“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, we left Roland, Jake, and Oy racing to intercede as Brian Smith barreled his blue minivan down on an unsuspecting Stephen King, Roland drops his gun getting out of the truck being driven by Mrs. Tassembaum, and sorrow is to come.
The Dark Tower, Part Three: In This Haze of Green and Gold; Chapter 2: Ves’-Ka Gan, Section 1
Roland’s bad hip gives way as he leaps from the truck and he falls, which gives Jake an opening to leap over him and race toward Stephen King. As Roland cries out for Jake to stop, the boy grabs the “lazy author” around the waist and turns in time to take the brunt of the minivan’s impact. The van runs over him, whereas Stephen King is thrown ten feet away, hitting his head on a stone wall. Ironically, in the process of weaving off the road and stopping, the van hits King again and Roland hears bone snap.
Roland finally gains his feet, takes a glance at King, and thinks “Good. If someone has to die here, let it be you…To hell with the Tower. Let it be you and not my boy.”
Oy runs past and pulls Jake away from the van. It’s clear that Jake, while still alive, is mortally injured. Roland first thinks he’s okay, that maybe the blood running from his ears and mouth are just from a cut—or at least he tries to convince himself of it.
Jake’s clear-minded and calm, telling Roland to go and see to the writer. At first Roland refuses, but then he sees the “dreadful concavity” of Jake’s chest and knows it’s not minor at all. “This is dying—I know because I’ve done it before,” Jake tells him. “See to the man we came to save.”
Roland would like nothing better than to kill Stephen King himself, but then Jake’s sacrifice would have been for nothing. He knows that, this time, Jake will not come back: “In this [world], death was always for keeps.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland seems so very human here. He’s pretty much frozen in place as this happens very quickly. And yet, ka has struck, because once the accident has occurred, he realizes what he suspected earlier was true—that his “dry twist” was never arthritis at all. Now that the accident has happened, it’s gone.
This is all so sad, although it was so blatantly foreshadowed in previous sections, it didn’t come as a surprise. Made me wonder which would be more powerful—knowing it was coming and dreading it, only waiting to see HOW it happened, or not knowing at all and being hit out of left field. I’m not sure.
The Dark Tower, Part Three: In This Haze of Green and Gold; Chapter 2: Ves’-Ka Gan, Section 2
While Roland’s tending to Jake, Irene Tassenbaum goes after Brian Smith. She sees Roland’s gun on the ground and picks it up, pointing it at Smith and reaching over him to turn off the radio still blasting heavy metal. She tells him to back his van off Stephen King. “And if you run over the kid again, I swear I’ll blow your jackass head off.”
“What kid?” Smith asks, bewildered.
What Constant Reader Learns: To pick up on some of the comments from last week (no, not the spoilery ones that told me what Roland and Irene will be doing later, thankee sai), I also have to wonder if there was some legal maneuvering that went on behind the scenes so King could portray Smith as such an idiot without fear of litigation.
The Dark Tower, Part Three: In This Haze of Green and Gold; Chapter 2: Ves’-Ka Gan, Section 3
When the van rolls away from King, Roland can tell his thigh bone is broken, but that he’d probably live through this if his heart was strong. “You again,” King says, kicking off a surreal conversation. King asks where Eddie is, and is confused when Roland says he’s dead in the Devar-Toi. This is a term King doesn’t know, since he hasn’t written it yet: “That’s why we’re here,” Roland says. “One of my friends is dead, another may be dying, and the tet is broken. All because one lazy, fearful man stopped doing the job for which ka intended him.”
“I lost the Beam,” King says, and Roland points to the sky, where the clouds on the beam are moving. “It was always there,” Roland tells him. “You didn’t lose it, you turned your coward’s eye away.”
Roland takes the old shell from his belt to do his finger-rolling thing to hypnotize King, hoping Jake doesn’t die “while he was busy with this miserable excuse for a man.” But he knows he can’t rush it, not after all they’d gone through. King goes under quickly. Roland asks if King is Gan, and King quickly says no, that he once thought he was, “but that was just the booze, and pride.” Artists, musicians, are not Gan but kas-Gan, which Roland interprets as “the singers of Gan or the prophets of Gan.” The song King sings is “Ves’ Ka Gan,” the Song of the Turtle.
