17

Normally, I would just utilize the spoiler tags, but there are a lot of people who loved these books right up until the end.

WARNING: MASSIVE SPOILER DISCUSSION REGARDING THE VERY END OF THE BOOKS

The end of book 7, The Dark Tower, sees Roland finally reach the very top of the tower. He realizes that much (most?) of his journey has been a sort time-loop where he relives his journey over and over again. With this, he is transported back to the Battle of Jericho.

It is implied that if Roland can make the right decisions, he might be able to escape this purgatory and stop reliving the whole thing. It is my understanding that this whole time-loop is a sort of personal hell (or purgatory). This entire existence is built around Roland and his journey to punish him.

During the course of the books, we follow characters other than Roland: Eddie, Susannah, Jake, Mordred, Callahan, and even other more secondary characters. These portions of the story are certainly entwined with Roland's story as they all directly affect his quest in some way.

Clearly, all of these other characters existed at some point - though we have no clue just how many times Roland has gone through this loop.

Here is where things get a little fuzzy on my understanding.

When Gan/The Dark Tower/whatever force keeps Roland in this loop spins this reality, are these other characters also fully recreated as well? For example, is the Eddie Dean that exists in this looped-reality a fully realized character? Can he make actual choices of his own, or is he just a sort of puppet which exists to test Roland? I get that Roland is being punished and tested, but if all of these other characters also actually exist, then they are being punished and tested too.

  • 1
    I always thought it was simply Roland's Mind/Soul/whatever that was being sent back, purged of the direct memory of what had just happened, but not of the emotional/spiritual/whatever impact. Thus, he could learn on a deep level and grow, even if he couldn't consciously say why his perceptions had changed. (The tower seems to also reward learning; he has the Horn after the most recent loop.) That being said, there's no real loop -- just him being looped, not time. In my mind, the final deciding difference / release point would be when he chooses NOT to drop Jake. – K-H-W Jan 2 '15 at 14:44
  • To me it was a prize not a punishment - occasion to make his past life better, and finally make himself worthy the final and greatest prize. – Mithoron Jan 11 '15 at 16:10
18

This is indeed one of the more troubling aspects regarding the end of the Dark Tower, and as far as I know it has never been addressed in canon. Here's what we do know:

  • The same characters do keep popping up in each iteration of Roland's quest. His original ka-tet at the very least are always the same. In each (past) iteration Roland failed to fulfill promises made to Cuthbert such as blowing his horn at the gates of the Dark Tower.

  • The cycle seems to start at the beginning of the first book (The Gunslinger) with Roland pursuing Marten Broadcloak across the desert. This implies that the events before (Roland's childhood, the fall of Gilead, the battle of Jericho Hill ... etc) are set in stone and do not repeat. Though the appearance/disappearance of Cuthbert's horn in Roland's gunna might date it to at least the end of the battle of Jericho Hill.

  • None of Roland's current ka-tet seem to recall anything about past lives/cycles. A recurrent theme in the books is memories of past lives like Jake's and Roland's messed up memories due to the son of Steven tangling up the timeline.

  • Susannah seems to have been rewarded for her deeds (at the hands of the Dark Tower?) by transporting her to a reality where both Eddie and Jake are alive and well. Though whether this Eddie and Jake are the same or just some facsimiles is another disturbing question.

  • The Dark Tower is the nexus of time and space and all realities with unimaginable powers.

So characters who died before the beginning of the cycle remain dead and do not seem to be part of the repeating purgatory except as memories.

Characters who continue to exist within the cycle (Marten, Sheemie) may have entered it with Roland and are doomed to repeat it with him. Then there are characters who seem to be outside of time/space such as the Crimson King who are more like natural forces and may continue to act the same way with each cycle.

Characters who exist within the cycle (Eddie, Susannah, Jake ... etc) are more problematic. We have no idea if they repeat as well. Personally, I tend to think not. The new ka-tet not having any memories of past lives and Susannah being rewarded by the Dark Tower indicate to me that these characters are done. They have had their own tests and quests, and have fulfilled them (or not) and are now out of the cycle. The Tower may spin up new characters to be Roland's upcoming ka-tet, and they may resemble Eddie and company but they won't be the same people.

