What I Learned From Reading Steven King:
I just finished the last book of Steven King’s bestselling series, The Dark Tower (his recent (2012) insertion of book 8 into the middle of the series aside). It’s taken me a little shy of three years to finish the series.
I am not a Steven King kind-of-girl but after hearing so much about this series from a co-worker at Starbucks, I was intrigued. Three summers ago, I happened to find myself in possession of the first book of the series. It didn’t take more than a few pages before I was sucked into the mysterious, suspenseful and epic story of Roland Deschain and his “ka-tet” of companions who join him on his quest for the dark tower.
(Spoiler alert: don’t keep reading if you don’t want to know how the final book ends!!!)
The start of book one introduces Roland of Gilead, the main character, who has already been journeying towards the dark tower for some time. Almost 4,000 pages later, he finally arrives at his destination.
In the final 2-3 pages of the last book, Roland succeeds in reaching the tower. He enters, the door shuts and… the book ends.
Just like that.
It’s been a few days since I finished the book yet I think I may still be suffering a bit from whiplash caused by such an abrupt ending.
Perhaps the abruptness is made even more acute because after eight sizable books, the tower and who or what is inside is still a bit of a mystery both to Roland and the reader.
When it comes to stories, we humans, are programmed to want to know how things turn out in the end. We like resolution. We believe stories aren’t complete without it (at least in most cases).
The dark tower series isn’t wholly void of such resolution. King does give a more-than-fair description of what becomes of Roland’s surviving travel companions but it is Roland himself and what happens once he enters the tower that many of King’s readers who have waded through book after book of the series, are anxious to know.
King added an epilogue to satiate those faithful readers of his who he knew would otherwise be infuriated by such a seemingly short-changed ending but not before he explains his reason for having initially ended the series as he did. Here’s what King has to say just before launching into his added ending that I find quite profound:
“…You (the reader) say you want to follow Roland into the Tower; you say that is what you paid your money for, the show you came to see.
I hope most of you know better. Want better. I hope you came to hear the tale, and not just munch your way through the pages to the ending. For an ending, you only have to turn to the last page and see what is there writ upon. But endings are heartless. An ending is a closed door no man (or Manni) can open. I’ve written many, but most only for the same reason that I pull up my pants in the morning before leaving the bedroom – because it is the custom of the country.
…There is no such thing as a happy ending. I never met a single one to equal ‘Once upon a time.’
Endings are heartless.
Ending is just another word for goodbye.”
I wish I hadn’t gone on to read the extended ending. I wish I had been content to close the book, knowing Roland did in fact, reach his destination and on that account, all was well.
But I didn’t.
I went on to be disappointed, mostly with myself. Why? Because I know King was right. I am one of those readers who wanted to know how things ended when the reality is:
the heart of the story is the story itself, not the ending.
This is an extremely relevant reminder for me in this period of my life.
As a task-oriented person who likes to finish what she starts, I find myself extremely challenged by what King said: it really is about the journey. If we look too intently for how things will finish, we miss out on the joy of today and all the ups and downs that meet us on the path we are walking.
I’ve heard it said many times before that God is more interested in the process than He is bent on getting us to a particular destination as quickly as possible. He seems far more focused on how our present circumstances and experiences are molding us into the likeness of His Son than He is concerned about filling a quota or achieving specific results as soon as possible. Sure, He has a very specific end-goal in mind for us all: He wants us to know Him, find joy in Him, be set free from shame and regret and everything that weighs us down… but the whole of my life experience tells me He is not in any kind of hurry… or at least He doesn’t appear to be. There something God finds valuable for us to experience in our present state and circumstance He doesn’t want us to miss.
Life is perhaps, far less about the destination than we believe it is.
Don’t get me wrong. We do have a beautiful, amazing destination to look forward to, the hope of glory, of resurrection, of being in the presence of Jesus… but in the meantime, God is bringing His kingdom into our midst even now, if we have the eyes to see it.
I don’t want to be so eager to arrive at the ending that I miss out on today and the bits of the coming kingdom that are breaking in all around me in the here and now.
Impatience to know how things will end can rob us of joy and appreciation for the story itself. When we view life and all our mundane tasks and bothersome errands and chores in the same manner we view the ending, we are free to approach these everyday moments with hope and expectation. It frees us up to enjoy the ride and the amazing God who is by our side each step of the way.