The Dark Tower (Series) | Study Guide

Stephen King

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The Dark Tower (Series) | Motifs


Commala Song

"Come-come-commala" is a refrain found in a song that first appears in Wolves of the Calla. The song, with varying verses, also informs the structure of Song of Susannah and appears in other refrains in The Dark Tower. It is often accompanied by a dance, and Roland dances the Commala, known in Calla Bryn Sturgis and other parts of Mid-World as the Rice Song, on his first night in the Calla.

Commala carries a number of meanings. It refers to the rice grown in the borderlands such as the Calla. It also refers to a large feast and the act of socializing. To stand Commala means to share secrets, or literally stand belly to belly. The term can also refer to sexual intercourse or orgasm. All meanings of Commala in some way connect to the establishment of community, whether between many people or only two, and the song works to strengthen those communal bonds. Commala and community share the Latin root communitatem, meaning "fellowship."

"Ka is a wheel."

Roland and a few others repeat this statement to illustrate the nature of ka, or destiny, and how it governs the world. With the Beams intersecting at the Tower in the center, Mid-World literally resembles a wheel, which connects it more intimately with the concept of ka. The image of ka as a wheel also speaks to its intractable nature. A wheel moves and keeps moving unless something stops it. Nothing stops ka, so it keeps turning. The best one can hope for is to not be thrown off or crushed by the wheel of ka, so it's best to just go along with whatever ka wants. The wheel image also speaks to the cyclical nature of ka, proven when Roland's quest for the Tower ends with the Tower pushing him out, back to the beginning of his quest.

The Old West

Because The Dark Tower series is partially inspired by Western films, such as The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and The Magnificent Seven, it is infused with elements of the Western genre. The reader meets Roland in the middle of a desert, the kind of desert that characterizes the American West. He is a gunslinger, a term reserved for the kind of men who populate Western films, who, like Roland, deal out their brand of justice using their firearms.

The tradition of Western films represents a celebration of traditional masculinity. The heroes of these films are "strong, silent types" willing to fight and to defend themselves and their cause. They tend to be grizzled loners, dedicated to a sense of right and wrong that might not be obvious to everyone. In The Gunslinger Jake notices Roland's resemblance to Clint Eastwood, an actor who made his fame starring in Western films. Roland speaks simple lines that illustrate his strength and could easily come from a classic Western, such as "I deal in lead."

The towns Roland visits are typical set pieces from Western movies, featuring saloons with batwing doors—the short, slatted, swinging kind. They are populated with farmers, ranchers, and plenty of horses. In Mejis and the Calla, Spanish words and terms—or versions of Spanish words—are used in the same way they are used in films to reflect the Spanish influence on the American West. These set pieces serve a purpose in the plot by connecting the American West with Mid-World, contributing to the interconnections between all the worlds held together by the Tower, and give the series a sense of being a distinctly American epic.

Medievalism and Chivalry

The traditions of the American Western film fit neatly into the traditions of chivalry set forth during the medieval period, and in The Dark Tower series medieval motifs are visible. Roland is a prince of sorts, as his father rules over the Barony of New Canaan. Gunslingers are a select group, like knights. A knight was born to his position, just as gunslingers are born to theirs. To underscore the connection to the traditions of the medieval period, gunslingers are said to have descended from Arthur Eld, also known as King Arthur, the great hero of medieval England. Gunslingers are also trained in a similar fashion to medieval knights, undergoing an apprenticeship with a mentor and a rite of passage to assume the mantle of their new title. Gunslingers use guns while knights used swords. The gunslingers abide by a code of ethics similar to the code of chivalry employed by medieval knights. They are expected to use their power for good, to lend their strength to those who have none. As Roland discovers in the Calla, he is obligated to help in any situation he can. Such was the ideal of knighthood centuries ago.

The sense of honor inherent in the gunslingers' code, similar to the code of chivalry, rests in the concept of ancestry. To "remember the face of your father" is to behave in an honorable and just manner. To have "forgotten the face of your father" is to behave dishonorably, even criminally. Roland invokes these phrases repeatedly, sometimes to scold wrongdoing and sometimes to encourage his ka-tet and others to do what they know is right.

Rock and Roll

Examples of 20th-century American and British rock and roll music abound throughout Mid-World. In The Gunslinger Roland comes to the town of Tull, named for the English band Jethro Tull, popular in the 1970s. In Tull the residents gather in the local saloon where the piano player leads a sing-along of The Beatles's "Hey Jude." The drum intro for the song "Velcro Fly" by the American rock band ZZ Top serves as the war cry for the people in the ruined city of Lud in The Waste Lands. The Beatles appear again in The Dark Tower with "Drive My Car" coming from an unidentified source in Fedic. The robot Stuttering Bill entertains Roland, Susannah, and Patrick with a string of American pop songs and The Beatles's "She Loves You" as he transports them closer to the tower. The Crimson King's own name is a reversal of the name of 1960s English rock group King Crimson. The presence of these songs—and many others—in Mid-World provides connection between the many worlds, serving as a reminder that all these worlds belong to the same existence that depends on the Dark Tower for survival.

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