Roland tells King that as soon as he can write again, he will listen for the song again, and “this time you’ll sing until the song is done.”
What Constant Reader Learns: I love how angry Roland is at sai King, and have to wonder if, in writing this, King was amused by their exchange, or if it was a painful thing for him to write. I have to admit when I first realized SK was going to be a character in his own series, I really hated it. But it has been so skillfully handled, I have become a big fan of SK the character.
It’s been a while since I read On Writing, but I wonder if one of SK’s first thoughts after the accident was regret that he hadn’t ever finished the Dark Tower saga and if that prompted this story twist.
Roland hears Oy howling during his convo with sai King, and thinks it is ironic that he must leave the ushering out of the boy he thinks of as a son to the bumbler while he tends to the man who caused his death.
The Dark Tower, Part Three: In This Haze of Green and Gold; Chapter 2: Ves’-Ka Gan, Section 4
Roland repeats his instructions to King, and makes him repeat them back. “I’ll do as you say, gunslinger,” King says. “No matter how the tale falls when the pages grow thin.”
Before Roland can leave, King has a few final words of his own. “Susannah needs you. And you need her. Leave me alone now. Save your hate for those who deserve it more. I didn’t make your ka any more than I made Gan or the world…Finish the job.”
Next, Roland deals with Bryan Smith, “yet one more he’d like to strangle.” He’s wallowing a bit, saying he’s never had so much as a parking ticket and there he had to go and run into the most famous man in the state and his dogs were fighting and…Roland tells him to shut up. He tells him that he was alone, that no one but himself and the writer were present at the accident. He also orders him to drive to the nearest house or store and get help.
When Smith leaves and finally Roland can turn back to Jake, the boy is dead.
What Constant Reader Learns: When King tells Roland he’s sorry about his friends, Roland has to “restrain the urge to put his hands around the writer’s neck and choke the life out of him.”
Roland has an interesting final word for King as well. After establishing that King is heterosexual, he warns that a beautiful woman, Morphia, Daughter of Sleep, might come to him and offer to take him to the clearing, and he should refuse. It’s an interesting view of the procession to the afterlife.
Roland makes his post-hypnotic suggestions to Bryan Smith but never hypnotizes him. Maybe with a sufficient lack of intelligence, a person doesn’t need the old bullet trick.
The Dark Tower, Part Three: In This Haze of Green and Gold; Chapter 2: Ves’-Ka Gan, Section 5
Roland takes Jake’s body in his arm and rocks him. He’d seen Jake talking to Irene Tassenbaum and asks what was said. Jake asked her to come back for Roland when the business here was done, and he said, “Tell my father I love him.”
There was more, she said, but for now Roland needed to move along before help arrived for King. He tells her to go along and to come back. But he’s a realist; this isn’t her battle. “If for some reason you feel you can’t come back here, I’ll not hold it against you,” he tells her. But if she does return, he tells her to keep driving past until everyone is gone. He’ll see her.
Before she leaves, he digs around in the back of the pickup, and finds a tarp. Then he’s alone with Jake’s body and his friend Oy.
What Constant Reader Learns: At first, Roland can’t cry and he fears he’s lost the ability, a thought that horrifies him. “If he was incapable of tears after all of this—after what he’d regained and then lost again—what good was any of it.” But he does cry, bitterly.
If you had told me back all those many moons ago when we began this journey, that Roland would make me cry, I’d have called you a liar. But there you have it. This was just such a sad, sad chapter.
The Dark Tower, Part Three: In This Haze of Green and Gold; Chapter 2: Ves’-Ka Gan, Section 6
Roland carries Jake into the woods until he finds a clearing. Oy is crying along with Roland. To keep him from thinking too hard about what he’d lost, Roland tries to recall the prayer for the dead he’d heard Cuthbert say on their last campaign at Jericho Hill.
Roland hears the minivan with Bryan Smith in it return, so he asks Oy to stay and guard his friend.
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland doesn’t have clean burial clothes for Jake, so he removes the boy’s blood-covered shirt and dresses him in his own.
