“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, Susannah, and Oy riding off into the sunset with no-longer-Stuttering Bill while Mordred lagged behind and ate something he shouldn’t have. The corpse of Dandelo or Lippy, perhaps?
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 1: The Sore and the Door (Goodbye, My Dear), Section 1
In the last days of their travels, between where Bill the Robot dropped them off for their last walk to the Tower, Susannah gets weepy because she realizes her time in Mid-World—and End-World—is almost over.
What Constant Reader Learns: I think I see where this is going. Drawing. Erasers. Doors. Awfully convenient, but rather that than Susannah gets eaten by a giant underground worm.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 1: The Sore and the Door (Goodbye, My Dear), Section 2
Bill had dropped them off at a Quonset hut with a sign reading: FEDERAL OUTPOST 19, TOWER WATCH. TRAVEL BEYOND THIS POINT IS FORBIDDEN! They’ve been listening to music as they rode, and Bill told Susannah about the “Beetles,” as she thought of them. Patrick seems to read her mind and writes, “Beatles, not Beetles.”
What Constant Reader Learns: I love the image of them all riding in the cab of Stuttering Bill’s snow plow listening to oldies rock music on “ceedees.” Roland sang along with “Hey Jude,” but with different lyrics.
Mind-reading is a useful skill.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 1: The Sore and the Door (Goodbye, My Dear), Section 3
At “the Federal,” there is a common room whose walls are covered with what Susannah guesses are at least three-hundred TV monitors. They had once, Bill said, shown satellite feeds from around the earth. Bill estimates they are about a hundred miles (120 wheels) from the Tower itself, and offers them a vehicle, but after some consideration Roland turns him down. “Part of me thinks tomorrowday’s too soon (to get to the Tower),” he tells him. “That part of me thinks we should go the rest of the way on foot…I’m not ready to be there yet. Not quite ready. I need a little more time to prepare my mind and my heart. Mayhap even my soul.”
They do, however, take a cart that Bill offers to motorize. Roland figures they can make the Tower in five or six days, and he wants to arrive around sunset.
What Constant Reader Learns: Until recently, Bill told them, one of the TV screens had shown the Dark Tower, but the picture disappeared about the time the Red King arrived. “I don’t think the Red King liked being on television, especially if he knew company might be coming,” Bill says.
Susannah has decided that, unlike what Roland told them before, they have not outrun ka, but that ka extends everywhere and mayhap is embodied by the Tower itself. She also doesn’t think Patrick or Oy are meant to reach the Tower. I hope Oy and Patrick stop short of the Tower and don’t get killed, although I’ve never thought Oy would make it. Guess we’ll see soon enough.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 1: The Sore and the Door (Goodbye, My Dear), Section 4
After lunching with Bill, they say their goodbyes. Bill promises to set off an alarm that can be heard almost all the way to the Tower if he sees Mordred. He hugs Susannah and gets so emotional, in a robotic kind of way, that he begins stuttering again.
What Constant Reader Learns: We get a glimpse of Roland’s plans. He thinks they can circle the Tower from a distance and approach it in a way that isn’t visible to the balcony where the Crimson King is trapped. Then they can work their way to the door beneath him. Of course, plans rarely work out. Plus, Roland’s always been pretty perceptive, but we’ve seen no sign that he anticipates Susannah leaving him.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 1: The Sore and the Door (Goodbye, My Dear), Section 5
Susannah’s riding her electric scooter, Patrick is walking, and Roland is pulling Ho Fat II. They make four or five hours before stopping for the night. Patrick is drawing and wants the lone pencil sharpener, which Susannah has (conveniently) brought along in the jar full of erasers. Eventually, he falls asleep, and Susannah sits with Roland and looks at the stars.
What Constant Reader Learns: They spot the Big Dipper, or Lydia’s Dipper as it’s called in Roland’s world, which had disappeared for a while but is another sign of renewal. Roland notes that it must really tick old Crimson King off to look up from his balcony and see it.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 1: The Sore and the Door (Goodbye, My Dear), Section 6
Susannah goes to sleep, and dreams.
What Constant Reader Learns: Uh huh. She dreams of a one-sentence chapter.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 1: The Sore and the Door (Goodbye, My Dear), Section 7
In her dream, Susannah’s once again in Central Park, and Eddie and Jake are there, grinning at her. This time, behind them, is a door of ironwood with a gold doorknob and a filigree showing two crossed pencils with the erasers cut off. She takes a closer look at the door. Instead of “The Prisoner” or “The Lady of Shadows” or “The Pusher,” it has the runes for the Unfound Door, and “The Artist.” As she turns away, she hears four whispered words: “Time’s Almost Up….Hurry.”
What Constant Reader Learns: So if Patrick draws a door or erases a Susannah or whatever, does she meet Eddie and Jake in another When at a point where they aren’t dead? Or does it kill her and she meets them in the clearing at the end of the path? Or maybe I’m way off base. Only if she goes through a door and we don’t know what happens to her, I’ll be an unhappy camper.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 1: The Sore and the Door (Goodbye, My Dear), Section 8
Susannah awakens with a sense of urgency. She knows she needs to leave Roland before they can even see the Tower on the horizon—she might not be able to leave if she sees it. But she isn’t sure how. And she wonders if Patrick shouldn’t go with her, because she can’t see how he’ll be a help to Roland (unlike Oy, who has proven himself).
What Constant Reader Learns: I figure Patrick has a role to play beyond helping Susannah leave. Not sure what that role is yet.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 1: The Sore and the Door (Goodbye, My Dear), Section 9
Susannah’s off having a good cry, and when she returns, they see a herd of buffalo in the distance; Roland says in his world they’re called bannock. Patrick begins sketching them, and Susannah notices that he’s drawing them much closer than they are. Only when she looks back, they are closer.
They travel another day, and again she dreams.
What Constant Reader Learns: Hm….so drawing the buffalo closer makes them closer? Susannah doesn’t pick up on this but methinks it’s significant.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 1: The Sore and the Door (Goodbye, My Dear), Section 10
The same dream begins again, only Jake and Eddie are not smiling. They are anxious and she can read the tension in their posture. She realizes there’s something she should have seen by now and hasn’t.
What Constant Reader Learns: The buffalo, Suze, the artist. Duh. Suze thinks she’s being backward but she isn’t. She’s the victim of “let’s drag this section out so we can squeeze in a little extra tension and a couple more one-sentence chapters” courtesy of the real Red (sai) King.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 1: The Sore and the Door (Goodbye, My Dear), Section 11
Susannah wakes up.
What Constant Reader Learns: Sigh.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 1: The Sore and the Door (Goodbye, My Dear), Section 12
Another day of riding and walking. After lunch, while Patrick naps, Roland finally asks Susannah what’s bothering her. She tells him the truth and starts crying again. He holds her and tells her that “let be what will be, and let ka work.” She points out that he’d told her they had outrun ka. “I was wrong, as thee knows,” he says.
What Constant Reader Learns: We don’t get much reaction from Roland as to whether he is surprised or is not. And the sore on her face is growing again.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 1: The Sore and the Door (Goodbye, My Dear), Section 13
It’s the third night since leaving Odd’s Lane, and Patrick startles Susannah while she’s on watch. She pulls her gun on him, and scares him. Turns out he was alarmed by the sight of the hobs dancing in the distance, so Susannah suggests he draw a while. He draws her, sore and all. She’s amazed by the beauty and detail of it, except for the sore.
She thinks of the eraser, and thinks of Patrick drawing her just as Roland drew her to his world in a different way and Eddie had drawn her to himself in yet another way.
She gives Patrick an eraser, realizing that Dandelo had cut them off to keep himself safe from what the boy could do. And finally she realizes he did move the buffalo closer.
He begins to work on the drawing again.
What Constant Reader Learns: This is nice: “Dear God, had she been here so long and been through so much without knowing what ka-tet was, what it meant? Ka-tet was family. Ka-tet was love.” And there, folks, we probably have the theme of the Dark Tower series, in a nutshell.
I had to snicker at this, when Susannah’s explaining that she wants Patrick to erase the spot on her face so she’ll treasure the drawing more: “There’s something I’d have you do before I take it for my pretty, for my precious.” Preciousssssssss.
Okay, so if Patrick manages to “erase” the cancer on Susannah’s face, can’t Roland just set him up near the Tower where he can see and draw the Crimson King, and then let him “erase” him off the balcony and—voila—deed done? Like an author can create or destroy a world armed with a pencil and eraser of his own? If the big showdown comes to something so simple, I’m not sure how I’d feel about that.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 1: The Sore and the Door (Goodbye, My Dear), Section 14
Susannah feels a weird tingling sensation as Patrick works on her drawing, and suffers a deep, annoying itch when he erases the spot on her face. Just when she thinks she can’t stand it any longer, it disappears.
What Constant Reader Learns: At first, Susannah’s afraid to reach up and touch the spot where the sore had been, but Detta calls her a “yella bitch” and gets her to do it. And, of course, the sore is gone.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 1: The Sore and the Door (Goodbye, My Dear), Section 15
Finally, Patrick finishes the drawing, and is anxious to see that she likes it. She tears it off the pad, and wonders what would happen if she tore it right down the middle.
