Last year I read The Gunslinger by Stephen King. Published way back in the 70s, this book tells the story of the last Gunslinger, Roland of Gilead, pursuing the demonic man in black across the desert. Roland’s goal is to find the mythical Dark Tower, the center of all existence.
I love fantasy stories so I was hooked. Over the next nine months or so, I read the remainder of the series as well as some of King’s other books and short stories that tie in. I won’t bother summarizing them here; if you want to read that sort of thing you can find such summaries all over the place.
Throughout the series, like in any good series, the world of the story expands. New characters are introduced, new environments are experienced and the story becomes richer. King resists introducing too many new characters though and succeeds in keeping the focus on Roland and his companions (his ka-tet). There’s not really a final grand battle such as you see in many fantasy stories, from Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter. Such final battles are fine, but I appreciate how King went a different route.
Without giving too much away, what strikes me most as I reflect on the series is how it is much more about the journey then the destination. The ending is even kind of disappointing. In a post script, King admits the difficulty with ending such a series. Nearly any ending, with all the build up of Roland reaching the Dark Tower, would fall short of people’s expectations.
Of course, this is how real life is.
You look forward for months to a new movie and it does not live up to the hype.
You work hard to graduate college in hopes of landing your dream job and struggle to find work.
My daughter has been begging all summer to go to Chuck-E-Cheese and when we finally took her she was ready to go home after about twenty minutes.
Maybe the value in life really is the journey more than the destination. That sounds clichéd. Yet if we who call ourselves Christians scoff at this idea, perhaps we should pause. This idea is not new. Look at John Bunyan’s classic work, Pilgrim’s Progress. The entire story is about the pilgrim’s journey through the world. It is the journey that draws us in. Sometimes the ending is satisfying (such as Lord of the Rings) and sometimes it might not be. But the story, the journey, is what compels us.
It is in the journey that we are shaped.
It is in the journey where we are faced with choices that will define us.
It is in the journey where we meet companions who will help us.
Life after death is a great mystery. Christians and other religious people can say some things about what this life will be like, though no one really knows for sure beyond a few vague generalities. But as we look towards that future goal,
as Roland did towards the Dark Tower
as Frodo did towards Mt. Doom
As Christian did towards Heaven
as Jesus did when he set his face towards Jerusalem
We can find strength to journey on in daily life.
All that to say, if you want to read a great story, check out the Dark Tower series…