The Dark Tower:
& Part Two,
Quite a lot of ground was covered in this week’s chapters. After holding palaver with John Cullum, Roland and Eddie found a Prim-powered magic door in the woods off Turtleback Lane. Using that door to get back to the Dixie Pig, they go through another door to Fedic. Reunited with the ka-tet there, they palaver some more, and go through one more door to Thunderclap Station. Finally Roland’s old friend Stanley Ruiz pulls them through yet another door to Steek Tete where they—you guessed it—keep palavering. And in the midst of these various trips through various types of interdimensional doorways, King reintroduces his most iconic villain, Roland’s oldest foe, only to kill him off just as quickly.
We haven’t seen Flagg since the end of Wizard & Glass, in the emerald palace outside Topeka. (He does show up as the Covenant Man in Wind Through The Keyhole, but only in the context of a fairy tale meant to take place “once upon a by, before your grandfather’s grandfather.”) Ever since leaving Roland and his companions on the road to the Calla, King’s favorite chaos agent just disappeared, and as the ka-tet learned more about the Crimson King, the Man in Black, a.k.a. Marten, a.k.a. Walter, a.k.a. Randall Flagg, has really faded into the background.
Now, all of a sudden he shows up in Fedic, apparently through a trapdoor (one of those details that I somehow never quite registered on previous readings), intending to double cross the Crimson King, kill Mordred, and beat Roland to the top of the tower. For a brief moment it seems like Flagg might actually be the big bad of the entire series after all, and then it quickly becomes clear that he has made a fatal miscalculation. Mordred is far more powerful than he expected, very easily penetrating Flagg’s mind and taking control of the Man in Black before eating him alive.
He pounced upon Randall Flagg, Walter o’ Dim, Walter Padick that was. There were more screams, but only a few. And then Roland’s old enemy was no more.
– The Dark Tower, p. 149
All of this is is crammed into a single chapter, just a few thousand words inserted between all the doorway maneuverings and palavering of the ka-tet. It’s not exactly the grand send-off that you would imagine, considering Flagg’s place as a fan favorite in the Stephen King universe. I’ve spoken to readers who were frustrated and disappointed that such a cool character, who had been built up over the course of several books as an extremely trig and powerful magician, would be taken off the board so unceremoniously, so effortlessly. I’ve read similar comments online, accusing King of phoning in this scene because he didn’t know how else to tie off the loose end that is Randall Flagg.
But is that end loose in the first place because King chose to cut it loose? What if he dismisses Flagg as a threat so casually because he was simply bored with his own villain? The King who kept threading Flagg through his stories in the 70s, 80s, and 90s was a very different person than the King who wrote the final three books in the early 2000s. That King didn’t feel the need to bring Flagg into the mix until now, only to punish him with an incredibly gruesome death, forcing him pluck out his own eyeballs and feed them to a telepathic were-spider.
Just as Roland grows impatient with Eddie relating everything back to his brother, I think the more mature version of King grew impatient with his own tendency to relate everything back to Flagg. Maybe the Walkin’ Dude’s death isn’t a tacked-on copout, but a very intentional declaration that King has moved on. After getting sober, getting smashed to pieces by a van, and surviving, he announces in this chapter that he is finished with the Flagg phase of his life and career; that just like Mordred, Flagg has no power over him.
And maybe that was fair. Henry had been the defining, shaping force in Eddie’s life, okay. Just as Cort had been the defining, shaping force in Roland’s . . . but the gunslinger didn’t talk about his old teacher all the time.– The Dark Tower, p. 119
And he has followed through on that declaration. Beside the aforementioned appearance in Wind Through The Keyhole, King has only published Flagg fiction one other time since the release of this book: in Gwendy’s Button Box, a novella co-written by King and Richard Chizmar that presumably features Flagg under the alias “Richard Farris”, and takes place long before Flagg’s death (according to this book’s timeline).
I find it empowering that King was able to end his relationship with Flagg—chaos, vice, and vileness incarnate—on his own terms, doling out a fitting punishment for the antagonist who caused his other creations so much suffering. To me, this chapter isn’t lazy; it’s admirable. It’s a reminder that we have the power to simply kill off our own Flaggs. We have the power to write our own vices and vileness out of our lives. We have the power to move on from the people we used to be, and from the monsters that used to plague us.