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.