The Dark Tower

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"The Man In Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed."

So begins The Dark Tower, Stephen King's epic long-runner, a series of seven books published over nearly thirty years. The series is frequently regarded as King's defining work. It is a long and complex Mix and Match of Speculative Fiction, fantasy, horror, Post Modernism and Westerns.

A proposed film adaptation and television series is currently in Development Hell. Prequel comics, initially adaptions of flashbacks in the novels and now original stories, are ongoing from Marvel.

The books in the series are:

The story begins in a Scavenger World After the End. Roland Deschain of Gilead is pursuing a mysterious man across the desert, to get information about the titular tower. Roland himself begins as an enigma--for about the first third of the first book, he's referred to in the narration only as "The Gunslinger". As the series goes on, we learn more about him, his world, and what drives him on his quest.

Roland is the last gunslinger, a sort of knight with revolvers, as well as the last survivor of his lineage, his city, and his kingdom. It's not really clear, even to him, how long it's been since Gilead fell and he began pursuing the Dark Tower. The very world he lives in, called Mid-World, seems to be unraveling--even compass directions and the passage of time are not reliable. "The world has moved on," as they say.

He learns that to continue on to the tower, he must pull a select group of people from our world, including a lonely young boy, a heroin addict, and a woman with two personalities--one a civil rights and peace activist, the other a violent psychopath. And that's when the journey really begins.

Unspoiled readers should use caution when reading this article. Although major spoilers are blocked out, some of the descriptions have minor spoilers for events later on in the books.

This series is not to be confused with the unfinished book in Lewis' Space Trilogy. Nor is it to be confused with the 1981 board game Dark Tower or the web and print comic Dork Tower.

The following tropes are common to many or all entries in the The Dark Tower franchise.
For tropes specific to individual installments, visit their respective work pages.
  • A Boy and His X: Jake Chambers of New York and Oy of Mid-World
  • After the End: Far after. Though time has little meaning on All-World, thousands of years have passed since the devastating war of the Old Ones. And the world is still trying to heal.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Most of the surviving higher-functioning AI have become insane and bitter in the hundreds or thousands of years since they were created.
    • Case in point: Blaine the Mono. Killed his only companion, tried to kill the protagonists (and himself), and would've done it even if Eddie hadn't logic bombed him.
    • One exception is Stuttering Bill (named as a Shout-Out to Bill Denbrough of IT). He gave Susannah and Roland a much-needed lift across Empathica in his snowplough.
  • Ancestral Weapon: The ancient revolvers. Apparently forged from Excalibur.
  • And Man Grew Proud: Directly stated to be the reason the world moved on: the technologically advanced Great Old Ones replaced the magical beams (which are the underlying structure of reality) with ones based on their technology, and sought to shape reality itself to their whims. They ultimately destroyed themselves in cataclysmic wars which left most of All-World devastated and poisoned. With no Old Ones to perform repairs and maintenance, their remaining technology slowly deteriorated, including that which supported the beams.
  • Anti-Hero: Roland, at first. He allows Jake Chambers to fall to his death, rather than be delayed to try and save him.
  • Anyone Can Die: And most do.
  • Apocalypse How: Class X-5! Almost a Z, but the Big Bad wants a chaotic void leftover (i.e. his home.)
  • Arbitrary Gun Power: When Roland gets ammunition for his guns in an Alternate Universe New York, he buys .45 (probably Colt) rounds, yet at various other points his guns are always described as being ridiculously powerful, more powerful than .357 magnums or other high-powered guns.
    • .45 Long Colt rounds, which are similar in power profile to .44 Magnum rounds. Not .45 ACP rounds, which are more anemic.
    • Also, in the latest book, The Wind Through the Keyhole, it is mentioned that the bullets use a 76 grain gunpowder load. It doesn't state whether its with blackpowder or smokeless powder however, but given that the original .45 Long Colt used between 28-40 grain blackpowder loads and had muzzle velocities of up to 1000f/sec, it's not a huge leap to assume Roland's guns are exceptionally powerful.
  • Arc Number (19 and, to a lesser degree, 3 and 99.)
  • Arch Enemy: The Man in Black and the Gunslinger. In a more one sided way, the Crimson King to Roland.
  • Arc Words: Many. Two important ones in particular are the rhymes "See the TURTLE of enormous girth" and "O Susannah-Mio".
    • The two best are the above "The man in black fled across the desert" and something that Jake says to Roland, "Go then, for there are other worlds than these".
  • Artifact of Doom (The thirteen different-hued crystal balls of "the Wizard's Rainbow" -- the most dangerous of them all being Black Thirteen)
  • Ass Pull: Patrick Danville's ability to erase/create matter with his magical pencil being introduced conveniently a couple of chapters right before he erases the Big Bad out of existence. Lampshaded in that King deliberately admits that it's a Deus Ex Machina. Justified in-universe (see Deus Ex Machina) as King deliberately helping the characters after they save his life.
  • Author Avatar: Stephen King himself shows up in book six, when Roland and friends travel to "our" universe where he's writing the Dark Tower novels. Getting him to continue writing, as well as saving his life, become major plot points.
  • Author Existence Failure : Stephen King's near-fatal accident in 1999 becomes a major plot point in Book 7, leading directly to Jake Chamber's death, and King's decision (in-universe and in-reality) to finish the books.
  • Badass: Roland and his Ka-Tet.
  • Badass Creed: The Gunslinger's Creed:

