A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water.
—From T.S. Eliot’s “The Wastelands”
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 first sections, join me by commenting here.
We last left Jake setting off on his great adventure, armed; Eddie worried about messing up his carving of the key; and a date between the two in Brooklyn that neither is sure what to expect.
The Waste Lands—“Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 10
Eddie, Ro and Susannah are still traveling southeast along the path of the Beam, and a dozen billy-bumblers sit in the ruins of buildings along the roadside as they pass. Eddie thinks they look like a hanging jury.
That night, Eddie tries to finish carving the key, but he’s haunted by the self-doubts Henry helped instill in him. “For the first time in months,” he craves heroin. Finally, he gives up and returns the key to Roland. He falls asleep and dreams of Jake again.
What Constant Reader Learns: We haven’t had much feel for the passage of time (or time as we know it) on this journey, so it was interesting to hear that Eddie’s drug cravings are the first he’s had in months.
The Waste Lands—“Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 11
Jake leaves his building at 6:45 a.m., so he has more than eight hours before his assigned meeting with the boy from the Markey playground. He’s nervous about how he’ll find the boy, but decides to wander around a while before heading for Co-op City.
Mid-morning, Jake finds himself outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where on impulse he joins a group of public-school students on a museum tour. When a teacher notices him with the wrong group and questions him, he fingers the key in his pocket and the right words come to him. He says his school is Markey Academy, even though “he had never heard of a place called Markey Academy in his life.” But, of course, Eddie has.
What Constant Reader Learns: Fascinating to see how deep the impact of the Beam is and how pervasive, even within Jake’s When: “He followed the pattern of the WALK lights, perhaps knowing, on some deep level, that even they served the Beam.” That’s…kind of mind-boggling to contemplate. Does the Beam exert such influence always, or only when the ka-tet is in play? Or is some degree of ka-tet always in play? Dizzifying!
In the museum, Jake is drawn to Frederick Remington’s Old West paintings and a painting by Thomas Hart Benton of a steam locomotive. Very relevant to his coming experiences, I’m guessing.
Interesting to see the power of the key beyond keeping the voices of insanity at bay, and Jake’s instinctive use of it.
The Waste Lands—“Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 12
Jake lollygags around in the museum until he thinks a security guard has noticed him, so he slips out, buys a hot dog and Nehi (do they still make Nehi’s?), and sits on the steps of a bank building to eat.
A cop hones in on him quickly, and Jake worries that his parents have discovered he’s missing and called the police. “This is a lousy piece of luck,” he thinks, “if luck was all it was.” After all, he’s in Times Square and the cop is ignoring all the dregs of humanity and focusing on him.
He makes some excuses to the cop’s questions. When the officer asks to see his I.D., Jake—again, instinctively—reaches for the key. He holds it up, and it seems to hypnotize the policeman. When Jake suggests the cop is looking at his bowling discount card and sees his name: Tom Denby, the cop agrees. By the time Jake works up the nerve to walk away, a crowd has gathered on the sidewalk; all have been mesmerized by the key. He stops across the street and looks back at them, and they’re all shaking their heads, wondering what happened.
What Constant Reader Learns: More questions than answers. How far and extensive is the key’s power? How is it tied to Eddie’s key? Will the keys be the “key” (ha ha) to getting Jake back into Roland’s world?
The Waste Lands—“Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 13
At 1:45, Jake takes the subway to Co-Op City. He’s waiting for the sense of sureness to kick in, to tell him where to go and what he needs to do to find the boy from the old basketball court. So far, nothing.
What Constant Reader Learns: Don’t worry kid, I’m as clueless as you are as to how all this is going to play out.
The Waste Lands—“Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 14
Back in Roland’s land, our travelers reach the top of a hill and are speechless as they look out over a grand plain and see the towers and spires of the great city. A large herd of animals grazes to the west, and they look like buffalo.
