Mar 5 2012 11:00am

A Read of the Dark Tower: Constant Reader Tackles The Waste Lands, “Lud: A Heap of Broken Images”—Bridge and City, Sections 1-9

A Read of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series

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 our travelers on the road to Lud after saying goodbye to the old folks at River Crossing. Eddie confronted Roland about using them as chess pieces and not treating them with respect for their own quest. Roland apologizes, but he also knows it is true.

The Waste Lands — “Lud: A Heap of Broken Images,” Bridge and City, Section 1

This section picks up three days after the last, as our travelers move closer to Lud. But first, they come upon a downed airplane. Roland thinks it’s a big dead bird, but Eddie knows it’s a plane. They reach it an hour later, and it’s pretty much intact except for one wing. There’s a dried up pilot still sitting in the cockpit wearing a leather vest and a helmet with a spike on top. On the plane is an insignia of a fist holding a thunderbolt.

Susannah is quick to realize that the mummy must be “David Quick, the outlaw prince,” and he’s apparently a big dude. Roland quotes part of an old poem from his day, “So fell Lord Perth, and the countryside did shake with that thunder.” After questioning, he tells a story of a giant who went to war and was brought down by a little boy with a stone. Jake recognizes it as a version of the biblical story of David and Goliath. Eddie, who often seems to be having his own conversations with nobody in particular because everybody ignores him, notes that the pilot probably ran out of fuel and it took guts to try to land the plane on the road.

Jake examines the plane and says he thinks it’s from his time, not Roland’s. Roland helps him look at it more closely, and Jake recognizes it as a Focke-Wulf plane from just before WWII — he’d done a paper on it for fifth grade. When Roland boosts Jake up, he pulls off the thunderbolt insignia and exposes a swastika.

What Constant Reader Learns: I’d kind of lost track of that number three, which Stephen King was beating us over the head with in the first two books — three being an important number in Roland’s journey. Not sure if I just lost track of the threes or they’re popping up again. But this chapter picks up three days after the last. There are three crows sitting on the fuselage. There are three propeller blades sticking out of the grass.

So…whose logo or insignia is the lightning bolt in a fist? My search yielded only the defunct USFL Oakland Invaders logo, which I highly doubt this is in reference to. And some stuff about Zeus and eastern religions, which I was frankly too lazy to read because I doubted that was viable, either. Grasshopper shall wait and see.

The dynamic between Eddie and Roland has gotten really weird — and has been so ever since Jake came through. At first I thought Eddie was jealous of the way Roland had bonded with Jake. Then I thought Eddie resented the way Roland treated him like a kid, maybe even more so than Jake. Now, I’m just not sure. But their relationship feels off-kilter to me. Case in point: Eddie offers to give Jake a leg up to check out the plane, but Roland snubs him and helps the boy himself. Then Eddie tries to link the Bermuda Triangle to the doors between worlds, which really, in the grand scheme of things, doesn’t seem like such a far-fetched theory. But again Roland and Jake ignore him.

If you want to see life imitate art, here’s a video of a Focke-Wulf plane found in the woods near Leningrad.

Nobody but me seems very interested in theorizing about how a Nazi war plane ended up in Mid-World. Sheesh. They just expose the swastika and head on down the road, so I guess I shall, too.


The Waste Lands — “Lud: A Heap of Broken Images,” Bridge and City, Section 2

Jake has learned to make the fire, under Roland’s tutelage. While he’s practicing, Roland poses a riddle. Roland says that during his youth, riddles were part of his studies. Vannay his tutor, had said “a boy who could answer a riddle was a boy who could think around corners.” Roland admits he wasn’t very good at riddling, even though he enjoyed it. “Vannay said it was because I thought too deeply. My father said it was because I had too little imagination. I think they were both right…but I think my father had a little more of the truth.” Susannah thinks he doesn’t give himself enough credit for being able to think around corners.

Eddie butts in with a dumb joke, which makes Jake laugh but not Roland. (Why did the dead baby cross the road? Because it was stapled to the chicken.) Roland finds his joking offensive — he takes riddling seriously. He tells of a time when a man tried to cheat at a riddling contest and ended up with Cort’s dagger in his chest.

