In Stephen King's The Dark Tower series, Roland lives in a sad, post apocalyptic world that has been poisoned by an ancient race of people called "the Great Old Ones". These people had remade the world in their image, removing the magic that had once preserved it and replacing it with technology; eventually, they destroyed themselves and their world in some sort of catastrophic war that left the land poisoned and shattered. But I have picked up hints that seem to suggest that the Great Old Ones are basically us.

  • The Great Old Ones built Lud, which lies in ruins in Roland's time; when Roland comes to our own New York City, he muses that it is identical to what Lud must have been like in its prime.

  • During Roland's visits to our world, he finds companies that he knows from his own world (including fictional ones, like Sombra Corporation and North Central Positronics, and real ones, like Citgo, Mobil, Sunoco, and John Deere).

  • Then there's this:

Tim was so preoccupied that he almost passed the object jutting up from the path that followed the course of the stream. It was a steel rod with a white tip that looked like ivory. He hunkered, staring at it with wide eyes. He remembered asking the Covenant Man if it was a magic wand, and heard the enigmatic reply: It started life as the gearshift of a Dodge Dart.

It had been jammed to half its length in the hardpan, something that must have taken great strength. Tim reached for it, hesitated, then told himself not to be a fool, it was no pooky that would paralyze him with its bite and then eat him alive. He pulled it free and examined it closely. Steel it was, fine-forged steel of the sort only the Old Ones had known how to make. Very valuable, for sure, but was it really magic? To him it felt like any other metal thing, which was to say cold and dead.
- The Dark Tower: Book VIII: The Wind Through the Keyhole

So this boy, at least, finds the gearshift of a Dodge Dart, and recognizes the steel as the sort that could only have been made by the Great Old Ones; we make Dodge Darts today.

Has King ever confirmed that the Great Old Ones who destroyed All-World were none other than ourselves?

  • 2
    Aren't there multiple similar Earths in King's mythos? Which one would be "our world"?
    – Adamant
    Mar 15, 2016 at 5:41
  • 1
    There are multiple Earths with similar brands in the Kingverse. Plus, I don't think we actually live in the Kingverse. Are you asking whether the Old Ones are humans from a future Earth?
    – Adamant
    Mar 16, 2016 at 0:14
  • 5
    "The Dark Tower: A Complete Concordance" says that the Great Old Ones "could well" be our own descendents. That has the approval of King, and Furth was his research assistant, so.... This is based on the fact the New York and Lud bear a great similarity. But there are multiple Earths and multiple humanities, and indeed multiple Steven Kings in King's work, so the question of "which" remains.
    – Adamant
    Mar 16, 2016 at 0:20
  • 2
    Great Old Ones sounds very Lovecraftian. Wasn't Cthulhu a Great Old One?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Mar 28, 2016 at 11:46
  • 1
    "I'm thirty-seven. I'm not old!" May 12, 2016 at 21:47

1 Answer 1


The Great Old Ones may be Keystone humans

To the best of my knowledge, King has not explicitly confirmed (or denied) that the Old Ones are humans from Keystone Earth. That said, there is still some evidence pointing in both directions.

There are good reasons to think they might be...

As Robin Furth says in The Dark Tower: A Complete Concordance:

The Old People may have been technological wizards, but in the long run, little good came from their experiments with the time/space continuum. They may have created DOORWAYS BETWEEN WORLDS, but they also built the DOGANS, the sinister equipment found in the DEVAR-TOI, and the diseases (such as the Red Death) which destroyed the people of FEDIC. Unfortunately, the Great Old Ones could well be our own descendants. As Roland so wryly notes when he visits NEW YORK, 1999, that city looks like a young and vibrant LUD.

