First of all, this question is spoiler-heavy. I will try to hide the most of it. Secondly, this is not supposed to be a question-based topic. It is supposed to be a researchable, answerable question about an ending, using resources from the books (that I must certainly am missing).

That said, Roland's fate after

Susanna returns to "New York"

was very confusing (to me, at least).

After all, if

Roland returns to the very start of the plot, running after Walter,

does it mean that

a) He will meet Jake, Susannah, Eddie and Oy again, along with all the people he previously met, in the very same decaying environment he faced in the original 7 books, losing them along the path to the Tower, then entering it, climbing it to the top and restarting again, in a never-ending loop

or

b) He will reach the Tower again, with or without a new ka-tet, but will find a more sensical topmost room that will finally bring closure to his quest?

These possibilities are possible, if the last pages of the last book are to be considered with different meanings.

For example, as if to support a),

the very climbing to the top of the Tower could be confused as a mirage in the desert he currently stands: "For a moment, he felt he was somewhere else. In the Tower itself, mayhap [For me, that was the most cruel blow in the entire book]. But of course the desert was tricky, and full of mirages.". Not only that, the fact that Walter still exists shows that Jake might, as well, exist, and might, as well, fall again under the old train tracks.

To support b),

He is now holding the Arthur Eld's horn, the one Cuthbert blew at Jericho Hill. According to the voice he heard while in the "mirage-induced confusion", that became his sigul, a promise that things would be different, that there may be salvation. Wasn't salvation what he sought at the beginning of the series? Salvation for the world, a rollback to the moving on of the worlds?

As to me, I did think the end was fitting... but utterly cruel. For

Roland to walk through all this again... after all these years of mourning and losses...

I didn't read the Concordance volumes yet, so if there is any canon-based evidence in these books, please, write them down.

  • 4
    Related, possible dupe: The Dark Tower and existence. Specfically, System Down's answer touches upon a lot of this. – phantom42 Jul 17 '15 at 4:49
  • phantom42, I am inclined to agree. Still... Even if it seems to be an opinion-based answer (as well as an opinion-based decision to point it as the answer ), I think that Wad 's answer has a well-structured (and strongly acknowledgeable) alternative answer. – Eric Wu Jul 23 '15 at 1:37
  • 1
    @EricWu - This question made me want to read the series again. Thanks a lot! ;) – Wad Cheber Jul 23 '15 at 1:52
  • 2
    I saw this question a few weeks ago, when I was coincidentally working my way through the 7th book. Put it aside to come back and read the spoilers after I had finished. I had an additional theory of my own about the ending: This is the start of a brand new "journey to the Dark Tower".. and in this new journey, there is a new Author. Not Stephen King, but someone else. This allows someone -- both in- and out- of-universe -- to pick up the story and take it in an entirely different direction and still be canon. (Like maybe the eventual movie/miniseries?) – Josh Jul 31 '15 at 14:33
  • ah, I see you went ahead and went with "the salty squirt at the end" – Kevin Milner Jul 16 '17 at 15:38
up vote 14 down vote accepted

The ending is quite unclear, and this was almost certainly a deliberate choice made by Stephen King, in order to allow the reader decide for himself/herself. As a result, any attempt to explain it will necessarily involve a large amount of speculation. As such, I feel entitled to offer my own interpretation.

My understanding has always been that Roland has repeated his quest any number of times - we see this pretty clearly in his last words before being pulled through the door: "Not again!" We might call each of Roland's repetitions of his quest a "cycle". The first time Roland began a cycle, he did so of his own free will. He chose to seek the Tower. But he did everything wrong along the way. As a result, he was doomed to repeat the cycle until he got it right. From this point onwards, the quest is also a punishment. He must repeat it again and again, until he finally learns from his mistakes.

What mistakes, you might ask? His most glaring flaws should be obvious already: he treats other members of his Ka-tet as objects or tools for him to use and dispose of in whatever way, and at whatever time he sees fit.

This is especially apparent in the first edition of the first book, when he allows Jake to die, because it would inconvenience him to save the boy's life. He has a choice between saving Jake or chasing the Man in Black; he might be able to do both, but it would delay him a bit, so he lets the kid die. In the same book, although only in the first edition, he kills the woman he has been living with, and again, he does so because it is the easiest way to solve his problem.

