“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, the ka-tet had decided on their plan of action: first to Fedic, then to Castle Discordia, and then to the Tower. But Susannah senses someone is watching, and doesn’t quite trust Nigel, the ever-helpful robot.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 2: The Watcher, Section 1
Nigel returns with some food for our weary travelers, including some tooter-fish for Roland and some canned sodas (including the ever-popular Nozz-A-La and a new one, Wit Green Wit, which Eddie declared foul).
Nigel has developed a woebegone attitude since he last visited them, jerking his head periodically and muttering numbers in French and German. When Susannah asks what’s wrong, he announces that he’ll experience “total systemic breakdown” in the next two-to-six hours.
What Constant Reader Learns: Nigel, during one of his fits, makes a reference to Greg Stillson, a character in a novel he’s reading—The Dead Zone, by Stephen King. Although the robot isn’t sure why he even brought up the name in the first place. Maybe a vision of Mordred bringing down the Tower will come to Jake and trigger an assassination attempt. Oh, wait. They already plan to kill him. Never mind.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 2: The Watcher, Section 2
Nigel, we learn, is a type of robot called an Asimov Robot, and they’re prone to logic faults (the smarter the robot, the more logic faults).
Susannah doesn’t trust Nigel when he says he forgives her for blinding him and leading to his imminent meltdown—she remembers their robotic friend Andy back in the Calla who was vengeful and nasty. She asks Nigel to hold out his hands, and when he does, in addition to the steel and wires, they notice blood. “Rats in the kitchen,” he says, claiming he is programmed to dispose of vermin. After this pronouncement, he has a head-jerking, number-spouting fit. Susannah believes this to be untrue, and it’s then that she figure out that if Nigel is lying, baby Mordred is behind it.
What Constant Reader Learns: Susannah figures out that good old Nigel has a “tell.” He’s essentially programmed to tell the truth, and when he lies, that’s when his counting short-circuitry comes out. In the Oz of the ka-tet, I guess, Susannah is the brain, Jake courage, and Eddie heart, and Oy is Toto. Roland makes a “long, tall and ugly” Dorothy.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 2: The Watcher, Section 3
The ka-tet refuses to sleep in the Extraction Room, where the children of the Calla were roont, so Nigel hosts them in his quarters. On their way through the kitchen, Susannah notes there are no signs of rats, alive or dead.
They come to Nigel’s apartment, which is filled with monitoring equipment and books. He’s quite the reader, with an assortment of Dickens, Steinbeck, Zane Gray—and, of course, Stephen King. Eddie asks Roland if they should take the books of sai King with them, but Roland says the books might confuse them. Again, he doesn’t know why he says so.
What Constant Reader Learns: Nigel is deteriorating; he’s counting in other languages now that the ka-tet members don’t recognize.
Ha—they look through the Stephen King books in Nigel’s library: “better than thirty in all, at least four of them very large and two the size of doorstops.” That would be The Stand and…what’s the next-biggest one, Desperation?
I don’t much like the technique—used twice in this section already—of having people say things and then we’re told they don’t know why they said them.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 2: The Watcher, Section 4
Well, hello, Mordred. Our favorite baby spider is four levels down in the Arc 16 Experimental Station nerve-center, with its heavily secured control suite. Mordred, back in his infant form, is watching and fuming. He’s annoyed by his human body, which is pretty useless—he already has a bruised head and cut lip from falling out of the chair and then couldn’t get up. (There’s a device for that in our Now.)
Mordred can take spider form, from daddy King, or human form, from daddy Deschain, but he uses a lot of energy changing from one to the other. So when he has a tantrum and falls out of his chair, stuck in his useless baby body, he has to change back into a spider so he can crawl back into the chair.
What Constant Reader Learns: Mordred has tried to kill the ka-tet with some of the built-in features of the Experimental Station—robot armies with laser pistols and a release of poison gas—but none are working.