Now that the conversation has turned to riddles, Jake pulls out Riddle-De-Dum and Susannah begins looking through it. Roland thinks she might be the only one who understands how important the riddle book is, and he’s irritated with Eddie for not taking it seriously. Again, Eddie reminds him of Cuthbert, and Roland reminds himself to go easy on him, because Eddie can’t help his “occasional forays into nonsense.” He realizes he needs to remember that there’s more to Eddie than nonsense — their discussion of the night before had shamed Roland, because he did tend to think of them all as markers on a game board.

What Constant Reader Learns: Roland notes that Eddie and Susannah are growing closer, and he’s happy about it. Their love “would have to be deep and strong indeed if it was to survive the months and years ahead.” Good to know Roland thinks they’ll survive for years.

More weird vibes with Roland and Eddie. Maybe I’m reading too much into it. Eddie is kind of annoying sometimes, but Roland’s not usually so touchy. Maybe it’s just because he’s thinking of what’s ahead of them with the deadly Choo-Choo and Lud.

Roland is shocked when Jake says the man who gave him the book of riddles was named Calvin Tower. Guess he forgot to mention that part during their big palaver.


The Waste Lands — “Lud: A Heap of Broken Images,” Bridge and City, Section 3

As they eat their gunslinger burritos for dinner, Jake repeats the river riddle he learned at the bookstore. Then Roland tries one, and Eddie tries to make a crude answer to it, but Jake realizes it’s a double. Susannah comes up with the real answer.

Finally, Eddie picks up Riddle-De-Dum and asks them, “When is a door not a door?” He knows the answer because he heard the riddle as a kid. Jake also knows the answer, and he and Eddie share a wink. Susannah and Roland are stumped, so Eddie reveals that the answer is: When it’s ajar.

Roland decides they’re close enough to the city now that they need to take turns standing watch at night. Before they turn in, Jake picks a final riddle from the book: There is a thing that nothing is, and yet it has a name. It’s sometimes tall and sometimes short, joins our talks, joins our sport, and plays at every game.” They work at it a while but no one can come up with the answer (and, symbolically, the answers have been torn out of the book).

What Constant Reader Learns: Again, Eddie’s being a goofball. As annoying as he can be, I’m starting to feel sorry for him. He and Jake seem to be getting along okay, though, and the scene with Oy trying to wink and imitate their motions is fun.

I hate riddles; they give me a headache. My guess is: a shadow.


The Waste Lands — “Lud: A Heap of Broken Images,” Bridge and City, Section 4

Eddie takes the first sentry duty for the night, and he sits a little way off from camp. He can smell and hear the buffalo that “now owned these plains.” He thinks he might see lights in the still far-off city, but knows it could be wishful thinking. He ponders the last riddle again.

Then the drums begin again, and he’s diverted from his riddling by their sound. Again, he’s struck by the drumline being the same as the ZZ Top song, “Velcro Fly.” As crazy as it seems, he thinks, “was it any crazier than a traffic-light that…dropped a rusty green flag with the word GO printed on it? Any crazier than discovering the wreck of a German plane from the 1930s?”

What Constant Reader Learns: Eddie wants to figure the riddle out so Roland will be pleased with him in the morning instead of angry. Kind of sad. Poor guy.

You can hear “Velcro Fly” here in case you’ve forgotten that drum beat. Then read some of the comments.


The Waste Lands — “Lud: A Heap of Broken Images,” Bridge and City, Section 5

Four more days. They get closer and closer to the city. On the third day (three) they came across a eucalyptus grove full of bees. Roland carries Susannah since they’re both eager for some honey, while Jake and Eddie, fearful of being stung, lag behind.

When they get in the grove, Roland and Susannah are stunned at the sight of the bees. The others come in and we finally get a description of what they’re seeing: a randomly shaped hive, with sluggish white bees. Mutant bees. When Eddie asks what caused it, Roland says, “The same thing that has emptied this whole land; the thing that’s still causing many of the buffalo to be born as sterile freaks. I’ve heard it called the Old War, the Great Fire, the Cataclysm, and the Great Poisoning. Whatever it was, it was the start of all our troubles.”

