Jun 23 2014 11:00am

A Read of The Dark Tower: Constant Reader Tackles The Dark Tower, The White Lands of Empathica, Chapter 6

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 out, Roland began choking on Joe Collins’ bad standup routine and Susannah, in the bathroom, got a mysterious, convenient note giving her a clue as to Collins’ agenda and his real name—Dandelo.

The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 6: Patrick Danville, Section 1

Susannah hears Roland literally choking with laughter and rushes out of the bathroom, wishing she had her gun. As Roland is choking, Dandelo is growing visibly younger—his white hair has grown black, wrinkled skin grown smooth. Susannah realizes he’s an emotional vampire.

Fortunately, he’s so caught up in his joke-telling and “feeding” that he doesn’t hear Susannah approach or raise herself into the chair behind him, so that she’s able to lace her hands together and clock him upside the head. He loses his balance, then trips over a conveniently placed Oy. It gave Susannah enough time to grab Roland’s gun (after he put up some halfhearted resistance) and shoot him before he could finish his transformation into a ginormous cockroach-like thing.

What Constant Reader Learns: When Susannah hits him, Dandelo’s face begins to change into something ugly and no longer human—the face of a “psychotic clown.” Pennywise, anyone?

So what’s with sai King and enormous insects? I guess it’s the ick factor most of us have toward bugs.


The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 6: Patrick Danville, Section 2

Roland staggers to the door and throws it open, only to throw up. Now that Dandelo’s “glammer” is fading, Susannah sees the room as it really is—shabby and way too hot. Dirty and dimly lit. Roland comes to Susannah, drops to his knees and cries her pardon for having been taken in like a child by Dandelo’s act.

What Constant Reader Learns: Susannah’s not only uncomfortable having Roland ask her forgiveness, but is horrified.

Susannah’s also quick to identify the source of the note as Stephen King, recalling that he’d left Jake and Callahan a key to the room in New York.


The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 6: Patrick Danville, Section 3

Susannah takes Roland to see the note, and like the rest of the hut, the bathroom is now rusted and shabby. Roland’s still aghast that he never saw it coming, never figured it out, even after Susannah assures him she only figured it out because she got away from him for a few minutes and was able to figure out the anagram.

Roland points out they never looked in the medicine cabinet, so they do so, and find an envelope. On the front is: Childe Roland, of Gilead, Susannah Dean, of New York. You saved my life, I’ve saved yours, All debts are paid. S.K.” Roland explains that “Childe” is an ancient formal term for a knight on a quest.

What Constant Reader Learns: Haha—Susannah points out that Roland was more susceptible to Dandelo’s bad jokes because his own sense of humor is “pretty lame.” He has the good sense to agree.


The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 6: Patrick Danville, Section 4

Inside the envelope, they find a photocopy of the poem by Robert Browning with five stanzas marked. Roland asks Susannah to read them to him. The first stanza refers to a “hoary cripple” who was a liar—Dandelo. The second refers to the cripple’s staff—again, Dandelo. Next stanzas refer to the stiff blind horse, Lippy; Susannah somehow knows that the horse wandered out into the storm as soon as Dandelo was dead.

Finally, she reaches the last stanza: “Not it! I fancied Cuthbert’s reddening face/Beneath its garniture of curly gold,/Dear fellow, till I almost felt him fold/An arm in mine to fix me to the place,/That way he used. Alas, one night’s disgrace!/Out went my heart’s new fire and left it cold.” That, Roland says, is about Mejis, and how things between himself and Cuthbert were never the same after they fell out over Susan Delgado.

Then the cry comes again, from someone in the basement.

What Constant Reader Learns: Roland is curious about Robert Browning and seems surprised to hear he died long before Susannah’s When, but she realized the poem was King’s inspiration for the story. That Browning must have seen them. Then she decides it’s too confusing to think about. I agree.

Guess Patrick Danville is in the basement? (The chapter title’s a bit of a giveaway!)


The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 6: Patrick Danville, Section 5

Dead old Dandelo is beginning to smell like a ripe oozing bug, but Roland makes Oy stand watch over his body while they explore the basement. They finally find a doorway behind the refrigerator. Roland calls out to whoever is down there to come out, but it only cries again, “a sound that was loaded with woe and terror and—Susannah feared it—madness.”

What Constant Reader Learns: As she watches Roland lead the way down the steps, the barrel of his gun resting in the hollow of his shoulder, Susannah is reminded of Jake and almost cries. Actually, I think sai-King has done a pretty good job of leaving Jake and Eddie behind without letting us forget them—with just a raw memory here or there.