It is likely that, in the cycle of the quest we read about in the series, Roland was more compassionate towards the other members of the Ka-tet than he had been in previous cycles, but he still made a fair share of mistakes. He was still too willing to let the others die, or risk their lives, and he didn't show enough concern for their wellbeing.

He still treated his companions as tools, as means to an end, not as human beings with as much right to live as himself. He still let Jake fall to his death. He still used the other members of the Ka-tet rather than treating them as equals. He still didn't understand that he is not the center of the universe.

However, there is at least some good news for the Gunslinger.

In each previous cycle of the quest, we are led to believe, Roland was missing something important to his mission. In the cycle we read about in the series, he doesn't have the horn of Arthur Eld. As the book ends, and Roland finds himself being pulled through the doorway yet again, he does have the horn. As I interpret the text, it was my understanding that this fact implies that the next cycle of the quest will be the last.

Whatever Roland did wrong this time through the cycle, it wasn't as bad as the stuff he did wrong all the previous times he completed a cycle. The next time he makes a cycle, he will have done everything right. He will deserve his reward: to find what he has been looking for all along; to finally be done with this endless of loss and suffering; to die with dignity; to be at peace with himself and the world.

How might the next cycle be different from all the previous cycles? We don't really know - it seems likely that he has to do something differently than he has in the past. Maybe Roland was supposed to sacrifice himself, rather than everyone else in the Ka-tet. Maybe he was supposed to keep everyone in the Ka-tet alive. Maybe he doesn't have to do anything differently. Maybe he got enough things right this time, and next time will be a cake walk. We don't know.

The ending of the series was a matter of heated debate among the rabid fan base, and there were plenty of people who were furious about how inconclusive it seemed to be. I was surprised by how it ended, and at first, I might have been a bit disappointed. But shortly after I finished reading the final volume, I came to realize that the ending, while not entirely satisfying, was perfect, and it was exactly what it had to be.

On the one hand, it makes sense in the context of the story, because his flaws are so incredibly obvious. He keeps screwing up, so he doesn't deserve to fulfill his quest. On the other hand, it gives us, the audience, an excuse to read the whole thing again - if Roland has to do it all over, why shouldn't we?

I don't know of any other story in which you can read it again and have it make perfect sense according to the logic of the story. No matter how many times you read The Lord of the Rings, you know that the events in the story only happened once. But with The Dark Tower, you can imagine that you are reading about another cycle of Roland's quest. Stephen King managed to create a truly never-ending story.

  • 1
    Nice answer! My thoughts are synced with everything you wrote, particularly disappointed and perfect final. I can't help but agree that many were his mistakes in the quest Stephen King wrote (the in-author... or the out one. Nice paradox, eh?) and that finding a paradisical scenario at the top of the tower would end up being an injustice. – Eric Wu Jul 23 '15 at 1:33

As I see it, Roland has reenacted the quest an unknown number of times, but differently in detail and with different ka-tets (if any). I see no reason to assume that every iteration was/will be identical. I also take his retrieval of the horn to signify that this round will be different from all others before and he may find his peace this time. However, I don't recall the question's being answered in the Concordance or any other auxiliary material that I've read.

Roland was never meant to get to The Dark Tower.

Roland was served with protecting the beams and restoring Prim to the broken lands. Unfortunately, he was set on a quest by an evil warlock who constantly reminded him and an evil looking glass.

The glass shows him it and feeds into his desire to go there. Whilst the love of his life burns.

Roland fixed the beams halfway through the last and final novel and then means to resume his job of getting to The Dark Tower. From that second, his ka-tet begin to die. Just like Cuthburt and Alain and Jamie DeCurry.

It's a cruel trick, played by The Old Ones.

Roland never needed to go to the Dark Tower, but he's cursed to seek it out. Stephen King desperately puts as many things as he can between Roland and The Dark Tower. An ex-heroin addict. A disabled shoplifter with multiple personalities, a billy-bumbler rejected by it's own clan.

