A Read of The Dark Tower

A Read of the Dark Tower: Constant Reader Tackles The Dark Tower, The Little Red King, Chapter 1

“There they stood, ranged along the hillsides, met
To view the last of me, a living frame
For one more picture! In a sheet of flame
I saw them and I knew them all.”

—Robert Browning, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came”

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 or preceding sections, join me by commenting here.

Last week, we ended Song of Susannah with the impending birth of Mordred Deschain in Fedic, with Susannah connected to Mia via machines, Jake and Oy and Callahan ready to storm The Dixie Pig, and Roland and Eddie trying to find their way out of Maine.

The Dark Tower, Part One: The Little Red King—Dan-Tete; Chapter 1: Callahan and the Vampires, Section 1:

Callahan is feeling the power of the scrimshaw turtle, carved of ivory (long before it was illegal to do so). Jake isn’t showing much interest in it—he’s focused on his gunslinger duties. All he wants to know from Callahan is Will you stand? Will you fight? Will you kill? And Callahan, whose uncertainty and anxiety has disappeared, says yes.

It isn’t the turtle causing Callahan’s calm, but the voice of the White: “It was a force he knew of old, even in boyhood, although there had been a few years of bad faith along the way, years when his understanding of that elemental force had first grown dim and then become lost completely.”

What Gan/the White/God tells Callahan is that Jake has to live: “Your part in the story is almost done. His is not.”

Finally, the three walk into the Dixie Pig, Callahan holding up the Ruger and Jake two of the Orizas,

What Constant Reader Learns: Song of Susannah was my least favorite of the six books so far, despite its cleverness with the lyrics and stanzas. But now it’s time to set it all aside and embark on the final journey….

The turtle has a nick in its beak and a scratch in the shape of a question-mark on its back. So it’s done battle before or, like the world itself, is showing its age. Whether those flaws have any particular significance…well, we shall see.

Callahan has once again found his faith. To me that would imply that his journey is complete, and we’re virtually told that Callahan will be the first of our ka-tet to fall. I hope his faith holds true and he dies well.

So Gan = the White = “the voice of something perhaps too great to be called God.” Which is, ironically perhaps, quite biblical since “God” is a human term for “the Great I Am.”

 

The Dark Tower, Part One: The Little Red King—Dan-Tete; Chapter 1: Callahan and the Vampires, Section 2:

Jake goes into the Dixie Pig expecting to die. He remembers two things that Roland, “his true father” had told him: “Battles that last five minutes spawn legends that live a thousand years” was the first. The second: “You needn’t die happy when your day comes, but you must die satisfied.”

What Constant Reader Learns: Ah, Jake is a gunslinger now, not a boy so much anymore. It has been interesting to see Callahan and Jake switch roles, from master to apprentice, in a sense, as their journey through New York and to the Dixie Pig took place. Now, though, I wonder if Callahan’s faith might not be the evenly matched balance for Jake’s gunslinging? It might take both.

 

The Dark Tower, Part One: The Little Red King—Dan-Tete; Chapter 1: Callahan and the Vampires, Section 3:

Jake’s senses are heightened, and he can smell and see details he normally wouldn’t. And he doesn’t like their odds against all these low men and the blue-aura’d vampires.

What Constant Reader Learns: Ah, Jake. Too bad you’re smelling so well, because you realize the scent of cooking meat is not coming from pork.

 

The Dark Tower, Part One: The Little Red King—Dan-Tete; Chapter 1: Callahan and the Vampires, Section 4:

Callahan remembers Jake’s instructions to scream as loud as he could when they went in, but as he’s starting to do so, he again hears the voice of the White saying one word: Skoldpadda.

“Now come Gilead’s ka-mais,” shouts our old friend the Bird Man, pulling out a weapon Callahan thinks looks like the old phasers from Star Trek. Callahan wants everyone to see HIS weapon, though, so he clears one of the tables, steps onto the chair and then the tabletop, and holds up the skoldpadda.

At this point, we’re told, Callahan and Jake have been inside the Dixie Pig for exactly thirty-four seconds.

 

What Constant Reader Learns: Callahan’s senses also are heightened, although not as much as Jake’s, and he gets the sense that people are just beginning to settle down after some sort of excitement. Interesting that just as Susannah thinks of Mia as ka-mei, the low men and hybrids at the Dixie Pig think of Callahan and Jake as Gilead’s ka-meis. But we all serve ka, right?

 

The Dark Tower, Part One: The Little Red King—Dan-Tete; Chapter 1: Callahan and the Vampires, Section 5:

Jake doesn’t try to stop Callahan from making himself a big target by jumping on a table, but he’s ready to decapitate Tweety Bird with one of the Orizas when Callahan holds up the skoldpadda. Jake thinks it won’t work, but then realizes it is. The aggressive smell goes out of the room. People sit down, calm down. Even the Bird Man stops talking, and his hand falls away from his weapon. “Oh sai,” he finally says. “What is the lovely thing that you hold?”

Callahan talks to him, but at the same time, he is aware of where Jake is, and that there’s another room filled with “rough laughter and hoarse, carousing yells.” He also hears a rattling sound—the insects coming from beneath the tables. And the insects don’t give a fig about the skoldpadda.

But Oy isn’t impressed. He begins hopping on the mouse-sized bugs, snapping their necks and tossing them in the air. The other bugs decide they don’t want to mess with a billy bumbler who’s acting like a terrier on patrol, and hasten back underneath the tables.