The Dark Tower: A Complete Concordance

Furth reiterates this point in an interview:

Long before Roland’s time, a highly advanced culture, known as the Great Old Ones, ruled Mid-World. Although these people had the knowledge of gods, they were also reckless and warlike. It was the fallout of their wars that caused Mid-World’s mutations and the horrible desiccation of the landscape. In The Waste Lands, we see one of the Great Old Ones’ major cities. It is called Lud and is much like our world’s New York. In fact, it seems very likely that Lud is a future version of our New York. Hence, the fate of Roland’s world is a fate that quite possibly could await our world.

Furth's opinion should carry some weight, since she has been King's research assistant for a long time.

Further, the presence in All-World of corporations associated with the Great Old Ones, such as Sombra Corporation and North Central Positronics, should give us reason to suspect that the Old Ones of All-World are near-future residents of Keystone Earth. The presence of generic brands doesn't provide much evidence, as discussed below, but the remnants of companies founded by the Great Old Ones, who meddled with dimensional travel and the fabric of the universe, is certainly a stronger clue.

...but there are also reasons to think they are not.

On the other hand, the mere presence of similar brand names need not be construed as evidence that Mid-World (which contains Lud) and Keystone World, which contains the New York that Roland often visits during the Dark Tower series are in fact the same.

There are multiple worlds in the Dark Tower universe, many of which have similar locations or individuals.

King and coauthor Peter Straub introduced the concept of Twinners, people who have one-to-one counterparts in an alternate reality, in The Talisman. While the Dark Tower series doesn’t make the same use of this notion, twins feature prominently in the two central realities, Keystone Earth and Mid-World, themselves twins of a sort.

The Road to the Dark Tower: Exploring Stephen King's Magnum Opus

This was written by Bev Vincent, who was authorized by King and received many notes and pre-publication manuscripts. Note that Mid-World and Keystone Earth are described as separate realities. The similarity between Lud and New York may well be due to twinning of places (and indeed companies), as well as people.

Places are also twinned. The Mohaine Desert is geographically similar to the Mohave. Mejis is twinned with Mexico. Residents of Stoneham, Maine, have the same last names as many of those in Calla Bryn Sturgis, and some of the towns’ buildings are alike. New York is twinned with Lud. The Dixie Pig’s kitchen is identical to the one in Castle Discordia where Mia feeds.

The Road to the Dark Tower: Exploring Stephen King's Magnum Opus

According to Vincent, the world that Jake is from still has a New York, but the neighborhood of Co-Op City is in a different location:

Co-Op City is really in the Bronx, not Brooklyn, so Jake’s world isn’t Keystone Earth, even though the rose exists here. Jake and Eddie may or may not come from the same reality.

The Road to the Dark Tower: Exploring Stephen King's Magnum Opus

Further, consider the alternate Topeka in Wizard and Glass. As Eddie says:

"Are we back home? If we are, where are all the people? And if something like Blaine has been stopping off in Topeka—our Topeka, Topeka, Kansas—how come I haven't seen anything about it on Sixty Minutes?"

Wizard and Glass

Roland and company later establish that this is not, in fact, the same world that Eddie came from:

"So this...this never happened," Jake said, tentatively touching the face of Christ on the back page of the paper.

"But it did," Roland said. "It happened in June-sowing of the year one thousand nine hundred and eighty-six. And here we are, in the aftermath of that plague. If Eddie's right about the length of time that has gone by, the plague of this 'superflu' was this past June-sowing. We're in Topeka, Kansas, in the Reap of eighty-six. That's the when of it. As to the where, all we know is that it's not Eddie's. It might be yours, Susannah, or yours, Jake, because you left your world before this arrived."

Wizard and Glass

If there's multiple Topekas, there can easily be multiple New Yorks. As Roland says:

What's more to it is that there are many possible worlds, and an infinity of doors leading into them. This is one of those worlds; the thinny we can hear is one of those doors . . . only one much bigger than the ones we found on the beach."

Wizard and Glass

Given that there are multiple Earths in King's universe, then, many of which presumably have their own New Yorks, it may be that Lud is nothing more than a twinner of Keystone New York, as indeed all the other New Yorks are.

