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 Roland bursting into the Tick-Tock Man’s hidey hole like a gunslinger as Jake and Oy do battle in Underground Lud. Eddie and Susannah are in the Cradle, trying to figure out Blaine the Mono’s riddle.
The Waste Lands—”Lud: A Heap of Broken Images”: Bridge and City, Section 35
Eddie and Susannah are startled when the alarms begin to wail—it’s so loud as to be painful. When Eddie shouts at Blaine and asks what’s happening, his only response is “terrible mechanical laughter that made Eddie think of the clockwork clown that had stood outside the House of Horrors at Coney Island when he was a kid.” When Susannah yells at Blaine that they can’t possibly solve his riddle with all the racket, it stops. But something more ominous starts up: Blaine the Mono’s turbines and the computers of Lud.
What Constant Reader Learns: Is it just me, or do maniacal laughter and clowns often add up to very bad things in Stephen Kingville?
The Waste Lands—”Lud: A Heap of Broken Images”: Bridge and City, Section 36
The alarm (“built to warn Lud’s long-dead residents of an impending air attack”) fills the city, and the lights all begin to pulse in sync. Both the Pubes and Grays believe the end has finally come.
What Constant Reader Learns: We get this observation about Blaine that I had to read three times because I thought it was so creepy and yet hilarious:
“Certainly there had been an intelligence left in the ancient computers below the city, a single living organism which had long ago ceased to exist sanely under conditions that, within its merciless dipolar circuits, could only be absolute reality. It had held its increasingly alien logic within its banks of memory for eight hundred years, and might have held them so for eight hundred more if not for the arrival of Roland and his friends; yet this mens non corpus had brooded and grown ever more insane with each passing year; even in its increasing periods of sleep it could be said to dream, and these dreams grew steadily more abnormal as the world moved on. Now, although the unthinkable machinery which maintained the Beams had weakened, this insane and inhuman intelligence had awakened in the rooms of ruin and had begun once more, although as bodiless as any ghost, to stumble through the halls of the dead In other words, Blaine the Mono was preparing to get out of Dodge.”
Well, I can’t say it any better than that!
The Waste Lands—”Lud: A Heap of Broken Images”: Bridge and City, Section 37
As Roland is leaning over Jake (as you’ll recall, he was almost choked by the Gasherman before Ro rushed in and sent Gasher to the Great Mandrus Ward in the Sky), the woman Tilly runs out and begs Ro not to kill her like he has everyone else. He tells her to run—and not through the door he came in. Jake comes to and says “You didn’t let me fall this time.” Then he asks for Oy—who’s wounded but not mortally so. Jake hugs Oy and cries.
While Jake and Oy have their reunion, Roland is studying the escape options. He carries Jake into a back door that leads to a kitchen.
Roland asks Jake about the Tick-Tock Man. Jake is pretty shaky and attributes his ability to kill Ticky to luck, but Roland doesn’t think so. They’re about to head out when a voice booms out: GUNSLINGER. Which leads to a surreal conversation between Blaine; Roland of Gilead, son of Steven; and Jake of New York, son of Elmer. Blaine wants to know if Jake still has his book of riddles, and is relieved to see Roland has saved his backpack. “What you got, Little Pilgrim?” Blaine drawls in his John Wayne voice which means Blaine can see them. Roland looks around and spots a “small glass eye” in one corner, and has Blaine pegged immediately: “That voice belonged to a machine, an incredibly smart machine, a playful machine, but there was something very wrong with it, all the same.”
Some poor dude comes stumbling in, screaming about fire in the walls, smoke on the lower levels, and people killing themselves. (“He seemed not to realize that Roland and Jake were not part of his miserable subterranean ka-tet.”) Blaine doesn’t like the interruption, so he zaps the guy with a shot of blue-white fire from the oven, then wants Roland to ask him a riddle. Ro asks him Cuthbert’s favorite. Blaine answers it, then wants another, but Roland refuses. Blaine reminds Roland he could kill him, and Roland says yes, but the riddles would die with him. Blaine reminds him he could take Jake’s book, but Roland points out that stealing is rude and besides, Jake adds, the answers were torn out and they’re all in his head. “Nobody loves a smartass,” Blaine replies.
And then, because the scene isn’t bizarre enough, a steel sphere drops out of the ceiling and bounces down the corridor for Roland and Blaine to follow.
What Constant Reader Learns: Awww .Jake and Oy are just like an old episode of “Lassie,” where Timmy gets to hug Lassie after she’s saved him from the well.
When Jake asks for water, Roland has a “queer doubling, as if time had folded backward on itself.” Déjà vu, in other words. It’s eerily similar to when he staggered out of the desert and Jake gave him water. Now, he’s able to do the same for Jake, and for Oy.
Roland, watching Jake in such bad shape, wishes he could go back and kill Gasher again. Which might be satisfying for all of us.
This is such a surrealistic scene, with the explosions and screams and things falling apart around them while the disembodied voice of Blaine has a perfectly calm discussion of riddles.
The Waste Lands—”Lud: A Heap of Broken Images”: Bridge and City, Section 38
Roland and Jake follow the floating ball through a scene out of hell itself, with explosions and panicking Grays either running frantically or killing themselves. Roland understands that Blaine is causing their madness on purpose.
