The Dark Tower (Series) | Study Guide

Stephen King

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The Dark Tower (Series) | Themes


Good and Evil

In some ways good and evil are very clearly delineated in The Dark Tower. Roland is a force for good; he wants to save existence by saving the Tower. The Crimson King and his minions, known as can-toi or "low men," are clear forces of evil. The Crimson King wants to use the Tower to destroy all existence so he can rebuild it in his own image and rule over all. He and his men kill and exploit the people of Mid-World and the alternate worlds to suit their ends. This encourages the people of Lud to kill one another, draining the children of the Calla of their life force and releasing plagues on the populace.

On a personal level, however, the presence of good and evil become cloudier issues. Roland is a good man in the sense that he wants to preserve existence, wants to honor his calling as a gunslinger by helping those who need his help, and wants to do the right things for those who follow him in the ka-tet. However, Roland's obsessive service of what he believes to be the greater good—reaching the Tower and saving all existence—leads him to commit some despicable acts. Early in his quest he wipes out an entire village because one of the women carries the Crimson King's offspring. He is haunted by his decision to allow Jake to fall into an abyss so he can catch Walter, even after he finds Jake alive in an Alternate World and brings him back to join the ka-tet. He is haunted by his decision to leave his first love, Susan Delgado, and their unborn child to be burned alive because his quest for the Tower takes precedence. Roland kills his own mother in a case of mistaken identity. Even as Roland grows to love the members of the ka-tet, he wonders if he will be willing to sacrifice any of their lives to reach the Tower and is plagued because he knows the answer is yes. Roland's story arc raises questions about whether goodness lies in intent or in action, in service of a larger cause or on a smaller scale.

Other characters also illustrate the ambiguities of goodness and evil in intent and action. In Song of Susannah and The Dark Tower, Susannah—a good woman in her service to the quest and toward her fellow humans—allows the monster Mordred to be born because her body wills it and on some level the pregnancy engages her maternal instincts. Similarly, Mia, the demon who uses Susannah and Roland's genetic material and Susannah's body to make and carry Mordred for the Crimson King, is a manipulative and malicious creature, but she is also a pitiful one, trapped by a drive for motherhood that blots out everything else. For both women these are natural and good instincts that are warped and twisted by the external force of the Crimson King. Walter, in the guise of the Covenant Man in The Wind Through the Keyhole, is an agent of chaos and deception, but in his attempts to create more chaos he ends up helping a young boy uncover and avenge his father's murder. The character Stephen King is apparently a good man but his choice to put off writing Roland's story, motivated by cowardice, hinders the ka-tet's quest. As is the case with Roland, these examples illustrate how good intentions can lead to evil actions, and how evil intentions can also lead to good outcomes.

Technology versus Nature

Mid-World, like all the worlds held in place by the Tower and the Beams, is in decay. Possibly because of its proximity to the Tower and the Beams, Mid-World's state of decay is more advanced than that of the other worlds. The narrative reveals how this decay results from the deterioration of machinery put into place by the Old Ones—a generation of humans who ruled thousands of years before Roland's birth—with the intention of improving upon nature. They were the first to remake existence. The Tower and the magnetic Beams that support it and the rest of existence were the key to this reconfiguration, and as the machinery that powers the Beams deteriorates, so does existence. Other decaying machinery is visible in the form of the cyborg Guardians of the Beams, Blaine the Mono, and the Wolves that torment the residents of the Calla. The technological improvements the Old Ones put in place have released toxins and radiation into the environment, creating disease and mutations in animals and people. Some of these mutations are relatively harmless, such as a deer with a fifth leg that is run down by Blaine in The Waste Lands—a clear illustration of the destruction technology can wreak on nature. Other mutations are dangerous, such as the "slow mutants" found in a mountain cave who nearly kill Roland and Jake in The Gunslinger or the shape-shifting skin man that torments a village in The Wind Through the Keyhole.

Creation, which arose from a place known as the "Prim" (a term rooted in the word prime), is described in terms of its inherent magic and wonder. Nature is pure and powerful on its own. Only when the Old Ones introduce technology and attempt to improve upon the natural magic of the world does existence become corrupted. Attempts to slow or stave off this corruption lead to more problems, and the Old Ones disappear under mysterious circumstances, leaving behind the decaying world Roland feels compelled to save.

However, the series is not antitechnology. In the final volume, The Dark Tower, the ka-tet partners with Maine resident John Cullum, dental company executive Moses Carver, and lawyer Aaron Deepneau to form the Tet Corporation with the express purpose of inhibiting the Crimson King's Sombra Corporation. In doing so Tet Corporation uses technological advances, along with other resources, to build its fortunes and carry out its mission. Technology, then, isn't the enemy, overreliance on technology is.


