Stephen King’s novel 11/22/63 revolves around the possibility of time travel. One theme and question within the story is whether significantly changing the past would have unforeseeable repercussions beyond the present and future. There are characters that represent the impact of manipulating the timeline: Kyle and Zack Lang, also known as The Yellow Card Man and The Green Card Man. These two men in black overcoats stay near the bubble in time which leads between 2011 and 1958. They cannot physically stop someone from entering the path leading to and from the past and the future. At first, the main character named Jake Epping, or George Amberson depending on the date, believes these men to be guardians. Zack Lang, the second Card Man introduced near the end of the novel, dismisses the assumption of guarding, and refers to his type of people as watching and sometimes warning those who slip through time. Yet, these men might have a larger role to play in King’s universe. There are successions of books called The Dark Tower series. The Card Men are tied to the Dark Tower in a fundamental way, and watch over the existence of King’s stories.
The first Card Man named Kyle was a half insane dipsomaniac when Jake Epping first meets him. As revealed later in the book, the actual cards monitored the sanity of the holder. Green established that “your bag of marbles was full,” meaning the holder was still in control of his mental faculties. Yellow meant that the deterioration of the owner’s ability to reason was well under way. Orange symbolized the further decline in sanity. Black was the absolute psychosis of the individual and often led to suicide, as was the case with Kyle. The second Card Man, Zack Lang, warned Jake Epping that tampering with the past creates “residue,” and by repeatedly traveling back and forth through time, Jake and his friend Al had built up that residue, leading to numerous strings in reality. Each thread had a different past, present, and future. Adding strings created a clog to the timeline. Eventually, time would stop altogether, which would lead to what Zack Lang called the destruction of reality. As the past is constantly referred to as harmonizing, and is also obstinate to change, there are repercussions of the alterations Jake and Al forced upon it: the greater the change, the more powerful the consequences. An earthquake occurred in California when Jake stopped the assassination of John F. Kennedy. When Jake returned to 2011, earthquakes had threatened to destroy the world. At first, the nuclear missiles launched in the alternate timeline seemed like the cause of the quakes, however, there is a deeper meaning to these disturbances that go beyond 11/22/63. Stephen King often connects his stories together through vague references. The town of Derry, where Jake first traveled to save Harry Dunning and his family, is also the setting of Stephen King’s It. The child murders by a clown that Jake heard about were due to the evil entity nicknamed Pennywise. In a larger context, Pennywise (It) is from the Macroverse, mentioned in King’s book, and is the enemy of The Turtle (brought up in King’s Dark Tower series). The Turtle vomited out the mainstream universe and is known as a one of twelve Guardians of the Beams. These pillars are six metaphysical supports of the Dark Tower at the center of existence. When a Beam falls, an earthquake occurs. By disrupting the passage of time, Jake Epping and Al Templeton tore down one of those Beams. The Card Men must observe the effects and attempt to minimize the damage by standing watch over “the rabbit-hole.” One of the twelve Guardians of the Beams is known as The Hare, which must have accidentally produced a bubble in the time stream and forgot about it. Zack Lang discredited the hole-theory but, he said nothing about the rabbit. He said that there is more than one bubble and related them to “a glass of ginger ale that’s been left out and forgotten.” These Card Men must contain the memory of the timeline. The more strings, the further entangled the timeline becomes, and the worse the current Card Man’s mindset becomes; the mental states of the Card Men are directly linked to how many strings the current watcher is forced to remember. Each thread is an alternate timeline.
By journeying back and erasing the majority of his influence on the primary timeline, Jake unwound the tangled strings. Whether the Beam remained fallen is up for conjecture, but since there were no longer any earthquakes decimating the planet of 2011, the Beam was probably supported again. Zack Lang, the current Card Man, would be free to return to his reality once the bubble in time had popped, and his mental state would be salvageable. The strongest connection between Stephen King’s stories is that he was introduced as a character in one of the Dark Tower novels. As the fictional version of Stephen King, he did not create the tales he wrote, but merely chronicled their passage through a type of clairvoyant power. There was an attempt to abduct the fictional King due to his powerful psychic abilities, and he would have been turned into a Breaker, but the plan was thwarted.
A Breaker is a psychic that has been forced to try and destabilize the Beams that hold up the Dark Tower. Once the Dark Tower is toppled by removing the supporting Beams, all of existence comes to an end. The Card Men are not guardians of time, but watchers of existence, and they warn those who dangerously play with the harmony in their respective timelines of the consequences their actions pose on reality.
Re: The Card Men and Their Broader Context **SPOILERS**
I wish king would have expanded more on the card men. Who sent them to guard the bubble? Why would they choose normal humans knowing they're incapable of retaining multiple timeline strings? Did Al know the results of his numerous trips to the past just to purchase cheap beef?