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.
An announcement: As all of you Constant Readers are aware, The Wind Through the Keyhole, or Dark Tower 4.5, is being released in April. In deference to not posting spoilers too early for readers who can’t get to the new book right away, I’ve decided not to work 4.5 into the Dark Tower read until the very end. So we will go straight from Wizard and Glass to Wolves of the Calla, as the books were originally released.
We last left Roland and Oy tracking Jake in the tunnels below Lud, Jake and Gasher headed for the Tick-Tock Man, and Eddie and Susannah pausing in the deluge outside the Cradle of Lud for some quick PDA.
The Waste Lands — “Lud: A Heap of Broken Images”: Bridge and City, Section 25
Gasher is moving a little slower now that he and Jake have gone belowground—Jake thinks it’s because he believes Roland is dead, squashed beneath the booby-trapped marble fountain. But Jake believes Roland is too smart to have fallen for the crude trap, and that it’s more likely he sprung it himself. He still doesn’t think Roland will find him, but he’s at least glad the gunslinger didn’t die trying.
Gasher sings a bawdy little tune, then makes Jake sing. He tells him that there are “haunts” in the tunnels that live in the machines, and that singing keeps the haunts “off.” Jake conjures up a song he learned in summer camp. The two reach another opening, with a ladder leading downward to a lower level. The machinery is louder down there, it’s dry, and there are still working neon lights stretching along a long corridor.
Finally, they reach what sounds like a valve-wheel operated airlock with an intercom outside it. Gasher presses the button and announces their arrival to Tick-Tock. The Tick-Tock Man, we see early on, is a gamesman. He wants to know a password, and old Gasher isn’t too bright. But he has friends—someone has written the password down and Gasher pulls a piece of paper from beneath his scarf…except he can’t read it. So he gives it to Jake.
Jake, who’s now on the verge of laughing hysterically, both from fear and over the absurdity of his situation, considers not telling him, but he realizes Gasher is afraid of being humiliated in front of Tick-Tock—even more than he fears dying. So Jake tells him the word is “bountiful.” Once relayed, the valve in the door turns and it swings open.
What Constant Reader Learns: Did anyone else have a sort of warped Tom Bombadil moment when Gasher began singing his crude little ditty in the flooded tunnels? Just sayin’.
The whole “ghost in the machine,” technology gone awry thing is interesting. Society in Lud, once very advanced, has reverted to a very primitive superstition over the machines themselves….although probably with good reason.
The Waste Lands — “Lud: A Heap of Broken Images”: Bridge and City, Section 26
Roland and Oy make it to the lower level of the tunnels without incident, with Oy riding inside Ro’s shirt. Roland’s feeling more trusting of Oy than ever after hearing the songs of Gasher and Jake echoing through the tunnel, so he takes off the bumbler’s makeshift leash and lets him run.
What Constant Reader Learns: Exactly how much does Oy understand? A lot, it would seem. He’s been frantically tracking “Ake” but every time Roland has told him something, he seems to grasp it. Same here. When Ro tells him they must be quiet, Oy is quiet except for muttering “Ake-Ake” under his breath. I love Oy!
The Waste Lands — “Lud: A Heap of Broken Images”: Bridge and City, Section 27
Eddie and Susannah race up the steps of the Cradle to escape the rain, and Susannah points out the fish-head downspout, making it clear that such downpours aren’t passing showers but were things the builders of the Cradle knew to prepare for. Susannah somehow knows that it will rain a long time, maybe a week or maybe a month.
Eddie fires a shot to let Roland know all is well, and then he rolls the wheelchair into the building. First they see a sign: North Central Positronics welcomes you to the Cradle of Lud…Southeast Travel (Blaine)…Northwest Travel (Patricia). They realize the mono that fell in the river was Patricia, the blue train—because Eddie knows Blaine is pink.
There are stern faces sculpted around the top of the big terminal, overlooking a once-grand space that is falling to ruin and populated by pigeons….which prompts Susannah to quote from T.S. Eliot: “A heap of broken images, where the sun beats and the dead tree gives no shelter.” She says it was written by a man who “must have seen Lud in his dreams.”
And, finally, there is Blaine in all his pink, sleek glory. No windows except two right in front, which Eddie likens to eyes. Susannah tells Eddie that Blaine isn’t dead, just sleeping, and “I’m scared to wake it up.” Eddie wants to wait for Roland and Jake, but Susannah says they need to be ready to go: “I’ve got an idea that they’re going to come on the run.”
