“Go, then. There are other worlds than these.”
Welcome to A Read of the Dark Tower series. Join me each week as I, Constant Reader, tackle the magnum opus of Stephen King’s career for the first time. If you want to discuss in general terms or talk about these or preceding sections, join me by commenting here.
Last week, Eddie and Roland came through the door from the cave and straight into an ambush in Maine, as Jack Andolini had been tipped off and awaited them with a lot of firepower. Eddie is shot but ambulatory, and he and Roland are spirited away by a local named John Cullum as the propane tanks at the East Stoneham general store explode.
Song of Susannah, 8th Stanza, “A Game of Toss,” Section 1
Entering John Cullum’s cabin, Eddie is immediately reminded of his childhood days and listening to Tolkien’s Rings trilogy—something for which he took a lot of heat from brother Henry. The cabin has a very “hobbit-hole” feel to it to it, with an aroma of tobacco and potpourri. Just from looking around, Eddie deduces that John Cullum is not married.
John, noting that Eddie is limping, tells him he can wash up, which gives Eddie a chance to examine his wounds for the first time. He appears to have been lucky—the leg wound is deeper than the one in his arm, but the bullet seems to have missed hitting bone in both cases. He douses that and his head wound with peroxide, or as much as he can tolerate.
When Eddie joins Roland and John in the living room again, John hands him a prescription drug bottle containing three Percodan pills—left over from when John broke his collarbone the previous winter.
Eddie notices a case with baseballs on display, and there ensues a long talk about the Red Sox and baseball. While Eddie enjoys the balls, Cullum fills his pipe with tobacco and notices Roland watching him. He offers Roland a pack of Camels.
Because Roland is so unfamiliar with cigarettes and baseball, Cullum realizes they really are “walk-ins,” and is pretty amazed that he has such people in his house.
Now Eddie turns his attention back to Roland and asks him what they are going to go about their gunna. Roland hasn’t even thought about it. All of their few possessions, from Eddie’s whittling knife to Roland’s grow-bag had been left behind when they came through the door. Roland assumed their gunna had been left in front of the general store, but he isn’t sure. What Eddie really wants is his secret lock of Susannah’s hair. Roland doesn’t like the idea of Andolini with his grow bag, but knows there’s nothing to be done about it. They need to find Calvin Tower and finish their business.
This is especially important when they realize the date is now July 9—time continues to speed up in this “real” world. “It means that whatever we do, we have to get it right the first time, because in this world you can never come back earlier,” Eddie says. “There are no do-overs.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Always on the lookout for potential trouble, is it a good idea for Eddie to pop painkillers given his history? He’s awfully happy to see the Percodan and pops all three at once without water. Then again, he undoubtedly needs it.
Roland’s pretty funny with the cigarettes. First he tries to smoke it backward, and then declares it tasteless. Once Cullum tells him to tear off the filter and smoke it straight, he seems to like it better.
He doesn’t know the word “Camels,” but he recognizes the “dromedary,” although what that has to do with tobacco he isn’t sure…Neither am I, now that I think about it, so, ever the intrepid Constant Reader, I did a little digging.
Camels were introduced in 1913 by RJ Reynolds as the first packaged cigarettes. The camel was chosen, supposedly, because the blend of Turkish tobacco was wrapped in Turkish paper. And what says “Turkey” like a camel?
Signs the world has moved on, #9,919: Even Eddie, in telling John Cullum to watch Roger Clemens when he began playing baseball, couldn’t have known about the steroid and adultery allegations with underage country music singers that would haunt him in later years.
Song of Susannah, 8th Stanza, “A Game of Toss,” Section 2
Eddie tells John Cullum that the man they are looking for is from New York City, that his name is Calvin Tower, and that he is with a friend named Aaron Deepneau.
John opens the glass case full of autographed baseballs and takes out one with Carl Yastrzemski’s signature on it and begins tossing it from hand to hand as he tells Eddie that lots of folks come to the area once June rolls around—but he keeps his eyes and ears open.
Eddie gives John a physical description of Tower. “He’s the book collector, ain’t he?” Cullum laughs at the look of surprise on Eddie’s face and explains that Tower told a local who owns a collectibles shop in the area. This shop is only about a mile from where they are now and that Tower and his friend are staying at a place on the same road.
Eddie, who didn’t have a lot of patience with Tower and his bookish preoccupation to begin with, is amazed that Tower is making himself so visible. The man doesn’t seem to take seriously the fact that he’s supposed to be in hiding.
Cullum offers to lead them to where Tower and Deepneau are living, and then Roland springs the news on him that he, John Cullum, will be leaving town as well. Just for a couple of days, somewhere safe. Roland asks John if he has a “cartomobile.” John is momentarily puzzled and then figures it out, telling Roland, “Yep, a cartomobile and a truckomobile.”
Roland’s idea is that John will lead them to Tower’s place in one while Eddie and he follow in the other, after which Cullum needs to keep driving.
John doesn’t like this—he has chores to do and caretaker duties to perform.
Meanwhile, Eddie gets fixated for a while on whether or not Roland has actually ever seen Calvin Tower. He finally decides he probably saw him through the doorway in the cave as he took Tower’s bookcase across, but that the image was probably fuzzy. This leads, in turn, to Eddie thinking about Tower’s books—The Dogan by Benjamin Slightman Jr. And the book in which Callahan is a character, Salem’s Lot by some guy named Stephen King.
“What’s on your mind?” Cullum asks Eddie, who responds, “A man named Stephen King. Do you know that name?” And Cullum does.
What Constant Reader learns: I’m surprised the name Deepneau doesn’t seem to register with John Cullum. Didn’t Aaron D have siblings in that area, one an attorney? Seems as if Cullum had been there for such a long time, he’d know that. Then again, he could just be keeping things to himself.
The baseball tossing was kind of an interesting way to inject some movement into what is a really talky scene. Emotion is conveyed by the way they throw the ball to each other, and the dexterity with which Roland and Eddie—and even Cullum—catch the ball adds some interest. Although the discussion of baseball and baseball players was kind of a snoozer.
Interesting that in this “Stanza,” Eddie’s leading the way and Roland is basically comic relief with his Camels and his “cartomobile.” Then again, this is Eddie’s world, or close enough.
And….sai King is almost in da house. Here we go!
Song of Susannah, 8th Stanza, “A Game of Toss,” Section 3
Roland tries again to remind Eddie that they’re in a hurry, but it’s not his usual demanding way but is “oddly tentative,” and Eddie realizes Roland no more knows what’s going on than he does.
Eddie points out that they met Ben Slightman who wrote a book in another world—in Tower’s world. And they’ve met a man who’s a character in a book from Tower’s world.
“We’ve been haunted by books, haven’t we?” Eddie says. “The Dogan. The Wizard of Oz. Charlie the Choo-Choo. Even Jake’s final essay. And now ‘Salem’s Lot.”
Eddie knows he’s on to something big but he can’t quite get a mental grasp on it yet. “When you came right down to it, how did anyone know they weren’t a character in some writer’s story, or a transient thought in some bus-riding schmoe’s head, or a momentary mote in God’s eye?” And he keeps going back to the key he carved to let Jake into their world. “King’s a key isn’t he? Calla, Callahan. Crimson King. Stephen King. Is Stephen King the Crimson King of this world?”
Unsure how to get at what he needs to know, Eddie begins firing random questions at Cullum. Who Stephen King is. Where he lives. His age. Whether or not ‘Salem’s Lot was a best seller.
Does Cullum think Stephen King is himself a “walk-in”? No, Cullum says. He was born and raised in Maine. But he does admit the “walk-ins” picked up when Stephen King moved to the area.
Roland’s getting more and more impatient, and Eddie finally decides to move on and go about finding Tower. After all, Tower could probably tell them more about Stephen King.
Eddie has a feeling Susannah is close, and in his mind he can see her in something that looks like Jake’s Dogan, talking into a microphone and spinning dials. She looks very scared, and very pregnant. Finally, the moment passes, and on their way to the cartomobile, Roland asks Eddie if he had another vision of Susannah. When Eddie confirms it, Roland reminds him, “We’ll help her if we can, but this may be our only way back to her.” Something of which Eddie is well aware.
What Constant Reader Learns: Eddie’s questions are much the same as those I’ve been asking myself, and there are no answers yet. As I read this chapter, I kept trying to imagine Stephen King writing it about himself. It’s an insane and gutsy (and did I mention insane) thing to write oneself into a story this way. I still haven’t decided if it’s diabolically clever or oddly narcissistic, but I’m going with diabolically clever for now.
A short chapter, but that’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll continue with our read of Dark Tower Book Six, Song of Susannah.