What Constant Reader Learns: An interesting hint of Roland’s time…The cataclysmic event in his world — nuclear or whatever — happened “a thousand years before the great-great-grandfathers of the River Crossing folk were born.” And Roland notes that some effects of the event, such as the mutant buffaloes and bees, are becoming rarer, but others continue.

Eddie conjectures that the Great Old Ones had a nuclear war, but Roland doesn’t know.


The Waste Lands — “Lud: A Heap of Broken Images,” Bridge and City, Section 6

Eddie asks Roland the question we’ve all been wanting to ask: Roland’s whole story, “starting with Gilead. How you grew up there and what happened to end it all. I want to know how you found out about the Dark Tower and why you started chasing after it in the first place. I want to know about your first bunch of friends, too. And what happened to them.”

While admitting that Eddie has the right to know, Roland won’t tell the story yet. He will tell it “when the time is right.”

What Constant Reader Learns: Aw, Stephen King, you are such an evil tease. I know these fools are dying to know the answer, he thinks, so I’ll throw in a little chapter to make them think I’m going to tell them. But they have at least five-thousand pages to read before they know the full story. Bwah-ha-ha.


The Waste Lands — “Lud: A Heap of Broken Images,” Bridge and City, Section 7

Jake has been taking a short watch in the early morning, and he wakens Roland. Eddie and Suze are still asleep. Jake thinks he hears fighting going on in Lud, so Roland walks back to the road with him. The wind is blowing toward them and bringing sounds with it: shouts, a crash, the drums, breaking glass. Then the sound Roland hoped not to hear — gunfire, and an explosion. A few minutes later, the drums quit and so did everything else. The silence “had an unpleasant waiting quality.”

Roland tells Jake it’s not too late for them to detour around the city, but Jake says they can’t: “Blaine is a pain, but we have to take the train. And the city’s the only place where we can get on.”

Roland wonders if Jake really knows this, or if he thinks it’s ka. “You don’t know much about ka yet,” he tells him. Jake says: “I don’t know if it’s ka or not, but I do know that we can’t go into the waste lands unless we’re protected, and that means Blaine. Without him we’ll die, like those bees we saw are going to die when winter comes. We have to be protected. Because the waste lands are poison.”

Roland accepts this, but he’s worried that the people in Lud still have gunpowder — and maybe even more dangerous weapons they don’t know how to use. “They could get excited and blow us all to hell,” he notes, to which Oy replies, “Ell.”

What Constant Reader Learns: They’re only about three days from reaching the bridge that crosses the River Send into the city.

Jake’s speech about heading into the waste lands with protection is interesting (and a bit chilling). Is Blaine supposed to protect them from the poisonous elements left over from the nuclear (or whatever) fallout? Or is Blaine supposed to protect them from those who are fighting in Lud? And if Blaine is dangerous, how is he also to protect them? Hmmm….

I’m with Oy: “Ell.”


The Waste Lands — “Lud: A Heap of Broken Images,” Bridge and City, Section 8

As they near the city, other side roads combine with the Great Road, which grows wider and has a median. The road also deteriorates rapidly and begins to sink, with concrete embankments growing higher on either side. Jake asks why it was built that way, and Eddie says he doesn’t know — but he does. Troops could be placed atop the embankments and anyone unwanted coming in on the road could be taken out like ducks in a shooting gallery.

The road’s in such bad shape, they have to retrieve Susannah’s sling so Roland can carry her again. They don’t like the claustrophobic, vulnerable position of the road. “All of them felt as if they had passed into a dark and woeful zone of shadow, or into a countryside laboring under some old but still powerful curse.”

Finally, the embankments end, and the road opens up again. There’s a traffic light over the junction as another half-dozen access roads joins the main drag. Now, they can see what old Si described to them at River Crossing: a monorail track crossing the river on “a narrow golden trestle.” But halfway across, part of the trestle had collapsed, and a blue monorail train had fallen beneath it. Eddie quickly assumes it’s Blaine, but Jake knows it isn’t — his Blaine was pink, not blue.