Roland frequently references ka, which is his term for the destiny or fate that governs each life. It brings people together for common purpose—such as in the ka-tet—and pulls them apart. Even though Roland is a man of action, at his core he believes that all his actions serve ka and are mandated by it. He believes he pursues the Tower because his ka wills it, and he uses his belief in ka to explain many of his choices. For much of the narrative, the text is somewhat ambiguous regarding whether Roland simply uses ka to justify the choices he makes freely or whether he is caught in a string of predetermined events in which his choices are not really his own. However, the ending of the story, when Roland finds himself restarting his quest, lends credence to his often stated belief that "Ka is a wheel." In Roland's case the wheel is literal, as his life's story is a seemingly never-ending circle of events taking place on one spoke of the wheel composed of the Tower and its Beams.

Ka refers not only to individual destiny but also to the connections that exist between all people, all worlds, and all events. Ka chooses Jake, Eddie, and Susannah to accompany Roland on his quest, pulling them from other worlds to do so. Ka flows through the writer Stephen King, channeling itself into the story he writes of the Dark Tower quest. Through Ka, the seemingly infinite number of worlds overlap, so a song from America in the 1980s becomes a battle chant in Mid-World, and Jake can die in America in 1977 and land in the Way Station in the middle of Mid-World's desert, as does Father Callahan. Ka is the force that makes the connections possible, binding the worlds together in ways that serve its own ineffable purpose.


Technological creation starts out well but eventually destroys the Old Ones and leaves existence in the shambles that Roland and his ka-tet want to reverse. Ultimately, the universe is saved not by Roland's guns but by the creative efforts of a writer and a visual artist. When Father Callahan discovers Stephen King's novel Salem's Lot and sees that it is about him, he is thrown into an existential crisis of the highest magnitude. He wonders if he even exists at all. Eddie and Roland meet King and discover they are not fiction, but King is a conduit for ka and the Tower to expose the crisis facing all existence. Even though he is unclear on how the storytelling is helpful, Roland instinctively understands it is essential for King to continue writing about his adventures, and that the creation of the story of his quest helps assure its success. King's art is so important to the quest's success that Jake loses his life to save King's and ensure the writer keeps creating.

At the end of the quest, art literally saves the day. In this case it is not King's writing that proves heroic but the drawings of a young man named Patrick Danville. For reasons best explained by the magic of ka, whatever Patrick draws or paints becomes reality. For example, Patrick draws the door that leads Susannah back to an Alternate World, reuniting her with Eddie, Jake, and Oy in a version of New York City. It is Patrick who ultimately defeats the Crimson King, albeit at Roland's behest. In the final battle for the Dark Tower, Patrick draws a picture of the Crimson King and erases it, which erases the Crimson King, leaving only a pair of eyeballs behind. Roland is free to enter the Tower and complete his mission. The importance of King and Patrick's creative work to the success of Roland's quest turns the series into a meditation on the redemptive power of art and creativity. Art can save the world.


In Mid-World human communities can be a force for destruction, but they also have the power to redeem if the human connections are based on love and genuine goodwill. In The Waste Lands the city of Lud reveals the destructive potential of a community, as its residents are engaged in an ongoing war that will destroy them all. These residents have moved from a sense of community to a sense of naked tribalism, an "us versus them" mentality. The violence in Lud could be attributed to the size of the city—it is Mid-World's version of New York—but a similar loss of connection and emerging tribalism is also visible in Roland's story in Wizard and Glass. In Mejis, competition, a twisted sense of morality, and self-interest undermine the spirit of community and human connection, turning the town's residents into a bloodthirsty mob all too eager to burn a woman alive. In contrast, the residents of the Calla come together under the ka-tet's guidance and defeat the Wolves who have preyed upon their children for years. Their human connections save their community. To underscore this point, the one man who attempts to betray his town loses his only son in the battle.

The community of his ka-tet also saves Roland and allows his quest to proceed successfully. In The Gunslinger, Roland is alone, and his progress toward the Tower is fraught with difficulty. His pursuit of Walter, the man in black, is fruitless. He begins to gain on Walter once he develops a connection with Jake. When Roland sacrifices Jake in favor of capturing Walter, he fails in his objective. Roland is able to talk to Walter, to discover some truths about his destiny, but the man in black slips through Roland's grasp and puts him into a deep sleep that takes years away from his quest. Roland's real progress begins after the full ka-tet of Eddie, Susannah, Jake, and Oy forms in The Drawing of the Three and The Waste Lands. It continues as he enlists the assistance of others, including Father Callahan, Patrick Danville, and Stephen King, along the way. Roland's evolution from a solitary figure engaged in a futile pursuit to the leader of a group engaged in a true quest reflects the necessity of human contact and community.

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