They enter a restricted area filled with computers—thousands of them. Jake knows what they are, but Roland has an idea of what they do. Most of them seem to be operational, including digital displays indicating aquifer water pressure in the West River Barony, available power in the Send Basin Nuclear Plant, and so on.
Jake is faltering, so Roland carries him as the steel ball speeds up and they run through the power base of Lud, through banks of TV monitors showing the city in chaos above as well as below. People are jumping from buildings, hundreds have congregated at the bridge and are throwing themselves into the river far below, others are setting themselves on fire, still others are being thrown into a “stamping press.”
The ball leads them onto a moving sidewalk, where they ride along until Roland observes that he thinks they’re traveling through the “mind of the thing that calls itself Blaine.” Finally, they can see ahead of them, an escalator.
What Constant Reader Learns: Well, my assumption that Jake managed to get to the button that opened the door and let Roland in was wrong, apparently. According to Roland, Blaine opened the door.
Hmmm. Stephen King is toying with us (Him? No! Say it ain’t so.)
“‘Is it Blaine (causing all this)?’ Jake asked.
‘Yes—that’s as good a name as any.’
‘What about the other v—’
‘Hush!’ Roland said grimly.”
Well v—what? Vampires? Villains? Viscissitudes? Vasectomies?
The ever-witty Blaine, at the sight of all the chaos of Lud, says: “In the rooms the people come and go, but I don’t think any of them are talking of Michelangelo.” This is a bastardization of a line from another cheery T.S. Eliot poem, “The Love-Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” which is sort of about the world moving on.
The Waste Lands—”Lud: A Heap of Broken Images”: Bridge and City, Section 39
Eddie and Susannah hear the heavy motors start up beneath them, and marvel as a wide strip of marble flooring slides back and reveals an escalator. And who should ride up that escalator but a gunslinger, a little boy, and a bumbler?
Eddie and Susannah are elated—in fact, Eddie’s beside himself. “His heart suddenly felt too big for his chest Until this moment he had not realized how positive his heart had become that they would never see Roland and Jake again.” He greets Roland warmly and Roland remembers a time not so long ago when Eddie had been on the edge of killing him.
Jake catches sight of Blaine and Mr. Pink Train looks just as he did in Jake’s dreams. Roland examines the diamond-pattern of numbers below the control box, but he also doesn’t know what it means. They’re standing around thinking about what to do next when Blaine makes a startling announcement: There are large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons under the city, and he plans to set them off in twelve minutes. Little Blaine pipes up and tells them to hurry.
When Eddie asks why he’d do such a thing and kill all these people, Blaine says he doesn’t care about the people—they bore him. See you later alligator, after a while, crocodile. Don’t forget to write. And reminds them they’re down to “eleven minutes and twenty seconds.” Jake argues that the old people in River Crossing will die, to which Blaine replies, “Tough titty, said the kitty,” and points out the winds are blowing away from them. Finally, after Susannah yells at him to shut up (for the second time), Blaine stops his craziness and says they have ten minutes.
What Constant Reader Learns: Blaine is totally fruitcakes. I don’t know if he actually listens to Susannah or if it’s coincidence that when she finally yells at him, he does what she asks.
I tried to find the origin of “See you later, alligator, after while crocodile” other than in an old Bobby Charles song from New Orleans, but couldn’t find it.
The Waste Lands—”Lud: A Heap of Broken Images”: Bridge and City, Section 40
A change of scene here as a voice is calling to Andrew, and “Andrew” is remembering his boyhood in Lud, when his father took him to the cider house and an old man named Dewlap fed apples into the press. And now Andrew’s head is the cider press and his brains are the apples.
Andrew—aka Andrew Quick—is the Tick-Tock Man, and the voice talking to him belongs to a figure standing across the room. It looks like a man (of course Ticky only has one eye now), but he realizes it wasn’t really a man at all. Whatever he/it is, he/it wears denim jeans, a short, dark jacket, and cowboy boots. Dusty cowboy boots.
He tells Andrew he’s “a man of many handles. There’s some that call me Jimmy, and some that call me Timmy; some that call me Handy and some that call me Dandy. They can call me Loser, or they can call me Winner, just as long as they don’t call me in too late for dinner.” He has been called the “Ageless Stranger, or Merlin, or Maerlyn (although he was never that one), or the Magician, or the Wizard.”
He pushes back his hood, revealing a pleasant—but inhuman—face, with “roses that rode his cheekbones,” blue-green crazy eyes, and blue-black hair sticking up in clumps. “Call me Richard Fannin,” he says. And he’s going to give Andrew the chance to kill Jake and all his friends. “They have to die,” the stranger says. “They’re meddling with things they have no business meddling with. I expected Blaine to take care of them, but things have gone much too far to depend on anything.”
What Constant Reader Learns: I knew it! *victory dances* I knew Ticky wasn’t dead. So, okay, not a vampire either exactly.
Richard Fannin isn’t as catchy as Randall Flag, eh? Or the Man in Black. And Andrew is as nutty as Donald the Trashcan Man, who once pushed a nuclear weapon across the Nevada desert crying out, “My life for you.”
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll finish the last section of The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands.