“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 week, our ka-tet was finally reunited in Fedic. And now the final journey begins.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 1: Devar-Toi, Section 1
The ka-tet gathers in the “roont” room filled with beds and brain-sucking devices, looking at what’s left of the rapidly decomposing remains of Mia. Roland marvels at how close this demon-woman came, through her obsession with her chap, to derailing their entire quest. “And without them,” he thinks, “who would remain to stand against the Crimson King and his infernally clever chancellor?”
Finally, Roland asks Susannah to tell him everything that’s happened since she left them on the East Road, and also the same from Jake. He wants to know how they came to this “devar-tet,” a “little prison” or torture chamber.
What Constant Reader Learns: A new Rolandism in this section, as he recalls that one of their elderly helpers—John Cullum, Aaron Deepneau and Moses Carver—has what Eddie called cancer, aka “can’t, sir.”
A bit of Roland philosophizing, as he ponders how Mia almost destroyed them all not out of hatred for them, but her love and obsession with becoming a mother. “So will the world end, I think, a victim of love rather than hate. For love’s ever been the more destructive weapon.”
One thing that strikes me here is that Roland and Eddie still have not asked about the chap, and as far as I know, neither of them know Roland is the father of the chap. Have I missed something? As long as Roland is pondering Mia’s preoccupation with her chap, it would seem a logical question for him to ask.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 1: Devar-Toi, Section 2
As Jake and Susannah talk, Roland is especially interested in the turtle, and how Eddie had known it was in the bag. This leads to a discussion of many of the “conveniences” the ka-tet has found along its way: the turtle left in the bag; the bag left in the vacant lot; the key Jake found to the house in Dutch Hill; etc.
Roland believes it was Stephen King who left those “signs and siguls.” This brings to mind for Eddie the literary concept of deus ex machina, the god from the machine. “Little escape hatches,” he thinks. “Cards that read GET OUT OF JAIL FREE or ESCAPE THE PIRATES. The god from the machine (who was actually the writer), patiently working to keep the characters safe so his tale wouldn’t end with an unsatisfying line like, ‘And so the ka-tet was wiped out on Jericho Hill and the bad guys won, rule Discordia, so sorry, better luck next time.”
They agree that sai-King didn’t make these things up, but was instead a “sender” or “telecaster.” And Eddie has to wonder: if Stephen King not survived long enough to write those things into his tale, might Jake have been eaten by the Doorkeeper in the house instead of escaping?
Susannah recalls a vision she’d had just as she was following Mia to the Dixie Pig: the TV she’d seen in her vision of the jail cell in Oxford, Mississippi, where broadcaster David Brinkley had announced author Stephen King had been struck and killed by a Dodge minivan while walking near his house. But Susannah didn’t get a chance to share that vision with the others when they were interrupted by the arrival of Suze’s C3PO-like buddy.
What Constant Reader Learns: The whole deus ex machina discussion is kind of mind-boggling. So sai-King isn’t making up their story, but channeling it from another world, and yet he can devise things (or channel them from somewhere else) that will change the course of the story in their world. As an author, it’s fun to think about one’s characters being alive and carrying on their mischief in another world while you simply check in on them now and again.
There will be consequences for Susannah not being able to share her news about the death of Stephen King: “Had Susannah told them, a great many things might have happened differently, or not at all…So something which might have been spoken was not, and the deus ex machina which might have descended to rescue a writer who had a date with a Dodge minivan on a late-spring day in the year of ’99 remained where it was, high above the mortals who acted their parts below.”
Interesting that the ka-tet are the mortals acting their parts while sai-King is presumed to be the supposedly immortal one creating the machine’s gods.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 1: Devar-Toi, Section 3
Now that Nigel the robot is back, Susannah is glad most robots don’t hold grudges since she’s responsible for Nigel’s blindness. He arrived to retrieve the broken incubator. Eddie’s not trustful of robots in generally, concerned about another incident with a certain messenger robot in his past. But Nigel is not Andy, and Roland asks him to stay—but to turn his voice off until he hears the words “Nigel, I need you.”
