A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water.
— From T.S. Eliot’s “The Wastelands”
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 first sections, join me by commenting here.
We last left our trio listening to Roland try to explain the gradual breakdown of his mental faculties—and whether the boy Jake existed or not.
The Waste Lands—”Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Bear and Bone, Section 15
Roland, Eddie, and Susannah continue to sit around the fire while Roland goes on with his story about finding the Talking Demon at the Way Station. It was a much bigger jawbone than the one he now carries, and he believes it was the jawbone from one of the Great Old Ones. He says he gave that jawbone to Jake for protection, then threw it aside after the boy died. His current jawbone belongs to Walter. He remembers that when he took Walter’s jawbone, he thought it had been bad luck to throw the first one away, and maybe this would replace it. And that in his head, he heard the voice of Walter: “Too late, gunslinger—your luck will be bad from now until the end of eternity—that is your ka.”
What Constant Reader Learns: At one point, Susannah throws wood on the fire, looks to the heavens and wonders if the solar system of which Roland’s world is a part is only one of many. Good question.
Eddie is skeptical when Roland says he and the man in black’s “palaver” lasted so long that Walter had been dead at least a hundred years when Roland awoke. But in The Gunslinger, when Roland awoke, he was ten years older, not a hundred. So either it’s an inconsistency in the book, or Walter was already dead when Roland had his palaver, which is possible.
Eddie’s also a little bothered that Roland’s been walking around with “a cannibal’s trophy”: “Remember this the next time you get to thinking Roland’s maybe just another one of the guys,” he tells himself.
If I were Eddie and Susannah, I would not find it cheery news that Roland’s ka would be bad luck until the end of eternity.
The Waste Lands—”Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Bear and Bone, Section 16
Just in case we haven’t understood the problem, Eddie sketches it out in the sand, pointing out that Roland’s memories follow a straight line before and after the Jake incident. His recommendation is for Roland to forget about it and focus on what’s ahead.
Roland points out that what’s bothering him is that if his memories of going into the cellar at the Way Station (and Jake) are false, how does he have Walter’s jawbone, which he picked up to replace the one he found at the Way Station? Simple, Eddie says: you hallucinated the first jawbone. No, I didn’t, Roland insists—and throws the jawbone into the fire.
What Constant Reader Learns: A lot of this section feels very repetitive, but I have to remind myself that readers of The Waste Lands when it came out were four years removed from the events of The Drawing of the Three, and needed a refresher course. Although the dichotomy in Ro’s memory is a fascinating twist.
Eddie swears Roland didn’t realize he meant to throw the jawbone into the fire until he did it. A subliminal message from his own ka?
The Waste Lands—”Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Bear and Bone, Section 17
There’s the jawbone, lying in the fire. First, it blazes a blinding red, then begins to change. Eddie keeps watching it as it changes, looking for what it is to become—much as he looks at a piece of wood to see what it wants him to whittle. The bone forms into a key with distinctive, crude notches at the end and a squiggle. Eddie somehow knows he must remember that shape.
Next, the shape in the flames changes to a beautiful rose—”a triumphant rose that might have bloomed in the dawn of this world’s first day.” He finds a great sense of hope in it. “The rose,” he thinks. “First the key, then the rose! Behold! Behold the opening of the way to the Tower!”
Finally, the flames sink back down, and the jawbone is gone. Eddie draws the key symbol in the sand with a stick.
What Constant Reader Learns: Okey-dokey. My question at the end of all that is: did Susannah and Roland see this vision as well, or was it only Eddie? Well, yeah, I have a lot more questions but I’m too lost to ask them at this point.
The Waste Lands—”Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Bear and Bone, Section 18
Susannah speaks for us all when she asks Roland, “Why, for God’s sake, did you do that—and what was it?”
Fifteen minutes have passed, and our group has been silent. Eddie thinks he’s the only one who saw the bone change—although he admits Roland sometimes doesn’t tell everything he knows. So Eddie decides he’ll keep what he saw to himself, at least for a while.