  • If each cycle presents Roland with a new Ka-Tet (same characters or not) to be tested - and who are all able to make their own decisions and take their own actions, is it really fair to Roland - or any one of them? There were points where any of the Ka-Tet could have chosen not to continue and where Roland would not have pushed them further. They chose to go on. Roland is not absolutely responsible for those choices. – phantom42 Dec 31 '13 at 15:35
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    Yes but the Tower isn't testing Roland's ka-tet, it's testing Roland. How Roland treats the people around him, especially his ka-tet seems to be the key to his salvation. When Roland reaches the top of the Dark Tower he is reminded of the many times he failed his friends before he gets reset. – System Down Dec 31 '13 at 17:13
  • My impression is that the Eddie and Jake (and Oy) who Susannah finds are the real deal, but they obviously don't remember things as well as she does. – Wad Cheber Jun 28 '15 at 22:59
  • Minor "correction": strictly speaking, Roland is pursuing Walter, not Marten Broadcloak, across the desert. – Matemáticos Chibchas Jan 29 '17 at 4:21
3

It has been long since I have read them, but I believe that the characters related in his tale all are sentient and capable of their own decisions. It would be simple for Roland to fix his past based upon automatons who are pre-programmed to do what they are supposed to. Suppose, however, the reluctant hero. Suppose that Jake says "you dropped me once, I would rather die here in this demon house or go insane than run my chances with you" that means that Roland royally screwed up in some way, and as a result he cannot have his Ka-tet anymore. Jake says he believes that Roland will not drop him this time, and plays an integral role. I think that given different circumstances, Jake might not accept his quest. Susannah needed to be merged, and I could see that going terribly wrong. I see this as a trial like "Choose your own adventure." He needs to pass a series of tasks to keep his ka tet together.

3

Roland is not stuck in a time loop. Roland is a character in a book and when the reader finishes the story, someone else starts it. He's not stuck in a loop, he's stuck in the universe that King created for him that has a beginning, middle, and end. Roland achieves his goal -- the goal that you the reader started with him -- and that's the end of his universe. When his universe ends, he can only go back to the start when you start reading it again. Some of the characters are aware that when Roland makes the tower, they cease to exist... so some of their goals are to stop him from reaching the Tower. Because they like to exist.

My understanding was that the Dark Tower was King himself; the representation of the Nexus of all HIS universes. Which is why characters from Castle Rock, Derry, and others found their way here. And why characters from this story leak in to others. Once "real world Stephen King" became a character in the book, this became one of the only ways the whole thing tied together.

  • Given how the series (especially the later novels, written later in King's life) seems to explore not just the story being told but also the nature of story itself and its relationship with its creator and audience, this is actually the most satisfying answer, to me. :) – Dan J Oct 11 '17 at 4:53
  • @Tom Phillips Yours is the most original explanation I have encountered thus far (I finished the books 2 months ago, and I kept thinking and searching for an explanation for the ending since then). – SepulzioNori Oct 14 '18 at 17:38
2

"Death, but not for you, Gunslinger."

This says HE is returning in time, in a eternal cycle of a personal purgatory for HIM and just for him. If he returned in time, there is no another Jake or something, because everything is happening twice (or more times) just for Roland.

There is a reference in the seventh book to this sentence, when Roland is going back, I guess.

1

I recall that King himself, in an interview (don't remember cite details) said that he was "stuck" on how to end the series.

He was 19 when he started writing it; at the time I think he had no idea how it would end.

It sort of grew organically - the Tower references in his other stories show that.

KA is described as a circle in the Tower books. King simply choose to make that explicit with the Tower ending.

Patrick earasing evil is a direct homage to what a writer can do - a writer can erase evil, make KA circular, insert him/herself into a story, etc.

  • How does this answer the question? – phantom42 Jan 2 '15 at 15:57
1

What if Roland is not being transported back in time, but instead is being transported to another world, and another time?

The Dark tower series confirms there are other worlds than these, the world next door would be the same as this one, but with slight differences.

What happens in the original world could be done and dusted. But when being sent back to another world the same players could all still exist allowing for them to still have free choice.

Going back in time would reset the keystone world, likely would reset all worlds. But the Tower is all, existence time etc so it can do as it pleases.

If something is broken, and Roland is tasked with fixing it, each time Roland arrives at the dark tower if things have not been corrected the tower sends him out to another world to start the journey anew.

  • Or, perhaps, Roland is going through each of the many, many, many worlds, one by one. Each time he is "reset," he goes to a slightly different world, just one remove from the previous one. And each time he reaches the tower, he "heals" that world. He's done thousands, perhaps millions ... but the number of worlds is infinite. – Justin Eiler Sep 30 '16 at 2:03
  • Hmmm. But there is only one of certain worlds, for example Keystone Earth and All-World. So what would happen to these? Roland still has to go through them (at least through All-World, where the Tower is) each time, right? – Adamant Sep 30 '16 at 2:10
0

The way I have always felt about it is this: Roland is stuck in a loop, and it may seem like purgatory, but this is only because he keeps making the same arrogant decisions during certain moments, certain cusps, in his life and journey. He is a miserable, cold and lonely man, although we see that he does have a great deal of depth and even a capacity for warmth under the right circumstances - but his choices keep costing him, and dearly. Rather than see it as a purgatorial loop, I believe it his is path toward enlightenment - he is repeatedly being given chances to "do things right" so that he may at some point, be able to live his life with significantly less tragedy and strife, and get to experience true and lasting happiness - i.e., metamorphosing Hell into Heaven.