But Roland doesn't learn. He doesn't learn that he needs to stop after fixing the beams. Or settle down to die. His drive propels him to The Dark Tower, every time.

And it's the perfect trap. Mid-World and End-World will now always hang in the balance as the beams are immediately broken again when Roland gets thrown back out at The Mohaine Desert.

The universe isn't fixed, it's in a constant state of decay. Eddie gets shot in the head, forever. Oy is impaled on the branch, for all eternity. Jake is hit by endless trucks. Susannah leaves for another world out of grief, to have a life with copies of her friends, forever.

Because Roland won't learn.

What does he get? The Horn of Eld. What does it represent? Unity, togetherness. The horn that signals for everyone to come together during The Battle of Jericho.

But Roland still sees a quest for good over evil. White over Red. That's never what his quest has been about and this is exacerbated by the final information we get, in that a lot of the characters in the universe were sympathetic villains.

And Roland is going to chase The Man in Black.

And Roland is going to do that until the end of time.

Enjoy your immortality, Roland.

You earned it.

  • Can you provide sources for you answer? – Edlothiad Jun 6 '17 at 12:08

I just finished reading the whole series. My take is , he's repeated this journey many times, this time however he has the horn , which to me symbolizes a change in the coming cycle he is starting over . The tower speaking ," Mayhap this time will be different" also rings to me as this is his final go at it. however , I think his quest is his prison , going through the journey over and over always ending at the tower only to start over . "Ka is a wheel" right? I have conflicting thoughts on this, either having the horn may change and break the cycle at the conclusion of the journey, OR having the horn is a symbolism or sign for a change , being that only Roland can break the cycle of his prison by abandoning his journey as he has taken it and rebuilding his world given he has such a shrine as the horn , which the people of his world all looked as a sign of something special . Like how he has been met by strangers as a gunslinger , like something royal , or rare? Meaning he can restore balance himself not by way of the tower, but by the bloodline he is?

  • Welcome to Science Fiction and Fantasy SE! This is a well fleshed out answer, however is unlikely to get as much attention as if it had some quotes or references to support it. Consider editing these into your answer to improve it! – Edlothiad Mar 14 '17 at 14:47

I also just completed the series and as confused, and upset i was originally by the ending after some time i came to accept it for what it is.I agree with the concept that he may have a different katet and different universes he may travel to. We do not exactly know how many times he has completed this journey or how many more times he'll have to complete it again. The point is he is possibly rewarded every time with a new item. For example gaining the horn of eld. From reading these books over the year i get one message over and over again. REGRET. So many characters regrets actions. Roland not saving Jake, Eddie not saving henry, etc. You let regret consume you to the point you cannot move on which we see Roland isnt allowed to do by the tower or Gan. Even Stephen King's character seems to hate himself because of regrets. Maybe Susanna this time realized she wasn't suppose to continue with Roland and went ahead to be reunited with Eddie and Jake. I learned from the ending we all have to come to accept our regrets and do better next time moving forward.Its not a finality but hope that eventually Roland will find his peace with himself.

i was really upset about the ending making of roland a prisoner. But, then i realized some details:

He has now the horn and explains he took it from a death cuthbert (solving roland promise with cuthbert). This means: yes, time took a step back, but not only a step back, the world's past changed too. In final chapter's 'three' roland thinks: "in my dreams the horn was always mine, i should have known this wasn't like this, as mine was lost with cuthbert, in jericho hill". In the new cycle he has the horn. So... He dreams about his upcoming cycle? What will happen in the dark tower when he salutes it with his horn? (Remember the roses were saluting his passing with the horn sound) His actual sigul is his father's revolver? That would mean that in the next cycle he will have one revolver only, no information is given about it.

Another detail is: in the actual cycle he hasn't the horn maybe because things with cuthbert never completed 'healed' after what happened with susan delgado. If he now has the horn, It mostly means he never got in love with susan. Which actually means he is a less 'serious and robotic' man.

When he enters the first room in the dark rower the faces said: "welcome roland, the one of many kilometers and many worlds" you can say: oh ok, he has been in many worlds, but eddy, by example, has been too in many worlds but he always is 'eddy from new york'. If you use the restart world information card, you can conclude 'multi world rolandS' only have one soul, one soul which ka confines in different worlds and different rolands.

