Why Walter o’Dim is the Worst Villain Ever
Who is Walter o’Dim?
Walter O’dim, or the Man in Black, is a man who goes by many names:
My personal favorite alias is The Walkin’ Dude from The Stand.
As cool a character as he can be, Walter o’Dim manages to go out not with a bang, but with a whimper. How the heck does Sai Stephen King manage to take such a pivotal character in the early Dark Tower books and turn him into an insignificant nobody?
How the Man in Black Ruined the Dark Tower
The truth is, everyone’s opinion is going to be different.
I have very few complaints about the Dark Tower. In fact, Song of Susannah, fans notoriously dislike, is my absolute favorite of the series, so if you look at it that way, Sai King can do very little wrong to the Dark Tower in my eyes. But I think I have a fairly good argument for Stephen King royally screwing up the Dark Tower by writing Walter o’Dim badly, especially after the first book.
Walter o’Dim in the Gunslinger
The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger
Walter o’Dim dominates the pages of The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger. Famously, he’s in the opening line of the book. He opens the opening line. So why the hell didn’t sai wordslinger stay the course after that point? It seems anticlimactic.
That’s my thesis. Just do like Shardik and “bear” with me.
Walter o’Dim lurks behind the words in every scene of the Gunslinger novel, in every action Roland takes. Marten, Walter, the Man in Black, whatever you want to call him – he is responsible for all the story movement in the first Dark Tower book. At least, that’s the case when you look at the book as a standalone.
From the suffering Roland puts his body through while following through the desert; to the slaughter and execution of the entire population of a town called Tull; to the sacrifice of Jake, The Boy, a bystander from our world: it’s all made possible because Roland is obsessed with catching the Man in Black, and then, further on, with the Dark Tower.
My point is that, while it’s true that Walter isn’t written into every page, nor even into every scene, he drives the entire Gunslinger novel.
Renewal and Redemption
But by book 2, Walter is already playing a diminished role.
Don’t get me wrong, the vibe change from book 1 to book 2 is a welcome one. In fact, Dark Tower II: Drawing of the Three is tied with book 6 for my personal favorite. That’s mostly because that’s when Roland stops being a complete sociopath. Book 2 is more about the ka-tet. No wonder it’s subtitle is “renewal.”
And: one of Stephen King’s critical missed opportunities is Book 3.
Dark Tower III: Waste Lands is subtitled, “Redemption.” I guess that’s because it’s where Roland and Jake finally reunite.
“Redemption” is a masterfully crafted arc that Sai King brings to a fulfilling close. However, there’s just one little problem: Walter o’Dim isn’t really part of that equation.
But shouldn’t he have been? Marten Broadcloak is an unresolved thread. Yet after Roland’s redemption, his thread remains unresolved. Worse, it is no further developed than it was before those events.
Yeah, I get it: Roland’s redemption is about the good guys, not the bad guys. But I would have liked some kind of showdown between the ka-tet and Walter, maybe a bit before they get to Aunt Talitha’s. Something similar to the Zombie Tick Tock Man incident at the end of Wizard and Glass: you know, exciting but inconclusive.
What’s more, it probably would have strengthened the new bond between Roland and Jake, too.
Walter Padick in Book 7
It’s hard to imagine Walter in Wolves of the Calla. I wouldn’t want him in there. And I am also content with Song of Susannah. It’s my favorite book of the series, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
It’s in Book 7 where Stephen King goes really wrong with Walter O’Dim.
“In truth, I am about his business,” Walter said, and gave his most charming smile (spoiled somewhat by the peanut butter on his teeth). He had once probably known that any statement beginning with the words In truth is almost always a lie. No more. Too old to know. Too vain to know. Too stupid to remember. But he was wary, all the same. He could feel the child’s force. In his head? Rummaging around in his head? Surely not. The thing trapped in the baby’s body was powerful, but surely not that powerful.”The Dark Tower VII, Page 113
Empathy for Baby Mordred (None for Marten)
Mordred is a really cool villain. He’s someone we can empathize with and understand. Walter, on the other hand, is basically just an evil monolith who likes being evil because he’s evil. Sai King wrote him as a younger writer.
I can’t help but wonder whether, as a mature writer, Sai King dumped Walter at the last minute for a more compelling villain. After all, King must have been aware of how flimsy Marten’s motivations are. The Wordslinger even went out of his way to write a backstory about the sorcerer’s traumatic youth.
Too bad Walter’s tragic backstory fails to explain why we should care about Roland’s Public Enemy Number One going out like a clown with peanut butter on his teeth. As if reading about how he was once just a regular (if troubled) boy should make us feel better about the fact that the reader invested a lot of time anticipating the moment in which Roland would finally catch the Man in Black.
Neither does that explain how few pages Stephen King devoted to Roland’s final battle with the Crimson King, nor the lack of resolution following both his and Walter’s abrupt demise.
To be clear, I don’t think about the Dark Tower ending as being lazily written or poorly planned. For one thing, Sai King foreshadows the ending to the last Dark Tower book as early as book 4. I wrote about that in this article about what Roland saw in the Wizard’s Glass.
But the way in which Stephen King deals with Walter – Marten – the Man in Black – is, perhaps, lazily written and poorly planned.