I do not aim with my hand;
He who aims with his hand has forgotten the face of his father.
I aim with my eye.
I do not shoot with my hand;
He who shoots with his hand has forgotten the face of his father.
I shoot with my mind.
I do not kill with my gun;
He who kills with his gun has forgotten the face of his father.
I kill with my heart.

  • Badass Normal: Roland and his Ka-Tet.
  • Badass Preacher: Father Callahan in Dark Tower 7
  • Beauty Equals Goodness (Even more blatant in the Backstory Wizard and Glass when Roland was young and had a Love Interest and several older, uglier enemies) yet subverted by the fact Roland as an adult is worse for wear: Eddie almost always refers to him as him "Old Long, tall and ugly."
  • Because Destiny Says So
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Jake.
  • BFG: Tricks Postino, one of Balazar's henchmen, likes to use a ridiculously-large M16 for every firefight he gets into. He affectionately calls it "The Wonderful Rambo Machine".
  • Big Bad: The Crimson King.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Roland climbs the Tower, entering room after room where he's shown imagery of key events from his life. He finally reaches the top, and finds a door which he opens. The door opens onto the desert in the first book, and Roland realizes the horrible truth: he's been here before. Many times over. And each and every time, he is cast on to the desert, with his wounds healed and memories erased. However, this time he has the Horn of Eld, which he had previously abandoned in haste, in his possession, and it's implied that if he does it right, this time might the final time he's forced to re-walk his path to the Tower.
  • Black Knight
  • Blasting It Out of Their Hands
  • Book Ends: The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed.
  • Brand X: The parallel Earths that appear throughout the series are differentiated from "Keystone Earth" primarily by the existence of different consumer products, like Nozz-a-la Cola, Takuro Spirit automobiles, and a baseball team called the Kansas City Monarchs.
    • The Kansas City Monarchs are likely a reference to the Negro League team of the same name.
  • Canon Discontinuity The final novel goes out of its way to state that a lot of the related stories (such as Insomnia) that fans thought were important canon are in fact unreliable. The reason given is that Author Avatar Stephen King's 'visions' were muddled when writing them.
  • Celebrity Paradox
  • The Chessmaster: Marten Broadcloak in the back-story of Roland's homeland of Gilead, who was responsible for organizing the forces that wrought its downfall. Marten's other alias, Walter, who organizes several "traps" for Roland in the Mohaine Desert.
  • Comedy as a Weapon: Eddie does this literally in "Wizard and Glass".
  • Comic Book Adaptation: There are a series of comics written by Robin Furth and Peter David that tell the story of the events leading up to Roland's quest for the Tower.
  • Compound Interest Time Travel Gambit: Eddie's plan to make the Tet Corporation more powerful than Sombra rests on making investments in 1977 that will reap huge profits by 1987.
  • Continuity Drift
  • Continuity Nod
  • Cosmic Deadline
  • Cosmic Keystone: The cosmic keystone to all other cosmic keystones: The Dark Tower.
  • Crapsack World: All-World. Much of the world is still heavily poisoned from the apocalyptic wars of the Great Old Ones, and several of their ancient weapons continue to wreak havoc. Aside from the Callas in Book Five, most of the world is a wasteland, with sparse human survivors from ancient times and the destruction of All-World's last true civilization, the Affiliation of Baronies. As if all of that weren't bad enough, the world itself is falling apart. Clocks and compasses no longer accurately record time, and distances seem to grow and shrink with no rhyme or reason.
  • Creator Breakdown
