“The Tower Is Strong”
There’s a lot going on in Ben Baldwin’s artwork on the cover of the Cemetery Dance edition of Gwendy’s Final Task, coauthored by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar. The dominant figure is the enigmatic Richard Farris, who has burdened Gwendy Peterson with custody of a mysterious and dangerous box of buttons on two previous occasions. In the foreground we see an illustration of a town or a city and what looks to be a rocket or a shooting star.
But what’s that behind Mr. Farris? Could it be…could it possibly be…the Dark Tower? This image generated a lot of discussion and debate when it was first revealed. The Gallery Books cover for the final book in the Gwendy trilogy puts the question to rest—the central image is the Tower and, in the foreground, a field of red roses.
It has been twenty years since Gwendy was last given stewardship of the button box, but she’s about to take possession of it once again. She is now the junior U.S. Senator from Maine (her election campaign pitted her against a familiar sort of shameless political adversary, the kind who runs attack ads that once would have instantly disqualified a candidate), and Farris believes she is uniquely positioned to complete a most urgent task.
Over the years, the box has gotten stronger and more difficult to manage. Things have not gone well for its last seven proprietors. Like Black Thirteen, the box has an intrinsic power to seduce people into using it. Now, evil forces are determined to possess it for a nefarious purpose. Unlike Black Thirteen, burying it beneath the rubble of a collapsed skyscraper or throwing it into a bottomless lake is not enough. It must be taken beyond the reach of those who wish to possess it.
The authors read from Gwendy’s Final Task
Where might that be? King and Chizmar show this card immediately. In the opening pages, Gwendy is preparing to board a rocket that will take her, the crew, and one paying passenger to the MF-1 international space station (MF = “Many Flags”). The rocket was manufactured by none other than Tet Corporation. If readers aren’t familiar with the Dark Tower series, the importance of that detail might elude them.
|I interviewed King and Chizmar about Gwendy’s Final Task a while back. Read it now at Fangoria’s website. There’s also this interview in USA Today: Stephen King talks how Gwendy’s Final Task takes its heroine across his literary universe and the two authors discuss the book in this YouTube video.
It is 2026, Gwendy is 64, and she has had the button box hidden away for seven years. As Farris has long believed, she is special. Better able to fend off the box’s siren-like call than most people. However, all is not well with Senator Peterson. In addition to the box, she brings aboard the luxurious rocket a notebook full of important information. Things she will need to remember to fulfill her mission. Unbeknownst to those who facilitated her presence on the rocket dubbed Eagle-19 Heavy (yes, “19”) and those who are joining her for a 19-day (uh-huh) stay on the space station, Gwendy is suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s. Her guardianship of the button box may have caused — or at least accelerated — her illness.
In the years since Gwendy accepted possession of the box (did she have any choice?), several major occurrences have affected her and/or the world at large. The 2020 election. The COVID-19 pandemic. (How could something bearing that totemic number not be tied to the Dark Tower universe?) A hit-and-run accident in Derry, Maine, that accursed city where terrible things routinely happen and are habitually ignored.
One of the most interesting aspects of this novel is the exploration of Gwendy’s dementia — the ways it impacts her and the tricks she has learned to hide her impairment from others, for if the crew of MF-1 determine she has become seriously incapacitated, her task will fail.
More about the story shall not be revealed in this review. Suffice to say it is an out-of-this-world adventure full of trials and tribulations and conflict arising from unexpected sources, and her biggest adversary may be the button box itself — but it’s not her only adversary.
Instead, let’s talk a bit about the box. Where did it come from? Who made it and for what purpose? And who is the man whose sole mission seems to be passing it from person to person for care?
It wouldn’t be surprising if some enterprising individual opened the box to find a manufacturing label from Sombra Corporation or North Central Positronics inside. It has the whiff of one of their products. Yet there’s more to it than that. Sombra and NCP made technological items, whereas the button box has a magical aspect. An inherent power to destroy.
When Richard Farris entered the story in Gwendy’s Button Box, readers naturally assumed — based on his initials — that he was another aspect of Randall Flagg, aka Walter o’ Dim, the man in black. He seemed a little shady. He has no lines on his palms, which is usually a bad sign.
However, as it turns out, Farris isn’t evil — he is a force of the White and his initials are just an unfortunate coincidence. The usually dapper, bowler-wearing Farris we meet in Gwendy’s Final Task is showing his age. He’s desperate to protect the button box — and with it, the world; perhaps all worlds — and will do everything he can to assist Gwendy. Ultimately, though, it is up to our heroine to carry out the mission.
At a little over 400 pages, this is a breezy read, although it is probably longer than the previous two installments combined. The CD edition features full-page illustrations by Keith Minion throughout. Does this book bring to an end Gwendy’s adventures? Only time will tell. There are, as they say, more worlds than these.
Usually, in articles like this I note all the crossovers between the work in question and the greater Stephen King Universe. I’m not going to do that here because…spoilers! However, events from Derry’s history play a part in the proceedings, and a familiar former-sheriff of Castle Rock has a minor role. There’s also a creature named Boris whose presence is surely in honor of a Lucite-encased former “pet” of King’s and a passing reference to a cane with a silver wolf’s head that will invoke thoughts of Storm of the Century. Beyond that…all things serve the Beam! I look forward to discussing the revelations at the end of the book with readers.