“There they stood, ranged along the hillsides, met
To view the last of me, a living frame
For one more picture! In a sheet of flame
I saw them and I knew them all.”
—Robert Browning, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came”
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, Roland, Susannah and Oy navigated the tunnels beneath Castle Discordia, barely escaping the wrath of the Worm with a Thousand Pink Eyes.
The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 2: On Badlands Avenue, Section 1
Our intrepid trio exits the tunnel through a crumbling arch next to another Quonset hut, but things are broken and charred—there has been a big battle here sometime in the distant past. It’s growing colder.
What Constant Reader Learns: They find a sign on the ground, and when Susannah turns it over, it says ‘THIS CHECKPOINT IS CLOSED FOR-EVER.’ Below it, in red, is the Eye of Sauron, I mean, the King. I wonder when and if we meet the King, if he’ll be much like Oz the Magnificent—some little old crazy dude stuck on the balcony of the Tower.
The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 2: On Badlands Avenue, Section 2
They check inside the Quonset hut, but don’t find much except more canned food than they can carry, and also more Sterno. In the storeroom, Susannah finds a dogcart like the one in her visions with Mia.
What Constant Reader Learns: Susannah, Detta and I are all amused that Roland is going to have to play horsey.
The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 2: On Badlands Avenue, Section 3
There was a motor at the back of the cart, non-functioning and heavy, so Roland found some tools and removed it. Then he’s ready to move on.
What Constant Reader Learns: Interesting that as Roland’s humanity returns his physical strength seems to be waning. Of course he’s just hightailed it through the tunnel with a worm on his butt, hauling Susannah and her killer Sterno and bone torches, but his face is described as “pale and stubbly,” with “dark circles beneath his eyes, new lines carving his cheeks and descending to his jaw…He looked as thin as a whip.” But he insists on moving on away from the cave rather than spend the night there—just in case the Worm has friends.
The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 2: On Badlands Avenue, Section 4
They head up into the hills away from the castle until Roland finds a spot he thinks would be a good place to make camp. Susannah’s hopeful that as they move along they’ll come across more things they can use for firewood to stay warm, but Roland isn’t hopeful. “I think [the Crimson King] murdered this land when he darkened Thunderclap.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Things are getting colder, with daytime temps at about forty-five degrees, and Susannah’s already feeling the cold. Roland warns her it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 2: On Badlands Avenue, Section 5
“There’s little in life that’s so disheartening as constant cold,” Roland tells Susannah, and she learns it’s true. During the day, when they are moving, it is tolerable but the evenings are brutal. Not cold enough to freeze them but too cold to get comfortable.
Susannah’s letting her mind run wild on the long, cold trek across the “Badlands.” She thinks about what she might give up to have a sweater, and how little it would take to ease their misery since food and water is plentiful. She even starting to eye Oy’s fur coat, which Detta assures her would make a fine pair of mittens. Maybe his hide could be made into underwear.
What Constant Reader Learns: We aren’t given an exact amount of time they’re traveling through the Badlands but it’s a matter of weeks.
Once Susannah sees a flock of crowlike birds and wants to follow them and see if they can kill and eat them, but Roland is short-tempered with her: “He spoke in a sharply angry tone she had never heard before. Angry, yes, she had heard Roland angry many times. But there was a pettiness in this, a sulkiness that worried her. And frightened her a little, as well.” He’s even described as poking out his lower lip in a toddler-like sulk. Eventually, he apologizes, sort of.
The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 2: On Badlands Avenue, Section 6
Over breakfast the next morning, Susannah asks to look at the watch the Tet Corporation had given him. She wonders how they’ll really know if the watch is running faster or slower as they near the Tower, and Roland treats her to an exhibition of his instinctive time-telling—a skill Cort had taught him as a youth.
Roland tells Susannah they’re approaching the end of the Badlands, and he wants to talk to her. “I’d have you listen, and I’d have you push that tiresome bitch Detta as far back as possible. Nor would I have you waste my time by telling me she’s not there when I can see her dancing the commala in your eyes.” This seems to surprise Susannah, and anger her a bit, but she holds her tongue. He tells her they’ll soon come to the King’s castle, Le Casse Roi Russe. He’s not there, but he might have left a trap, so Roland wants Susannah to let him do the talking. He won’t explain further.
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland tells Susannah they are almost in the shadow of the Dark Tower, figuratively speaking. Which I think is contributing to his tendency (like an old man) to ruminate on the past and treat Susannah as if she’s an annoyance at times.
Susannah tells Roland she’s dreamed of Mordred three nights in a row, that he’s following their trail. “Mordred’s a-hungry,” she says.
The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 2: On Badlands Avenue, Section 7
They soon come across pavement, and, the next day, buildings. Roland says he thinks the track they’re following was once a coach-road between Castle Discordia and the King’s castle. Eventually, they reach what’s left of a decimated city. Susannah’s excited to find wood she hopes to use for fire, but it won’t burn. When she asks if it’s because it’s old and petrified, Roland said no, it’s because it hates them. “This is his place, still his even though he’s moved on. Everything here hates us.”
They begin to travel at night again, and Susannah notes that they’ve been traveling almost a month since leaving Fedic. They reach a topsy-turvy village near the castle. “This place is bad,” Susannah notes. “And it’s not empty.” Roland warns her to close her mind against spirits trying to get in her head.
They stop for the night, and Roland has a plan. He hopes to trap Mordred at the castle. “You’d kill him?” Susannah asks, to which Roland replies, “Without a moment’s hesitation.”
What Constant Reader Learns: They hear whispering from the shadows as they pass the remains of houses. Roland identifies them as “housies” and, while he doesn’t think they can hurt him or Susannah, they might hurt Oy. Dobby, is that you?
The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 2: On Badlands Avenue, Section 8
In the morning, they spot snow in the distance. And in the snow, fir trees. There will be food ahead, and warmth. But first, there’s Le Casse Roi Russe, which “turned out not to be entirely deserted, after all.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland catches us up on their progress to date. “Back yonder as you look is Fedic,” he tells Suse. “Beyond Fedic, Thunderclap. Beyond Thunderclap, the Callas and the forest that marks the borderland between Mid-World and End-World. Lud is further back that way, and River Crossing further still; the Western Sea and the great Mohaine Desert, too. Somewhere back there, lost in the leagues and lost in time as well is what remains of In-World. The Baronies. Gilead. Places where even now there are people who remember love and light.”
NOTE: We won’t have a Dark Tower update on Memorial Day, Monday, May 26, but will resume the following Monday, June 2.
And…that’s it for this week! Next week (after)—same time, same place—we’ll continue our read of the final book of the Dark Tower saga.