Roland says he threw the bone in the fire because “the voice of his father, of all his fathers,” told him to, and he was taught that one obeyed such voices without delay. Eddie hopes the bone incident has erased Roland’s double-mindedness, but it has not.
Roland says he fears for Jake, wherever or whenever he is, but when Eddie asks what he means, Roland’s talked enough. He spreads out his deerskin and goes to bed, and dreams of Jake.
What Constant Reader Learns: Chilling little speech from Roland. He listens to Eddie and Suze make love, and thinks they better enjoy it while they can. “There is more death ahead,” he thinks. “We have come to a stream of blood. That it will lead us to a river of the same stuff, I have no doubt. And, further along, to an ocean. In this world the graves yawn and none of the dead rest easy.”
*rubs hands together* I’m ready for more action, guys. Let’s move!
The Waste Lands—”Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Bear and Bone, Section 19
Eddie is also dreaming, and it’s a whopper, weaving in details from the first two books in a bizarre montage. He’s back in New York with a book in his hand. It’s, ironically, a copy of Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again. Stamped on the front of the cover are a key, a rose, and a door. The first lines of the book are familiar: The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”
Eddie walks on, and tosses the book to a bum sitting on the corner—the bum is Enrico Balazar, and he’s sitting in front of a magic shop, House of Cards. In the shop window is a tower built of Tarot cards, and standing on top is a tiny King Kong with a radar-dish growing out of its head.
He come to another shop with the sign, Tom and Gerry’s Artistic Deli: Party Platters Our Specialty! And here comes Jack Andolini, with half of his face gone, thanks to the lobstrosities. “Go on in, Eddie,” Jack tells him. “After all, there are other worlds than these, and that f**ing train rolls through all of them.” When Eddie points out the door is locked, Jack says, “Dad-a-chum, dud-a-chee, not to worry, you’ve got the key.” He looks down and, sure enough, he has the key.
He goes into the Artistic Deli and finds himself in a huge field of red roses, and standing at the horizon is the Dark Tower, built of soot-colored stone. Eddie’s filled with a sense of doom as he realizes he’s not just standing in the shadow of the Tower but is buried in it. A horn sounds, and blackness wells from the Tower and spreads across the sky, forming a cyclopean shape that races toward him. Through the darkness, huge, red, inhuman eyes peered down at him.
What Constant Reader Learns: Eddie has a deep, painful feeling of homesickness at the beginning of his dream, even as he recognizes he won’t ever go home.
Love love love the Thomas Wolfe book with the Gunslinger lines in it. Too funny. And the whole dream thing is really quite brilliant, weaving together all these elements from the first books into a bizarre scenario that I fear Eddie will see realized at some point. Because those big red eyes belong to something.
The Waste Lands—”Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Bear and Bone, Section 20
Eddie wakens to a deafening voice that had infiltrated his dream. The recorded message from the CyberBear as its subnuclear cells die booms through the forest. He can’t help but wonder how many centuries it has been since that announcement, programmed to play in the event of a system breakdown, had been recorded.
Eddie looks pretty crappy after his dream, and Roland is suspicious. He wants to know what Eddie dreamed about, but Eddie won’t tell him. They bicker a bit until Susannah shuts them up. Roland likes to keep his own counsel, but I’m not sure he likes Eddie doing the same.
What Constant Reader Learns: I should be making a list of pop culture references in these books. This section, Eddie quotes a line from the old western movie “Shane”—”If we’re going somewhere, Shane, old buddy, let’s saddle up.” To which Roland asks: “Who is this Shane?”
The Waste Lands—”Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Bear and Bone, Section 21
The loud, droning sound of the dying CyberBear’s electrical system is driving them all crazy as they gather up stuff from their old camp and get ready to follow the bear’s path back to, possibly, a portal—it’s louder, Eddie thinks, than the time he and a friend went to the Meadowlands in New Jersey to a metal concert. He thought Anthrax might have been slightly louder than the bear, but can’t be sure. Roland makes them some earplugs from cloth torn from an old shirt.
Eddie takes his slingshot, although he hides it down in the pouch on the back of Susannah’s wheelchair. They have some dried meat, Roland has restocked his man-purse, and they have constructed a sling of sorts to carry Susannah in when the wheelchair isn’t usable, although she doesn’t much like it.
What Constant Reader Learns: I’ll just use Eddie’s words. As the trio sets out following the bear’s path of destruction through the woods, he thinks: “This is where the quest for Roland’s Dark Tower really begins, at least for us.” Uh-huh.
The Waste Lands—”Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Bear and Bone, Section 22
They use the wheelchair for a while, but eventually the slope becomes too steep and Roland has to carry Susannah in the sling. “I hate being a cripple,” she says—it’s the first time we’ve heard her complain about it. She offers Eddie the pistol, but he tells her to keep it. “You’re faster,” he said, “and you know it, too.”
What Constant Reader Learns: The bear stops its countdown to obsolescence seven minutes early. “Now it’s passed,” Roland says. “The last of the Twelve Guardians, for all we know.” Hmm I’m thinking probably not. I’m betting on some ginormous turtle or rabbit or gorilla or something showing up eventually.
The Waste Lands—”Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Bear and Bone, Section 23
The going is hard as they follow the bear’s trail. They cross a swamp, with Ro still carrying Susannah and Eddie wrestling with the wheelchair. They stop for a meal, and Susannah asks Roland to continue telling them what he thinks about his conflicting memories.
He thinks both are true, although one might be truer than the other. “It is a paradox,” Roland says. “Something that is and isn’t at the same time. Until it’s resolved, will continue divided The basic split is widening. I can feel that happening. It is…unspeakable.”
Here’s the problem. Jake saw the man in black when he was dying. Yet Roland knows Jack Mort was targeting Jake, and Jack Mort was the pusher. If Roland stopped Jack Mort from pushing Jake and Jake isn’t dead, then resurrected Jake couldn’t have been at the way station. Roland wonders if he was supposed to step aside and let Jack Mort kill Jake, but he couldn’t do it.
In the end, Roland thinks that even if he hadn’t stopped Jack Mort from killing Jake that day, ka would have. And that maybe Jack was wearing a priest costume when he really did push the boy, and that he was being possessed or used by Walter.
What worries Roland now is how Jake must feel—to know he is dead in one world and alive in another?
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland’s still in better physical shape than Eddie, but Eddie is probably catching up fast. This sort of surprises me given Roland’s illness, but then again, Eddie was a junkie before Roland found him, not a jock, and Roland was used to thriving on less. As they eat, Eddie realizes he’s feeling really good.
Pop culture reference: Eddie calls Roland the “Eagle Scout of Oz,” and Roland asks his obligatory question: “What is this Oz?” We think it’s going to be a blow-off, but Roland is very interested when Susannah says it’s a made-up place in a book and a movie. Roland makes them promise to tell him more about Oz later on. “I am hungry to know more of your world,” he says. “The quickest way to learn about a new place is to know what it dreams of.” Wait’ll he find out it dreams of flying monkeys.
We keep being reminded that Eddie is a lot like Cuthbert, and Susannah like Alain. Note to self: remember this as you read flashbacks. This is our first direct reference to the ka-tet, which Susannah compares to the soldiers in (pop culture reference) “The Bridge of San Luis Rey.”
Confusion here. Roland says there was a physical resemblance between Walter and Jack Mort, which could have contributed to Jake’s confusion. “Both were tall men with dark hair and very pale complexions,” he says. But in The Drawing of the Three, Jack Mort is described as having blond hair. So again, either a continuity error or a mis-remembering on Roland’s part?
Susannah has a nice quote on which to end this week’s post: “This time travel business is some confusing shit, isn’t it?” Amen, sister.
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll read the final sections of Bear and Bone, the first chapter in “Book One Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust.”