“Cast your nets, wanderers! Try me with your questions, and let the contest begin.”
—Blaine the Mono, to Roland and the Ka-Tet, at the end of The Waste Lands
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.
When we last left our ka-tet, they were finishing up with Blaine and heading in search of the Beam.
Wizard and Glass, “Riddles”: Turnpikin’, Section 1
They come across more bodies as they leave the train platform—a half-dozen corpses, including a child in a stroller. (Why did the dead baby cross the road? Because it was stapled to the superflu.) All their eyes were gone and they’re in various stages of decomposition. “Where were you guys hoping to go?” Jake thinks. “Just where in the crispy crap did you think might be safe enough?”
In the crowded parking lot, Eddie has the smart idea of looking in the handicapped parking spaces to find a wheelchair, and it’s much lighter and easier to handle than Susannah’s old chair that got left in Lud.
Jake gets a little pensive, and Susannah assumes it’s homesickness—that he probably thought he’d never see an American automobile again. But it’s not that. We’re told it has never crossed Jake’s mind that he might remain in Roland’s world forever, or that he might never see another car. He doesn’t think that’s in the cards, and remembers the vacant lot and the vibrant rose. He thinks about the rose: “Until its fate was decided, one way or the other, he was not done with the world of cars and TVs and policemen.” He also thinks he might not be done with his parents, either, an idea that fills him with both hope and alarm. (Me too.)
There’s some discussion of cars. Normally, Eddie would expect to recognize them but he points out how drugged out he was in 1986. Still, he recognizes them all until he finds one called a Takuro Spirit, which he’s pretty sure wasn’t made in his world. A few minutes later, another sign this is not exactly Eddie and Jake’s Midwest of 1986: a bumper sticker for the Kansas City Monarchs. (No, it’s the Royals, they argue. No, it’s the Kansas City Athletics, Susannah insists.) Jake starts getting creeped out and Eddie calms him down…until they walk toward the park across the street “and one of the greatest shocks of Jake’s life.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Interesting bit of cultural change. Eddie tells Roland to slow down, that he wants to check the “crip spaces.” Nobody, including me, knows what he’s talking about, but it turns out to be a particularly un-PC term for handicapped-reserved parking spaces. Of course, instead of being offended (political correctness not yet having been invented in any of their Whens), Susannah is impressed that such a thing exists at all.
The Thinny is not only accompanied by a malevolent, physically painful Hawaiian sound, but has a shimmery quality to it. It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out.
Of all of them, Jake is the one who sees his time with Roland as a temporary thing—Eddie and Susannah were taken whole from their world to Roland’s, but Jake had a different kind of journey with a death and a resurrection of sorts, and a journey from his When that he made alone. He knows there are other worlds than these, and isn’t making any longterm plans.
Roland has virtually no interest in cars or timetables or what was called by what name in what time. He’s still doing his own mental version of Turnpikin’.
Wizard and Glass, “Riddles”: Turnpikin’, Section 2
As they enter Gage Park across the street from the station, they follow the brick path through a rose garden, where Jake again thinks of his rose in the NYC vacant lot. They pass a carousel, and then Jake looks to the left, and collapses. Eventually, they all see what he has seen: Charlie the Choo-Choo, cowcatcher and all, sitting on overgrown tracks next to a toy train station that mimics the real one they just left.
What Constant Reader Learns: Susannah figures Miss Beryl Evans, who wrote Charlie the Choo-Choo, had either lived here or visited here and saw the kids’ train at the park. Wonder if she will figure into the story at any point?
Jake recovers but is still wary—he again recalls the dream he had of Oy standing on the tracks and barking at the oncoming headlight. “I’m not afraid of you,” he tells the Choo-Choo. And its headlamp flashes at him once in mockery—none of the others see it, but Jake does.
Wizard and Glass, “Riddles”: Turnpikin’, Section 3
Next, our travelers come to the Topeka Zoo, which is sadly full of dead animals and empty cages. Roland looks around and murmurs, “So fell Lord Perth.” “And the countryside did shake with that thunder,” Jake replies. And Roland tells Jake he has “played Lord Perth” in his time, which he’ll hear about soon.