Now that Nigel has shut up, Jake tells his and Callahan’s tale, including the stashing of Black Thirteen in a storage locker at the World Trade Center. When he gets to the part about Callahan killing himself before the vampires got him, Jake also shares Callahan’s final words to Roland: “May you find your tower and breach it, and may you climb to the top.” They have a moment of silence for Callahan, then Eddie asks the burning question: “What the hell do we do next?”
What Constant Reader Learns: Magic versus science, the whole basis of our tale. Science replaced magic, and then science has failed, to the ruin of us all. Susannah has picked up on this. When Eddie suggests the Tet Corporation sell Nigel robots to housewives, she notes, “The less we’re involved with science the better. Look where it’s gotten this world.”
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 1: Devar-Toi, Section 4
Once Eddie asks his question, Roland sits down and gives him an exasperated look. Eddie realizes it’s because he asks questions he already knows the answer to. He knows what they do next; they need to return to Thunderclap before proceeding to the Tower. “We’re either going to kill the Breakers or set them free,” he says. “Whatever it takes to make the Beams safe. We’ll kill Walter, or Flagg, or whatever he’s calling himself because he’s the field marshal.”
Roland says there’s a new player on the scene who might be calling the shots instead of Walter. He asks Walter to retrieve a pencil and a piece of chalk for him.
While Nigel’s on his errand, Susannah asks if Roland means the baby is calling the shots now, and he says yes, and it is a “bah-bo” with two fathers. Susannah remembers her conversation with Mia about how she was changed in the extraction room, and made mortal. Now, Suze wonders if maybe the chap was partly Roland’s but if the Crimson King also had impregnated her so that the chap was a “loathsome hybrid,” a “were-spider.” Susannah thinks it is probably watching them, and hating Roland.
“Mordred means to kill you, Roland,” she tells him. “That’s its job.”
“Yes, and to rule in his father’s place,” Roland answers. “For the Crimson King is old, and I have come more and more to believe that he is imprisoned, somehow. If that’s so, then he’s no longer our real enemy.”
He says eventually they’ll go to the Castle Discordia, or Le Casse Roi Russe, as it was called in the old legends. But first, they need to return to Calla Bryn Sturgis and Thunderclap, and to take care of the Breakers.
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland grows angry when Nigel tells him the writing materials are in the ‘extraction room,” the place where the children were roont, but his emotion is lost on Nigel—except Nigel wants to make sure Roland isn’t going to destroy him because of the experiments even though he wasn’t involved in them.
Okay, so Roland has finally acknowledged the “bah-bo” with two fathers. I have been too impatient.
A “were-spider”! I’m seeing a whole new subgenre of paranormal romance. Or maybe not.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 1: Devar-Toi, Section 5
When Nigel returns with pencils, pens and chalk, Roland creates a map while Jake writes the legend so the others can see it. It’s a map of Fedic. He points out Castle Discordia with the “almighty tangle” of doors underneath, and the line running from Fedic and the Castle down to cross the River Whye and go into the Callas.
As Susannah recalls what she’s heard about traveling between the points on the map, Roland is sitting with his right leg stretched out to favor his hip, and Eddie wonders how bad the pain has gotten.
She says the kids are brought to the beds, where the hoods are used to extract something from the brains, and then whatever’s extracted is fed to or injected in the Breakers.
Speaking of feeding, they all realize they’re hungry, and Nigel offers to bring them some lunch. Roland wants “tooter-fish,” while Jake takes peanut butter and apple butter since he can’t have an “Elvis special” of peanut butter, banana, and bacon.
While waiting for the tooter-fish, they decide that they need to break the cycle that takes place every twenty-four years. To do it, they’ll go through the door to Thunderclap, then to kill the breakers. “There’ll be guards,” Eddie points out. “What if we’re outnumbered?” To which Roland replies, “It won’t be the first time.”
What Constant Reader Learns: The magical chalk sharpens itself as it’s used. I want some of that.
I had an Elvis special at a party once. Truly bizarre, and a strange thing for Jake to want.
I’m anxious for the ka-tet to get started but I did enjoy revisiting “tooter-fish.”
NOTE: A Read of the Dark Tower will take a hiatus over the holidays, and resume on Monday, January 6. Don’t forget what’s happened!
And…that’s it for this week! In two weeks—same time, same place—we’ll continue our read of the final book of the Dark Tower saga.