My personal feeling (and it is only that) is that everyone he encounters may be on the same type of journey. Perhaps their lives continually intertwine every time - but maybe not. If there is a possibility of "true happiness" or true peace-of-spirit, then it's possible that it is a destination they (and we) are all striving for together. Maybe just the right combination of honorable choices, loss of hubris, and self-sacrifice are the keys to having EVERYONE arrive at the Dark Tower, and that is when existence will truly be saved - when we all walk a better path.

I don't know, I'm just spouting my own feelings about it. I've read the first four books of the series at least ten times each, and the subsequent novels five or six times, save for the Wind Through The Keyhole, which I've only read three. I think this series is incomparably excellent, and surely subject to a lot of interpretation about meaning and symbolism, life, truth, and the search for yourself.

But that's just me. :)

0

I'm convinced that Roland's Ka-tet is drawn anew each cycle, different cards would mean different members, we even see some of the other possible cards and I suspect each represents a different possible variation. Jake is always an option but Roland has to sacrifice him to get a new draw... and pulling Jake back a second time in the cycle depicted in the books may be an anomaly.

Further, I think we can see the results of past cycles in some key-world historical events, things like Calvin Tower having the property with the rose and Roland's name. I think that is there because Roland, in an earlier cycle, helped get that land and left it in the care of an ally, possibly a ka-tet member or even a tertiary "Gunslinger" like Uncle Mose and the rest of the Tet Corp from an earlier cycle. We see that memory loss can happen and with the way "Time keeps slipping like a gear with missing teeth" Roland's cycles and small changes/benefits he creates effect parts of his next time through which could be 10 years ahead in the key world or it could be a few hundred, the world has moved on after all... so by this, the work of the Tet Corp could be a very strong ally on the next cycle, as the new protectors of the Rose, and will hopefully do better then the Toren/Tower family who only had charge of the Rose for 3 generations, but Calvin clearly had fallen far from the tree.

-1

I think the part where Roland meets Moses and Marian Carver at the Tet corporation is crucial to understanding this. Roland only does good or bad actions because he wants to get to the tower, not because it's the right or wrong thing to do. I believe that as long as he's incapable to truly marry humanity & moral choices to his quest, he will be doomed to repeat it. Basically, a variation on "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?" He has learned much on this journey, but he's still more than willing to sacrifice all that he loves for the tower, even though it now hurts him almost more than he can bear. What the tower is trying to teach him is that the people he loves, are the tower, the entirety of existence, and they should be protected and loved as much as the tower. At least that's my understanding of it.

*“Yes. Your quest to defeat the forces of the Crimson King has been successful. The Crimson King himself—” “That wa’n’t never this man’s quest and you know it!” the centenarian sitting next to the handsome black woman said, and he once more thumped his cane for emphasis. “His quest—” “Dad, that’s enough.” Her voice was hard enough to make the old man blink. “Nay, let him speak,” Roland said, and they all looked at him, surprised by (and a little afraid of) that dry whipcrack. “Let him speak, for he says true. If we’re going to have it out, let us have it all out. For me, the Beams have always been no more ” “than means to an end. Had they broken, the Tower would have fallen. Had the Tower fallen, I should never have gained it, and climbed to the top of it.” “You’re saying you cared more for the Dark Tower than for the continued existence of the universe,” Nancy Deepneau said. She spoke in a just-let-me-make-sure-I’ve-got-this-right voice and looked at Roland with a mixture of wonder and contempt. “For the continued existence of all the universes.” “The Dark Tower is existence,” Roland said, “and I have sacrificed many friends to reach it over the years, including a boy who called me father. I have sacrificed my own soul in the bargain, lady-sai, so turn thy impudent glass another way. May you do it soon and do it well, I beg.” His tone was polite but dreadfully cold. All the color was dashed from Nancy Deepneau’s face, and the teacup in her hands trembled so badly that Roland reached out and plucked it from her hand, lest it spill and burn her.

  • 1
    How does this answer the question of whether or not everyone other than Roland fully exist, and can make their own decisions and choices, or if each one is a controlled/created obstacle to test Roland? – phantom42 Jun 28 '15 at 18:45
  • I don't think they are created as an obstacle, rather they are chosen by Ka, based on their personalities and demons, I think they have their own journey and choices to make. It would be much to simple, to see them as pawns. Maybe Roland is that Hero/Antihero of time, that arises during each crisis, this time his journey might be to save the world much later on. – Kasparius Jun 28 '15 at 20:36

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