That the brands in Roland's universe are similar to the brands in Keystone Earth should be no more surprising than that the cities of Topeka or New York exist in multiple worlds, or that the Topeka Capital-Journal exists in more than one universe.

Perhaps the strongest piece of evidence is the form that the Tower takes in All-World, as opposed to its form in Keystone Earth.

In All-World, the Tower is a literal tower:

He looked up again, hearing his neck creak like hinges in an old door, and there, still miles ahead but now visible on the horizon, real as roses, was the top of the Dark Tower. That which he had seen in a thousand dreams he now saw with his living eyes. Sixty or eighty yards ahead, the road rose to a higher hill with an ancient Speaking Ring moldering in the ivy and honeysuckle on one side and a grove of ironwood trees on the other. At the center of this near horizon, the black shape rose in the near distance, blotting out a tiny portion of the blue sky.

The Dark Tower

On the other hand, its form in Keystone Earth (as well as Jake's Earth and perhaps some others) is that of a rose.

Jake passes Tower Records after he leaves the Manhattan bookshop owned by Calvin Tower, the guardian of the rose, which is the Tower’s representation in New York.

The Road to the Dark Tower: Exploring Stephen King's Magnum Opus

Indeed, there is reason to suspect that the field of roses around the Tower in All-World represents its manifestation in other worlds somehow:

Yet it will be yours again, whispered the voice of the Tower and the voice of the roses—these voices were now one.

The Dark Tower

And further:

They feed the Beams, don’t they? With their songs and their perfume. As the Beams feed them. It’s a living force-field, a giving and taking, all spinning out from the Tower. And this is only the first, the farthest outrider. In Can’-Ka No Rey there are tens of thousands, just like this.

The Dark Tower

It is difficult to conceive of a reason that the Tower would would be a generic rose in Keystone Earth at one point in time, while taking on its true, unique, multiverse-spanning form at some point in the future.

Bev Vincent suggests some additional explanations for the similarities between Keystone Earth and All-World:

Roland’s land may represent a reality that evolved similarly to Earth but at a faster rate, proceeding beyond the currently known state of things to some undefined cataclysm that destroyed everything. How else to explain the preponderance of things in Mid-World that are known on Earth—machinery, oil plants, the Bible, “Hey Jude”?

Another explanation is that people in Mid-World borrowed these things from Earth by traveling through the doorways that connect realities. Blaine the Mono knows about Earth culture because of doorways. In his supersonic travels he may even have crossed the boundaries between worlds in thin places, which would explain how he derails in an Earth-like version of Topeka. The Manni have often passed between worlds, and the travel posters and brochures near some doorways in New York and Fedic indicate that Earth was a popular tourist destination for Mid-Worlders in times gone by. The only place on Earth where this interdimensional travel is noticeable is in western Maine, where walk-ins started appearing in the late 1970s.

The Road to the Dark Tower: Exploring Stephen King's Magnum Opus

In this regard, it is very possible that the Great Old Ones developed a Sombra Corporation or a North Central Positronics simply because All-World developed as did Earth, but more quickly.

All of that is compelling evidence that All-World is unlikely to be merely the future of Keystone Earth, and thus that the Great Old Ones are unlikely to be the descents of modern Keystone humanity.

On the other hand, Vincent also proposes a mechanism by which the Great Old Ones may indeed be Keystone humans, and Sombra Corporation and so forth, while still keeping All-World and Keystone Earth separate (as indeed the weight of the evidence seems to indicate):

Other modern contraptions may appear in Mid-World because they were brought from another world—including our own—because some people still know the secret of how to travel between universes. It is conceivable that the Great Old Ones were people from our modern Earth who traveled to Mid-World in its distant past.

The Dark Tower Companion

Credit to Wad Cheber for pointing this out.

On balance, though, it is difficult to tell whether this explanation or the parallel development one mentioned earlier is more plausible.

As Bev Vincent said in a communication to me:

There's speculation, but no proof.

As such, Keystone Earth humans could easily be the Great Old Ones, but need not be.

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