She asks if he will draw something else for her. She describes to him very carefully what she’s looking for and, as he draws, Roland joins them. She uses the door she saw in her dream as her description, and in the dirt, draws the symbols for Unfound.
What Constant Reader Learns: I wonder the same thing—what would happen if she tore the drawing up, or burned it? Or would Patrick have to be the one to do to it whatever is done?
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 1: The Sore and the Door (Goodbye, My Dear), Section 16
Roland beats up on himself for not understanding what Patrick could do earlier. “I should have seen that,” he says. “Should have realized what it meant. Susannah, I’m getting old.”
Roland asks why she didn’t tell him of the dreams earlier. “You’ve lost two,” she tells him. “How eager would you have been to lose me as well?” He’s hurt by her comments.
Patrick finishes his drawing, and she’s disappointed that there is no door. She thinks she was wrong after all, but Roland reluctantly tells her she wasn’t. He almost hates to tell her because he selfishly doesn’t want her to leave him. But he knows that he has to do what’s right because it’s what she wants and needs. So he points out that the door has no context. It doesn’t exist because she hasn’t told Patrick where to put it.
So she tells him to set it next to Ho Fat III, and as soon as Patrick draws the cart, the door appears.
What Constant Reader Learns: Another deep truth of the book…Susannah is wondering what world she’d come into if she went through a door Patrick created—it wouldn’t be the real one, she’s sure. “Reality is seldom a thing of black and white, of is and isn’t, of be and not be,” Roland tells her.
Roland has come a long way from the man who let the child Jake die in his pursuit of the Tower, by choosing to help Susannah leave when he knows her skills might help him achieve his quest.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 1: The Sore and the Door (Goodbye, My Dear), Section 17
Susannah gathers up her stuff at dawn, then sets it aside. She figures she won’t need it, wherever she goes. She wants Patrick to go with her, and Roland tells the boy he can do whichever he wants. Susannah gets angry, thinking Roland is influencing Patrick’s decision, but Roland assures her he’s hiding his thoughts from Patrick so the boy can make his own choice.
He writes “I will stay. Scared to go sumplace new.” She’s still annoyed that Roland is probably happy about that decision.
What Constant Reader Learns: Detta’s popping up more often these days.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 1: The Sore and the Door (Goodbye, My Dear), Section 18
Susannah decides to let Detta take over, thinking Detta’s anger will make saying goodbye easier since Detta doesn’t like Roland, and the feeling is mutual. But he tells her no. “I’ll not say goodbye to you like this, after all this time.”
Detta argues, but then Roland points out there’s someone else who should have a choice to stay or go, and that is Oy. “If Detta asks him if he’d go or stay, he would stay for [Detta] has never been to his liking. If Susannah asks him…why, then I don’t know.”
And, just like that, Detta’s gone. She asks him if he’d like to go with her, to maybe see Jake again. “Ake?” he asks, and is walking toward her until she says, without knowing why, “There are other worlds than these.” And then Oy stops and goes back to sit next to Roland’s feet. “Olan,” he says.
Again, Susannah’s angry with Roland, and accuses him of having his own “glammer,” of drawing Eddie to one death and Jake to two, and now Patrick and Oy.
Roland grovels and begs a while, but Susannah is determined. “She understood the risks [but] Roland’s way was the way of the gun. Roland’s way was death for those who rode or walked beside him.” And she’s sure Patrick and Oy will die soon, and she doesn’t want to.
Finally, Roland pulls open the door and, through it, she sees green grass beneath a light frost, and a path, and an iron fence. Voices were singing a Christmas carol, as they were in her dream. “It could be a trick,” Roland says.
“Life is a trick, love a glammer,” Susannah answers. “Perhaps we’ll meet again, in the clearing at the end of the path.”
He calls out for her to wait, but she doesn’t look back as she rolls through the door and it slams closed behind her, leaving Roland alone. He realizes that if he’d never loved Susannah or Eddie or Jake, then he wouldn’t have felt so alone. “Yet of all his many regrets, the re-opening of his heart was not among them, even now.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland’s like some elderly, sad guy, begging Susannah to stay. And I guess that’s the evolution of the gunslinger back into the fully human man, but I have to admit I want to tell him to pull his big boy boots up and accept what ka has wrought.
Although I love the last paragraph, where Roland realizes that even with the pain, he wouldn’t forego the love. This chapter has just been filled with big themes and deep truths. Hats off to sai King.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 1: The Sore and the Door (Goodbye, My Dear), Section 19
Later, Roland makes breakfast and Patrick eats, but Oy will not. Roland nods and throws out the food, thinking maybe Mordred will come along in good time and find it to his liking. And then they move on, the “steady pulsing power” pushing away thoughts of Susannah.
What Constant Reader Learns: And so we make the final push.
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.