What Constant Reader Learns: Eddie gets teary over the dead animals, as does Oy, who begins to howl over the body of a dead wolf. We’re told that Eddie’s emotions are raw since the heroin left his system. We haven’t really been told this before and we’re on Eddie’s third book…but, okay. Whatever. I just think people get teary over animals.
So, speaking of Lord Perth, whatever happened to the crazy dude formerly known as Tick-Tock?
Wizard and Glass, “Riddles”: Turnpikin’, Section 4
Finally, the ka-tet crosses the back side of the park and zoo and reaches the entrance ramp to the highway. “Turnpikin’ again,” Eddie says, and, with some embarrassment, explains that he and Henry and Henry’s friends used to get stoned and ride up and down the highway with their heads hanging out the window, looking at the sky. “Turnpikin’,” Roland says. “Let’s do some.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Not sure why Eddie gets so embarrassed about the Turnpikin’ thing. Don’t all teenagers do some version of that very thing? Or is that just TMI on my part? Uh. Never mind.
Wizard and Glass, “Riddles”: Turnpikin’, Section 5
On the interstate sign reading St. Louis 215, someone had spray-painted, “Watch for the Walkin’ Dude.” On the signed marked Next Rest Area 10 Miles had been painted, “All Hail the Crimson King!” And an eye symbol had been marked on both. Roland doesn’t know what it means, but he looks troubled.
What Constant Reader Learns: I want to see the Walkin’ Dude! Wonder if these competing bits of graffiti are like the Grays and Pubes of Lud—opposing forces. Followers of RF versus followers of the Crimson King?
Wizard and Glass, “Riddles”: Turnpikin’, Section 6
At the point where the ramp joins the interstate, the group pauses and looks at a sea of cars and the continuation of the city, with fast-food joints and car dealerships, and what looked like a hospital. Beyond that, the city stops and the Thinny begins. “To Eddie, it looked like flat water standing in a vast marshland.”
The noise of the Thinny is driving them nuts—making them physically ill. Roland digs around in his man-purse and pulls out a fistful of bullets, two of which he pokes into his ears, slug ends first. The others do the same. Eddie wants to use the Ruger bullets, but Roland says since they’re from Eddie’s world they won’t block out the sound. He doesn’t know why; he just knows. Eddie tries the Ruger bullets anyway, but Roland is right.
What Constant Reader Learns: Another little “off” thing to add to the car and the baseball team: a fast-food place called Boing Boing Burgers.
Wizard and Glass, “Riddles”: Turnpikin’, Section 7
As our travelers make their way along I-70, Susannah notices that some of the dead cars have been pulled to the side of the road or into the median, and the idea that someone has survived to use a wrecker cheers her up.
They approach the Thinny, and she can tell when they enter it—“a kind of tingling shudder ran through her body, making her draw her shortened legs up, and the wheelchair stopped for a moment.” They all look around, seeing things like trees and a silo through the silvery surface of the Thinny. As they moved along, they would move in and out of the Thinny. “Being inside it was claustrophobic, purgatorial, all the world gone except for the twin barrels of the turnpike and the hulks of the cars, like derelict ships abandoned on a frozen ocean." Susannah begins to pray “to a God in whom she no longer precisely believes in,” asking to escape the Thinny and find the Beam.
The gang comes across an exit ramp for Big Springs, and Roland announces they’ll camp for the night since they’re in a small area outside the Thinny. They get some firewood, and while Roland builds a fire, Eddie, Jake and Oy stand in the median and look around. Eddie calls them over and points ahead to what looks like a big building built right across the highway. When Eddie asks Roland what it is, he stares at it a moment, then just says, “We’ll see it better when we get closer,” and goes back to check on the campfire. Eddie shrugs at Susannah, who shrugs at Jake, who shrugs back, and they all start laughing. Even Oy tries to shrug.
What Constant Reader Learns: I wouldn’t find the signs of someone using a wrecker a good thing. The live people they’ve come across in their travels thus far have been a real mixed bag.
So, Susannah the pregnant woman is the only one who doesn’t get a queasy stomach at entering the Thinny? Odd.
We have another moment, with the shrugging, when Eddie, Susannah, Jake and Oy are the ka-tet and Roland’s the outsider.
Wizard and Glass, “Riddles”: Turnpikin’, Section 8
In camp, everyone eats more gunslinger burritos, and Eddie hears the lonely sound of a single bird. They’re all kind of laid back and relaxed. Eddie thinks this might not be exactly his world (because of the Takuros, the Monarchs, and Boing Boing Burgers), but that it’s close. Maybe too close. Maybe “the world next door.”
Eddie reminds Roland that he was going to tell them the story of Susan. Roland asks them to wait for one more day. “Some things don’t rest easy even when they’re dead,” he says. “their bones cry out from the ground.”
Jake knows all about this. “There are ghosts,” he says. “Sometimes there are ghosts, and sometimes they come back.”
Susannah and Eddie both try to let Roland off the hook since it’s such a painful story. “Do we need to hear?” Eddie asks. “I’m not sure you need to hear, but I think I need to tell,” Roland answers. “Our future is the Tower, and to go toward it with a whole heart, I must put my past to rest as best I may.”
Eddie’s content with that, and gets ready to go to sleep. “It’s not every day that I hook a ride on the world’s fastest train, destroy the world’s smartest computer, and then discover that everyone’s been scragged by the flu. All before dinner, too. Shit like that makes a man tired.”
What Constant Reader Learns: So…how many gunslinger burritos did they make? They’ve been eating them forever. Are they all stuffed into Roland’s bottomless man-purse?
Wizard and Glass, “Riddles”: Turnpikin’, Section 9
Eddie dreams of Jake’s vacant lot, and that they’re all there wearing their Mid-World clothes. “We’re ghosts,” he thinks. “We’re ghosts and we don’t rest easy.” On the fence are some posters: a Sex Pistols reunion (speaking of ghosts), Adam Sandler, and the movie “The Craft.” Beyond that, in pink paint, is written: See the BEAR of fearsome size! All the WORLD’S within his eyes. TIME grows thin, the past’s a ridde; the TOWER awaits you in the middle.”
Jake points out the rose in the middle of the lot, and Susannah worries about it because of the construction signs advertising the coming of the Turtle Bay Condos.
Suddenly, from behind them, comes a huge red bulldozer with “All Hail the Crimson King” written across its scoop, and who’s driving it but Gasher, wearing a Lamerk Foundry hard hat. Gasher proceeds to tear up the lot, and Susannah screams as the dozer heads straight for the rose. Eddie looks up, and Gasher is now Engineer Bob from Charlie the Choo-Choo. “Stop!” he screams, but Engineer Bob answers, “I can’t Eddie. The world has moved on, and I can’t stop. I must move on with it.” And then, as the dozer gets to the rose, Engineer Bob changes again—to Roland.
What Constant Reader Learns: Hm... So Roland might double-cross them? Or maybe Eddie doesn’t totally trust Roland?
Wizard and Glass, “Riddles”: Turnpikin’, Section 10
Eddie wakes up in a sweat, thinking he must have screamed, but Susannah is still asleep, as is Jake. But not Roland, who’s cleaning his guns by starlight. He asks Eddie if his bad dream was about Henry, or about the field of roses at the Tower.
“You’d never betray us, would you, Roland?” Eddie asks. Roland answers: “No man can say that for sure, Eddie, and I have already played the betrayer more than once. To my shame. But…I think those days are over. We are…ka-tet. If I betray any one of you, I betray myself.”
Eddie shares his dream, and Roland seems troubled. Roland doesn’t buy the symbolic, psychological interpretation—that’s “mudpies of the mind.” But he does think someone—or something—might be putting the dreams in Eddie’s head. “But you must watch me all the same,” he says. “I bear watching, as you well know.” When Eddie tells Roland he trusts him, Roland looks touched, “almost shaken,” and Eddie realizes he sold Roland short to think he was an emotionless robot.
The machine that threatens the rose—the Tower—is the thing that most bothers Roland. “You think it might be another door…that opens on the Dark Tower,” Eddie says. To which Roland replies, “I think it may BE the Tower.”
What Constant Reader Learns: When Eddie shares his dream, Roland looks down at his guns, which “seemed to have reassembled themselves while Eddie was talking.” Was it simply him doing it on autopilot, or another example of his hands seeming to act independently of him as they did several times in The Gunslinger? And if Roland’s hands can do their work without his thinking about it, might they betray the others without him intending to do so? Probably not, but it’s an interesting idea.
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll finish “Turnpikin’” and begin the story of Susan.