The Dark Tower, Part Three: In This Haze of Green and Gold; Chapter 2: Ves’-Ka Gan, Section 7
When Roland emerges from the woods, he finds Bryan Smith sitting on the rock wall, talking to Stephen King. Smith’s almost jovial as he informs King his leg is broken, maybe in six or seven places. “Prolly bust a rib or two, too.” Bizarrely, the two men shake hands when Smith introduces himself.
Smith assures King he recognizes him. “I seen all your movies,” he says. “My favorite was the one about the Saint Bernard.” He tells King he’s happy the boy lived. “In the book he died,” King says, to which Smith adds, “I liked the show they made about the clown too.”
Satisfied that neither man remembers that anyone else was there, he retreats into the woods to finish Jake’s burial.
What Constant Reader Learns: Such a bizarre conversation between Smith and King. Did they talk? If not, don’t you know Stephen King has had that very conversation a bazillion times before?
Roland, listening from the woods, reflects that in Mejis, “cujo” meant “sweet one” and was a name Susan sometimes called him during their alone time.
The Dark Tower, Part Three: In This Haze of Green and Gold; Chapter 2: Ves’-Ka Gan, Section 8
A little authorial intrusion here as Irene Tassenbaum arrives back at her home at 5:15 p.m. and finds her house empty—and that she lives in the house on the shore of Keywadin Pond that once belonged to John Cullum.
She goes inside to find a note from her husband David, off doing geeky things with his geeky friends who invented the Internet. He’s off fishing and, by the way, something went on at the store today. She leaves him a note in turn, saying “something happened” and she needs to be gone a few days.
Reflecting that Jake had told her Roland didn’t know about money, she takes $300 in cash from a pantry hiding place.
What Constant Reader Learns: LOL. Irene thinks to herself: “Are you going to sleep with Marshal Dillon, if he wants you?” Sadly, I’m old enough to understand that reference to “Gunsmoke.”
The Dark Tower, Part Three: In This Haze of Green and Gold; Chapter 2: Ves’-Ka Gan, Section 9
The police arrived at the accident scene, but Roland doesn’t stop working, digging a grave by hand. When he thinks about Jake introducing himself to the people of the Calla, Roland begins to weep again, “wishing he had cried off before ka, that old and patient demon, had taught him the real price of his quest.”
What Constant Reader Learns: As he digs, Roland has time to reflect on Oy, and that maybe his chattiness that caused those in his own tet to expel him. The bumbler had been scrawny and had a bite-mark on his flank when he’d met up with them. And he wonders if, now that Jake was gone, Oy might fall silent. Sniffle.
The Dark Tower, Part Three: In This Haze of Green and Gold; Chapter 2: Ves’-Ka Gan, Section 10
Roland wraps Jake’s body in the tarp, and asks Oy if he wants to say goodbye before he buries him. He notes that “Bye, Jake” in Oy-speak comes out as “I ache,” and thinks it’s appropriate.
Here’s the prayer he remembered from Cuthbert:
“Time flies, knells call, life passes, so hear my prayer.
Birth is nothing but death begun, so hear my prayer.
Death is speechless, so hear my speech.
This is Jake, who served his ka and his tet. Say true.
May the forgiving glance of S’mana heal his heart. Say please.
May the arms of Gan raise him from the darkness of this earth. Say please.
Surround him, Gan, with light.
Fill him, Chloe, with strength.
If he is thirsty, give him water in the clearing.
If he is hungry, give him food in the clearing.
May his life on this earth and the pain of his passing become as a dream to his waking soul, and let his eyes fall upon every lovely sight; let him find the friends that were lost to him, and let every one whose name he calls call his in return.
This is Jake, who lived well, loved his own, and died as ka would have it.
Each man owes a death. This is Jake. Give him peace.”
What Constant Reader Learns: We should all have such beauty spoken over us, shouldn’t we? I think the author who wrote “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed” could not have penned that prayer without all the years and pain that came between.
The Dark Tower, Part Three: In This Haze of Green and Gold; Chapter 2: Ves’-Ka Gan, Section 11
When the burial was done, Roland returned to the road and examined the tracks, figuring he’d call Oy when and if Irene returned. But he isn’t sure Oy will come; he thinks he might stay by Jake’s grave until he also died. But in a few minutes, Oy comes out and sits next to Roland.
Ten minutes later, now in her red BMW, Irene returns, and Roland and Oy get in. Irene says she can’t really put a marker on Jake’s grave but asks Roland if there’s something she might plant there? And Roland smiles for the first time since the accident: “A rose.”
What Constant Reader Learns: As Jake was talking to Irene, he probably had a talk with Oy as well and told him to go back to Roland. Otherwise, I don’t think Oy would have left the gravesite.
The Dark Tower, Part Three: In This Haze of Green and Gold; Chapter 2: Ves’-Ka Gan, Section 12
As they ride, Roland notes that the clouds are moving more clearly across the Beam. He thinks maybe the Beam is already growing stronger.
Irene stops for gas and brings Roland a T-shirt, adding that she’ll pick up better clothes for him later. For now, she says, they need to use cash as long as they can because Jake had said “low men” might be after them.
When asked what else Jake had said, Irene says Jake told her to take Roland to New York City, where there was a door to take him to “Faydag.” Also that there was another place Roland might want to go before he used the door.
What Constant Reader Learns: Irene said Jake also seemed to be giving instructions to Oy. I knew it!
Funny moment at the highway toll booth, where the toll-taker “was a robot with a basket for an arm.”
The Dark Tower, Part Three: In This Haze of Green and Gold; Chapter 2: Ves’-Ka Gan, Section 13
They travel in silence for a while, and Irene reflects that while Roland might be the most tired-looking man she’d ever seen, he’s not used up. She asks if Oy is a dog, and Roland says no. Roland doesn’t offer more and she decides to let it go.
She thinks that she finds Roland attractive even in his grief, or maybe because of his grief. But that it’s probably better that she know as little as possible. She turns on the radio and “Amazing Grace” is one. When she looks back at Roland, he’s weeping silently. And so is Oy.
What Constant Reader Learns: Okay, just in case we needed to cry a little more.
The Dark Tower, Part Three: In This Haze of Green and Gold; Chapter 2: Ves’-Ka Gan, Section 14
They exit the interstate at the Massachusetts state line and Irene checks them into side-by-side rooms at a cheap motel. She doesn’t like driving at night and besides, she tells Roland, if the Tet Corporation he’s looking for is a business, the building won’t be open until Monday.
They hear on the TV that Stephen King was hit in an accident and his road to recovery was expected to be long and uncertain. Then Irene goes back to her own room and watches TV a while. She goes to bed, but can’t sleep. She’s halfway listening for a gunshot to tell her Roland had killed himself. She finally goes outside to look at the stars and finds Roland and Oy sitting on the curb.
When she asks what he’s doing, he tells her he’s afraid to go to sleep. “I’m afraid my dead friends will come to me, and that seeing them will kill me.” When she asks if it would help if she lay down with him, he says he thinks so. To her disappointment, he falls asleep, but then so does she.
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland won’t go out to dinner, which would have been entertaining, so Irene picks up dinner from KFC and fixes a plate for Oy without being asked.
Interesting that when Irene turns on the TV, Roland literally can’t see it. Just pulsing light that hurts his eyes. He can hear the sound. And then that Irene watches “Westworld,” in which Yul Brenner plays a robot cowboy.
We get quite an inventory of Roland’s scars and bullet wounds.
I liked this section, despite some of the chatter last week. Irene strikes me as a very practical woman who isn’t very content with her life and she’s going to take this opportunity to step outside her norm even if it’s uncomfortable for her. And Roland is just in need of comfort.
The Dark Tower, Part Three: In This Haze of Green and Gold; Chapter 2: Ves’-Ka Gan, Section 15
Next night, they stay together in a cheap Motel 6 room in Connecticut because NYC is so expensive and she’s trying to only use her cash. They do make love this time, although she reflects that it wasn’t so much that Roland wanted to but because he understood that she wanted him to, maybe needed him to.
Then she dreamed of a field of roses, a huge black Tower standing at the far end. In the middle of the tower red lights looked out. She heard many singing voices, and knew some were the voices of Roland’s lost friends. When she awakens, Irene knows she won’t see Roland after this day, and thinks it’s for the best.
What Constant Reader Learns: And so we move on to the next phase of the journey. Goodbye Eddie and Jake. We will miss you.
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.