The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 6: Patrick Danville, Section 6

In the cellar is a maze of boxes and barrels and unidentified things hanging from hooks that Susannah doesn’t want to think about too much. In the back far corner, they find a makeshift prison cell and, inside, a scrawny boy she knows to be Patrick Danville. She thinks he’s maybe seventeen years old. He backs into the corner and begins to scream when Roland opens the cell and tries to go in.

Susannah goes instead, or, rather, Detta Walker does. But it’s the kinder, gentler version of Detta Walker. She assures “Mistuh Collins, he daid.” She asks him questions and he mimes enough answers for them to know Dandelo had been feeding from the boy emotionally for a long time. Then she asks Patrick to open his mouth and when he finally does, they see that his tongue has been pulled out.

What Constant Reader Learns: On their way through the cellar, Roland and Susannah pass a stack of crates labeled TEXAS INSTRUMENTS. Wonder what those had in them? Pocket calculators?

Why would Detta be needed here? Why would she be less threatening to Patrick than Susannah? Don’t get me wrong—I’m always happy to see Detta because Susannah’s often just so much milquetoast. I just didn’t see the point.


The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 6: Patrick Danville, Section 7

Twenty minutes later, they have Patrick upstairs and eating soup. Roland says he’s too weak for them to take him out in the storm—even if they bundle him up, it would kill him. But Susannah doesn’t want to stay in the house, even though they’ve tossed Dandelo’s corpse out into the snow.

Roland suggests they can camp in the barn, although it means no fire for the next two days or even four if the storm lasts longer.

What Constant Reader Learns: Roland warns Susannah that Lippy might come back, or Mordred might come. And he’d kill them both if he got the chance. It doesn’t even occur to them to leave Patrick behind.


The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 6: Patrick Danville, Section 8

It took three nights and two days for the storm to blow through. Lippy came hobbling in on day two and Roland killed her. Mordred never showed up, although they had a sense of him lurking nearby.

While Patrick Danville’s mind has been damaged by Dandelo, his skill hasn’t been impacted—he’s quite the artist. In the pantry, Roland had found a stack of drawing pads and a package of #2 pencils, with their erasers cut off. Patrick draws pictures of the things he’s seen, often in a comic style with thought balloons.

What Constant Reader Learns: Hm…wonder what the significance of the removed erasers is? And why it’s worth mentioning that Patrick might never ask for one because he might not know they exist? Methinks it is relevant, in which case when they do leave I hope it occurs to someone to take the erasers with them since they’re all in a jar.


The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 6: Patrick Danville, Section 9

Near the end of the third night, Susannah wakes up to find Roland standing in the doorway of the barn, smoking. She can hear a machine in the distance, and Roland thinks it’s Stuttering Bill, doing his road-clearing. Roland hopes the robot will give them a ride to the Tower, or at least part of the way, as long as he’s not loyal to Dandelo—and he thinks not.

What Constant Reader Learns: Enigmatic little bit at the end of this section, where Susannah is reflecting on how close they are to the tower, but she felt the songs she heard were for Roland and not her: “She had begun to hope that that didn’t necessarily mean she was going to die between here and the end of her quest. She had been having her own dreams.”

Yeah, except in some ways it makes better story and better symmetry if Roland, whom we met alone on his Tower quest, should end it alone as well.


The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 6: Patrick Danville, Section 10

Just after sunrise, a robot-driven snow plow arrives. Patrick writes “Bill” on his pad, marking through a lovely drawing of Oy with “Yark Yark” written above his head.

What Constant Reader Learns: The sun is rising “firmly in the east, and we all say thankya.” Which makes me wonder: why separate the issue of the Beams from the reaching of the Tower? The whole Beam thing, upon which rested the fate of the entire universe-as-we-know-it, was resolved rather anti-climactically. It has made the remainder of the Tower quest feel somewhat like a different story.

I guess the DT saga has always been a story within a story within a universe of stories, but the separating of the Beam story from the Dark Tower quest is why I think this book has felt so slow to me. We still have a big showdown coming, I assume, between Roland and the Crimson King, but what implications does it have for the larger world? Other than Roland’s own ambition needing to be satisfied, why not just go on about his business and settle down with Rosa in the Calla, and let the crazy old Crimson King rot out there on the balcony? Or is the whole story, in the end, just the final showdown between two old dogs who’ve both seen better days?

I hope Patrick X’ing out Oy’s drawing isn’t foreshadowing.


The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 6: Patrick Danville, Section 11

An eight-foot robot that looks like C3PO—not that anyone present would know who that was—climbs down from the snow plot and his name of Stuttering Bill is apt. He seems surprised to see them, if his flashing blue eyes are any indication. He introduces himself as William D-746541-M, Maintenance Robot, Many Other Functions.

When Stuttering Bill sees Patrick, he greets him so warmly that Susannah decides the robot doesn’t need killing.

What Constant Reader Learns: Susannah’s reaction is great: “They’ve come all this way to meet an oversized electronic version of Porky Pig.”


The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 6: Patrick Danville, Section 12

They palaver with Stuttering Bill in the yard. Bill tells them that while he wasn’t allowed to tell Dandelo his code words, he was allowed to bring him the manuals that contained the code words. But he says if they couch their orders to him as suggestions, he’d be happy to oblige, because he didn’t much like Dandelo.

Roland’s first suggestion is that he fix his stutter, which makes Patrick Danville laugh.

What Constant Reader Learns: Yeah, yeah, yeah, let’s go (Constant Reader makes “move it along” Roland motion with right hand).


The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 6: Patrick Danville, Section 13

Back in the woods behind the plowed road, a “shivering adolescent boy wrapped in stinking, half-scraped hides” watch the palavering. As soon as Roland and the others pile in the cab of the snow plow and ride away, Mordred creeps down to Dandelo’s hut and spends the next two days eating from Dandelo’s pantry.

He hears the Tower too, but he doesn’t hear a chorus of voices but only one—the voice of his Red Father, telling him to come and kill all the others. Then they’d destroy the Tower and rule todash together.

By the time Mordred leaves the cabin, he’s now a young man of about twenty, “tall and straight and as fair as a summer sunrise.”

What Constant Reader Learns: Hm…we’re told that Mordred “eats something else as well, something he would live to regret.” One of the corpses in the basement, mayhap? Dandelo himself?

Ah, I guess Mordred is the reason the quest has to continue since he could always trot over and free big red daddy.

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.

Adam S.
Even though the battle at Algul Segundo to stop the Breakers was the most important battle that Roland and his ka-tet faced, his personal quest has always been to reach the Tower and climb to the top. There's an interesting dichotomy there, one that was reflected when Roland went to New York and spoke to the Tet Corporation, and Nancy Deepneau was horrified that he cared more for the Tower than the fate of all universes.
So even though the battle to stop the breakers was the most important battle for the fate of the world, it was never the most important battle for Roland, personally. And this is still very much Roland's journey.
I love Stuttering Bill. Andy was kinda creepy and evil, Nigel was likeable enough, but Bill is by far the best of the giant robots we've met. The way he treats poor Patrick Danville broke my heart.
Chris Nelly
2. Aeryl
Why would Detta be needed here? Why would she be less threatening to Patrick than Susannah?

Because she's been where he is. Odetta's mind was as much a prison to Detta, as Dandelo's basement was for Patrick.

The Beam story separates from the Tower story, because to save the Beam, was the purpose of the ka-tet. To see the Tower, that's Roland's desire.

Roland could turn back now. The Beams will heal and the Tower wukk stand, and so long as Roland and his guns never shows up, CK is stuck outside.

This is now, all about Roland. Why does Roland have to see this through? Is it the same extinct that drives him, as we were told so long ago, to straighten crooked pictures. But is he really putting things to rights? CK is stuck outside, never to get in. How is that not "right"?

So this goes beyond obsession for Roland. And we still need to find out if this obsession will be the end of us all.
Thomas Thatcher
3. StrongDreams
This re-read is fascinating, I guess not just because we're taking it so slowly but also because SJ is also a writer and thinks about things in a writerly way (such as noticing the importance of the erasers.--I didn't originally, but then again I probably finished the book in 1 night so I didn't have weeks to ruminate on it).

But as a writer, it will be interesting to think about the whole series once its over. Why the quest to save the world was redefined as a quest to finish itself for its own sake (or maybe it was never re-defined, but rather we readers allowed others -- Eddie, Walter -- to define it for us). When does the climax of this book actually occur, and is the final epilogue really just a tacked-on denouement or something more. Would the series have ended the same way if Steve King had not been run down by a car and spent months in traction thinking about the little old lady with cancer who wanted to know how it ended before she died.

The ending lends itself to some big questions about life, the universe and everything.
Suzanne Johnson
4. SuzanneJohnson
Great comments! Yes, I see what you mean about the transition from the quest to save the world back to Roland's personal quest. I guess it's a matter of which quest is most important. To the reader in general, seems as if it should be the Beams. But to Roland, you're right, his quest has always been the Tower itself, however much it might be couched in lofty rationales. And I mustn't forget sai King himself, whose own desire to tell the story of the gunslinger has to end with the gunslinger either completing or failing in his personal quest.

And of course if we're in some kind of grand, scheming loop of existence where Roland's trying to work out his immortal life in the clearing by reliving this quest and "getting it right" this time, well, as Susannah says, that kind of gives me a headache. :-)

It reminds me somewhat of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, where there's the big climactic scene at Mount Doom, and then at least another couple hundred pages of wrapping up the quest and returning Sam and Frodo to their lives, and showing how the quest has or hasn't changed them. As I recall, on my first reading, that kind of annoyed me as well. So maybe it's me--LOL.
Adam S.
@Suzanne- YES it is exactly like LOTR. We've saved the world, but our main protagonist still has to see things through to the end. You could even make a case that while the Crimson King and Mordred are technically stronger, the MIB was really the main antagonist (for this series, and for Stephen King's books in general). So just as Sauron was killed but Frodo et al still had to face Saruman and Wormtongue in the end, so too does Roland et al have to face the Crimson King and Mordred to complete his quest. Yet the primary most important struggle, saving the world by stopping the breakers (or destroying the Ring at Mount Doom) really ends before the protagonists' journeys do. Nice comparison!
Jaime Weida
6. Jaime Weida
I agree that by this point the story was starting to feel kind of anti-climactic for me - but everyone above has made really great remarks about that. Also, we're almost at the end. And by "we" I mean not only Roland and Susannah but all the *legions* of readers and, of course, King himself. This narrative spanned the majority of King's life up to that point (and may still by the end of his life). There were readers who followed that path for decades along with him. I'm not old enough to be one of them, but I certainly followed Roland for years. There's a sense of things being pared away and winding down. I've mentioned the meta-textuality in this narrative before; in a way, ending any book is a kind of an anti-climax, expecially a book (series) like this one that spanned so many years of so many people's lives. For a while King was saying that he was going to retire after he finished the last book of "The Dark Tower" because he wasn't sure he had anything else to say. (Happily, that conviction didn't last long!)

PS: Anyone else catch the "Stuttering Bill" reference from "It?" I'm ashamed to say I missed the possible (probable, I think) Pennywise reference! :)
Thomas Siirila
7. CallahanOTheRoads
To expand a bit on #2, I saw this as a chance for Detta Walker to change a little and grow, as well. The old Detta would not have "helped a honky", after all.
I also liked the by-play between Stutterin' Bill and Roland. After unknowable years, Patrick was finally allowed to have his laughter be his own, instead of monster-food.
Jaime Weida
8. Fenixmagic
You all bring up an interesting point about Agul Siento being the true climax of the ka-tet's quest while the Tower itself would only be Roland's personal quest. It almost makes you wonder if Sai King realized that while he was writing, or, if he had, would he have sent Roland on alone after the ka-tet broke apart. For me, a Roland-alone story appeals to that sense of completeness; the ka-tet broke when the quest was done, now Roland must finish what he started the way he started it - by himself.

This read-through, especially the last few segments, has caused me to think that King kept Susannah around because he himself was sick of Roland's obsession. She's always been sort of the critical voice of the story, and I think at this time in writing he probably agreed with her more than Jake (who loved Roland as a father) or Eddie (who was the "funny guy" and the funny guy always bites it in a Stephen King book - see Ritchie in IT, Larry Underwood in The Stand). It's interesting in this read-through for me because I see King distancing himself from the story, maybe both because it's reached a point where King is tired of the demands the story puts upon him, but also because it's difficult to let something that's taken up so much of your life and energy go.

I've enjoyed this read-through so much, even though I have commented little. Thanks Suzanne Johnson for your amazing insights, and to all the commenters. Can't wait to see you at the Tower!
Chris Nelly
9. Aeryl
I agree with your insights about Susannah and her role in the story now, but Richie survived IT, Eddie was the one that died.
Emmet O'Brien
10. EmmetAOBrien
The Browning quote here kind of crystallised why I didn't like the Dandelo encounter as an element; King's already used that section of his inspiration for echoes all through what he does with Maerlyn/Flagg/Farson/Walter, so it just felt gratuitous.
Jaime Weida
11. Fenixmagic
@9 - Aeryl, you're right! It's been a while since I read IT, so thanks for the reminder.
Juan Manuel Guerrero
12. juanmaguerrero
@10, I totally agree. Nevertheless, we can force us think this was just Ro and Suze's own analysis... and that they're either wrong or both metaphores are right (!?)

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment