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 quartet standing on the far side of the very long and not-so-sturdy bridge leading into the city of Lud.
The Waste Lands—”Lud: A Heap of Broken Images”: Bridge and City, Section 9
Roland, Eddie, Jake, and Susannah (and Oy) stand looking across the bridge and the city beyond it. Eddie’s hopes of finding a “wise old elf” who has kept the trains running on time (pun intended) are fading fast. They can now see the cityscape filled with burned, blasted buildings and heaps of rubble (or “a heap of broken images,” as the section title suggests).
Eddie also realizes the bridge is far from the solid thing it had appeared from a distance. It’s hanging by rusted suspension cables and is swaying. The walkway at its side is their best means of crossing, but it has a 20 or 30-foot gap in it at the part where the bridge, which is three-quarters of a mile long, stretches 300 feet above the River Send.
Eddie, as it turns out, is afraid of heights, and Roland puts him in the tail position, carrying the wheelchair across while Roland carries Susannah and Jake’s in the middle. Eddie’s freaking out; Jake, on the other hand, thinks it’s a big adventure and is ready to cross.
What Constant Reader Learns: The first signage they’ve seen coming into town is LaMERK FOUNDRY, stamped into the metal support rod on the walkway. Really interesting that Eddie can no longer tell if the words are in the High Speech or in English.
Lots of very specific distances and measurements here, where most of the book has been vague about such things.
The Waste Lands—”Lud: A Heap of Broken Images”: Bridge and City, Section 10
Poor Eddie is scared to death, but he goes along anyway (not like he has much choice, since the other bridge crossing the river has collapsed). The bridge is swaying in a more pronounced way than he realized looking at it from a distance. “Beyond the bridge, the city skyline tilted slowly back and forth like the artificial horizon of the world’s slowest-moving video game.” And, of course, it’s windy.
Eddie’s foot strikes a chunk of concrete “and Eddie watches, sickened but helpless to look away” as it falls way, way, way down in the river. Finally, after looking down (bad) and up at the unraveling cables holding up the bridge (worse), Eddie decides he’ll keep his eyes focused on Roland.
What Constant Reader Learns: The bridge-crossing buildup and description is brilliant. Slow. Tense. Harrowing. Especially as we view it through Eddie’s frightened eyes. Reminds me of Larry Underwood’s trip through the Lincoln Tunnel in The Stand, which is still one of the most tense scenes I think I’ve ever read.
Another tunnel-scene reminder when something furry brushes past Eddie’s feet, only instead of rats, it’s Oy.
The Waste Lands—”Lud: A Heap of Broken Images”: Bridge and City, Section 11
Roland reaches the gap in the walkway, Jake is five feet behind him with Oy, and Eddie’s about 25 feet behind Jake. Ro asks if they’re all okay, and all assure him they are—Eddie’s a little less convincing but he’s still moving. Roland instructs Susannah to be still while he eases them over the walkway gap, holding onto the rail.
What Constant Reader Learns: Love this little vote of confidence, since I seem to have developed oddly maternal instincts toward Eddie:
“I’m fine, Roland,” [Susannah] said calmly. “I just hope Eddie will be all right.”
“Eddie’s a gunslinger now. He’ll behave like one.”
The Waste Lands—”Lud: A Heap of Broken Images”: Bridge and City, Section 12
Once Ro and Susannah are partway across the gap, Jake starts over. He’s still thinking this is pretty fun, and he likes being up high. About halfway across, he looks back and realizes he’s forgotten Oy, who is petrified. Jake calls him but Oy’s afraid to come to him and Jake refuses to go on without him.
Jake goes back and Oy meets him halfway, but loses his balance when a gust of wind knocks him. There’s nothing to cling to. As he slips off the rail, Jake holds onto the rail with one hand and reaches for Oy with the other. All Oy has to grip with are his teeth, so he bites down on Jake’s hand. Still, Jake doesn’t let go. The wind gusts again, and Jake begins to slip.
What Constant Reader Learns: Sorry, can’t comment. Must keep reading.
Well, okay, I will comment. The parallels between Jake slipping off the bridge out of the mountains, dangling from Roland’s hand, and Jake saving Oy are awesome. I suspect, however, that Jake won’t let go.
The Waste Lands—”Lud: A Heap of Broken Images”: Bridge and City, Section 13
Eddie sees Jake slip, and his inner gunslinger emerges—”that strange yet welcome coldness.” He drops the wheelchair and races along the support cable without holding the rain. He throws himself astride what’s left of the walkway, causing a bit of a testicular crisis, and reaches for the boy. He gets him by the hair and a backpack strap. Finally, he calls Roland for help, thinking all three of them are going over, and Roland’s there. He pulls Jake up, who pulls Oy up.
They finally get settled and safe, but when they turn back toward Lud, a man is standing on the far side of the gap, watching them. He’s armed with a crossbow and is dressed like a demented pirate. Roland pulls his gun, but the Lud Pirate says he better put it away, because he’s outmatched.
What Constant Reader Learns: Jake’s hand’s in bad shape. Hope there’s still some Astin and Keflet in Roland’s purse. And Eddie thinks he might have gotten the world’s cheapest vasectomy.
Awww Oy can cry. He’s sorry, Jake. Jake (and Oy) think Roland’s going to punish the bumbler, but Roland’s gentle as he wipes Jake’s blood from the animal’s muzzle and calls him a good boy. (“Oy,” responds Oy.)
A LOL moment when Roland’s hat blows off, Susannah grabs it and stuffs it back on his head all the way to his ears, “giving Roland the look of a half-crazed hillbilly.”
Okay, crazy pirate dude covered in festering sores. This doesn’t bode well.
The Waste Lands—”Lud: A Heap of Broken Images”: Bridge and City, Section 14
Roland engages in a little conversation with the newcomer, Gasher, who claims that the thing he’s holding in his hand is a grenade (or “grenado”). Roland weighs his options and figures he’ll do better to not shoot the guy because the pirate obviously has nothing to lose—he’s going to die soon anyway. Roland thinks he might have a year to live at most—and that the oozing sores on his face aren’t from radiation but from a venereal disease.
What the guy wants, of course, is Jake, in exchange for safe passage. Eddie and Susannah are outraged that Roland is talking to Gasher about turning over Jake. But softly, he says to Jake, “I’ll keep my promise.” “I know you will,” Jake says, and then he tells Eddie to put his gun away. He slips past Roland and walks toward Gasher, holding Oy. “I’ll come for you,” Roland tells him,” to which Jake responds, “I know.”
Oy is snarling at Gasher, who tells Jake to drop him—but that’s non-negotiable. Once he’s across the bridge, Jake lets Oy go and is dragged off by Gasher into the maze of Lud. They travel at a dead-run, and we get a good look at the heap of social debris that fills the city: abandoned hulks of cars without tires, walls of old TVs or computer monitors, plumbing fixtures, splintered furniture, even a status of Blind Justice.
After navigating Jake through what looked like a dead end piled with junk, Gasher throws the grenade back over his shoulder in the direction they’ve come. As the explosion shakes the area and more debris rains down, Jake realizes it will take Roland a long, long time to find him in this maze—if he can find him. What Jake doesn’t know, but we do, is that Oy is following.
What Constant Reader Learns: Great, the gross pirate has a venereal disease and a hankering for Jake. So not good.
The pirate’s name is Gasher, and he’s got the over-the-top personality of the Man in Black and Randall Flag, kind of the mad offspring of Satan and a carnival barker. He also refers to the “Tick-Tock Man,” and it isn’t clear if he’s referring to himself or to someone else (probably someone else) who is in charge of the Grays.
I love Oy:
Gasher: “If he runs at me, I promise to kick his brains right out his tender little asshole.”
Most of the cars Jake sees as he’s running with Gasher are of a type he’s never seen, but he does recognize a VW Beetle, a Chevrolet Corvair, and a Model A Ford—which is an interesting conglomeration of products from our world.
The Waste Lands—”Lud: A Heap of Broken Images”: Bridge and City, Section 15
Roland, Eddie, and Suze finally get across the bridge. Roland is bitter. He knew this could happen and thinks if he’d seen Gasher earlier he would’ve fought him off, but he’d gotten distracted by Jake and Oy falling.
Roland says they have to split up. He can follow Jake’s trail, but Eddie and Susannah need to go and find Blaine the Mono, since Jake was convinced the wrecked one they saw was not the one in his visions. The plan is for Eddie to fire a shot from Jake’s dad’s pistol every half hour so Roland can keep tabs on them and find them as soon as he gets Jake back. When Suze points out that other people might also be attracted by the shots, Roland says: “Handle them.”
And with a quick “Remember the faces of your fathers, both of you,” Roland’s off. Susannah’s crying and Eddie wants to cry. They both worry they’ll never see Roland or Jake again.
What Constant Reader Learns: It will be interesting to see what kind of challenges Eddie and Susannah will face without Roland. The training wheels are off!
The Waste Lands—”Lud: A Heap of Broken Images”: Bridge and City, Section 16
Jake’s still running, prodded and cursed at by Gasher. He can’t focus on much besides trying to breathe. They pass more oddities—factory machines, a huge crystal fish with DELIGHT etched into its side, chains wrapped around precarious piles of furniture, piles of old paper that might once have been magazines and books. Jake’s convinced that even Roland will not be able to find them in this urban jungle.
They cross into a tunnel through the high piles of rubble until they come to a booby-trap—two trip wires crossed in an X that they have to carefully crawl on their bellies beneath to avoid tripping. Finally, Jake “gave up hope and thought alike, and allowed himself to descend wholly into the nightmare.”
What Constant Reader Learns: They turn left and right until Jake can no longer remember the way: This is how a steer must feel when it’s driven down the chute to the slaughtering pen, he thinks. I worry this analogy’s not too far off the mark.
The Waste Lands—”Lud: A Heap of Broken Images”: Bridge and City, Section 17
Roland comes to the blocked-off pile of debris and realizes it didn’t just fall there, but was placed there by the Grays, making the eastern portion of Lud the Grays’ castle. He sees three sets of footprints—one large, one small, one pawed. He calls for Oy, and asks if he’ll help find “Ake.” Oy takes off, nose to the ground, with Roland following.
What Constant Reader Learns: Hm. This is interesting: “Roland could feel the dry red curtain that was battle fever at the edge of his consciousness, but this was not the time for it. The time would come, but for now he must now allow himself that inexpressible relief.” So..the only thing I can think of we’ve seen so far that might equate to this was the autopilot he went into in his methodical destruction of everybody in Tull. Not sure if that’s the “fever” he refers to or not, but Lud certainly needs a big old gunslinger smackdown.
The Waste Lands—”Lud: A Heap of Broken Images”: Bridge and City, Section 17
Eddie and Susannah have gone a different route, turning onto a wide street that reminds Eddie of Fifth Avenue, which in turn leads them into a section of large white buildings that reminds him of the way Rome looked in gladiator movies. He thinks it might once have been the center of Lud’s cultural district.
They come to a big square ringed by loudspeakers, with the remains of a copper statue in the center. Each of the poles holding the loudspeakers “had been festooned with a grisly garland of corpses.” Susannah doesn’t share this, but she has another vision similar to those she had in River Crossing. She understands that the speakers, the hanging bodies and the drums all go together. “The speakers were a wartime measure,” she thinks. “God only knows which war, or how long ago, but it must have been a doozy.” She knows the authorities made announcements over the speakers from their bunkers of safety, like Hitler at the end of World War II. She also thinks the speakers have been reactivated more recently, broadcasting the single loop of the drumbeats over and over, and the current residents have taken it as a Godlike message to commit ritual murder.
Most of the corpses hanging from the poles are so old they’re practically mummies, but a few are fresh and coated with flies and maggots (yeah haven’t had a SK grossout moment in a while). Eddie observes that there must be thousands of dead people, and he thinks that for the first time, he feels as if he understands what the phrase The world has moved on really means—”what a breadth of ignorance and evil it covered. And what a depth.”
Suddenly, the speakers come to life, transmitting the “Velcro Fly” of warped drumbeats, and Eddie and Susannah start moving faster, more than ready to get out of this “endless aisle of the dead.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Corpses hanging from poles was one of the things the band of travelers in The Stand saw as they headed toward Vegas for the showdown with Randall Flagg. So, lots of Stand imagery popping up here.
Eddie and Suze are following the path of the beam, and the street off the square corresponding to the beam is guarded by a large stone turtle. Eddie and Susannah don’t seem too surprised by this.
We get a look at Susannah’s philosophy here, as she ponders the existence of God and how she is coming around to her father’s view on the subject—that God exists but doesn’t much care what happens to the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve anymore. She likens Lud to the hive of mutant bees: “Here, on this side of the Send, was another dying hive; more mutated white bees whose sting would be no less deadly for their confusion, loss, and perplexity.”
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll continue reading in Bridge and City within “Book Two, Lud: A Heap of Broken Images.”