I Finally Took Stephen King’s Advice


9/14-9/19
The Dark Tower:

Part Five,
1.ix-End of Series

Well folks, here we are, a year to the day since I started this blog. Our heroes have traveled thousands of wheels, been through much, and finally the gunslinger has reached his Tower. The story has ended and has begun again; the wheel of ka has once more come full circle, just as our planet has completed its own revolution around the sun, marked not by 12/1, but rather by 9/19. Congratulations everyone, we made it.

In this final week’s chapters, we felt sorrow and pain as we said a beautiful farewell to Susannah and a grisly farewell to our good pal Oy. We felt the catharsis of Roland’s arrival, as he belted out the names of those he loves. We felt joy and jubilation upon seeing Susannah reunited with Eddie and Jake for Christmas carols and hot chocolate in Central Park. And finally we felt the crushing, and horrifying, sense of doom as Roland reached the top of the Tower and was cast back into the desert. Back to the beginning. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

Only that’s not entirely true, at least not for me… Not this time around. This time I surprised myself. This time I actually chose not to read the Coda.

Trust me, I didn’t expect to be able to stop myself. I never have before. But last night as I finished the reading, I knew I would not be able to sleep if I read the Coda. Instead, I put the book aside, and allowed myself one night to bask in the hopeful warmth of “Susannah In New York” before finishing in the morning. But morning has come, and after sleeping on it, I’ve decided not to read that one last stretch of text.

And will I tell you that these three lived happily ever after? I will not, for no one ever does. But there was happiness. And they did live.

The Dark Tower, p. 658

I wrote about this day in my very first post, describing the choice King would offer us in this final week: the choice to read on at our peril, or to leave well enough alone. “Perhaps next year I might be strong enough to heed the warning and I won’t read the Coda this time,” I wrote. “Maybe I’ll let my dear friend Roland rest for a while. Maybe.”

When I wrote those words, I was extremely doubtful that I could actually back them up. Like I said, I’ve never been able to stop myself from finishing this book before; I’ve never been able to resist the narrative genius of the ending, no matter how depressed it makes me each time I read it. And why?

Why did I always feel the need to punish myself—and even more so, to punish Roland—when the author himself implores me not to? When I already know that it will make me feel bad for weeks? Mainly, I think, because I am as greedy for story as King accuses us of being in the first pages of the Coda. After traveling alongside the gunslinger for so long, I come to feel the call of the Tower as strongly as he does. There’s something in me that needs to climb it with him, to see it through to the end. There’s something in me that feels owed.

You say you want to know how it all comes out. You say you want to follow Roland into the Tower; you say that is what you paid your money for, the show you came to see.

The Dark Tower, p. 661

Yes, it’s selfishness, but it’s also something else. I have always continued on past King’s warning because deep down I’ve always sensed that he actually wants us to keep reading. Sure, he berates us for being “the grim, goal-oriented ones who will not believe that the joy is in the journey rather than the destination,” (p. 661) and on and on… But I have always suspected that he doesn’t really mean it. Part of me believes that the harsh words in the Coda are nothing more than reverse psychology, King’s way of egging us on.

When Susannah leaves through her unfound door, Roland offers Patrick and Oy the chance to go with her. Susannah is worried that the mute boy will sense what the gunslinger wants and be coerced into staying with him, but Roland assures her that he is shielding his thoughts from the young telepath. She believes him, and is satisfied that Patrick’s choice to stay is truly his own. I, however, have always been suspicious about that. After getting to know Roland so well, it’s always been hard to trust that he doesn’t tip the scales in his favor. After all, he needs Patrick and Oy—he wouldn’t be able to breach the Tower without them—and he knows it.

I was always suspicious of Roland’s “impartiality” when offering Patrick that choice, just as I was always suspicious of King’s warning before showing us the Tower at sunset. Besides, I would always tell myself, why would he include it in the book at all if he didn’t really want us to read it?

That’s what I used to think.

A recurring theme of this blog has been the way our perspective on these books changes each time we read them, evolving with us as we grow. Well, I’m quite pleased to inform you that one of the ways my perspective has evolved this year is that I am no longer suspicious of Roland when he gives Patrick the option to cry off and go home, and I am no longer suspicious of Stephen King when he offers me the same choice. I no longer view it as him warning me not to keep reading, but him granting me permission to stop.

And so, my dear Constant Reader, I tell you this: You can stop here. You can let your last memory be of seeing Eddie, Susannah, and Jake in Central Park… That’s a pretty picture, isn’t it? I think so. And pretty close to happily ever after, too. Close enough for government work, as Eddie would say.