There’s a shout from behind the curtain, but before Callahan can respond, he hears Roland’s voice in his head.

What Constant Reader Learns: It strikes me how much scent has to do with the Dixie Pig scenes—I guess because it’s such a visceral kind of sense. There’s the scent of the cooking meats, the spices used on the meats, the fact that it smells like pork and yet isn’t, and now, in this section, the smell of stress on the Dixie Pig patrons, and a bloodlike metallic aroma coming from the Bird Man, who thanks to Jake shall forevermore be Tweety Bird to me.

Oy springs to action, prompting Jake to yell at him. This, in turn, causes the people in the back room to fall silent. Methinks getting their attention is not a good thing.

 

The Dark Tower, Part One: The Little Red King—Dan-Tete; Chapter 1: Callahan and the Vampires, Section 5:

Jake’s ready to fling his Oriza, behead Tweety Bird, follow Susannah’s trail through the kitchen, and get the action moving when Callahan tells him to leave. The silence from behind the tapestry is “like a pointed weapon,” and he knows it’s important that Jake go on. “This is the command of your dinh,” he tells him. “This is also the will of the White.”

When Callahan has to shout to get Jake moving, it isn’t his voice that comes out, but Roland’s: “You have this one chance and must take it! Find her! As dinh I command you!”

And not a moment too soon, for the “cannibals communion” breaks apart as the “ancient ones” spill out from behind the tapestry and Callahan knows them as the true vampires, the Type Ones. And they have no interest in the skoldpadda.

Callahan plays his last card to get Jake moving, telling him they’ll kill Oy first and drink his blood. And then he knows what to do; he reaches inside his shirt and pulls out the cross, which is lit with a blue-white light, and commands them to stop. When one “deformed skeleton in an ancient, moss-encrusted dinner suit” charges him, Callahan drives the tip of the cross into the thing’s forehead; it makes a hole through which a “thick, curdy, yellow stuff” spills out.

Now, Callahan channels a little MLK as he realizes he’s been given redemption; the thing that allowed Barlow to best him—the failure of his faith—is now in his grasp. He understands that it’s his faith that gives him power, not the cross, which is only its symbol. So he drops the cross back inside his shirt and holds out his hands—and the fingers (and the gun barrel and the eyes of the turtle) glow blue as well.

What Constant Reader Learns: So if Callahan is channeling Roland now, why has he not been able to channel Roland before? Is Roland aware he’s being channeled? Ka.

When Callahan pulls out his cross, he commands the vampires to stop in the power of God, the power of Christ, and ka of Mid-World and the power of the White. Which would cover pretty much all his bases.

I love a good redemption story. I know Callahan’s about to bite it at the gnashing teeth of the vampires, but he has found his faith again and has the satisfaction of knowing it, and that maybe he has helped Jake in his mission.

 

The Dark Tower, Part One: The Little Red King—Dan-Tete; Chapter 1: Callahan and the Vampires, Section 6:

“When the terrible shaman turned to face the Grandfathers, Meiman of the taheen felt the Turtle’s awful, lovely glammer lessen a bit.” Which translates as “When Callahan turned to face the real vampires, Tweety Bird fell out from under the spell of the skoldpadda.” He’s alarmed that Jake has slipped out of the room, but thinks maybe it’ll be okay as long as the boy doesn’t find the door to Fedic and use it. Because then he’d be in trouble with Sayre, who “answered to Walter o’Dim, and Walter answered only to the Crimson King himself.”

But Meiman doesn’t have time to worry too much about it, since he needs to “settle the shaman’s hash first.”

He grabs the fat guy in the plaid tux—Andrew—and gestures for him to kill Callahan. And he tries, jumping on Callahan as his woman knocks the turtle from Callahan’s hand. Once it’s gone, although the Grandfathers are still leery of Callahan’s faith, the low men care nothing about that. They were being held back by the now-gone turtle and care nothing about faith. In other words, Callahan’s hash is pretty much settled.

Callahan prays for strength as something bites into his neck, and claws rip into his shirt. He manages to use the Ruger to blow Andrew’s head to smithereens. Then he takes out Tweety. Before he dies, Callahan has time to wonder: Is it enough to put me in the club? Am I a gunslinger yet?

And Callahan is allowed to die on his own terms, and is thus remembered: “Pere Callahan, once Father Callahan of ’Salem’s Lot, turned the Ruger’s muzzle on himself. He wasted no time looking for eternity in the darkness of the barrel…. ‘Hile, Roland,’ he said. ‘Hile, gunslinger…May you find your Tower, Roland, and breach it, and may you climb to the top.’”

What Constant Reader Learns: I guess, like Callahan, the skoldpadda has served its purpose. When it’s knocked out of Callahan’s hand, it bounces beneath one of the tables…“and there (like a certain paper boat some of you may remember) passes out of this tale forever.” Paper boats are IT, right? See, the damnable thing about reading this series at this late date is that now I need to go back and re-read all the earlier books that tie in to it.

While suitably gory, this scene was simply bizarre! I’m imagining this ginormous Tweety Bird opening and closing its beak in excitement as skeletal blood drinkers, rat-sized bugs, and men and women in bad used car salesman clothes eat a priest. It cries to be filmed.


And…that’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll continue our read of the final book of the Dark Tower saga.

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