Jake looks ahead at the bridge and hears a “ghostly humming noise” as the wind whips through the decayed steel cables and supports. “Do you think it will be safe to cross?” he asks, to which Roland replies, “We’ll find out tomorrow.”

What Constant Reader Learns: Doesn’t really say if they’re going to abandon the wheelchair or if Eddie will try to carry it. I guess the latter. And yeah, Jake, be very, very nervous. Remember what happened the last time you went over a bridge with Roland?

That’s it for this week. Join us next week, as we continue with “Lud: A Heap of Broken Images,” Bridge and City.

1. Lsana
Very good on getting the riddle. Not only did I not get it the first time I read this chapter, but I always forget the answer, so it stumps me every time I reread it. In fact, even though I only read this book about 3 weeks ago, I couldn't remember the answer to the riddle when I read it here, until you remind me. I guess I'm more like Eddie than Susannah: a smart-alec rather than a riddler.

Thanks for the link to Velcro Fly. Kind of a cool song, actually. Interesting that ALL of the comments are about the Dark Tower.

Oh, and as far as "how a Nazi plane got to Lud," there is no answer, just go with it. I'm pretty sure King was just using "Nazi" as a short hand for "Look, these people are eeevil!" As though we wouldn't have figured that out anyway.
Suzanne Johnson
2. SuzanneJohnson
@Lsana..."Velcro Fly" is a pretty cool song. I couldn't place it until I looked it up, but remembered it as soon as I heard it.
3. TrickyFreak

Oh yeah, we gettin' nearer to them riddles. And Suzanne, for someone who says riddles are a pain, you got the shadow riddle quite easily. Took me days for that one.

(I read that paragraph back and realized it has a riddle/hint/spoiler buried somewhere there...)

I think the dynamics of Eddie and Roland is quite complicated indeed. Sometimes I feel they are very alike, but then I realize how starkly they are different from each other. And Roland sees his best bud Cuthbert in Eddie, too. Factor in the confusion that was Eddie and Roland's first encounter—all that drugs, lobstrosities, duct tape, and Henry's severed head lobbed into the air—well, I'd be surprised if their relationship is anything but complicated.

And here we go again with Roland, Jake, and a teetering bridge. But this time, with Ed, Suze and Oy, so things could be different. Or not.

Again, “Ell.”
Steven Halter
4. stevenhalter
So, Eddie notes that they are 170 miles from the city. Those drums must be LOUD.
I liked these sections quite a bit. King is filling in some of the world and building up the suspense at the same time.
I hadn't remembered what Velcro Fly sounded like either and looked it up and found the same link. Looks like everyone is looking for it because of Lud. (Would a denizen of Lud be a Luddite? :-) )
Marcus W
5. toryx
Hey man, if Jake can come through from a haunted house, and Susannah and Eddie can come through via doors on a beach that open into their minds, the question of how a plane ended up there seems pretty insignificant. There are always ways, I guess.

At this point of the book, Eddie really begins to remind me a lot of Larry Underwood from The Stand. They're obviously very different but they have the same way of making light of things. I pretty much grew up with Stephen King's books (especially The Stand) so I'm pretty sure that SK is to blame for my own tendency to make dumb jokes during high pressure situations. I do know that this book, more than any of the other Dark Tower novels, had the biggest impression on me along with The Stand and It.

Anyway, I think it's really Roland who is being jealous. Jake had been all his before and now he's got to share him. He also feels that heavy sense of responsibility for Jake and I don't think he trusts anyone else to really watch out for him the same way.

As for Roland's story...I think that at the time of writing this book, even SK didn't really know it completely yet. I think he really wanted to tell it, or for Roland to tell it to him and it was he who was really asking...and he who Roland was shutting down. From all I've read of King's experience as a writer over the years, along with the few times I've listened to him speak, it certainly seems like it to me. Roland's story must have been burning in him to tell and I suspect he was as frustrated at waiting as we were.

