as Morgana, and as for the Lady of the Lake, she isn’t even the Bitch of the Puddle. The only time she could even vaguely be compared to the Lady of the Lake is when Mia mucks about in a waller, popping the head off of frogs. And even THAT is a stretch.

          I also don’t see her as anything like Roland’s wife OR arch-enemy. I haven’t read the Song of Susannah in its entirety yet, but I cannot even conceive of King being able to pull that off. Not even remotely.

          And if she has anything to do with the hero’s fall, it will be just like every other situation that character is put in; she will be used because she is there, not because there is any reason for her to be a foil or catalyst. I have other theories about what causes the fall of the hero, which I might eventually talk about. Maybe.

          But I can’t see this character being anything other than a one-dimensional (two-dimensional *at best*) plot device. Of course, I’ve only read five of the seven books, so in theory, King could completely redeem her in one of the remaining two. I strongly, *strongly* doubt it, but I’m doing my best to keep open-minded about it.

    2. I agree, there are some of King’s women that are good (the mom in Cujo comes to mind), he sometimes seems to have an easier time writing guys. I am now inspired to re-read it the gunslinger. I’ve only read the last couple the once, so it’ll be good to be able to power through them all.

i make squee noises when you tell me stuff.

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