  • Crisis Crossover: A number of characters from King's other books, including The Stand, 'Salem's Lot, Insomnia, Hearts in Atlantis, Everything's Eventual pop up throughout the series, and the plots of many other novels are tangentially linked to Roland's quest.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Eddie.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: The titular Dark Tower is the axis upon which the countless realities and universes spin, and is implied to be the manifestation of the creator Gan Itself
  • Death Is Cheap
  • Defeat by Modesty: Averted wholesale. In Drawing of the Three, Balazar forces Eddie to strip naked to prove that he's not hiding his cocaine. Once Eddie figures out that Balazar killed his brother, he and Roland have an all-out gun battle with Balazar's goons. While Eddie's naked.
  • Desert Punk
  • Determinator: Roland.
  • Deus Ex Machina: Played entirely straight (and lampshaded) with Stephen King showing up in Book Six.
  • Did Not Do the Research: King originally misplaced Co-Op City in New York, but then used this discrepancy to illustrate how Eddie's home universe is subtly different to the Keystone Earth (ours).
  • Disney Death: Jake. The first time by falling to his death, the second time by leaping in front of a car to push Stephen King to safety.
  • Doorstopper: The Gunslinger is the only book shorter than 400 pages in length for the hard-cover. Books 4,5, and 7 are exceptionally long, with each being well over 700 pages in length (and Dark Tower 7 being nearly 900 pages in length).
  • The Dragon: Randall Flagg.
  • Driving Question: What lies at the top of the tower?
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Flagg, Eddie, and Jake in the final book. Flagg is killed by Mordred when his nemesis, Roland, isn't even present. Eddie is abruptly shot by an almost-dead mook after he survives the Battle of Algul Siento. Jake is hit by a car driven by some idiot in Maine.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Creatures in the todash darkness
  • Eldritch Location: All-World. North may be southwest the next day, distances seem to grow and shrink almost at random, and time is so warped that clocks are unreliable.
  • Encyclopedia Exposita
  • Enfant Terrible: The Little Red King
  • Eternal Recurrence
  • Evil Chancellor: Marten Broadcloak
  • Evil Plan: The Crimson King's ultimate goal is to destroy the Tower and the universes created by it, via destroying the beams that hold the Tower up through the use of psychics.
  • Evil Sorcerer: Randall Flagg in all his forms and disguises.
  • Fantastic Honorifics: "Sai" is a gender-neutral, catch-all honorific.
  • Fantasy Gun Control: One of the most prominent aversions in fantasy. Roland's guns are made from the melted-down sword of his ancestor Arthur Eld, King of All-World. It's quite heavily implied that Arthur Eld is the King Arthur. Which would make his sword Excalibur.
  • Fastest Gun in the West: Played with a bit, in that the gunslinger candidates of Gilead who aren't good enough are 'sent west' in exile.
  • Feet of Clay: The Crimson King
  • Fictionary: We hear bits and pieces of the High Tongue, but there's no real sense of a separate grammar or syntax distinct from English.
  • First Episode Spoiler: The Man in Black is really Marten Broadcloak, the Wizard from Gilead who had an affair with Roland's mother. And Roland's quest isn't to kill's to interrogate him so he can find the Dark Tower.
  • Fish Out of Temporal Water
  • Five-Bad Band
  • Five-Man Band
  • Flash Sideways
  • Gainax Ending: Susannah goes off to live in an alternate universe with Replacement Goldfish versions of her dead friends, and Roland finds out that he's been stuck in a Groundhog Day Loop his entire life. Also, the Dark Tower turns out to be filled with relics from Roland's life, and its top floor houses a time warp that takes him back to the beginning of his quest.
  • Generation Xerox: A few odd examples
    • Roland's new ka-tet, despite being from different universes and not blood relations, display characteristics of his old ka-tet, though not always in the same way.
    • Roland is a descendant of King Arthur. Both of them went on a grand quest for a magical artifact, and both had an illegitimate son conceived through magic who betrayed them. In both cases, the son was named Mordred.
  • Genre Savvy: Literally the case in Book Five, when some of the characters start to get suspicious of how certain situations pop out, a certain number keeps repeating (19), and so forth. They eventually figure out that they're creations of Stephen King, and confront him in "our" universe.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Roland.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking
  • Greek Chorus: Stephen King, except for when he appears.
  • Handguns
  • Handicapped Badass: Roland from the second book, Susannah.
  • Here We Go Again
  • Heterosexual Life Partners: Calvin Tower and Aaron Deepneau.
  • Hidden Villain: The Crimson King isn't mentioned until Wizard And Glass.
  • High Fantasy
  • Homicide Machines: Almost every machine that is sentient has degenerated into this by the time the story takes place.
  • I Am X, Son of Y: This form of introduction is common in Roland's world.
  • I Call It Vera: Tricks Postino and his M16, "The Wonderful Rambo Machine".
  • I Have Many Names: Randall Flagg (Real name Walter Padick), the Crimson King's Dragon (and The Starscream to boot), also appears as Marten Broadcloak, Walter o'Dim, anything with the letters 'RF' in it, and in a brief scene even impersonates The Wonderful Wizard of Oz himself.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Several, particularly in Book Seven.
  • Horny Devils: The demons of Roland's world include the equivalent of succubi and incubi. In fact, some can be both incubi and succubi.
  • Iconic Item: The rose, Roland's revolvers, and of course the Tower itself.
  • I Just Knew: Insights driven by "Ka", or destiny.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Roland is the embodiment of this trope. It also applies to Eddie, Susannah and Jake to a lesser extent.
    • Also could be applied to the Oriza dish-throwers, some of whom can cut a turnip in half with what are essentially razor-edged frisbees.
  • Interdimensional Travel Device: The doors that allow the characters to travel between different timelines and alternate universes, including one in which they meet Stephen King.
  • Jedi Mind Trick: Jake's key in Book III, Susannah's turtle in Book VI.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Roland.
  • Jigsaw Puzzle Plot
  • Judge, Jury, and Executioner
  • King Arthur: Roland's greatest ancestor is Arthur Eld, his universe's equivalent of King Arthur who conquered and ruled All-World more than a thousand years before Roland was born. His sword was melted down to create the two guns that eventually became Roland's.
  • Kudzu Plot: King adds an increasingly large number of side-plots and characters in the later books. We have Father Callahan, Mia and her "chap", the storyline with Stephen King, their attempts to get Calvin Tower to sign over the least for the plot with the Rose, and so forth.
  • Land of the Shattered Empire: The series features this, across parallel universes no less. Roland wanders different parts of his homeworld with scattered governments and anarchy to track down the Man in Black and the titular tower.
  • Last of His Kind: Roland's the Last Gunslinger.
  • Lemony Narrator: Of a sad, subtle sort. Most prevalent in the final book.
  • Ley Line: The Beams
  • Literary Agent Hypothesis: Stephen King is both the narrator and storyteller, as well as a character in the story itself.
  • Literary Allusion Title (Both the series as a whole and The Waste Lands.)
  • Loads and Loads of Characters
  • Lost Technology: The Great Old Ones left a wide range of advanced relics behind when they destroyed themselves, including Blaine the Slow Trans Mono Train, Shardik the Bear, war machines such as tanks, and so forth.
  • Mad Lib Fantasy Title
  • MacGuffin: The Tower itself, though to a greater extent the Rose.
  • Meanwhile in the Future: several events in Book Seven happen in different time periods of the same universe simultaneously.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters
  • Canon Welding: The Dark Tower draws in characters, plot-lines, and themes from about two dozen other King novels.
  • The Multiverse: The setting for The Dark Tower series, as well as what Roland and his Ka-Tet are trying to save.
  • Must Make Amends: Roland, the "good guy," ends up letting Jake, a boy he has grown to love, fall to his death by dropping him off an underground railway into a bottomless cavern in order to continue his quest. However, Jake is only in the same universe as Roland because he re-incarnated there after being killed in New York City. Roland unexpectedly ends up in Jake's New York, and, because Roland still loves him and regrets his previous decision, takes the opportunity to prevent the original death. This not only saves Jake, but creates a horrible paradox solved only when Roland helps him cross again to his world, where he embraces him as a son and trains him to take part in his quest.
    • It is said that this is due to Stephen King's own guilt at having killed off the character of Jake, whom he liked, in the first place, in which case Jake's role in the next six books is nothing more than a successful attempt to make amends.
      • Not quite; to borrow from George R. R. Martin, Stepen King (in-universe and in Real Life) is a Gardener-type of author; that is, he doesn't plan his novels so much as lets the writing itself dictate the story. What Roland did is what King felt was true and in-character for him, so really he can't decide if Jake's death is his own fault, or Roland's, but either way he was too disturbed to write the story for a long while afterwards.
  • Myth Arc: For many Stephen King works, and for King himself.
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Mordred. And, anybody with the initials "R.F.". The latter does not apply if you are Mordred.
  • Nature Spirit: The Beam guardians.
  • Nemean Skinning
  • New Old West
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: The Crimson King's goal is to destroy the universe - so he can create a new one in his own image.
  • Nobody Poops: Averted in Wolves of the Calla.
  • No Fourth Wall
  • No Ontological Inertia: King in-novel is one of the cornerstones of reality just as the rose and tower are, and his characters eventually come to realise they only exist because he is writing them. This existential binding is so great that the injuries King sustains during his impending car crash start to manifest on Roland similar to acute, fast-acting arthritis until things get down to the wire, when he realizes they're a full-on skull crushing and hip smashing waiting to happen. After they save King and make him finish the story, Roland gets better.
  • The Nothing After Death: Todash Darkness.
  • Omnicidal Maniac: The Crimson King.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: There are three "types" of vampire, including the type of vampire that showed up in 'Salem's Lot.
  • Painting the Fourth Wall
  • The Place
  • Planar Champion: Roland Deschain
  • Post Modernism
  • Power Trio: Roland's original Ka-tet.
  • Protective Charm: the skoldpadda
  • Psychic Dreams for Everyone
  • The Quest
  • Ragnarok Proofing: Played with. While some of the Great Old Ones' technology continues to function thousands of years later, most of it is breaking down, ranging from their trains to the Beams holding up the Tower.
  • Rape as Backstory: Randall Flagg/Walter
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Stephen King was run over and almost killed by a van between writing the fourth and fifth books. This winds up being very important in the story, foreshadowed through the fifth and sixth books and seen in the seventh.
  • Reconstruction
  • Recycled in Space: Much of the series is strongly influenced by The Lord of the Rings and other works; Volume V, in particular, openly admits to lifting its main storyline from The Magnificent Seven, which causes Eddie to realize he may be a character in a work of fiction.
  • Reliably Unreliable Guns: Mostly averted, but played straight with anything fully automatic. Machine guns always jam, and things typically get worse for their wielder from there.
  • Replacement Goldfish: After Eddie and Jake are killed in the final book, Susannah goes off to live in an alternate universe where they're still alive. In the new universe, they're brothers named Eddie Toren and Jake Toren. The commentary from King suggests that they will eventually get a replacement Oy to be the family dog.
  • Retcon: In The Dark Tower, Oy is distinguished from his fellow billy-bumblers by missing his tail. In later books, he is described wrapping his long cork-screw tail around himself occasionally. This is never explained.
  • Revised Ending
  • Sad Clown: Eddie, Cuthbert.
  • Scavenger World: All-World. Holy Hell, All-World.
  • Schizo-Tech: Several groups (including the Crimson King's) have put remnants of ancient technology to work. We also see some of the Great Old Ones' war machines being worked on in the back-story of Gilead's fall.
  • Science Is Bad: The reason the Great Old Ones fell was because they were deceived by the "false light of Science", and thus replaced the eternal magic with technological and scientific support, which would eventually break down after they used that same technology to destroy themselves.
  • Series Goal: Reach and enter the Dark Tower. In order to do so, however, the Ka-Tet must save it first.
  • Shoot the Dog: Roland leaves Jake for dead.
  • Shout-Out: To many different stories, from the Fantastic Four to T. S. Eliot, and in particular to Robert Browning's Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came.
  • Snicket Warning Label: King outright states it.
  • Sole Survivor: Roland was the only survivor of the battle on Jericho Hill.
  • The Starscream: Flagg, to the Crimson King.
  • Thirteen Is Unlucky: The thirteen orbs of Maerlyn's Rainbow.
  • To Become Human: A succubus actually wants to become human so that she can have a child. With a Deal with the Devil, she becomes effectively human, but she wasn't born with gametes, requiring a little more effort...
  • Town with a Dark Secret: Both Hambry (human sacrifice as an agricultural rite) and Calla Bryn Sturgis (breed stock for part of the Crimson King's master plan).
  • Trapped in Another World
  • Trilogy Creep
  • Twin Telepathy: A major plot point in Wolves of the Calla. Every year, the Wolves of Thunderclap ride kidnap someone from each pair of twins. It turns out that the Crimson King wants the chemical that gives twins a natural telepathic connection. He plans to use it to enhance the powers of the telepaths working to bring down the Tower.
  • Twist Ending: Every book. The last one included.
  • Twofer Token Minority: Susannah - black, in a wheelchair, has multiple personality disorder, and the only woman in the ka-tet.
  • Walking the Earth
  • Welcome to The Real World
  • The Worf Effect: Taken Up to Eleven in the final book. Flagg, who's been Roland's nemesis since the first book, is abruptly killed just to show that the newly-introduced Mordred is a serious threat.
  • World Tree: The Tower itself is the axis which holds the worlds together.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: It's inconsistent what year Susannah came from. In the second book, it's stated that it's been three months since the assassination of JFK; that means it's February 1964. Not much later, it's stated that August 19, 1959 (when she lost her legs) was five and a half years before; that means it's February 1965. In the third book, the year is several times said to be 1963. In the following books, it's consistently stated to be 1964. However, in the sixth book, she reminiscences about the murders of Civil Rights activists James Cheney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, which happened in June 1964. It might be a lampshade on this that Susannah thinks in the seventh book that she lived in America until 1964 "or was it '65?".
  • You Are the Translated Foreign Word
  • Young Gun: Eddie.

The Dark Tower Comic Series

"Time flies, knells call, life passes, so hear my prayer. Birth is nothing but death begun, so hear my prayer. Death is speechless, so hear my speech."