What Constant Reader Learns: Each of the travelers has a different reaction to seeing the city. Susannah is homesick, and thinks she’d “do most anything to see the Manhattan skyline from the Triborough Bridge again.” But as soon as she thinks it, she realizes it’s not true. She finds Roland’s world “intoxicating,” and wouldn’t give up Eddie. “Here, there were only Roland, Eddie, and herself, the world’s last three gunslingers.”
Roland’s amazed to be seeing a thing he’d never expected to see in his lifetime—the Send River, which he “wasn’t even sure was real, like the Guardians.”
As for Eddie, the city doesn’t make him homesick so much as full of questions—“a blaze of supposition.” If the city is still there, maybe there are still people there, too—people who could feed them a good meal, give them clean clothes, and provide them with a “AAA-approved TourGuide map with the best route to the Dark Tower marked in red.” At the very least, he thinks, the city might be a “giant toolbox”—full of things they can plunder for the journey ahead.
In an odd, almost authorial-intrusion way, Stephen King points out that what Eddie wants would be deus ex machina, and that it would be tempting to do that, but he won’t. Uh, like we didn’t realize there was trouble ahead?
The Waste Lands—“Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 15
Roland has quit looking at the city—he’s become more interested in something else, closer to them. It’s a place of stones, much like the one where he found the Oracle (and saved Jake from it) after leaving the desert beyond the Way Station. He points it out to Eddie: “It’s a speaking ring.” Eddie has a horrified reaction to it, and says, “That’s the place where the kid is going to try and come through.” Roland nods, pointing out that the speaking places are “thin places, and they’re attractive places.”
Suddenly, Eddie knows they need to get to the circle as quickly as possible. Time isn’t the same in their world and Jake’s world, but he knows he has to finish the key—“and I’m supposed to do something else, and I don’t have a clue about what it is. And if the kid dies, it’ll be my fault.”
Eddie’s in full panic mode, and Roland has to play bad cop to calm him down. He slaps him, and Eddie reacts by reaching for the gun he’s wearing. Roland calls his bluff, not fully sure how Eddie will respond. He tells Eddie he hasn’t finished the key because he’s afraid of not being able to do it. “You’re not afraid of the great world, Eddie, but of the small one inside yourself.”
Finally, after some tense moments, Eddie breaks, admitting he’s afraid and crying. Susannah comforts him with a few harsh words for Roland: “Sometimes I hate you, big white man.” To which Roland responds, “Sometimes I hate myself.” “Don’t ever stop you, though, do it?” she says.
Roland returns the key to Eddie, who finally gets hold of himself. “I have forgotten the face of my father, gunslinger,” Eddie says. “And I cry your pardon.” Roland replies in the High Speech: “Speak not so gunslinger. Your father sees you very well…loves you very well…and so do I.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Hmmm…Eddie’s reaction to the stone circle is interesting: “The bright hope which had lit his eyes as he surveyed the city whiffed out, leaving him with a look both gray and bleak. It was the expression of a man studying the gallows on which he will soon be hanged.” Earlier, when he’d seen the billy-bumblers on the side of the road, Eddie had likened them to a hanging jury.
After Eddie’s breakdown, Roland realizes he’s witnessing the end of Eddie’s damaged childhood. His reaction to it strikes me as odd—he feels guilty. I can see him feeling guilty that he had to say harsh things to Eddie but, face it, it’s something Eddie needed to hear in order to shed some thought patterns that aren’t doing him any favors. In the end, Eddie should be stronger because of it. But I love Roland’s response to Eddie at the end of this scene, the glimpse of Roland’s soft underbelly.
The Waste Lands—“Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 16
Jake’s walking along Castle Avenue, sweltering through an abnormally hot day. He’s wandering blind, but finally passes an alley covered in graffiti. Among the sayings: “A rose is a rose is a rose” and, nearby, “I cry your pardon.”
