“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 time out, Roland, Susannah and Oy had a long palaver with the three Stephen Kings of the Crimson King’s castle, two of whom they killed. Shortly after they left, the third was eaten by no-longer-a-baby Mordred.
The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 4: Hides, Section 1
Roland and Susannah are still in the cold lands, and headed for colder, but they know a forested area is ahead where they will be able to have fire and game. Susannah is particularly suffering from the constant cold, and finds it both “terrible and oddly humbling” that since she’s become so preoccupied with her personal safety and comfort she doesn’t feel the grief over Eddie as keenly.
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland has developed a dry, hacking cough. Wonder if he still has his supply of astin?
On the last fireless night, she sees lights dancing up ahead of them. Roland says they’re hobs but he doesn’t need to explain them yet because she’ll see them again later. Really, Sai King? Then why mention them?
The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 4: Hides, Section 2
Mordred’s behind them and is, if anything, even more miserable. He’s close enough to hear Roland and Susannah talk, but not what they’re saying. He’s pretty much unprotected because, much like it didn’t occur to him to bring food along with him, he also hasn’t thought to look for protective clothing. He’s surviving on the leftover severed limbs he picked up at the castle.
What Constant Reader Learns: Poor Mordred (yeah, I know, right?) is kind of pitiful, all alone and cold and hungry, off drinking his own blood in the dark and crying. I’m sure that pity won’t go too far.
The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 4: Hides, Section 3
It’s early in the morning, and Susannah’s laying in wait for the great deer hunt. The plan is for Oy to bark and alert them, Roland to chase the deer toward Susannah, and Susannah to do the shooting. She’s a little distracted because she senses that Mordred is very close behind them now.
Susannah does something rare for her, which is consciously to call on Detta Walker to steady her hand and her aim. Finally, Oy barks, Roland chases, and a large herd of deer burst into the clearing. She goes through the chant—“I do not kill with my gun; she who kills with her gun has forgotten the face of her father; I kill with my heart”—and lets her hands do the work. They fell half the herd, and she revels in once again being a gunslinger.
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland is still coughing and Susannah’s worried about him. I can’t help but think what supreme irony it would be if we followed the gunslinger along on lo these many thousands of pages, only to have him drop dead of pneumonia a quarter-mile short of the Tower. Of course, should that happen, I’d have to hurt someone.
The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 4: Hides, Section 4
As Roland’s cough continues to worsen, he and Susannah put in a hard physical day. She tells him he mayhap have pneumonia and he pulls out a handful of astin. They pile the dead deer in Ho Fat’s Luxury Taxi and Roland places the head of one of the bucks atop the pile but doesn’t yet say why he needs it.
What Constant Reader Learns: We have long passages about how deep Roland is, according to Susannah, and how much she’s come to admire him even as there’s still so much to him she doesn’t know or understand and even though they’ve never had sex. In other words, sai King is stringing us along so that by the time something actually HAPPENS, we’ll all have chewed our fingers to stubs.
Ha! I knew Roland had some astin left.
The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 4: Hides, Section 5
They pile their kill beside a stream and Roland gathers wood. Beforehand, he finds a piece of rock he calls chert, that can be used to make primitive tools like scrapers to clean the hides.
Before they start working on the deer, Roland prompts Susannah to join him on bended knee for a prayer. She follows his general prayer with the one she remembers from her childhood, the Lord’s Prayer. Roland says it’s a lovely prayer.
What Constant Reader Learns: Has Roland done some big ceremonial prayer before, blessing the animal whose parts they’re about to use? Not that I recall. You’re filling space, sai King. We see through you.
The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 4: Hides, Section 6
Roland takes the yearling’s head, pulls off its antlers, and cracks open its skull—all of which makes Susannah kind of queasy. He finally pulls out the brains and tells Susannah they’ll want the brains of every animal they’ve killed. They also find some more chert to make scrapers.
Before they start work again, Roland has to stop again and pray.
What Constant Reader Learns: Tick….tick…..tick….
The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 4: Hides, Section 7
Roland begins gutting the deer, removes the first one’s kidneys and bites into one like an apple, which he says will help the fever and cough. Susannah doesn’t join him. They skin deer. Then they skin more deer.
What Constant Reader Learns: Susannah wonders if Mordred is watching them and Roland says no—he’s gone off to find his own food. When she asks if Roland can use a bit of the Touch on Mordred, he just says, “I’m his father.” Gotta wonder how the father-son and mother-son dynamic is going to play out, if at all. Meanwhile, we’ll just keep skinning deer.
The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 4: Hides, Section 8
Susannah enjoys her deer steak after a hard day’s work and finds herself feeling sympathetic toward Mordred—and warns herself not to go there. Later, she realizes Roland has stopped coughing after his deer kidney snack.
What Constant Reader Learns: They pull out the rest of the brains after dinner, and Susannah thinks as she goes to sleep that it’s been a hard but satisfying day and that, “I think I’m becoming a Republican in my old age.”
The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 4: Hides, Section 9
They spend three days in this spot, making garments from the hides. Susannah makes better stitches than Roland, and they end up with vests, leggings, coats, and mittens. The rest of the hides they’ll take with them.
What Constant Reader Learns: Susannah wants Roland to cut the sore off her face, but he still wants to wait.
The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 4: Hides, Section 10
Susannah’s dreaming again, and again she’s in Central Park and Eddie and Jake are there. She’s wearing the stocking cap that says “Merry Christmas” this time.
Eddie said, “You must let him go his course alone.” Jake adds, “Yar, and you must beware of Dandelo.” Jake also says there are no more twins. They fade out, but Eddie’s still talking.
What Constant Reader Learns: Hm…..Interesting. So Roland and Susannah are going to part ways? That makes the whole Mordred thing pretty enticing.
The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 4: Hides, Section 11
Roland wakens Susannah from her dream, and the only thing she remembers is the last thing Eddie told her: the name of Patrick Danville.
What Constant Reader Learns: Argh. I wish it hadn’t been two hundred years since I read Insomnia. But it has.
Not much else to report from this chapter, except, like Susannah, I feel I know way more about skinning and tanning deer than I ever wished to.
And…that’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll continue our read of the final book of the Dark Tower saga.