A Read of The Dark Tower

A Read of the Dark Tower: Constant Reader Tackles The Waste Lands, “Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Sections 21-32

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 Jake heading for a date with Eddie in his world, and Eddie, Roland, and Susannah rushing for their assigned place in Ro’s world.

The Waste Lands—”Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 21

At the end of the last section, Jake had come upon two boys, one an older teen and the other only two or three years older than him, and they were teasing the girl from the theater ticket booth.  Henry, as we know the older boy, is taunting both the girl (whose newspaper he’s stolen) and his younger brother Eddie. Jake thinks the older boy’s face is “a kid who would think it the height of hilarity to douse a cat’s tail with lighter fluid or feed a bread-ball with a fish hook planted in the middle to a hungry dog.” Eddie tries to stand up to Henry, but isn’t very effective. Finally, the girl gets her paper and the episode’s over—but Jake has astutely figured out that the boys are brothers.

What Constant Reader Learns: An interesting leap of time/worlds here, as the girl being teased by Henry and a younger Eddie is the girl in what seems like a scene from their When is working the ticket booth at the theater in Jake’s When. Would Eddie’s When at age twelve or thirteen coincided with Jake’s When at age 10? *beats head—quit overthinking*

Of Henry, Jake thinks that in the old days, people “would have said (Henry’s) was the face of a boy who was born to be hung.” Another hanging reference—the third or fourth in the last few sections. Is a hanging in our future?


The Waste Lands—”Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 22

Jake puts on his father’s sunglasses, which are too big for him, and moves ahead so that Eddie and Henry will have to pass him. They’re arguing a little as Eddie tries to chastise Henry for teasing the girl and making her cry. Henry’s not the soul of sympathy. 

The boys head for the playground that has been in Eddie’s previous dreams—only without the kiosk-looking box that hummed like machinery. They stop to shoot some hoops, and Eddie’s much better than Henry—but, as Jake notes, the younger boy is going to let Henry win to get what he really wants…to go to the haunted house.

After the game, Henry agrees to go to the haunted house, as Jake continues to listen from around the corner. Henry starts trying to scare Eddie about the house, talking about two kids who were found there with their blood drained and their hair turned white. Jake realizes Henry believes what he’s saying. Eddie glances at Jake when he goes up to beg some money off their mom—Jake barely has time to turn around so Eddie won’t see his face. Eddie comes back out, wearing the clothes of Jake’s dream, and he and Henry set out, with Jake trailing behind.

What Constant Reader Learns: This scene jibes with Eddie thinking he’d seen Jake somewhere before, wearing oversized sunglasses as he and Henry headed for the haunted house. So this either really happened or time is doing a big loop-de-loop, which makes my head spin. Hanging’s sounding pretty good right now. *What did I do with that noose?*

Jake instinctively hunches down so they won’t notice him, and thinks that the younger boy isn’t supposed to remember him, for some reason he doesn’t know. (But he does remember you, sort of, because the center isn’t holding…noose…yeah.)


The Waste Lands—”Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 23

Back in Rolandville, the trio are standing at the edge of the Great Road, looking at the speaking ring. Susannah thinks it looks like Stonehenge, surrounded by a littering of bones she isn’t sure are only those of animals. Eddie’s nervous, and finally says he thinks he’s supposed to go in the circle and draw in the dirt with the stick he’d sharpened that morning. “There’s something here we can’t see, isn’t there?” he asks Roland. “It’s not here right now,” Roland says. “But it will come. Our khef—our life force—will draw it.” Roland asks for his gun back, and Eddie complies.

When Eddie turns back to the circle, he smells rot—very much like that he smelled the day he and Henry visited The Mansion. Roland straps on his gun, and tells Susannah, “We may need Detta Walker…Is she around?” “That bitch always around,” Susannah replies. One of them needs to protect Eddie while the other is useless—depending on whether the demon that shows up is male or female: Sex, Roland says, is both a demon’s weapon and weakness—and one of them’s gonna get nailed by the demon. Susannah takes this pronouncement with admirable calm, and Detta comes on out. They’re about to decide who gets the demon if it swings both ways when Eddie starts mumbling: “Not all is silent in the halls of the dead. Behold, the sleeper wakes.” (Well, isn’t that just creepy.)

Eddie tells Roland there’s a monster between the doors, between the worlds. And it’s opening its eyes. As the three of them—Eddie, Roland and Detta—go into the circle, it begins to rain.

What Constant Reader Learns: Holy crap. Detta’s back! Invisible demon sex! I can’t stand it. Must. Go. On.


The Waste Lands—”Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 24

As soon as Jake sees The Mansion, he knows he’s seen it before in dreams so horrible his mind wouldn’t let him remember, and that it was a place “of death and murder and madness.”  He’s still standing back from where Eddie and Henry are, but he can feel The Mansion reaching for him—maybe with talons. “Somewhere inside that place is a locked door,” he thinks. “I have the key that will open it, and the only salvation I can hope for is on the other side.” And he knows the house is alive.

As Jake stands, fearful, he hears Roland’s voice telling him he must go. “This is the path of the Beam, the way of the Tower, and the time of your Drawing. Be true; stand; come to me.”

Ahead of him, Eddie begs Henry not to go in, and they turn away. Jake’s on his own.

What Constant Reader Learns: Love this description of the house. “It slumped in the hot light, a ramshackle slate-roofed revenant growing out of a hummocky trash-littered yard, somehow making Jake think of a dangerous dog which pretended to be asleep.

So Jake has to go into The Mansion alone. Eddie’s role now that he’s guided him there will be…..what?


The Waste Lands—”Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 25

Back in the circle of standing stones, Susannah feels IT coming (oh, wait, that title’s already been used). Eddie tells her and Roland to keep it off him, whatever else they do. Eddie kneels in the center of the ring with his stick/stake and makes a mark. The grasses north of the ring begin parting in a long, dark furrow as the demon approaches.

Susannah senses its masculinity (make that “thick and merciless masculinity” smelling of gin and juniper), and reaches for it as it heads for Eddie. Her diversion works, and it turns toward her “like a rapist springing from the mouth of an alley.” Eddie’s torn between saving her and continuing, but Susannah-as-Detta tells him to bring Jake through. Finally, Eddie turns his back and uses his makeshift pencil to draw a door.

What Constant Reader Learns: I know there’s demon sex going on and all, but I have to ask: how’s Eddie managing to draw a discernible door in the dirt with rain falling so hard? Sorry. Geek.


The Waste Lands—”Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 26

Jake reaches out and opens the gate of The Mansion, walking slowly toward the house. The sign on the lawn says trespassing isn’t allowed, and the sign on the door says the property is condemned. At the foot of the front stairs, Jake hears voices—not quite the voices from the vacant lot, but the “choir of the damned, a babble of insane threats and equally insane promises.”

He hears Roland in his head again: “Be true, Jake—stand.” And he says, “Okay, I’ll try. But you better not drop me again.”

What Constant Reader Learns: I wonder if Roland hears Jake as Jake hears Roland? Talk about a guilt trip. Sorry, can’t pontificate long because, well, gotta keep reading.


The Waste Lands—”Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 27

Jake pulls the boards off the door and hears a sound from inside: “the sound of some animal slobbering hungrily from deep inside a concrete pipe.” The “evil chorus” is coming from behind the door. Jake knows IT wants him to come inside so it can eat him for dinner.

A “snatch of poetry” from his English class comes back to him—a passage from T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, of course: “I will show you something different from either/Your shadow in the morning striding behind you/Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you/I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”  Jake is hoping this is THE door, the one that will lead him back to Roland’s world—but not yet.

He opens the front door and smells decay—and a beast’s lair. The hallway is littered with small bones—and not all animal bones. And as he steps into the corridor, the front door slams shut behind him.

What Constant Reader Learns: Slobbering from concrete pipes…am having IT flashbacks again. I just know this is going to get gross before it’s all done.

Wonderful details that Jake sees in the house, which mirror the details Susannah saw in the circle.

You can’t help but love this kid even more as he ignores his extreme fear, knowing not going on isn’t really an option. “For better or worse, I’ve already left my world behind,” he thinks. “I’ve started to cross over. His world is somewhere ahead. This…this was the hell between.”


The Waste Lands—”Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 28

We get a quick reminder of the wild life Detta Walker has led, hanging out in roadhouses, picking up drunk white boys, and getting them all hot and bothered before she shut them down. Until now—there’s going to be no shutting down the invisible demon. “For the first time since Detta had strode onto the sexual battlefield at the age of thirteen, she was losing.”

She screams as the ordeal begins, and although she knows Eddie has to turn away and continue what he’s doing, part of her hates both him and Roland because she has to do this. But Roland sends her one of his mental messages, telling her to stop fighting the demon, reminding her that sex is the demon’s weapon but also its weakness. So she forces herself to embrace the “invisible honkey demon,” and the power shifts back to her as the demon tries to pull away from her.

What Constant Reader Learns: Demons is big and cold and scared of aggressive women. Who knew?

Actually, this section could have been ridiculously over the top—thinking about some of the past Detta Walker scenes and the weird, almost hallucinogenic invisible demon sex Roland had with the Oracle—but I thought Stephen King handled it quite well. I wasn’t offended, and I didn’t laugh. So, a win.


The Waste Lands—”Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 29

Jake feels the presence in the house gathering, the dissonant voices merging into one—and “it was approaching.” There’s a kitchen off to the right, with gross stuff falling out of the fridge. Not to mention the head of a dead rat filled with maggots in a cabinet—because we’ve just gotta get that gross stuff in. A big malevolent spider falls on Jake, then another and another. He finally freaks out and tries to run, but goes the wrong way and ends up deeper inside the house.

He races into what looks like a ballroom and, at its far end, another hallway. At the end is a closed door with a golden knob and written—or carved—across it: THE BOY. Below the doorknob is a keyhole.

Behind him, the monster begins breaking through the walls as if being born from the wood and plaster and lathing—its head coming through, then a hand, then, finally, a shoulder. (“And what rough beast, its hour come round at last…”)

Finally, Jake’s paralysis of fear breaks, and he runs for the door…and drops the key, which falls between two warped floorboards. Gah!

What Constant Reader Learns: Really love these sections, as we toggle back and forth between the circle and Jake. And though we’re still seeing nothing from Roland’s point of view, he’s still present in the minds of the other players.

Thumb-tacked to the wall in the hallway is an old daguerreotype of a man hanging from a dead tree. So this is our fourth hanging reference in this section.

Spiders…IT. Just sayin’.

Very cinematic descriptions of the monster as it pushes through the walls of house, huge, with plaster adhering to its face. Like some of the scenes we’ve seen before, in a movie this scene could either be awesome or awful.


The Waste Lands—”Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 30

Susannah hears Eddie shout, “He’s in trouble!” But she’s got troubles of her own—yet she also realizes she’s managed to trap the demon inside her and that’s her job, although she wonders: “What’s gonna happen when I finally do let go? What’s it gonna do to pay me back?”

What Constant Reader Learns: Uh, good question. And what’s Roland doing while all this is going on? He doesn’t have much of a role here except as mental mage—not yet, anyway.


The Waste Lands—”Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 31

The rain’s coming down harder now, and the circle is becoming a sea of mud (thank you). Eddie calls to Roland for help (see, I knew he’d find a role to play)—Ro holds one of their hides and leans over Eddie, making a makeshift tent. Eddie’s drawn a door in the mud, and now he draws a keyhole with a familiar shape. He has to think what to do next and when he hears Susannah calling the demon a “hot-shit studboy” it comes to him, and he writes THE BOY across the door. As he screams through the keyhole for Jake to hurry, the rain turns to hail.

What Constant Reader Learns: Interesting that the door is more literally drawn than I’d have expected—it’s not just a figurative illustration of a door, but is big enough for Jake to physically come through (which must give Roland a huge wingspan if he’s holding a tarp over both a hunkered-over Eddie and a 75-percent-sized drawing of a door).

Well, how cool is it that Eddie can lean over and look through his muddy keyhole and see Jake on the other side?


The Waste Lands—”Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 32

Plaster Man, who is now being referred to as the doorkeeper, is almost through the wall now, with jagged wooden teeth and plaster dust drifting out his mouth. Jake’s desperately struggling with the stubborn floorboard—finally, he hears Roland telling him to pull on the other board. When he does, it comes up so easily, he almost falls over. And he hears another voice—not in his head, but through the door: Eddie, telling him to hurry.

What Constant Reader Learns: When the key first falls through the floorboards, Jake first feels sleepy, which is an interesting reaction but a kind of brilliant one on Stephen King’s part. After all, look at what the kid’s been through…and nothing is easy—he finally finds the door, and there goes the key. “It’s one thing too much,” he thinks. “I’m going to curl up against the door instead. I’m going to go to sleep…and when it grabs me and pulls me toward its mouth I’ll never wake up.” Of course, then he sees Plaster Man and decides sleeping through their encounter is not an option.

And….stop yelling! That’s it for this week. Join us next week, as we tackle the final sections of “Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon.


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