It’s two-thirty now, and Jake is walking along. “I cry your pardon, sir,” he says to an old man on the street. “Would you know if there’s a place called Markey Academy?” The old man is afraid of Jake, but the boy’s politeness finally garners some cooperation. He tells Jake there’s no Markey Academy, but there is a Markey Avenue down the street past the theater. Jake takes off.
What Constant Reader Learns: Castle Avenue…Tower…Castle Rock…just sayin’. And I love carrying through “I cry your pardon” from Eddie’s world to Jake’s—which makes me think their “Whens” are getting closer together.
The Waste Lands—“Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 17
Roland and his group stop at dusk, and he lights a fire so Eddie can use the light to carve with. He realizes they’ve lost Eddie somewhere. Eddie has stopped behind them, and Susannah tells Roland to leave him alone.
What Constant Reader Learns: I like that Susannah gives Roland some attitude, especially in protecting Eddie, and Ro accepts it. Go, girl.
The Waste Lands—“Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 18
Half a mile back, Eddie is sitting in the middle of the Great Road looking at the sky, feeling lonely and frightened. He knows Jake is close, and “it filled him with wonder. Susannah had come from 1963. Eddie had come from 1987. Between them…Jake. Trying to come over. Trying to be born.” Eddie thinks he remembers Jake from his other life, but isn’t sure.
One Old Star appears, Eddie holds up his unfinished key and makes a wish—that he can “find the guts to try and finish this damned thing.”
Finally, he gets up and returns to camp. He takes the knife and begins working, trying not to think too hard about it. He and Roland talk about Jake—Eddie is envious of Jake’s bravery, but Roland tries to reassure him that he was plenty brave in the fight at Balazar’s. Eddie can barely remember the shootout.
Eddie holds the key up to the light, and it looks right—but feels a little off. He isn’t sure if there’s really anything wrong with it, or if he’s just listening to Henry’s voice again, telling him he isn’t good enough.
Eddie tells Roland they need to get moving before daybreak—they need to reach the circle as soon as possible.
What Constant Reader Learns: I’m still not clear on whether Eddie and Jake ever did cross paths in the real world. Would their ages have worked out right?
As they’re sitting at the fire, after he’s finished the key, Eddie is struck by something else he has to do. He gets up and hunts through the scavenged firewood until he finds a stick two feet long, then takes it back and uses the knife to sharpen the stick into something like a tent peg. Wonder what he’s going to do with that? I’m thinking it’s more a stake than a tent-peg.
The Waste Lands—“Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 19
Roland wakes Eddie and Susannah before dawn, and Eddie wakens quickly. Jake’s getting “very close,” he tells them. As they head down the
Yellow Brick Great Road, a “rhythmic sound” begins to sound ahead of them. Roland thinks it’s drums. Eddie thinks it’s a huge piece of machinery. Susannah thinks it’s a “huge, diseased, beating heart…and it’s in that city, where we have to go.”
What Constant Reader Learns: I’m guessing all three of them are right about the sound, in some sense. I can’t wait to see what they encounter in the city! And love the end of this section: “The circle of standing stones lay less than five miles ahead now, gleaming in the shadowless light like the teeth of a fallen monster.”
The Waste Lands—“Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 20
Jake passes the movie theater and turns on to Markey Avenue. He keeps waiting for that feeling of “knowing” to come to him, but it doesn’t. He hears laughter behind him and turns to see two boys—an 18-year-old Henry and 12-year-old Eddie—teasing a girl from the theater box office. And Jake recognizes the younger boy as the boy in his dream. Finally.
What Constant Reader Learns: More Westerns—Jake notices the theater is showing a double feature of “A Fistful of Dollars” and “The Good, The Bad & The Ugly.” He stops to look at a poster of Clint Eastwood and thinks he has bombardier’s eyes like Roland’s. “You let me drop,” he says to the poster/Roland. “You let me die. What happens this time?”
What indeed, Jake?
That’s it for this week. Join us next week, as we tackle the next ten sections of “Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon.