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 frantically trying to retrieve the dropped key from under the floorboards in The Mansion, while the doorkeeper/monster came for him from one side of the door and Eddie screamed for him to hurry from the other side. In retrospect, it was an exceptionally bad place to have stopped reading for the week!
The Waste Lands—”Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 33
While Jake works on retrieving the key, we get a look at what’s going on outside the house. Two women standing across the street cower in fear. A group of boys stops to stare in the middle of their trek to a Little League game. A delivery driver runs his truck on the curb. The ground trembles, the house bows inward, slate roofing shingles pour from the eaves. A crack shoots down the center of The Mansion and the front door disappears into it as the house “began to swallow itself from the outside in.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Interesting that the attempt to break between worlds physically impacts Jake’s “when.” It’s a good way of showing how monumental what they’re doing is. Makes me wonder how the people of Jake’s “when” will explain it. We’ll proably never know.
The Waste Lands—”Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 34
A hot wind blows on Jake as he finally puts his hands on the key, and on some level he understands that the doorkeeper is not in the house—the doorkeeper is the house. In the hallway behind him, the “giant white head and crooked hulking shoulder” are trying to push inside.
When Jake pulls his hand out of the floorboards, it’s covered with huge beetles. When he bangs his hand against the wall to knock the beetles off, the wall itself tries to close around his arm.
Desperate, he jams the key into the keyhole—and hears the harmonic voices again, this time in a cry of triumph. As the doorkeeper reaches for him—his “plaster fingers crawled toward him like the legs of a huge spider’—Jake turns the key in the lock and swings the door open. Instead of Roland’s world, the doorway is blocked with earth, only the keyhole shape visible in misty white. As even the keyhole fills with earth, the giant plaster fingers curl around Jake’s legs.
What Constant Reader Learns: Holy crap.
The Waste Lands—”Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 35
Eddie’s in the zone, so he doesn’t notice that Roland has dropped the hide and run to Susannah, who’s still doing the invisible demon-sex thing. Roland tells her that when he says so, she should let the demon go.
Meanwhile, Eddie pulls out his own key and slides it into the keyhole (which is somehow still visible despite pounding hail and rain), and it won’t turn.
What Constant Reader Learns: We knew Eddie had been dissatisfied with his carving of the key, that he’d felt something was just a little off about the s-shaped curve at the end. Henry’s voice had been doing a number on him, and he never went back to finish it. Will he have time now?
The Waste Lands—”Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 36
Jake’s desperately trying to fend off the ginormous Plaster Man doorkeeper. He jumps up and grabs the hanging lamp above him and uses it like a Tarzan vine to kick at the dirt in the doorway, and—on the backswing—to kick at Plaster Man himself. He does enough damage for the gatekeeper to cry out. Jake can hear the house collapsing around them. He kicks at the dirt again, then swings back toward the gaping mouth of the Plaster Man.
What Constant Reader Learns: This is a fine piece of tense writing as Jake swings on the lamp, his fingers slip, the lamp pulls loose from the ceiling a chain link at the time, and plaster falls around him. Very cinematic.
The Waste Lands—”Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 37
Eddie’s panic drops away, and he basically turns on his gunslinger persona: “The cloak of coldness dropped over him—a cloak Roland of Gilead had worn many times. It was the only armor the true gunslinger possessed and all such a one needed.” This time, the voice in his head is his own, reminding him that he’d seen the shape of the key clearly once but had lost it behind a blindfold of fear. Time to take off the blindfold.
Eddie pulls the key back out of his drawn keyhole and now can see exactly where he’d gone just a tiny bit wrong. He asks Roland for his knife, and makes one perfect, delicate scrape—just as, on the other side of the door, Jake shrieks.
What Constant Reader Learns: Okay, thank you. Sorry I was obsessing over this but now we’re finally told the door Eddie drew has become a real door. So I can stop worrying about how it’s holding its integrity through mud and hail.
Love the part of the scene where Eddie asks for Ro’s knife: “‘Knife,’ he said, and held out his hand like a surgeon in an operating room. Roland slapped it into his palm without a word.” Two gunslingers of like mind, working in tandem. Pretty cool.
The Waste Lands—”Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 38
Jake’s light fixture finally falls, and he hits the floor. Plaster Man is on him in an instant, grabbing him with his plaster hand and pulling him down the hall toward the hungry mouth. The doorkeeper’s giant face is stuck just inside the entrance to the hallway “like a cork in a bottle.” Jake scrambles away from him and manages to peel out of his jeans so Plaster Man’s left with a mouthful of denim. As he gets back to the door, the hand closes over his naked legs and starts pulling him backward again.
What Constant Reader Learns: Eddie, by the face of your father, get a move on!
The Waste Lands—”Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 39
Eddie puts the finished key back in the keyhole and after a moment of resistance, it finally turns. He grabs the knob and pulls the door open. He feels disoriented at first, because he’s looking down—vertically—but is seeing horizontally, “like a strange optical illusion created with prisms and mirrors.” He sees Jake being pulled backward toward the yawning mouth, and starts to shout for Roland when he’s knocked aside.
What Constant Reader Learns: The moment Eddie opens the connection between worlds is a big one: “There was a sense of great weight wheeling on an unseen pivot and a clear knowledge that two worlds had suddenly come in contact, and a way had been opened between them.”
The looking vertically but horizontally is kind of mind-boggling but cool, although if you think about it, that ninety-degree angle is necessary for an intersection of roads or worlds or whatever. If they’re traveling parallel, they never cross.
Oh wise readers, how is this door between worlds different from three doors on the beach? Why is this one watched over by a gatekeeper where the others did not appear to be?
The Waste Lands—”Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 40
Susannah finally hears Roland tell her to let the demon go—for her father’s sake. She’d created a sort of mental trap for it (with Detta’s help, we’re told), and she springs the trap open. As the demon flees from her, she first feels an instant of emptiness, followed by relief and a “grim sense of nastiness and defilement.”
As it leaves, she sees “an inhuman shape like a manta-ray with huge, curling wings and something that looked like a cruel baling hook curving out and up from beneath.”
Then Roland grabs the demon, and propels both of them through the doorway.
What Constant Reader Learns: OMG, Suze. A baling hook? Give the woman a shower and a funny cigarette. She has earned it.
The Waste Lands—”Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 41
White light floods the hallway, and Jake sees Roland leap through from above the door, his fingers locked around something invisible. Jake’s a little preoccupied, though, since his feet have slid into the doorkeeper’s mouth. As he screams for Roland to help him, Ro lets the demon go, and it rushes past Jake and is propelled into the mouth of the gatekeeper.
Roland grabs Jake, but there isn’t time for a long reunion because the gatekeeper is not a happy camper and The Mansion’s coming down. Roland draws his gun and fires into the big plaster hand that’s still groping even as Plaster Man chokes on the demon.
Roland runs for the door with Jake, but he stops when he gets to it—until Eddie’s hands grab his hair and yanks him upward.
What Constant Reader Learns: It doesn’t really say why Roland stopped at the door, “as if an unseen meshwork had been drawn across” it. Maybe he was disoriented by the change in direction, or maybe it was just Eddie’s ka to play midwife.
The Waste Lands—”Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 42
Ah ha ha. “Eddie was the midwife, as the gunslinger had told him he must be.” He’s sprawled on his belly, pulling Roland out by the hair. He calls to Susannah for help. (For God’s sake, man, let the woman recover.) She helps pull, and as soon as Jake can help clamber out on his own, they’re able to pull Roland free as well.
Roland gasps for Eddie to slam the door, and he does. As soon as it closes, it fades back into the dirt.
Jake asks for Roland, and when he sees him, asks, “You won’t let me drop this time?”
“No,” Roland says. “Not ever again.” But “in the deepest darkness of his heart, he thought of the Tower and wondered.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Eddie and Susannah have a nice little moment once Roland and Jake are out: “She clung to him, breathing hard but there was a small, satisfied smile on her lips and one hand slipped over Eddie’s wet hair in slow, content strokes.” Contented, hell. If I were her, I’d be thinking up some major payback for the boys. Seriously. Let me draw in the mud with the stick next time.
The Waste Lands—”Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 43
The hail turns back to rain, and Eddie can see blue skies coming. They all are getting soaked but feeling satisfied with their day’s work. When Eddie asks Suze if she’s okay, she says “that bitch Detta Walker is still the undefeated Roadhouse Champeen, demon or no demon.” Eddie doesn’t get it.
What Constant Reader Learns: I wonder if that’s the last we’ll see of Detta Walker? Eddie seems to think he’s heard the last of Henry’s voice in his head.
The Waste Lands—”Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust”: Door and Demon, Section 44
Jake meets his new traveling companions, and asks if they’ve found the train yet. Eddie and Susannah are confused, but Roland doesn’t seem to be. Roland and Jake agree that the competing voices in their heads are gone.
Sweet moment as Roland hugs Jake and the boy starts to cry. “I’ll never leave you again,” Roland promises, crying himself. “I swear to you on the names of all my fathers: I’ll never leave you again.”
And yet, and yet, and yet. His heart—”that silent, watchful, lifelong prisoner of ka”—isn’t sure.
What Constant Reader Learns: Jake asks Susannah if her father owns a railroad company—a nice reminder that we still have Charlie the Choo-Choo to contend with.
The final scene with Roland and Jake was perfect. Really touching and sweet yet also bittersweet because we figure if it again comes down to the Tower or Jake, Roland will always choose the Tower. But we shall see.
That’s it for this week. Join us next week, as we begin “Book Two Lud: A Heap of Broken Images.” I can only hope it’s half as awesome as “Jake: Fear in a Handful of Dust” was.