In the final pages he 'feels the knowledge striking like a hammer, hot as the sun of the desert'. If you have basic knowledge of steel you will know it passes processes of heating and hammering (swords for example). If he is the steel, the one with the hammer in the hand is the dark tower, ergo, gan. Sooo every cycle roland concludes is one hammering. Maybe i am taking this too literal but totally means: roland is the gan's (~god?) Tool to save not only the multi world, but his steel which will be hardened to replace him when... I don't know when... But hardening roland with multiple and different cycles most have a use.

Sorry if bad english, not my first languaje.

I am totally mad about roland being a prisoner, the history is bad situation, followed by scary situation, next bad situation AGAIN... If people tell me the world is in my hands i totally would anything to restore it, so i don't see this cowboy as a bad man, but the right man in the wrong place.

Relating to the 'transported ones' i dont know, but by deus ex machina they most be the perfect ka tet to take roland into the dark tower.

Forgot something, when any character says: "oh this is like this - how do you know it? - i just know it" it is a 50/50 chance it is because he/she is a gunslinger or because in another cycle learned what will happen in the hard way. Take sussanah's good bye as example, she knew it would be bad if she gets to the dark tower, maybe her dreams but it would be just a clue about multicycle learning.

  • This seems more like a rant than an actual answer to the question. – Mithrandir Apr 30 '17 at 8:11

The answer is in the character of Stephen King himself. He wrote the Dark Tower series literally in real life, and fictionally within the book. He was, in essence, an oracle.

Before finalizing the book in the end chapter titled "Found (Coda)", Stephen King writes, "You (the reader) are the grim, goal-oriented ones who will not believe that the joy is in the journey rather than the destination no matter how many times it has been proved to you"

This is not a separated section like an epilogue or an introduction, but part of the book itself. This book, as it was written, will always read the same. Roland could have gone with his ka-tet to New York, forgetting the Dark Tower, but he never will. Even way back at the beginning, he could have turned around and found another life, as the Man In Black suggested, but he never will.

The ending serves as a moral to us the readers, to look at the ending and remember that the destination is not as good as the journey itself. And it also serves as a moral to Roland, who has to go through the whole story again, to value his ka-tet, and, if all goes to plan, to forget about the Dark Tower once it has been saved.

"Endings are heartless" - Stephen King

I would like to think that each time he starts his journey it's just another leg of one long quest, meaning that there truly will be an end. I think that this trip will be one where he discovers a world that is finally healing instead of moving on. I think that Lud is still in total ruins and that Tull is deserted. I think on his previous journey he trapped the Crimson King on the balcony. I didn't immediately read the Coda and for a while Roland remained in the tower. I wish I'd left him there.

  • This answer looks primarily opinion-based. It would be nice if you add some quotes or links to support your opinion. – TimSparrow Jul 26 '17 at 9:38

Well said Chris K. I just finished for the first time and I took it exactly as that. they are characters in a book. Patrick Danville is the artist that illustrates the book. They usually come on at the end. That is why the erasing of the Crimson King makes sense. Susannah picked up on the fact that she is fictional as is every character in this book. So many recycled from other SK Books.. So in another story that has yet to be written, She Eddy and Jake can be together as long as someone creates it. She has Patrick do that. A version of herself will always be stuck with Roland on his journey. But she found the only out she could for the ones she loves. Write a new story about them that isn't with Roland and his trials. They are now ALSO something else. Roland is only a singularly focused gunslinger. The reading of the book is always the best part. The journey. King says so just before he gives us the final chapter. This ending is perfect because Roland will never be done. For all eternity as long as there is an old dusty paperback version of "The Gunslinger" laying in a shelf in an old used book store (Calvin Tower's perhaps) Roland will never be free of his quest. Someone will be reading about his journeys and flaws and adventures and his unrelenting quest to find The Dark Tower.

  • The whole thing is very Meta – Jesse Steele Jul 25 '17 at 21:50

protected by Möoz Jul 26 '17 at 3:07

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.