That hunger for Roland's story must still be burning in him, since the new DT book is on the horizon.
Risha Jorgensen
6. RishaBree
King does a good job working up to the fact that Lud is not a very nice place.
7. StrongDreams
With respect to the plane, I'm not sure if King had decided yet by this point in the story, whether Roland's world was the future of Eddie/Susannah/Jake's world, or an alternate world. I'm fairly sure that when he wrote Gunslinger, he was thinking it was a future world (the AMACO pump handle with a piece of rotten hose worshipped as a totem, for example). Then there is the great catastrophe that took out the old ones. And there are artifacts in book 4 that could suggest future rather than alternate.

It is clear in books 5, 6 and 7, written after King's accident and hiatus, that Roland's world is an alternate world, and that there are many alternate worlds. (Most of King's other books that link to the Dark Tower series, like Insomnia and Black House, were written after The Wastelands., which may be the point at which King decided alternate over future.)

So it's hard to know what the significance of the Nazi plane is. Since it never gets mentioned again, you could just ignore it and move on.

Maybe the significance of the plane is not the plane itself, but just in the existence of things in Roland's world that belong to other universes. If I recall correctly, the travellers see on the streets of Lud such diverse vehicles as a common 20th century school bus and a bubble-covered air car of some kind. (I hope that's not considered a spoiler.) Maybe Roland's world is at the center of a cosmic whirlpool, and stuff from all the different worlds ends up there like driftwood on the cosmic shores. It's never explicitly stated as such, but that might account for some of the anachronistic artifacts scattered here and there better than does either "it's our world in a distant future" or "it's a parallel world."
Suzanne Johnson
8. SuzanneJohnson
@TrickyFreak. Ell, indeed! I just read the bridge scene to work up for next week's post. Poor Jake.

@Shalter...I hadn't thought about that but you're right. Those have to be some LOUD Velcro Fly drums.

@RishaBree...LOL. I'm not sure Lud can be as bad as I'm imagining it after all the buildup. We're about to find out.

@toryx...Ah! I hadn't thought about it, but Eddie does remind me of Larry in The Stand. Eddie's a little more over the top, maybe not as hard an edge ("you ain't no nice guy"). There have been a couple of things in this book so far that have brought The Stand to mind, actually. I had a kind of Trashcan Man moment this weekend as I read the next few sections.

@StrongDreams...Yes, there is a schoolbus and a VW Beetle-like car, I think. Just read that section.
9. StrongDreams
Bass frequencies carry a lot farther than higher frequencies. I wonder how far away you could really hear something like that, in a world with no cars, trucks, airplanes, or other machinery.
10. TrickyFreak
I see what you did there; Trashcan Man and Jake's ole buddy do share certain (nasty) characteristics.

I always got the impression (particularly after reading Wizard and the Glass) that Roland's world is an alternate reality that's further ahead in time. If that's possible at all, metaphysically.

11. Lsana

On the matter of Lud, I don't think it's a spoiler to say, yes, yes it can. I have my differences with King on a lot of things, but one thing he can do as well or better than everyone else is create really bad, seriously messed up places. This is one author I would never tempt by saying, "You couldn't possibly make it as bad as I'm imagining..."

Let's just say that with both Lud and the Waste Lands beyond, King's talents are on full display.
Risha Jorgensen
12. RishaBree
@TrickyFreak - I just wrote a whole paragraph about how Mid-World's When didn't necessarily need to match to any of the Whens we eventually see. And then I deleted it. Thinking about the events in the last couple of books, and related ones such as The Black House, they would have to take place at roughly the same moments across universes. It's not like Susannah's or Jake's or Eddie's Whens show any effects from what's happening in Mid-World, whereas ours does.
Suzanne Johnson
13. SuzanneJohnson
@Lsana...Uh-oh. I kind of threw down a Stephen King gauntlet, didn't I? Yeah, yeah, you're right. No matter what I imagine, he can imagine worse.
Hello There
14. praxisproces
Hey Suzanne, I think someone has asked this before, but are you planning on reading the new book (Wind Through the Keyhole, coming out in April) after Wizard and Glass, or going on in the old continuinity? He tells us it is effectively number 4.5. Just wondering to plan my own rereading. Thanks!
15. TrickyFreak
@RishaBree - Yeah, true, that. The three New Yorkers' Whens doesn't figure much in Mid-World time. Anyone correct me if I'm wrong but in brief, there's our (and Stephen King's) dimension's When, and then eons ahead of our When, Mid-World's time frame, and then Ed, Jake, and Suze's version of Earth existing almost as a separate story. (Plus the other dimensional parallel of Captain Trips. It's different from ours and the trio's, right?)

