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 divided as the Gasherman dragged Jake through the maze of Lud toward the Tick-Tock Man, Roland and Oy tracked them, and Eddie and Susannah set off in search of Blaine the Mono.
The Waste Lands—”Lud: A Heap of Broken Images”: Bridge and City, Section 19
We pick up again with Jake being dragged through Lud at a breakneck pace by Gasher, who’s beating on him and, at one point, trips the boy and then pulls him up by his lower lip.
Gasher directs Jake’s attention upward, to where a marble fountain “as big as a house-trailer” dangles eighty feet above them, suspended by rusty cables run through unsteady stacks of church pews. He points down then, to two cobblestones darker than the others—anyone who steps on them will bring the fountain down on his head. Gasher wants to make sure Jake knows Roland doesn’t have a prayer of surviving the booby-traps, much less tracking Jake. His tactic works, as Jake is convinced Roland will not be able to find him. He considers setting off the booby-trap himself, figuring it’s probably not as bad as what Gasher and his friends will do to him.
But he doesn’t, not because he holds out hope that Roland will find him but because “this was what Roland would do—go on until someone made him stop, and then a few yards farther still if he could.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Ack, a classic Stephen King gross-out moment to start us out, as Gasher stops to catch his breath, his eyepatch askew. “Curds of evil-looking yellow muck oozed onto his check from beneath it.” A short time later, he raises his left hand to the eye, “scooped a mass of the pussy material from beneath it, and flicked it indifferently aside.” I should add that I am trying to finish breakfast while typing this. Ew and ick. Note to self: no scrambled eggs while reading Stephen King. I really should have known better.
Little Jake is a gunslinger. He doesn’t have much hope of surviving but he swears he’ll take not only Gasher but some of his friends with him.
The Waste Lands—”Lud: A Heap of Broken Images”: Bridge and City, Section 20
Roland continues to follow Oy through the maze. At first, he doesn’t fully trust the bumbler, but eventually he realizes his stopping to look for clues is slowing them down and Oy hasn’t steered him wrong. The drums start up, which causes Roland to stop for a moment, and he happens to spot the trip-wires. Oy had slid underneath them, but it was a harder crossing for Roland. On the far side, he finds Jake’s backpack, lengthens the straps, and puts it on.
Roland wants Oy to stay closer to him now. He doesn’t want the bumbler moving too far ahead of him because of more potential booby-traps. Oy is anxious to find “Ake” but he heels “as neatly as any dog Roland had ever seen.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Kind of sweet to see what Jake had hidden in his backpack—he often seems much older than a ten-year-old, but this is good little boy stuff: a rock with gold flecks in it, an arrowhead, some coins ”a few other things which only a boy not yet in his teens could really love and understand.” Roland is afraid that by the time he finds Jake, “Gasher and his friends could hurt him in ways that would cause him to lose interest in the innocent pursuits and curiosities of pre-adolescent boyhood.”
Oy is extremely smart. It will be interesting as we progress to see how much sentience he shows.
The Waste Lands—”Lud: A Heap of Broken Images”: Bridge and City, Section 21
Eddie has a beach flashback as he struggles to push Susannah’s wheelchair along the Street of the Turtle. They’re surrounded by the remains of what looked to be a once-thriving cultural center, dodging a big satellite dish on the sidewalk. The drums suddenly stop, and they come across a big intersection. Around the corner, they can hear a crowd, a scream, applause. Eddie realizes they’re about to stumble onto another public execution, another body to hang from the light pole.
Eddie’s trying to figure out the meaning of a pile of stones covered in vines at the corner, when the vines part and what they think is a child runs out, wearing “a weird little Lord Fauntleroy outfit.” Eddie has a “Little Rascals” Buckwheat moment, but Susannah realizes the kid—who’s actually a “misshapen dwarf” with his own case of mandrus—is holding something behind his back. She remembers the grenade Gasher had and pulls her gun. Eddie thinks she’s gone mad, and we’re told it’s Detta Walker in the chair now. As soon as Suze sees the grenade hand move, she shoots the dwarf.
The grenade rolls back toward the stone arch the dwarf came from and explodes, attracting a “ragged mob” of twenty people. Susannah starts firing, blood’s splattering and Eddie’s gun is stuck in his underwear. Once he finally digs it out, his gunslinger hands take over and start shooting.
They kill enough that some of the others run away, and from the few that are left, one dying man asks: “You gunslinger?” When Eddie says yes, he gasps “Cry your pardon,” and dies. This gives the others great pause. Eddie also realizes that “whatever his head thought about this gunslinging business, his hands had discovered they liked it just fine.”
Susannah, now horrified by the killing, realizes the situation of the Pubes with the drums and the drawing-names-out-of-hats to decide who dies next is much like Shirley Jackson’s story “The Lottery” that we all had to read in high school. When she asks the woman why they do it, the woman says it’s so the “ghosts what live in the machines won’t take over the bodies of those who have died here and send them up through the holes in the streets to eat us.”
Susannah tries to explain about the looped tape playing and that they’re killing each other for nothing, but they aren’t buying it.
Finally, Eddie and Susannah order two of the remaining people to take them to Blaine, which scares the crap out of the people, Maud and Jeeves. The Cradle is forbidden ground, they say, and Blaine is the most dangerous of Lud’s ghosts. They tell a story of Ardis, the last person to go near Blaine. Blaine asked him a question and he couldn’t answer it, so Blaine “slew him with blue fire.”
Finally, the woman called Maud and the man called Jeeves lead Eddie and Susannah to the Cradle, a majestic building ringed at the top by a sculpted bestiary: Bear and Turtle, Fish and Rat, Horse and Dog.
What Constant Reader Learns: The mobs of this part of Lud—the Pubes—are armed with “rusty swords, dull knives, and splintery clubs.” So they obviously don’t still have guns, although grenades seem to be plentiful.
The people of Lud so far seem to all be dressed in garish cast-offs from a Hollywood prop studio.
Eddie, man, you’ve got to get your underwear issues straightened out before you meet up with Blaine the Mono. Do you think Roland would ever get his gun stuck in his underwear? And, frankly, how long have our travelers been on the road? You still HAVE underwear? Nah forget it don’t want to go there.
Interesting the reaction of the Luddites (sorry, couldn’t resist) to the idea of Eddie and Susannah being gunslingers—”dawning horror and realization.” Yet they aren’t quite terrified, and Eddie realizes their lives have been such that they’ve forgotten the extreme emotions—terror, joy, sadness, love—at least, all of them except the excitement of the executions.
Blaine also has “stopped speaking in his many voices and laughing,” Jeeves tells them. Well, that can’t be good. If Blaine killed Ardis after asking a question and not getting an answer, I’m thinking it’s going to be Riddle Time.
Ominously, thunder booms as they near the Cradle of Lud, and the bodies hunt from the poles begin to “dance in the strengthening wind.” How cinematic is that image?!
The Waste Lands—”Lud: A Heap of Broken Images”: Bridge and City, Section 22
Jake’s getting pretty philosophical over the constant blows of Gasher, who “he meant to see dead before the day was over.” He drags the boy to a rusty manhole cover with the words from the bridge, LaMERK FOUNDRY, stamped on it. Gasher orders Jake to lift it.
The first time, Jake only pretends to pull at the manhole cover, not wanting to go beneath the streets of this town, which can’t help but be even worse than what’s aboveground, but Gasher almost chokes him, threatening to pull out his tongue. Jake coughs out blood-flecked phlegm when Gasher lets him go, and manages this time to pull off the manhole cover. Gasher orders him to go down first and wait for him at the bottom.
As Jake starts down the rungs, they hear a crash from a mile away, and he knows the marble fountain has fallen. Gasher assures him Roland is dead now—he might have found the trip-wires, but the fountain got him.
What Constant Reader Learns: Poor Jake. I suspect one thing Gasher says is true: “Mercy stops on this side of the bridge, so it does.”
The Waste Lands—”Lud: A Heap of Broken Images”: Bridge and City, Section 23
Roland might have almost fallen to the trip-wire trap, but the fountain booby-trap was amateur hour. He tells Oy he wants to pick him up, and Oy finally allows it. They move past the mock cobblestones, and Roland finds a piece of concrete and throws it on the trips to cause the fountain to fall. Roland worries that Jake will think he’s dead when he hears it, but he’s hoping it will cause Gasher to let his guard down.
Roland and Oy are off again, tracking “Ake.” Finally, Oy stops at the manhole cover. Roland tucks Oy inside his shirt, and also creates a leash for him, explaining to Oy that it will be dark inside the hole and he doesn’t want to lose him. He expects Oy to nip at him, but he only looks at Roland and barks “Ake!” Not for the first time, Roland wonders just how much Oy understands.
At last they reach the bottom, where there’s water and a dank warmth that “smalled like an ancient charnel house.” “To Jake, Oy. To Jake!” Roland urges the bumbler, and off they go again, with Roland holding his makeshift leash.
What Constant Reader Learns: We haven’t seen too many references to Roland’s mutilated hand except in regards to being unable to shoot, but he really notices it when he’s trying to climb down the slippery rungs into the sewer, and we’re reminded again when he holds the leash in his “diminished” hand.
The Waste Lands—”Lud: A Heap of Broken Images”: Bridge and City, Section 24
The Cradle, unlike the other buildings in Lud, is sparkling clean, with blinding white marble walls free of the dust that coats everything else. As they get closer, Susannah realizes it’s because there are streams of water coursing endlessly down the sides. They look up, and above the Totems of the Beam and the gargoyles stands a golden warrior sixty feet high. After the description of him, a revolver in one hand and an olive branch in the other, Susannah thinks “Roland of Gilead stood atop the Cradle of Lud, dressed in gold.”
Then she realizes it’s not actually Roland, but it is a gunslinger, and the “resemblance between him, who’s probably been dead a thousand years or more, and Roland is all the truth of ka-tet you’ll ever need to know.”
Maude and Jeeves have taken them as far as they’re going. Eddie tries one last time to tell them to stop killing each other over the drums, but it doesn’t do any good. As they leave, Susannah tells them, “Go your way and try to remember the faces of your fathers, for I think you lost sight of those faces long ago.”
After some mushy talk, the rains begin and Eddie and Susannah finally get ready to enter the Cradle. And “although neither of them knew it, the first of the great autumn storms of Mid-World had arrived.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Well, I almost got chills reading the description of the “golden warrior.” Very cool touch, and it’s obvious that, like the people from River Crossing, the ways of the gunslinger have not been completely forgotten here.
The animal carvings, or Totems of the Beam, have words carved on them, and Susannah thinks it would be worth knowing what they were, if there were time. Wonder if Roland will be able to read those or if that was just an idle observation? Or maybe the words will help them solve riddles for Blaine?
Maybe because they know they’re about to enter some dangerous territory, Eddie and Susannah get a little amorous on the plaza. He says he loves her because she represents everything from his old world and yet at the same time makes him not to want to return to that world. She loves him because he set her free of both Detta Walker and Odetta Holmes Blah blah blah-dee blah. Thank God it began raining and spared us from a love scene. *Does not want Stephen King writing love scenes Sorry, he just can’t sell it to me the way he can sell giant evil clowns or sentient evil trains.*
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.”