Jan 13 2014 12:00pm

A Read of the Dark Tower: Constant Reader Tackles The Dark Tower, Blue Heaven, Chapter 3

Stephen King The Dark Tower

“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 time, while the ka-tet rested in the apartment of the late Nigel, spider-baby Mordred watched, and plotted.

The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 3: The Shining Wire, Section 1

Fast-forward ten hours, and we find Mordred awakened from a deep sleep by—can it be? It is!—our old pal Randall Flagg-Walter-Man in Black. He’s wearing his usual Flagg uniform of jeans and a hooded jacket and holding a gun on our spider-baby.

Flagg is very pleased with himself because he has a woven wire helmet of sorts inside his hood, aimed at blocking Mordred from his thoughts. Too bad for him it doesn’t work. Flagg anticipated that, like his red father, Mordred’s mental powers “may exceed mere communication.”

As usual, Flagg is a chatterbox, but his chatter serves to tie together the events of Farson and Walter and Gilead with his Flagg incarnation. Mordred can tell Flagg is nervous, and he has no intention of sparing him, but first he needs some information—and there’s a deadline. The Tower will fall in two days, Mordred thinks, because the writer Stephen King “had only days left to live in his world, and the final Books of the Tower—three of them—remained unwritten.”

Flagg/Walter figures he has about five days to reach the Tower. His plan is to kill Mordred and amputate his foot with its red bookmark, which will be needed to open the door to the tower and bypass the Red King. Then, Walter can become “God of All.” He then reflects on more of his past, including the fact that he was the one who killed Cuthbert Allgood at Jericho Hill. He’d been at Mejis. And he reflects that maybe Roland had propelled Walter to his “greatness.” Before Roland, “Walter O’Dim had been little more than a wanderer left over from the old days, a mercenary with a vague ambition to penetrate the Tower before it was brought down. Was that not what had brought him to the Crimson King in the first place?”

But enough thinking. Walter drops to one knee in faux allegiance to the new baby spider king, and after a pause, Mordred raises his baby hands and thinks, “Rise, bondman, and come to me.”

What Constant Reader Learns: Ah, so Mordred might have a couple of long-lived daddies, but he can fall by the gun: “As he looked into the dark eye of [the pistol’s] muzzle, Mordred Deschain for the second time realized that even gods could die once their divinity had been diluted with human blood.”

Why is he Mordred Deschain and not Mordred King or Mordred the Red or Mordred Crimson-son?

Ah….duh. Now I see why that false news report of Stephen King’s death at the wheel of the driver is so important, or at least I have a glimpse of it. Mordred is accepting King’s death as a fact, and that the only thing keeping the Tower up is King’s continued survival—and his writing. If the creator dies, so does the creation.

As for Flagg, he’s happy that King hasn’t written anything in the Books of the Tower (first time I remember them being referred to thus) since page 676 of Wizard and Glass, when the ka-tet almost did him in at the Castle of “Oz the Green King.”

Had a LOL moment as Flagg reflects on the speed with which sai King can churn out books: “a genuinely talented writer who’d turned himself into a shoddy (but rich) quick-sketch artist, a rhymeless Algernon Swinburne, do it please ya.”


The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 3: The Shining Wire, Section 2

Time for a snack, and Walter sits down on the floor to enjoy a repast of peanut butter and crackers. Mordred’s hungry too, but peanut butter’s not going to cut it.

Mordred swipes his baby-hand in the air, making a question mark. Walter/Flagg is always happy to babble, so he decides Mordred wants to know how he escaped Roland at the Mohaine Desert, when they had their palaver. He says he showed him several levels of the Tower to stun him and, while stunned, Walter hypnotized him. He dressed a skeleton in his clothes and moved on.