Agh. Authorial intrusion in first-person yet again: “What I’d show you is much more bizarre than anything we have looked at so far, and I warn you in advance that your first impulse will be to laugh…” Why apologize that the coming chapter could be seen as comical? Just put it out there already. Now, all you’ve done is annoy me.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 2: The Watcher, Section 5
Mordred, we’re told, is already up to twenty pounds and, thanks to Nigel, has a makeshift diaper—which he needs, because he’s a pooping baby, at least for now.
He falls from the chair again, and considers calling for Nigel—“DNK...could no more resist the commands of the King’s son than a lead weight dropped from a high window can resist the pull of gravity.” But Mordred knows Susannah is already suspicious of Nigel. So he lies on the floor and fumes that none of the machines works. “No wonder his father wanted to push down the Tower and begin again! This world was broken.”
He switches to spider, climbs back on the chair, and changes back to baby shortly before Nigel returns with dinner. Good thing, because Mordred is hungry, and Nigel has a treat for him tonight: a young billy bumbler.
What Constant Reader Learns: Interesting that Mordred seems to have the same intelligence “age” regardless of what form he’s in. He’s in his infant body but he does realize that he’ll be able to do away with the diaper by the end of the day. In the meantime, he’s mad as hell. And, okay, sai-King, it is pretty funny that while his inside mind is saying “f-you” to Nigel, all that comes from his mouth is baby babble.
Mordred prefers his spider form, where thoughts are simpler—eat, roam, rape, kill. But he knows he’s vulnerable now—Susannah’s gunshot wound is already infected.
Yikes. I thought the bumbler about to be a Mordred snack was Oy at first.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 2: The Watcher, Section 6
Back in Nigel’s study, Oy is having a nightmare about one of his kind being killed, and his whines wake Jake. Jake knows about bad dreams, but asks Oy to stay quiet because the others need their sleep. Then, Oy and Jake share a couple of dreams. In the first, about Peddlar’s Moon, Jake asks Oy who died, and he answers: his friends—many of them. The second dream is of the two of them playing in bright sunlight; another bumbler comes to them and tries to talk but he isn’t speaking English so they can’t understand him.
What Constant Reader Learns: Mordred in his baby form isn’t strong enough to take his dinner-bumbler out of its bag, and Nigel’s in the process of having a meltdown and can’t help him. So baby has to turn to spider, and spider has no trouble eating the bumbler live and whole. He tosses the corpse aside and yells for Nigel, who, of course, can’t help him.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 2: The Watcher, Section 7
Mordred doesn’t quite seem to understand that Nigel’s circuits are fried, so even though he’s thinking clearly enough to tells us this, he can’t think clearly as a spider. So he has to use up some of his bumbler energy switching back to human.
He’s amazed at the things he knows—about the Grandfathers, for example, or that a German vampire who drank the blood of a Frenchman would speak French for several days afterward.
Mordred watches the ka-tet on the monitors, and how they always sit or gather in a circle, and he knows his ka is not to be a part of any circle. He resents this. He also knows that while he’ll hurt them, especially his father Roland, that his “satisfaction would be bitter.” Mordred was twins with two fathers, we’re told: “And would remain twins until Roland of the Eld was dead and the last ka-tet broken.”
He thinks of Roland, “You’re finally old, Father, and now you walk with a limp, and at end of day I see you rub your hip with a hand that’s picked up the tiniest bit of a shake.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Mordred realizes he won’t be able to sustain himself on animal blood for long, unlike the Twilight vampires, but will need human blood in order to keep growing.
This is the first hint we’ve gotten that Mordred has anything other than hatred for Roland, as part of him wants to go to him. At the same time, he knows they’d kill him.
Just in case we thought we might escape this chapter without a last direct message from sai King, we’re given permission to pity Mordred a big. “If ka is a train..then this nasty little lycanthrope is its most vulnerable hostage….He looks at the sleeping gunslinger with love and hate, loathing and longing.”
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.