The Dark Tower, p. 661

That shift in perspective has helped me see Susannah’s departure in a new light entirely. I’m ashamed to admit that I previously resented her choice to leave Roland behind. It felt like a betrayal of Roland, but also of herself, and all the work she had put into getting that far. To come so close to the Tower only to give up… It used to really bug me, and I always held it against her character, never connecting with her story as closely as I had with Eddie’s, Jake’s, or Roland’s.

This new perspective has shown me that Susannah’s decision to leave did not show weakness, but bravery. The world saw two demonstrations of such bravery this summer when Simon Biles and Naomi Osaka refused to sacrifice their physical and mental health for their jobs. They showed us that it’s okay to prioritize yourself, and helped me realize that Susannah’s choice was not an act of betrayal at all, but an act of bravery. Just like those women, it took all the strength and discipline she had to resist the call of the Tower and do the right thing for herself.

In a more personal example, earlier this year I had the luxury of turning down a writing gig—a job that I had already spent several hours breaking a pitch for—that I didn’t actually want to write. In the past I’ve had to take whatever jobs I can get when I can get it, whether I’m interested in the project or not, but this year I finally said no, and the relief I felt was enormous. How could I deny Susannah that same relief?

How could I deny myself?

Last night, Stephen King gave me permission to stop reading. For once I actually took him up on it, and you know what? I feel great. I was able to sleep last night, still savoring the happy ending in Central Park, and woke up with the taste still in my mouth. If I am one of those “who have provided the ears without which no tale can survive a single day” (p. 661), then why would I provide ears to an epilogue I know would flood me with guilt and existential dread? Why would I do that to myself when King has written an escape hatch for me, just as Patrick draws one for Susannah?

I wouldn’t. I couldn’t. At least not this time.

Because I’m a different person this time. Over the course of the last year, I’ve gone on quite the journey myself. After having our first child, my wife and I sold our house and cars, moved to the Caribbean, and now we are bouncing around the east coast like a band of vagabonds. We have dealt with erupting volcanoes and hurricanes, teething and sleep regressions, flights, drives, and ferry rides, all under the thunderclap-like cloud of the Pandemic. It has been an adventure, but it has also been extremely hard and exhausting. After everything I’ve been through, this time I feel as though, like Susannah, I finally deserved to let myself rest.

I went back and reread that first blog post before I sat down to write this last one. In it, I make three apologies: one to my readers, one to Stephen King, and one to Roland. In honor of the new year and the new turn of the wheel, I think it’s only appropriate to end with three apologies.

To my readers, especially any of you reading along, I’m sorry if you feel betrayed by my decision not to read the Coda, as I used to feel betrayed by Susannah leaving. I’m also sorry that I didn’t have as much time and energy to put into this blog as I would have liked. I’m the first to admit that not every post was a winner, and I regret not being more active on social media (even though I really had fun with it in the early days). I also wish I could have been more thorough in my readings and my research, and I wish I was savvy enough to consistently promote this thing. Hopefully in the future I can do better.

To Stephen King, I’m sorry if any of my wildly speculative theories and analysis were way off. As I said in my first blog post, “I’m shooting from the hip here.”

And to Roland, I’m sorry if I have it wrong. Maybe by abandoning you and refusing to complete the loop I am actually just denying you the Horn of Eld, denying you that chance to change on this next turn of the wheel.

Finally, allow me to punctuate those apologies with a sincere thank you. Readers, thank you for reading; this would have been a lot less fun without anyone on the other end. Sai King, thank you for writing. And Roland, thank you for always being there, ready to cross the desert one more time. And special thanks to my wife, Abbie, whose editing was invaluable to every one of these posts.

Coda or no Coda, I’m starting the wheel turning again starting tomorrow. I won’t be writing new “Weekly Readings,” but I will be reposting (and maybe revising) each of them and updating the calendar for anyone who wants to join the 9/19-9/19 reading cycle. And don’t worry, just because I won’t be writing about each week’s chapters like I have been doesn’t mean I’m not going to keep writing about the Dark Tower. I just feel like shaking up the format.

Subscribe or follow on Twitter to make sure you don’t miss what I’ve got planned for next year…

Providence, RI
September 19, 2021

Next Week’s Reading
The Gunslinger:
Chapters 1.i-2.ii

Published by Joe Rechtman

Screenwriter/watcher. Constant Reader & Dark Tower Junkie.

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