They spot an intercom mounted on one side of an entrance gate, which Eddie notes is too solid for them to wriggle through. They won’t get to Blaine unless Blaine allows it. Susannah thinks the intercom box looks like something from a sci-fi movie, and Eddie realizes how much technology changed between Susannah’s “when” and his own.
Hesitantly, Eddie reaches out and flips the intercom switch to Talk, half expecting to be electrocuted. Nothing happens, and he says, “Hello…Blaine? Anybody?” Again, nothing happens, and Eddie goes into a manic mode that we’re told Roland would recognize as being exactly like Cuthbert. He imitates Robin Leach from Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous (or, as Eddie says, the Rich and Brainless). Susannah’s begging him to stop and, in the midst of the noise, there’s a small voice “of a very young and very frightened child.”
“Shhh…don’t wake him up,” the voice urges. Upon questioning, the voice says it is “Little Blaine….The one he doesn’t see. The one he forgot. The one he thinks he left behind in the rooms of ruin and the halls of the dead.”
Susannah panics and wants to leave, but Little Blaine tells them it’s too late. “Big Blaine is awake. He knows you are here. And he’s coming.”
Lights begin flashing, and a new voice comes from the box—and from every speaker in the city. “Who are you?” it booms, so loudly that it’s painful. “How dare you disturb my sleep?” After a moment of panic, Eddie introduces himself as well as their mission, and explains that they need Blaine to take them farther on their journey. There’s a long silence before Blaine replies, this time in a normal voice. He says all the doors to “that where” are closed, Gilead is no more, and the gunslingers are all dead. He again demands to know who they are. When Eddie insists he was telling the truth, Blaine wants proof. Eddie begins rattling off a list of New York locations.
Just in case the scene isn’t bizarre enough, Blaine answers in a voice impersonating John Wayne, complete with “Okay, pilgrim.”
Next, Blaine wants Eddie to ask him a question.
What Constant Reader Learns: Oh, Lord help us. Eddie and Susannah are doing a little grope-and-grin in the pouring rain outside the Cradle.
Ha-ha-ha. Pink and blue trains. Maybe-pregnant Susannah. Cradle. A very young child speaking over the intercom. Phallic pink train. Will Blaine sing a lullaby? Probably not.
As they stare at Blaine, Eddie realizes they are being watched. He can feel it. There’s a lot of knowing in this section, and interesting that Eddie and Susannah know different things. He knows Blaine is pink, but she knows Blaine isn’t dead.
The numerals 1 through 100 are arranged in a diamond shape below the intercom button, much like a braille symbol. Not sure what to make of this yet. I’m also not sure what to make of Little Blaine.
Eddie has a big-picture moment when he realizes that Shardik, the door and machine in the forest, everything, are all “part of an awful, decaying whole, a tattered web with the Dark Tower at its center like an incomprehensible stone spider. All of Mid-World had become one vast haunted mansion in these strange latter days; all of Mid-World had become The Drawers; all of Mid-World had become a waste land, haunting and haunted.” Or, as Little Blaine notes, “Big Blaine is the ghost in ALL the machines.”
For the trivia files: John Wayne called someone “Pilgrim” 23 times in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” and once in “McClintock.” What that has to do with the price of tea in Lud, I don’t know.
The Waste Lands — “Lud: A Heap of Broken Images”: Bridge and City, Section 28
Jake and Gasher enter the domain of the Tick-Tock Man, a multi-story room shaped like “a Minuteman missile silo which had been decorated by the inmates of a lunatic asylum,” lit by a rainbow of neon tubing with Turkish rugs on the grilled floors. There are four men and two women in the room, and Jake figures he’s looking at the “Gray high command.”
At the center is Tick-Tock himself, who’s described as something like a cross between a Viking and a fairytale giant. Around his neck he wears a silver chain with a glassed-in pendant holding a tiny clock. Jake isn’t surprised to see the clock’s hands moving too fast, and backward.
Ticky’s all civilized until one of the women in the room laughs too loud, and with a move too quick to track with the eye, Tick-Tock throws a knife into her heart and kills her. The first thing about Jake to attract Ticky’s attention is his Seiko. Tick-Tock is concerned that it’s “boobyrigged,” and handles it carefully. He asks Jake if he can have it… like the answer would be no? After Ticky plays with the watch a while, he asks, “Does this run on a dipolar or unipolar circuit.”
Jake hasn’t a clue, but he says neither—it runs on a nickel-cadmium battery. As soon as the words are out, he realizes Ticky might think he was making fun of him, so he blurts out: “He was your grandfather, wasn’t he?…The man in the airplane. David Quick.”
This seems to amuse Tick-Tock, who says David Quick was his great-grandfather. Jake looks into Ticky’s eyes and thinks the man is trying to hypnotize him. To distract him, Jake says the first thing that comes to mind: “So fell Lord Perth, and the countryside did shake with that thunder.” Now, THIS, Tick-Tock doesn’t think is funny at all. He throws the boy across the room, and Jake lands near the dead woman. “If you ever speak to me of Lord Perth again…I’ll tear off the top of your skull and eat your brains. I’ll have none of that back-luck story in the Cradle of the Grays.”
Tick-Tock jerks Jake to his feet and begins to question him, first wanting to know if he’s a “Not-See.” Jake eventually figures out he means “Nazi,” and says no, he’s an American. During his interrogation, Jake sees Oy’s gold-ringed eyes watching him from behind the grille of the air duct.
What Constant Reader Learns: Jake is perceptive beyond his years. He quickly figures out Tick-Tock is “the craziest inmate in the whole asylum” and that while he might smile, the smile never reaches his eyes.
So…Tick-Tock is big. He’s canny. He’s amazingly fast. He’s able to enthrall people with his eyes. Is Tick-Tock human? Or is he a vampire or some other type of critter? Inquiring minds and all that…
The Waste Lands — “Lud: A Heap of Broken Images”: Bridge and City, Section 29
Roland and Oy reach the door with the valve and Ro isn’t surprised that he can’t open it. He realizes he can’t stand and wait for someone to come in or out—he needs Jake to hit the “open” button from inside. So he tries to get inside Jake’s head and see through the boy’s eyes as he did with Eddie. He’s able to do it a little, enough to see the Tick-Tock Man, but not enough to see the rest of the room.
Roland notices the ventilation ducts, and pulls off the grille. He tells Oy to “go and see and come back,” and places the bumbler in the duct. Off Oy goes, like a good little bumbler. Less than three minutes later, he’s back, and Roland asks him how many people he saw. It takes Oy a few moments to think, then he uses his claws to tap six times on the steel floor, then says, “Ake!” Six grays plus Jake. Oy is a good boy!
Roland comes up with another plan, whispers it to Oy, and sets the bumbler into the ductwork again.
What Constant Reader Learns: There’s Roland thinking himself on the outside of the ka-tet again: “Roland understood that he was not a full member of this ka-tet; he guessed that even Oy was more fully aware than he of the secret life which existed at its heart.”
So Roland is sending Oy into a situation that’s probably going to save Jake but get Oy killed. I’m thinking Jake won’t go for that.
The Waste Lands — “Lud: A Heap of Broken Images”: Bridge and City, Section 30
Back at the Cradle, Blaine is demanding that Eddie ask him a question. Little Blaine is urging him to hurry because “he’s worse than ever before.”
Eddie asks Blaine what he’s been up to, but the growing rustle of electricity in the air tells him this isn’t the question Blaine wants. Finally, just when Eddie’s sure they’re about to be fried, Susannah repeats the riddle from the forest: “There is a thing that nothing is, and yet it has a name; ‘tis sometimes tall and sometimes short, it joins our talks, it joins our sport, and plays at every game. What is it?” Eddie finishes the riddle for her. Blaine is silent for a while, then says “a shadow….An easy one, but not bad.”
“Do you have more riddles?” Blaine asks, and Susannah assures him their companion Jake has a whole book of them. When he asks if they’re good riddles and Susannah says yes, Blaine calls her on it. Due to voice analysis, he can tell when he’s being lied to. (Of course he says this in a bad Humphrey Bogart impression. Methinks in another lifetime Blaine and Eddie might have been pals.) Blaine asks his own riddle: He says he might take them somewhere, but “you’ll have to prime the pump, but my pump primes backward.”
What Constant Reader Learns: At one point, Big Blaine hears the voice of Little Blaine, but Eddie and Susannah cover for the child-personality. SK compares the duality of Blaine to the duality of Odetta-Detta, so maybe Little is some forgotten part of Big?
Eddie has a pretty good summary of their situation: “What we’ve got here is a lunatic genius ghost-in-the-computer monorail that likes riddles and goes faster than the speed of sound. Welcome to the fantasy version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Amen, Eddie Dean.
The Waste Lands — “Lud: A Heap of Broken Images”: Bridge and City, Section 31
Jake, who’s in pretty bad shape by now from being banged around by Gasher and knocked across the room by Tick-Tock, asks for water and, as one would expect, Tick-Tock taunts him with it by getting the water and drinking it himself. Before Jake can drink, he tells him, he must tell old Tick-Tock about dipolar computers and transitive circuits.
Jake, who’s still trying to keep an eye out for Oy, realizes he’s backed himself into a corner. Since he told Ticky his watch didn’t run on a dipolar circuit, that implied he knew what a dipolar circuit was. Tick-Tock throws a hissy fit—he wants the computers working again. Apparently, the only thing they’ll do now is play “Watch Me” and operate the drums.
In a rage, Tick-Tock tosses Jake around some more and then, just as suddenly, is calm again—but he still wants to know about the dipolar computers. To distract the crazy man, Jake says he did remember something, but it was about Gasher. (Gasher is suitably alarmed at this announcement.) He tells Ticky that Gasher has the password to the heartbeat of the Grays written on a piece of paper under his scarf. While Tick-Tock interrogates Gasher, Jake slips closer to the buttons that will open the door.
But then Jake sees Oy, understands what is about to happen, and screams, “Oy, no!” At which point, Oy leaps out and falls onto the upturned face of the Tick-Tock Man and Roland’s plan goes to hell.
What Constant Reader Learns: Told you so.
The Waste Lands — “Lud: A Heap of Broken Images”: Bridge and City, Section 32
Roland, standing outside the door in the hallway, hears Jake yell for Oy, and knows his plan is going south fast. He sends a mental message to Jake, telling him to open the door, but senses no response.
What Constant Reader Learns: Uh-oh. And, yep, it’s another of these really short sections.
The Waste Lands — “Lud: A Heap of Broken Images”: Bridge and City, Section 33
Tick-Tock falls backward with Oy attached to his face. The bumbler manages to poke out an eye with his claw before Ticky gets him and is about to kill him with his hands. Panicked, Jake lunges for the old German machine gun hanging from the back of Tick-Tock’s chair. There are only a few rounds and most of them miss, but he is able to get Ticky in the leg at least once—a big surprise. Tick-Tock always expected to be the shooter, not the shootee. “Welcome to the real world, you f***,” thinks Jake.
Ticky drops Oy so he can grab his wounded leg. Another guy grabs Jake and Oy attacks. Jake and Oy become a boy-bumbler wrecking team. Jake tries to shoot the advancing Tick-Tock man, who’s grabbed his knife, but the gun jams, or is out of ammo. Jake is able to get his hands on the revolver Tick-Tock kept strapped to the arm of his chair, and the boy blows off the top of Tick-Tock’s head.
Only to be grabbed by the Gasherman and choked to unconsciousness. But not before he manages to push the button that opens the door.
What Constant Reader Learns: Hm. “Suddenly a flap of the Tick-Tock Man’s scalp peeled away like old wallpaper and dropped on his right cheek. Roland would have known what this meant.” Well, I don’t, so I hope we find out. He’s a cyborg? A machine? He is actually David Quick, who’s now an immortal vampire? Mysterious.
The Waste Lands — “Lud: A Heap of Broken Images”: Bridge and City, Section 34
A pump starts up, the valve wheel turns, and Roland rushes in. He sees Gasher choking Jake, and Oy biting on Gasher’s boot (“protecting Oy from the virulent infection which ran in Gasher’s blood”—good). Roland does what Roland does. Shoots everybody he sees in a flurry of gunslingerdom. Alarms start going off in the halls of Underground Lud.
What Constant Reader Learns: I kind of like it when Roland goes all gunslinger on us. Haven’t seen this in a while. Now…how will our foursome get reunited?
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll finish Bridge and City within “Book Two, Lud: A Heap of Broken Images.”