Mon
May 19 2014 11:00am

A Read of the Dark Tower: Constant Reader Tackles The Dark Tower, The White Lands of Empathica, Chapter 2

A Read of Stephen King's The Dark Tower on Tor.com

“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, Roland, Susannah and Oy navigated the tunnels beneath Castle Discordia, barely escaping the wrath of the Worm with a Thousand Pink Eyes.

 

The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 2: On Badlands Avenue, Section 1

Our intrepid trio exits the tunnel through a crumbling arch next to another Quonset hut, but things are broken and charred—there has been a big battle here sometime in the distant past. It’s growing colder.

What Constant Reader Learns: They find a sign on the ground, and when Susannah turns it over, it says ‘THIS CHECKPOINT IS CLOSED FOR-EVER.’ Below it, in red, is the Eye of Sauron, I mean, the King. I wonder when and if we meet the King, if he’ll be much like Oz the Magnificent—some little old crazy dude stuck on the balcony of the Tower.

 

The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 2: On Badlands Avenue, Section 2

They check inside the Quonset hut, but don’t find much except more canned food than they can carry, and also more Sterno. In the storeroom, Susannah finds a dogcart like the one in her visions with Mia.

What Constant Reader Learns: Susannah, Detta and I are all amused that Roland is going to have to play horsey.

 

The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 2: On Badlands Avenue, Section 3

There was a motor at the back of the cart, non-functioning and heavy, so Roland found some tools and removed it. Then he’s ready to move on.

What Constant Reader Learns: Interesting that as Roland’s humanity returns his physical strength seems to be waning. Of course he’s just hightailed it through the tunnel with a worm on his butt, hauling Susannah and her killer Sterno and bone torches, but his face is described as “pale and stubbly,” with “dark circles beneath his eyes, new lines carving his cheeks and descending to his jaw…He looked as thin as a whip.” But he insists on moving on away from the cave rather than spend the night there—just in case the Worm has friends.

 

The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 2: On Badlands Avenue, Section 4

They head up into the hills away from the castle until Roland finds a spot he thinks would be a good place to make camp. Susannah’s hopeful that as they move along they’ll come across more things they can use for firewood to stay warm, but Roland isn’t hopeful. “I think [the Crimson King] murdered this land when he darkened Thunderclap.”

What Constant Reader Learns: Things are getting colder, with daytime temps at about forty-five degrees, and Susannah’s already feeling the cold. Roland warns her it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

 

The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 2: On Badlands Avenue, Section 5

“There’s little in life that’s so disheartening as constant cold,” Roland tells Susannah, and she learns it’s true. During the day, when they are moving, it is tolerable but the evenings are brutal. Not cold enough to freeze them but too cold to get comfortable.

Susannah’s letting her mind run wild on the long, cold trek across the “Badlands.” She thinks about what she might give up to have a sweater, and how little it would take to ease their misery since food and water is plentiful. She even starting to eye Oy’s fur coat, which Detta assures her would make a fine pair of mittens. Maybe his hide could be made into underwear.

What Constant Reader Learns: We aren’t given an exact amount of time they’re traveling through the Badlands but it’s a matter of weeks.

Once Susannah sees a flock of crowlike birds and wants to follow them and see if they can kill and eat them, but Roland is short-tempered with her: “He spoke in a sharply angry tone she had never heard before. Angry, yes, she had heard Roland angry many times. But there was a pettiness in this, a sulkiness that worried her. And frightened her a little, as well.” He’s even described as poking out his lower lip in a toddler-like sulk. Eventually, he apologizes, sort of.

 

The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 2: On Badlands Avenue, Section 6

Over breakfast the next morning, Susannah asks to look at the watch the Tet Corporation had given him. She wonders how they’ll really know if the watch is running faster or slower as they near the Tower, and Roland treats her to an exhibition of his instinctive time-telling—a skill Cort had taught him as a youth.

Roland tells Susannah they’re approaching the end of the Badlands, and he wants to talk to her. “I’d have you listen, and I’d have you push that tiresome bitch Detta as far back as possible. Nor would I have you waste my time by telling me she’s not there when I can see her dancing the commala in your eyes.” This seems to surprise Susannah, and anger her a bit, but she holds her tongue. He tells her they’ll soon come to the King’s castle, Le Casse Roi Russe. He’s not there, but he might have left a trap, so Roland wants Susannah to let him do the talking. He won’t explain further.

What Constant Reader Learns: Roland tells Susannah they are almost in the shadow of the Dark Tower, figuratively speaking. Which I think is contributing to his tendency (like an old man) to ruminate on the past and treat Susannah as if she’s an annoyance at times.

Susannah tells Roland she’s dreamed of Mordred three nights in a row, that he’s following their trail. “Mordred’s a-hungry,” she says.

 

The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 2: On Badlands Avenue, Section 7

They soon come across pavement, and, the next day, buildings. Roland says he thinks the track they’re following was once a coach-road between Castle Discordia and the King’s castle. Eventually, they reach what’s left of a decimated city. Susannah’s excited to find wood she hopes to use for fire, but it won’t burn. When she asks if it’s because it’s old and petrified, Roland said no, it’s because it hates them. “This is his place, still his even though he’s moved on. Everything here hates us.”

They begin to travel at night again, and Susannah notes that they’ve been traveling almost a month since leaving Fedic. They reach a topsy-turvy village near the castle. “This place is bad,” Susannah notes. “And it’s not empty.” Roland warns her to close her mind against spirits trying to get in her head.

They stop for the night, and Roland has a plan. He hopes to trap Mordred at the castle. “You’d kill him?” Susannah asks, to which Roland replies, “Without a moment’s hesitation.”

What Constant Reader Learns: They hear whispering from the shadows as they pass the remains of houses. Roland identifies them as “housies” and, while he doesn’t think they can hurt him or Susannah, they might hurt Oy. Dobby, is that you?

 

The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 2: On Badlands Avenue, Section 8

In the morning, they spot snow in the distance. And in the snow, fir trees. There will be food ahead, and warmth. But first, there’s Le Casse Roi Russe, which “turned out not to be entirely deserted, after all.”

What Constant Reader Learns: Roland catches us up on their progress to date. “Back yonder as you look is Fedic,” he tells Suse. “Beyond Fedic, Thunderclap. Beyond Thunderclap, the Callas and the forest that marks the borderland between Mid-World and End-World. Lud is further back that way, and River Crossing further still; the Western Sea and the great Mohaine Desert, too. Somewhere back there, lost in the leagues and lost in time as well is what remains of In-World. The Baronies. Gilead. Places where even now there are people who remember love and light.”

 

NOTE: We won’t have a Dark Tower update on Memorial Day, Monday, May 26, but will resume the following Monday, June 2.


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

11 comments
Chris Nelly
1. Aeryl
Wow. I can't say anything else but Wow.

Detta was always the "strong" side of Susannah. She came out when Odetta was hit on the head, she came out when her legs were cut off. She was the part that took the anger and frustration of Odetta's racist world out on the white frat boys that were too well protected from the power Odetta could wield. She stole from the wealthy white shopowners that STILL looked down on Odetta.

So it's no surprise that as Susannah lost the other things that made her strong, her love for Eddie and Jake, she's relying more and more on Detta. I only hope she can find someway back, because I can see this over reliance on Detta allowing Susannah to slip away.
Suzanne Johnson
2. SuzanneJohnson
I was offended that Roland's trying to bully Detta away, though. Maybe he's protecting Susannah from being lost to Detta, but it's not coming across that way. Detta is a part of Susannah, as is Odetta, so to me it makes sense that she pops up when Susannah's under a lot of stress. She's been making snark in the background all along. It hadn't even occurred to me that she might take over again and Susannah would be lost, but, yeah, I can see that as a possibility. Hope not.
Chris Nelly
3. Aeryl
I think in that instance, Detta is a distraction. If Detta's too busy talking trash for Suze to pay attention, they will die.

Once you see what's coming, it makes more sense. The upcoming trap is almost designed for someone like Detta.
Adam S.
4. MDNY
I think Detta just pops out when Susannah is especially tired or threatened. Roland dislikes Detta, and doesn't trust her, so I can undersdtand why he doesn't want her around. But I enjoy her, so I'm always happy when she pops up.
The sign saying "This checkpoint is closed. For-ever" seems like a very Walter-like sign. Wonder if he put it up on his last trip to see the Crimson King before Mordred a-killed him?
E.Murray
5. E.Murray
I like how the coldness messes with Susannah's mind, making her consider things she'd otherwise find abhorrent. It even makes ol' leathernuts petty and snappish. It reminds me of the sleep deprivation as Sam and Frodo make the last leg of their journey. It only takes the smallest thing being out of balance to nearly topple everything. It's very human and King pulls it off well.
I dislike, however, the display of Roland's "awesome" time-telling skills. He knows how long a minute is... wheee. He should have just told about Cort sending them into the wilderness and left it at that. The demonstration shouldn't have made the first edit.
Also, even the re-emergence of Detta doesn't fix the fact that I've never been able to connect with Odetta/Detta/Susannah. She's just kind of flat for me. I'd rather have seen Eddie in this part. His reversion to earlier habits would have been more entertaining and grated on Roland to no end. He could even connect the cold and its temptations to his drug habits and had an interesting battle between "old" Eddie and "new". "Old" Eddie would have to finally be snuffed out completely for the sake of survival (because old Eddie would give in to the constant pressure of the cold). And why would Eddie want to survive? He's been dreaming of his recently deceased wife and believes that he'll see her again. Susannah is Eddie's reason to live. Instead, Susannah just wants to live because... well, don't we all? It could have been better and had some real impact with a stronger character. We could have seen what it takes for Eddie to complete his arc.
Playing armchair quarterback is the best part of reading :)
Chris Nelly
6. Aeryl
Yes, but then that would have been fridging Susannah, killing her off to create manpain for Eddie. I get that in enough of the stuff I read.
E.Murray
7. Paulie
I truly enjoy this read. I haven't met many people who have read this whole series and I'm just waiting for the discussion at the end of the tale. I will not spoil anything, I am very much looking forward to being able to talk about the ending once we get there.
E.Murray
8. StrongDreams
I find it impossible to imagine Eddie here. The next few weeks of the journey might have worked with Jake (with Roland passing along Cort's training), and I find Detta/Susannah to be a pretty credible companion/foil at this point. But I just don't see Eddie fitting in this role.
Eric Murray
9. E.Murray
Hmmm, I could see Jake here, too. The teacher/student/father/son thing could be great. I just don't think Susannah carries her own weight (literally or literarily ... Sorry).
Suzanne Johnson
10. SuzanneJohnson
Well, you guys who've been with me from the start (or at least Lobstrosity land) know I've never really warmed up to Susannah. I found Detta grated on my last nerve. Then I got so bored with Susannah I was glad to see Detta pop up again--LOL. I just never bought the insta-love romance with Eddie. I think if that love-at-first-bite thing hadn't happened and she'd just been brought in as an interesting character and not a "love interest," I'd have been fine with her. Sai King's forte is not romance. He does fine with mature couples but new love? Eh. Not so much. So I'm much more worried about Oy at this stage.
E.Murray
11. Jaime Chris
Say thankya, again, Suzanne, for doing this reading and blog. I look forwards to each Monday's post. :)

I think King does a wonderful job of describing the dehalibilitating effects of on-going low-level cold in this section in a way that only someone who has lived in a cold northern locale really could. This section of the book made me physically cold while reading it. I grew up in Massachusetts, north of Boston, and I'm intimately familiar with this kind of cold and how it can steal your will away while you're not watching.

I don't like the stereotypical/racist aspects of Detta's character (Northern New England is kind of racist in a way that's hard to explain to someone who hasn't spent a lot of time there) but I *do* appreciate her strength; in a lot of ways, Detta is stronger than Roland, Eddie, and Jake put together. Given what Susannah suffered during the Civil Rights era, she would *HAVE* to be. And, at this point in the tale, she needs that strength to keep up with Roland's quest.

(And, given the duality with Susan from Roland's early life and Susannah now, it seems fitting to me that Susannah is with him at this point. I will have more comments on this later as I am AVOIDING SPOILERS!) ;)

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