Mordred’s about tired of Walter’s rambling but knows he needs to find out where the ka-tet has gone while he slept. And then he needs to eat. In the meantime, Walter tells him the Red King is mad and locked up, and that he, Walter, is there to help Mordred complete what his red father began. Then he opens up a hidden staircase, showing how he’d followed the ka-tet, which gives Mordred the first part of what he needed. Now, all he had to do was follow Walter’s backtrail.

Oblivious that he’s about to become appetizer, entrée and dessert all rolled into one, Walter blithers on about how the ka-tet is headed to Thunderclap to release the Breakers. And he confesses he wants something more than the Tower—to see Roland dead. “As for the end of the universe…I say let it come as it will, in ice, fire, or darkness.” Finally, he adds that there’s only a single working door between their present location and the devar-toi in Thunderclap, and they might find the reception a bit hot.

Walter offers to carry Mordred and take him for a real feast. He holds his arms out and stops long enough to ask, “Y’won’t shit on me , will you?” before slipping his hand into his pocket. Mordred realizes with alarm that Walter had realized the “thinking cap” wasn’t working, and plans to shoot him now.

What Constant Reader Learns: Love Mordred’s assessment of Flagg: “A cracker-gobbling, crumb-spewing fool who was too full of his own past exploits to sense his present danger, or to know his defenses had been breached. By all the gods, he deserved to die.”

Will Walter become dinner? It’s looking that way.


The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 3: The Shining Wire, Section 3

Walter realized Mordred was in his head much later than Mordred thinks, but he does know it now, so he changes plans—from killing the kid later to killing him now. But he discovers he no longer has control of his hand—so close to the gun but unable to grasp it.

And he sees the “shining wire” for the first time—spanning from the baby sitting in the chair, and winding itself around him, pinning his arms to his sides.

What Constant Reader Learns: Neat little trick, that, with the spider spinning an imaginary shining web to encase Flagg, who understands that the wire “wasn’t really there…but at the same time, it was.”

I can’t explain it, but I find myself feeling a bit sorry for old Walter for whatever’s to come, probably because he at least has a charming attractive façade to his nastiness. Mordred, not so much.


The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 3: The Shining Wire, Section 4

Mordred didn’t see the shining wire, we’re told, “perhaps because he’d never read Watership Down.” But he had had the chance to plunder around in Susannah’s head and knows about her dogan, so he constructs a similar one in his mind, only changing the knobs to control Walter’s movement.

What Constant Reader Learns: Well, okay, sai King is able to make Mordred entertaining, if not charming: “The only problem was that he was a baby. A damned baby stuck in a chair. If he really meant to change this delicatessen on legs into cold-cuts, he’d have to move quickly.”


The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 3: The Shining Wire, Section 5

Finally, Walter realizes he’d seriously underestimated “the little monster.” But he figures if Mordred’s going to make a move, he’ll have to change forms since the baby can’t walk yet. That will be his only chance.

Sure enough, when Mordred begins to change, Walter feels the shining wire loosen, and he prepares to run. Before he can, however, the wire resets, this time around his throat—and tight. Now, he can hear Mordred in his head: “Now I do the one you call my White Father a small favor. You may not have been his greatest enemy, Walter Padick (as you were called when you set out, all in the long-ago), but you were his oldest, I grant. And now I take you out of his road.”

When he hears himself called by his original name, he finally realizes that the only hope that remains is the hope of dying well. But that’s not to be.

First, Mordred demands that he pluck out his own eyeballs and hand them over, and “the sound that marked the end of sight was low and wet.” He drops the eyeballs, and spider Mordred catches them and lets them slide down like an oyster on the halfshell. Next, he asks for Walter’s tongue, and he can only rip it halfway out before his hands grew too slippery, so Mordred tells him to stick his tongue out, and Mr. Spider “tore it free with a single, powerful wrench.”

Appetizer course completed, Mordred’s ready for a serious gnosh. “He pounced upon Randall Flagg, Walter o’Dim, Walter Padick that was. There were more screams, but only a few. And then Roland’s enemy was no more.”

What Constant Reader Learns: Walter got this particular Randall Flagg hoodie in the town of French Landing, Wisconsin, which was the setting for Black House, where the Breakers originated. Did it appear anywhere else?

One more loose thread wrapped up (or eaten up). I know Walter deserved it, but…ick!


The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 3: The Shining Wire, Section 5

By the time he finishes off his “legendary meal” of Walter, Mordred is overstuffed, feels the need to toss his cookies, and then wants to take a nap. Instead, he stays in spider form and follows Walter’s trail down the stairs and into a corridor below. Since Walter’s now a part of him, so to speak, Mordred has access to all of his years of knowledge.

Eventually he reaches an elevator shaft. When it looks to be short-circuited, the spider’s able to crawl up the inner wall and climb the cable. He reaches another corridor where Walter’s scent separates from those of the ka-tet, so he follows Roland. Eventually, he reaches a door with a sigil showing a cloud with a bolt of lightning coming from it—the door to Thunderclap.

Mordred wants to go in now, but he doesn’t want to get too close to Roland and his friends yet—while he’s still a baby in human form. After all, the gunslingers are fast and he can be killed by gunfire. No, he wants to hang back and watch Roland for a while. And in the meantime, he can nap. He spins a web from the ceiling and, hanging in it, goes back to baby form.

What Constant Reader Learns: We’re told Walter was at least 1,500 years old and even though Mordred has access to his knowledge for now, he doesn’t use all of it. For example, we’re told he doesn’t know what the Breakers are, only that Roland’s ka-tet is going to release them. “It had been in Walter’s mind, but Mordred hadn’t bothered looking for it.” I suspect this will come back to haunt him.

And…that’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll continue our read of the final book of the Dark Tower saga.

Juan Manuel Guerrero
1. juanmaguerrero
Epic moment, Walter's dead is. Re reading this just triggered some questions regarding the end (SPOILER AHEAD):

Regarding the loop ending, we know Walter talked to Roland at the end of book 1 and told him he was "resuming" his quest, and that he never remembers... as if he knew or was aware of the loop trap somehow. But then, here I see he does intend to reach the tower and he certainly did not know he was going to die at first...

So, how do you read this? Like, he's trying to break the loop himself by reaching the tower? And since there are differences between loops, he never died here before? What do you think? :)
Jack Flynn
2. JackofMidworld
I was shocked by how easily Walter went down. Did he deserve to go out like that? Sure, I'll grant that he didn't deserve a good death, but even if he really was just a cockroach out running his cockroach errands, I always liked him as an enemy, as a Big Bad, and I was actually p'd off that he went out like a chump (I really wanted to see Roland - or, even better, to see Jake take him out).

(and yes, I've been sitting on this little tirade long we been on this path? Yeah, about that long ;-)
Chris Nelly
3. Aeryl
See, I'm of the opinion that going out like a chump is exactly what he deserved.


While Roland lives the loop, it's a straight line for Walter. Straight line from Ro's childhood and his time as Marten, to the first trek to the Tower that killed Ro's friends, all told in Browning's poem. Straight line through the second trek to the Tower, that starts in The Gunslinger.

IMO, when we leave Ro in the Mohaine at the end, he will go forward, discover the man in black never came through Tull, meet a new ka-tet, and do it right this time. Because he has the horn, and the Tower is closer.
Gentleman Farmer
4. Gentleman Farmer
@2, I agree. I'm not sure there was a good way to solve the problem of Walter being the big baddie all the way through, then seeming small, pathetic and easily (if gruesomely) killed.

I was kind of reminded of David Eddings' The Elenyium series (or sequels) where through most of the books Krager is the power behind the big bad guy, and all the protagonists think of awful things to do to him (ways to make even his hair bleed, I think was the goal). Eddings ended up having him die offscreen, not at the instance of the characters (cirrhosis I think). I don't know if that would have been the right way to go for Walter, but this way made him seem small and (perhaps deliberately) undercut the old west/high fantasy standard of the hero defeating the big bad guy. While I wouldn't mind that, I chafe more at making the big bad guy seem less big.

All along, he's been the instrument of the King, close to all powerful, largely setting every aspect of Roland's life in motion, being the power behind the throne for every antagonist (including the King) capable of seeing the long view and big picture probably better than any other character and here he is presented as a two bit mercenary. It didn't feel like it quite fit, or perhaps it felt a bit rushed.

I had also thought that he'd have the rest of, or perhaps a key chunk (emerald?) of Merlin's rainbow, perhaps explaining some of his powers and abilities. I guess this part surprised me because since the first sentence of Book 1 the Man in Black had been the antagonist, and now that role shifts to were-spider baby, and the defeat of the antagonist is left to the new antagonist rather than to Roland.

From a story perspective it's interesting, and I think I appreciate it overall, but at the time (and even now) it also feels unsatisfying.
Thomas Thatcher
5. StrongDreams
The fact that so many Big Bads go out like punks could be attributed to bad writing or writer's block or something (failing to come up with something suitably epic), but I think it's intentional in a good way. Walter (and Eldred Jonas in Mejis) are, in their own minds, the Big Coffin Hunter, the Ageless Stranger, the Great Enemy, etc., but yes, they are just roaches running roach errands and they get ground under ka's wheel like everyone else. It's because they think they are so big that they go out so small.
Thomas Thatcher
6. StrongDreams
@Aeryl and Juan,
I think that, Walter seeming to know that Roland is in a loop, is King getting too cute for himself in the revision of book 1, because it creates problems. It would have been better for Walter to not know, since as Aeryl says, Roland is looping but everyone else is going straight through.

@Aeryl, I like the idea of Roland meeting a different ka-tet next time, because from all evidence, his current ka-tet is not looping (too spoilery to say why I think this). But I think Walter is always part of Roland's ka, and is in every loop. Walter still engineered the fall of Gilead and events in Mejis, and Roland is still on his trail. It's just that maybe Walter will leave someone else at the Way Station.
Gentleman Farmer
7. Narvi
I put it down to old men getting old and sentimental about the patheticness of supervillainy.

George Lucas did the same thing.
Emmet O'Brien
8. EmmetAOBrien
His plan is to kill Mordred and amputate his foot with its red bookmark

I'm presuming that last word is a typo, but it's a rather lovely one.

You can include me among those surprised and mildly disappointed at how quick Flagg went down, but I'd been losing faith in King's ability to make that element work the more he was conflating Walter and Farson and Flagg and Maerlyn.
Thomas Thatcher
9. StrongDreams
Also, Walter might be Roland's nemesis but he is not the Crimison King's only or even greatest servant. There is a line of dialog in Wind Through the Keyhole where one character refers to Walter and another character laughs and says, "long life and minor mischief is all he is capable of." Walter has inflated his own importance and that (among other things) is his downfall. (Also note how Walter/The Walking Dude is surprised at and brought up short by his own limitations almost every time we see him in any King book.)

@8 Emmet,
Hmm, yes, as I've said before, the original version of book 1 sets up the hierarchy of Marten and Farson as puppets manipulated by Walter, who answers to the Ageless Stranger (Randall Flagg?), who answers to the Beast, who guards the Tower. Making every antagonist an aspect of Walter/Flagg (except maybe Farson, he still might have been Walter's puppet) never quite worked for me.
Chris Nelly
10. Aeryl
@6, My thought on that is that the mysterious disappearance of the Man in Black is what's going to clue Roland in to the looping. But this is all fanfiction territory.
Thomas Thatcher
11. StrongDreams
@10 Aeryl,
I don't think Roland will ever get clued in to the existence of the loop. And really, pretty much everything has to play out the same way each time, in order to break the Breakers and save the Beams and the Tower. But eventually, maybe, Roland will learn to turn his back on the final door.
Chris Nelly
12. Aeryl
@11, I don't agree that everything will have to play out the same. Any continuation of the story, SHOULD be very different. But I think learning about the loop is the ONLY thing that will get him to turn back. But, YMMV, of course.
Suzanne Johnson
13. SuzanneJohnson
Wow, I leave for a day and you guys are talking in WHITE--LOL. I also wanted to see a more spectacular finish for RF, but it does play into the whole Oz thing--the great and powerful Oz is really a dinky little power-mad guy hiding behind a curtain.
Adam S.
14. MDNY
Highly entertaining section, though I do agree a little with the complaints of RF's lame exit from the SK universe. Mordred's got some serious powers. As for all the whited-out comments, I'll hold off till we finish the series.
Gentleman Farmer
15. W.H.L
Boo, Morderd! Flagg was my favorite SK villain and the baby spider is barely even a character at this point, so boo to him. It should had been the gunslinger vs the wizard.
Juan Manuel Guerrero
16. juanmaguerrero
@Aeryl, @StrongDreams we kinda know the loops are at least a bit different since in the last one after the end of the saga Roland has the horn of Eld which, looking at the poem (Childe Roland...) will let him arrive to the tower "in propper manner" and end the looping curse (like Ka says in the end, that he might find rest).

But I do not think Walter died and will be missing in the next (maybe final) loop. Y think everyone repeats, and maybe the 19 number would be that it's the 19 th loop Roland is living at the time we read the story.

We know all the Ka tet is re-encarnation-somehow of the old ka-tet, fictional-King said Eddie was Cuthbert (clues were all over the place in the previous book anyway) and Susan delgado says that she might have fallen in love with Cuthbert if she knew him first, so it's natural that she fell in for Eddie in the times of the "actual" story.

When Eddie has to ride a horse in the Calla, we're told he felt as he kew how to do that as if he did tons of times. But of course we have the ending of the 7th book when Susannah ends in Takuro Spirit's alter New York with brothers Eddie and Jake (and the Oy-dog). So maybe in the 19th loop (the story time) all but Roland were released from the looping curse and in the next, the last, Roland has the horn, having proved to be able to give his life for Jake in 19th kind of redeemed him and he will go on "alone"...

To end, maybe Alice found about they were all in a loop when she sayed "nineteen" to the back-from-the-dead guy and thus went kind of mad.

It's all ideas, I'm not saying yours are invalid, haha (except for the horn part) :D
Chris Nelly
17. Aeryl
While I like most of your theories, juan, SPOILER I don't accept that 19 is the number of loops. It seems pretty obvious that they were introduced as red flags to get the ka-tet to see King's upcoming doom, as it was 6/19/1999.
Juan Manuel Guerrero
18. juanmaguerrero
@Aeryl hey that's a great theory I did not imagined! It makes good sense :)
Gentleman Farmer
19. Ravage104
Stephen King once said in the forward of 'The Stand', I think, that he thought Robert Duvall would be a good choice to portray Randall Flagg. When I read Dark Tower I saw him as Michael Emerson from 'Lost'. (I also thought he voiced a good Joker in 'The Dark Knight Returns'.) It would be awesome to see Emerson's crazy eyes scanning the desert under Walter's (Broad)cloak.
Juan Manuel Guerrero
20. juanmaguerrero
@Ravage104 (19) Wow! I did not read The Stand but I watched the miniseries and I did not know about King imagining him as Duvall, that's a WOOW :S

I always pictured him more like

even before seeing the miniseries. Bizarre :D
Gentleman Farmer
21. Carlos12344
I think Mordred killing Flagg gives creedence to the idea that King is not writing, but transcribing the tale. If he was plotting it, of course Flagg would go down in a faceoff against Roland, but in the book, he's lamely dispatched and it suggests that real life isn't always going to follow romantic tropes.

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