Also, now that you (RishaBree, I mean) mention Black House (and the Talisman, in connection I suppose), is the Territories in the same dimension as Mid-World? I have the vaguest notion that it is, but it was a long time since my last reread of the Talisman-Black House books, so it's slightly opopanax to me (if you ken).
Suzanne Johnson
16. SuzanneJohnson
@ConnorSullivan...I'm advocating for reading the new one, which is being described as Dark Tower 4.5, in story order. So it would be Wizard and Glass, then The Wind Through the Keyhole, then Wolves of the Calla. Waiting for confirmation from the wizards at for this, but I'll let you know as soon as I get word.
Risha Jorgensen
17. RishaBree
@TrickyFreak - We may be edging into minor spoiler territory, so I'll try to speak around things. But I think the Territories are another universe. Mid-World doesn't appear to have twinners, the geography doesn't really map to the US as closely, and the quest there is a close cousin to (at least the first part of) the quest for the Dark Tower. The Territories' all around specialty appears to be echoing, really.
18. StrongDreams
But I think the Territories are another universe

Or, "another level of the Tower."

There is some kind of connection between the Territories and Mid-World, as Parkus speaks of a Gunslinger being active once more. But, as RishaBree pointed out, there are too many differences that show that the Territories is not simply another kingdom of Mid-World (or All-World).

There are an infinite number of levels of the Tower. Some, almost identical to our world (Carter winning a second term instead of Reagan, for example). Some levels of the Tower are different but still recognizable as shadows or echoes, like the Territories. Roland's world has so many influences that I do not think it is possible to nail down exactly what it is.
19. Andy T.
I never read and analyzed the book in this kind of detail in my first reading(s) to pick up on the "strange dynamic" of Roland towards Eddie. I'm not sure if it's as deep as you're reading into it, but there is something there. I never really saw it as anything more than everyone being mildly annoyed by Eddie's goofing around. But do keep it in mind, as well as all of what this week's review covered - as there will be a payoff, of sorts, down the line a ways.

Now that we've come to where Velcro Fly is pegged as the definately the song the drums are from, I have to ask this... Now days it's simple enough to find a song sample of it - actually there's an even better youtube clip where someone sampled just the drums and made it sound more like what our gunslinger buddies are heaing in the distance. ( )
But back when this first came out, you had to hunt down the record or CD. How many of you readers from when the book first came out, actually had the ZZ Top album AFTERBURNER nearby? I did, in glorious vinyl even, and still do for that matter - so it was a piece of cake for me to listen to it.

Oh, by the way, we've talked a bit about the color illustrations, but I don't know if the black and white section-heading sketch-illustrations have been mentioned. The one for Bridge and City was the "fist-and-thunderbolt" symbol. Suzanne, is that one included in your e-copy?
Suzanne Johnson
20. SuzanneJohnson
@AndyT...Yes, the "fist and thunderbolt" illustration is in my version...and I too had "Velcro Fly" on vinyl back in the olden days. Just hadn't heard it in a million years. Cool to hear the isolated drum track!
21. TrickyFreak
Okay, that's better now. Thanks RishaBree and StrongDreams for clarifyin'! Because I do remember (as StrongDreams pointed out) Parkus mentioning recent gunslinger activities, as well as *ehem* some other common-factor spoilerific stuff (sorry, RishaBree. Nice job circumventing though. :D ). Maybe the Territories as a whole is a mirroring dimension, eh?

Oh no. If Suzanne chooses to read-though Wind Through Keyhole right after Wizard and Glass, that means I have to buy a copy first and read it! *groan*
But hey, I'm too excited to get a copy anyway. Oh yeah.
22. TrickyFreak
And BTW that very same drum track Andy T. shared was the first I heard of Velcro Fry. Seriously creeped me out in a weird Stephen King way. (I'm afraid I'm too young that I've never even seen a vinyl ever. Woe to me. :| )

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