Wednesday, April 9, 2014


I have always been wary of reading a fictional book series. I like fiction, but it tends to be a smaller part of my reading diet, except when it comes to comic books. I have SO many non-fiction books people have recommended to me, and text books I have to read for school that there isn't much time to really read fiction, and I fill my fiction needs with the much quicker read of, say, a comic book or graphic novel. And so I've rarely let myself indulge in a real book series, The Lord of the Rings being the only such series I've read as an adult.

But I started reading the Dark Tower Graphic Novels and they were so powerful and engaging that I decided I had to read the series as a whole, since the graphic novels are way behind the books and are taking too long to come out. I'm now 70% of the way through the third book in a 7 book series. So far, it is really something to behold. It is a cross-genre epic, including within it elements of westerns, classic fantasy (Lord of the Rings is a major influence), time travel, science fiction, and more. It crosses between a fantasy land, our own world and parallel universes. I don't want to put too many spoilers out there, so I'm going to go into details. It is very strange, and not for someone who lacks at least at touch of absurdism. But I am thoroughly enjoying it, as Stephen King puts his incredible skills of character development to interesting use.

There are some broad themes that I can touch on without ruining the story at all, and the book is heavy fodder for theological reflection. Stephen King has deep dualist tendencies and they come out throughout the book. There is a Demiurge like character which hasn't been discussed in the books proper but is explored in the graphic novels. The forces of good and evil are associated with black and white or light and dark. The whole thing has a feel very similar to the television show Carnivale, which I enjoyed very much and was also heavily dualist (see here: Dualism has always been something that fascinates me, even as I ultimately reject it, and it makes for great fiction.

But ultimately, the 'darkness' that dominates the story is not the darkness of evil, but the darkness of mystery. There is a sense throughout the book that the characters are encountering something beyond their ability to describe and understand. This makes the 'something' both enticing and frightening. It is scary to stand before the grandeur of God, even a God I know is benevolent thanks to His gift of His son. Closeness to God confuses and frightens me even as it draws me closer in love. In the Dark Tower, the character of Ultimate Reality is not yet revealed, and so while there is great hope and beauty, there is also fantastic anxiety and terror, something Stephen King is great at exploring.

The real brilliance surrounds the main character Roland's attraction to the center of this enticing and frightening force, the Dark Tower. His quest for the Tower is all-encompassing. But to reach the Tower and complete his quest (which at this point I only vaguely understand at this point), Roland must form very strong and tight bonds with people. Human relationships stand at the center of all that takes place. Without them, without friends whom he loves and who love him, he has no chance of saving 'all worlds' which is what he seems to be trying to do. Yet the goal itself, the Tower, drowns out those human relationships. He is willing to sacrifice them to complete his quest. The Tower is the goal of all mystical and religious experience: unity with God and salvation from those forces that oppress us in our bodies and souls. Redemption is what the Tower is. It is the mystery and wonder of touching the face of God and doing something that really matters to HIM. The paradox is the same source that invites us to relationship with others, indeed makes them necessary for our inward quest to mean anything or get anywhere, is also the Source that bids us come and die to all we have in this world.

The same God that connects me so tightly to people forces me to put Him before Him. Not as a command, but simply as a fact of His very existence. I must be willing to put God before all others if I have any chance of being any good to anyone else. In this book the drama of Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah is brought to mythical heights, and the result is stunning. I think there is a way out of this, for Christians. For the God that stands over all our relationships is also incarnated in them. We only act rightly before God when all our actions towards Him include love of neighbor. Ultimately, the Two Great Commandments are one. However, this does not mean sacrifice will not be called for, sacrifice that may indeed hurt those around us. In the end only one who loves God above all others is really capable of having a love that has the power to redeem others. The only way I could be worthy of those who love me is if I live into the love of God, of which I can never be worthy.

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