“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, we had a chance to meet Pimli Prentiss, head of Algul Sienta, and his security chief, a taheen named Finli O’Tego. They know the final days of their task of destroying the Beams is approaching, and are ignoring the feeling that something else might be wrong.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 7: Ka-Shume, Section 1
We’re back with our ka-tet, and learn that all of them has a feeling of melancholy that even Roland, at first, doesn’t acknowledge as being anything more than worries about the coming days and the effects of being in Thunderclap.
After their Breaker buddies depart, they explore the cave Brautigan had told them about. It’s large, with gas lanterns, sleeping bags that read “Property of U.S. Army” on them, and even a bed for Oy. “They were expecting four people and one animal,” Roland thinks. “Precognition, or have they been watching us somehow? And does it matter?”
There’s also an old reel-fed tape player and a box of weaponry.
Jake starts to talk about this bad feeling, which he’s had once before—just before Roland let him fall—but they are distracted by an off-road vehicle just perfect for Susannah, with a playing card propped on the dash. It is the Lady of Shadows card. No one reacts to the card except Roland, who picks it up from where Eddie tossed it aside. The last time Ro had seen that card, it was in the hand of Walter.
Finally, Roland recognizes the melancholy feeling among them as “ka-shume,” the sense of an approaching break in one’s ka-tet. As soon as he sees the card, Roland knows Walter is dead, and that one of his own will soon die as well. “It never crossed Roland’s mind that the one to die might be him.”
What Constant Reader Learns: So if the Breakers have such talents as precognition, and one would assume some of them do, wouldn’t those with that particular skill be able to tell the outcome of what’s ahead?
I wonder if we’ll learn where the U.S. Army materials came from? Likely not. Left over from another world or the old ones.
Sign that the world has moved on, #7,919: Eddie tells all about the newfangled thing they have in the modern world called a Walkman that can clip to your belt. Wait’ll you get a look at the iPhone, sai-Dean, or whatever comes next, since the iPod is also passé.
Ruh-roh. Ominous bit of foreshadowing here. I can’t imagine Roland is going to bite it this early in the book, so I’m guessing Suse, Eddie, Jake, or Oy are soon to go to another world.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 7: Ka-Shume, Section 2
The cave has plenty of food and drink, but it’s the weaponry that capture the ka-tet’s attention. Crates of high-powered rifles, conversion clips to turn them into machine guns, rocket shells, handheld atomic-bomb launchers (which Roland wants to avoid), gas masks, snub-nose and automatic pistols, and, of course, sneetches (“Harry Potter Model; We’ll kick the ‘Slytherin’ out of you!”)
Next Eddie digs in the trunk and pulls out a map crudely drawn on fabric, showing the town of “Pleasantville.” Roland is fixated on the part of the map marked “can-toi tete,” grabs it, and stalks out of the cave.
What Constant Reader Learns: Signs on Suze’s “crusin’ trike”—Honda; Takuro; North Central Positronics; U.S. Army.
Roland, we’re told, is willing to kill the Breakers to protect the Beam, but not unless he had to. They, after all, are victims as well and Roland doesn’t kill indiscriminately anymore—a different attitude than he had back at Tull, when he mowed down the whole town. This was back when his hands took over and his head didn’t have so much input and jibes with his “humanization” as the series has progressed. I wonder….if this Roland had been on the bridge in pursuit of Walter, would he have let Jake fall? Given a do-over (which for all I know he might have infinite do-overs since there are overlapping worlds and whens), would he make the same choices?
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 7: Ka-Shume, Section 3
Roland goes back to where Sheemie brought them over from below and examines Pleasantville through a pair of binoculars. There’s a desert dog howling outside. With the faux “sun” going down, darkness is falling quickly.
Ro hands the binoculars to Susannah and asks her to look at the buildings at either end of the quadrangle—the warden’s house on one side and the Damli house on the other. He wants to see if she thinks they’re made of wood or just made to look like wood. She looks, then hands the binoculars to Eddie, who hands them to Jake. While they’re standing there, the “sun” clicks off and leaves them in heavy dusk. In the distance, the desert dog howls again, then is cut short. Jake knows the dog is dead and, creeped out, wants to return to the big cave.
What Constant Reader Learns: Wood burns, right, Roland? Methinks sai-gunslinger is forming a plan.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 7: Ka-Shume, Section 4
Satisfied that everyone agrees the buildings are wood, Roland takes out a bottle of Perrier and begins a ritual with each of his ka-tet. One by one, he asks if they call him dinh, and when they say yes, asks them to share khef with him and drink. “Drink, bondsman,” is how he addresses each of them. Once they have sipped the water, Roland kisses each one and tells them he loves them. They all recognize the solemnity of the ritual and he tells them what ka-shume means: that one of them will die.
“Which one of us will it be?” Jake asks, and Roland answers, “I know not, and the shadow may yet lift from us, for the wheel’s still in spin.”
“We are ka-tet,” Roland tells them as they join hands. “We are one from many. We have shared our water as we have shared our lives and our quest. If one should fall, that one will not be lost, for we are one and will not forget, even in death."
What Constant Reader Learns: This had a chilling feel to it—the sai-King version of the Last Supper only instead of foot-washing there was Perrier-sharing.
Oh, I just want to cry. When Susannah asks Roland his plan, we’re told she didn’t call him “sugar” and “never called him that or any other endearment ever again, so far as Jake was aware.” If Suze survives to not call Roland “sugar,” and Jake survives to be aware of that, it tells me Eddie’s going to be the first to fall. Or at least sai-King wants us to think so.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 7: Ka-Shume, Section 5
Argh…Our omniscient narrator is back, telling us that farther up the hill, we might find a spider feeding on the “queerly deflated” body of a mutie coyote. Mordred has been eavesdropping. He knows things that could impact the outcome of the coming battle—he could have warned Finli O’Tego and let the Devar-Toi’s security crew ambush the ka-tet. After all, they’re trying to interfere with his Red Father’s plans.
But he really doesn’t care about his Red Father’s plans—he enjoys wallowing in his loneliness and plotting to kill Roland. He decides he will not interfere in the battle to come unless it’s to save his White Father, because Roland’s death needs to come at his hands. The rest of them, he doesn’t care about.
What Constant Reader Learns: Ah, now I’m wondering if Mordred intercedes somehow to save his “Big White Ka-Daddy” and Eddie dies instead. I never did like spiders.
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.