This post is about the ending of the series, and by that I mean mostly the very end, the one that comes after King basically says, “You can stop here if you want to just imagine what happens next, and by the way that’s probably a good idea.” (It's a little complicated but there's at least two clearly marked "you can stop here" points. One is before the end, one is the actual end.) So, this entire post is hugely spoilery and not interesting if you haven't read everything there is to read. [Except for The Wind Through the Keyhole, which is a prequel that I haven't read yet either.]

If you just want to know how I felt about the conclusion or are trying to decide how far you want to go without getting spoiled, I liked both endings, and they work together in the sense that the second continues the story farther without contradicting the first. The second is darker, but there’s room for interpretation and I didn’t find it grimdark or invalidating anything that went before. However, other readers might disagree and I have the vague impression (vague because I was trying not to be spoiled) that the majority of readers did not like the ending.

Before everything goes headlong into metafiction and weirdness toward the end of Wolves of the Calla, I thought I knew what would happen at the end, more or less, or at least I knew what direction the series seemed to be logically heading and how I'd end it. It involved the ka-tet reaching the Tower together. Then the series went in a different direction, and I realized that wasn't going to happen because it no longer fit with new developments. I am really tempted to write my original ending as an AU, so I'm not going to say exactly what it was in case I do.

One thing that fascinated me about both endings that King actually wrote is that even though one seems to be the happiest possible under the circumstances and one seems to be quite dark, there’s room to give an incredibly dark interpretation to the happy one and a much more uplifting interpretation to the dark one.

I’ll get more into alternate interpretations of the second, but for the first: Roland warns Susannah, before she goes through the door, that what she sees might be a trick and it might really be todash space – nothingness plus Cthulu. She says, “Then I’ll light the darkness with thoughts of those I love.” Roland replies that that might work for the first hundred years, but what about the rest of eternity?

So when Susannah does find the ones she loves past the door, is it real? Or is it a trick? Her mind can do amazing things; is this her way of lighting the darkness with not just thoughts, but a plausible fantasy of those she loves? And if that’s going on, will she ever wear out, as Roland suggests, and open her eyes to eternal, lonely darkness?

I like to think that she really does make it to the Nozz-A-La New York, and that versions of Eddie, Jake, and Oy really are there with her. If it was her hallucination of the ones she loves, Roland should be in it too. Or would that seem too implausible, too good to be true, maybe so much so that imagining Roland turning away from the Tower would break the fantasy…?

I love Roland striding toward the Tower, calling out his litany, and finally walking into the Tower and out of the story. For me, that would have been a completely satisfying ending. But, of course, that isn’t the end of the book, and the only time I put a book down forever without finishing it is if I don’t like it.

King’s intro to the second ending says that the readers who keep reading to find out what Roland finds in the Tower rather than imagining it prefer the destination to the journey and “deny the Grey Havens, where tired characters go to rest.” He warns that if you keep reading, you’ll be disappointed and heartbroken, because “endings are heartless” and “an ending is a closed door.”

He then proceeds to write an ending in which the tragedy is that Roland is denied the Grey Havens, denied rest, maybe for all eternity… but which is not a closed door at all, but a circle. An endless journey. The very last line is also the first. It’s an ending which is heartbreaking and heartless (though maybe not hopeless) precisely because it is a journey that will never end.

Between the intro and the ending, King seems to be trolling the readers who hoped for a destination rather than a journey. Not to mention the readers like me who would have been fine with leaving Roland as the Tower door closed behind him, but can’t resist proceding despite the warning because there is more to the story because THE WRITER WROTE IT. I didn’t make him write it! Though to be fair, he didn’t make me read it. That little push-pull right there is kind of hilarious to me— meta on the writer-reader relationship that demonstrates its own truth.

Even more interestingly, his ending contradicts one of the main points of his intro. If endings are cruel because they close doors, what to make of this ending, which is cruel because it leaves the door forever open? And what to make of Susannah’s ending, which has more closure but feels much happier, assuming you don’t take the horrific interpretation?

I think this is intended to catch attention as a paradox, but I don’t quite know what to make of it. King trolling himself with his own less-then-perfect authorial wisdom? Or is Roland’s ending not as tragic as it seems? If the journey really is better than the destination, is an endless journey the opposite of tragedy?

I know King wrote it like that because it came to him like that (and I’m not guessing at his motives; he said so) but I think it came to him like that because he didn’t want to end the story either (which he also said.) And he’s a horror writer at heart, even if this series isn’t primarily horror, so at crucial times his horror instincts come through, and this is one of those times. So the book ends, but the story itself doesn’t. And it’s horrific because King writes horror. But if the story never ends, will it always be horror? The series hit every possible emotional note and every possible genre along the way (which is a pretty great metaphor for life, the universe, and everything, in a story meant to be about exactly that); if it continues forever off-page, will that too continue?

