The Dark Tower (Series) | Study Guide

Stephen King

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The Dark Tower (Series) | Symbols



The most obvious symbol in The Dark Tower series is the one found in the title and on all the book covers. The Tower is the literal center of the universe, the place at which all the energies that create existence intersect. In the final novel the Tower is revealed as a physical manifestation of the supreme god of Mid-World, Gan.

In an abstract sense the Tower represents redemption. Roland believes by reaching the Tower he can save the world. The circular ending of the series, in which Roland is pushed from the Tower and deposited back in the desert at the start of his quest, calls this belief into question, but it highlights how the Tower represents redemption for Roland on a personal level. If he can successfully complete his quest, he can find peace. If he can save the world, then the bad things he does on the way to the Tower—leaving his first love, letting Jake fall into an abyss—will be worthwhile, and Roland can resolve these actions in his mind and know that he has served a greater good.

The Tower and the quest for it offer redemption for other members of the ka-tet as well. Because of their belief in the Tower and Roland's mission, Eddie kicks his drug addiction, Susannah heals her psyche, and Father Callahan finds his faith in God again. The Tower is capable of saving all existence as well as individual lives.


In a vacant lot at the corner of Second Avenue and Forty-Sixth Street in New York grows a single wild rose. Roland and the ka-tet determine the rose is the Tower manifesting itself in the Keystone World of America, and they go to great lengths to obtain ownership of the lot and protect it from the encroaching Sombra Corporation—the Crimson King's corporate arm in Keystone World. The single rose—a delicate plant growing in a pile of rubble in a vacant lot in the city—represents hope in the face of incredible odds, the kind of hope that drives the ka-tet toward the Tower.

In Western culture, roses are a symbol of love, and this meaning feeds into the rose in The Dark Tower series as a symbol of hope. If the rose stands, love can triumph over hate and chaos, and good can triumph over evil. During the medieval period—from which The Dark Tower series draws much inspiration—the rose also represented a connection to the divine, as its color was associated with the blood of Jesus Christ. This meaning also becomes relevant in The Dark Tower series as the ka-tet believes saving the rose connects them to the forces of good working in their favor. In The Dark Tower, once the rose is saved and the Tet Corporation builds its tower around it as a protective shrine, it is marked by a plaque that reads in English, "GOOD OVER EVIL, THIS IS THE WILL OF GOD."

The rose preserved in the tower of the Tet Corporation in New York is pink. The plaque in front of the rose reads in the language of Mid-World, "WHITE OVER RED, THUS GAN WILLS EVER." Pink is the color that results from covering a layer of red with a layer of white. Roland often refers to himself and Arthur Eld as being "of the White." White is a color commonly used to represent purity and innocence in Western culture, which means they are on the side of goodness, justice, and right. As his name implies, the Crimson King is associated with the color red. In Western culture red is often associated with anger and with blood and death. The ka-tet encounters a few communities, such as Fedic, that have been decimated by a plague called the red death, which solidifies the association between the color red and annihilation. The pink of the rose indicates that evil cannot be eradicated completely; it must be fought, but the White has a good chance of overpowering the Red as Gan—or God—wills.


Beyond their role as functional objects, the keys that appear in The Dark Tower series represent the building of connections between people and worlds and access to greater truths. For example, early in The Waste Lands Eddie takes up woodcarving, a hobby he enjoyed before drug addiction nearly wiped away his enjoyment of anything. He carves a wooden key that later helps Jake find his way back to Mid-World and take his place in the ka-tet. In the act of carving the key, Eddie connects with his past self and uncovers the truth about who he really is. In using the key, Jake connects with the ka-tet and his own destiny in the quest for the Tower, and he uncovers the truth about the divided memories he has from his first trip through Mid-World.

Another example of the power of keys appears in The Dark Tower, when Stephen King leaves a message for Jake at a hotel. The message turns into a key that gives Jake and Father Callahan access to the powerful and sinister wizard's glass known as Black Thirteen. This key allows them to metaphorically connect with Susannah and to discover the truth about this object's destructive potential. In The Wind Through the Keyhole the Covenant Man—another of Walter's many guises—gives a boy named Tim a key that allows him to discover that his stepfather murdered his real father. The discovery of this truth sends Tim on a mission that allows him to ultimately avenge his father, heal his family, and connect with his own destiny as a future gunslinger.


In Mid-World folklore, the world rests on the back of a giant turtle, a story derived from Native American creation myths. The turtle's association with creation places it in direct opposition to the Crimson King's propensity for destruction and chaos, thus marking the turtle as a representation of goodness and resilience in The Dark Tower series. The ka-tet is frequently associated with turtles, starting with the name of the Beam their adventure follows, which is described as "Beam of the Bear, Way of the Turtle" while the ka-tet is on the bear side of the tower. While there are six Beams, they meet at the Tower to form 12 long segments that bisect the wheel of Mid-World. Therefore, on the other side of the Tower, the Beam would be known as the "Beam of the Turtle, Way of the Bear." Because Susannah kills the bear guardian of their Beam, it is then completely associated with the Turtle.

To underscore the point that the forces of good, represented by the turtle, are working in the ka-tet's favor, locations deemed helpful to the ka-tet are frequently associated with turtles. The character Stephen King lives on Turtleback Lane in Maine. The vacant lot at the corner of Second Avenue and Forty-Sixth Street is located in an area of New York called Turtle Bay. The characters often hear "the voice of the turtle" advising them. Most tellingly, in The Dark Tower Susannah uses a small, scrimshaw figure of a turtle she believes is a gift from the Beam. This carving allows Susannah to obtain lodging when she and Mia come to New York to give birth, and it allows Jake and Father Callahan to find her later. Father Callahan uses the figure to save Jake's life. The turtle does not represent simple goodness; it represents a larger universal sense of good, the kind of good that can maintain a world.

The Number 19

In The Dark Tower series, Eddie interprets the number 19 as a symbol of foreboding and bad luck, which it is. Nothing good is associated with the number 19, and it appears repeatedly throughout the latter half of the series. Generally, these appearances are affiliated with terrible events. When Mia hijacks Susannah's body and takes her to New York to give birth to Mordred, they stay in room 1919 in the Plaza Park Hyatt Hotel. June 19, 1999, is the day the character Stephen King is slated to die, hit by a van whose driver is listening to Steely Dan's song "Hey Nineteen" followed by the fictional song "Gangsta Dream 19" by Owt-Ray-Juss. The robot Andy is forbidden from telling the ka-tet about his functions because of programming Directive 19. In The Dark Tower, chassit is the password for the door between New York and Fedic. Chassit means 19 in the High Speech of Mid-World, and this door is the portal for the Crimson King's low men to pass from Mid-World to Keystone World.

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