After King outright said that the ending should inherently just be imagined because no story can ever do justice to the Dark Tower, because of its very nature… I loved the description of Roland’s journey up the Tower. Its true nature can’t be comprehended or described, so making it a journey through Roland’s life was satisfying without diminishing the Tower’s inherent ungraspableness. And it was beautifully written, with perfect details like the little ornament used on his umbilical cord.

Once I saw how Roland perceived the Tower, I guessed that he would find that he was in a loop, and that the last line of the series would be the first. Maybe the Tower appears as the life of whoever climbs it. But also, the Tower is Roland’s journey because Roland’s journey is part of the Tower. In that case, his quest can’t end, or the universe ends with it.

What I did not expect was Roland’s reaction to finding that out. To me, that’s what makes the ending feel dark and cruel: not what he learns, but that he’s horrified by it, doesn’t want it, and doesn’t choose it. If he’d had mixed feelings or the same reaction but nonetheless chose to continue for the sake of the universe, the tone would have been bittersweet or tragic rather than horrifying. If he’d chosen it gladly or been satisfied with his purpose and destiny, then it wouldn’t be tragic at all.

That being said, while Roland’s reaction was a punch in the gut, the reveal of his fate and purpose felt right and satisfying to me. He isn’t just a tool of ka, he’s a living part of ka: not only a seeker of the rose, but the rose itself. He’s archetypal because he is literally eternal. He’s obsessed with traveling to the Tower because he exists to keep the universe going with his travels. (Much like a character in a certain heartbreaking Diana Wynne Jones book. I wonder if King read it?) The Beams will never all break and the Tower will never fall because Roland will always be there to take down the Breakers. He doesn’t save the world and leave it at that; the world forever rests upon his efforts to save it.

I didn’t think his horror at finding that he’s not going to get a rest, ever, was out of character. By then if anyone had reason to be exhausted and burned out and just want it all to stop, it was Roland. (Especially since unbeknownst to himself, he hasn’t just done this once, he’s done it who knows how many times.) But it also would have seemed in-character if he’d accepted his role, chosen it freely, or even been glad of it. His life’s goal was to climb the Tower; not only did he climb it, but he’ll never stop climbing it and that’s accomplishing something incredibly important.

Also, maybe he’ll see his ka-tet again. The end left plenty of room for interpretation as to whether the cycle repeats exactly, or with variations, and if so, how big those variations are. Does the action we just saw, with the ka-tet we know, repeat? Does it repeat with the same people, but not necessarily in the same way? Or does he get a new ka-tet each time?

The multiple go-rounds seem to have a cumulative effect on Roland at a subconscious level, rather than re-setting him from zero. His incredible amount of knowledge and skills, and how tired he feels, could be because some aspects of his previous journeys carry over: he knows a lot because he’s lived so many lives (this makes more sense if each journey is at least slightly different) and he’s tired because this is his nineteenth time. Or ninety-ninth. Or 1,999th. (That would also explain why those numbers are important. The other explanation is that King’s van accident was in 1999, but that seemed to be more an aspect of the numbers than a cause.)

So, going back to King’s trolly intro: is the ending really as tragic as it seems? Can an ending that doesn’t do the thing that he says makes endings heartless be as terrible as it seems?

I like to think that it isn’t. (Especially since if everything repeats, then there’s no way Susannah is stuck in todash for all eternity; even if the horror interpretation of her ending is right, she won’t stay there forever, she’ll go back to the beginning.) Maybe the wheel of ka rolls on forever, but details can change. Roland’s realization ended in horror this time, but maybe it won’t always. Maybe on some subsequent go-round, he’ll decide that everything is worth it to have a ka-tet again, or to know Eddie and Susannah and Jake and Oy specifically again, or to keep the universe going, or because he was made to quest and despite the sorrow and pain and exhaustion, questing is what he wants to do.

As for whether an ending that stops the story can ever be anything but heartbreaking, and whether Roland can ever have rest without stopping the quest that sustains the universe, I can think of a way around both of those. By the usual logic of time loops, the only way to break them is to change something that’s never changed before.

So here’s yet another alternate ending, still ironic, maybe still heartbreaking, but different. Maybe Roland accepting his own part in ka and choosing of his own accord to continue his eternal quest is the only thing that can end it, and instead send him to join his ka-tet in the clearing at the end of the path. And when he does, some other gunslinger will take their first step toward the Tower.
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