“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 saw Jake and Oy barely escape the mind-trap filled with cartoon dinosaurs through some clever body-switching. They’d managed to reach Susannah at the door to New York at the last second.
The Dark Tower, Part One: The Little Red King—Dan-Tete; Chapter 6: On Turtleback Lane, Section 1
We begin with a bit of authorial godlike observations about “one of the most beautiful places that still remain in America.” It is, of course, western Maine, where the weather is “half mad.” Which means that one should take seriously the storm brewing overhead at Kezar Lake, which on this day is “blacker than homemade sin, not just reflecting the thunderheads massing overhead but amplifying their mood.”
And in the distance we hear an engine, and John Cullum’s dusty Ford Galaxie comes into view with Eddie Dean at the wheel.
What Constant Reader Learns: I haven’t been to western Maine, and have no doubt it is quite beautiful. But I’ll match it and raise it one Atchafalaya Basin.
The Dark Tower, Part One: The Little Red King—Dan-Tete; Chapter 6: On Turtleback Lane, Section 2
Eddie grows more tense the closer they get to the storm, which is of course settled and waiting to begin over the south end of Turtleback Lane. He blames the nerves on the storm, but knows it’s really much more than that. He is still getting some broken communications from Susannah, so he knows that Jake and Suze are together and safe for the time being.
As he makes the final turn, Eddie sees John Cullum waiting for them, wearing a Red Sox cap and smoking a pipe. And not only is he smiling, but he sees Roland, “old long, tall, and ugly,” smiling as well.
John tells them the place they seek is ahead, a lake house called Cara Laughs, but there will be no palavering there. They’ll talk at a house here first, an empty one for which he’s the caretaker. This is fine with Roland, who suggests they ride down to it in John Cullum’s “cartomobile.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Eddie’s sensing something else from Susannah—something she finds both horrific and frightening, and he knows it’s Mia’s baby. “Why an armed woman should be afraid of an infant, Eddie didn’t know.” Oh Eddie, just you wait. I know we haven’t seen the last of Spider Boy. They still don’t know it’s Roland’s, do they?
Eddie greets JC (ah…interesting initials, given his “little god” status) with a knuckle-to-brow gesture and the words “Long days and pleasant nights.” And we’re told “[Eddie] was not from this world, not anymore, and it was a relief to give up the pretense.”
JC uses the word “palaver.” Did Ro and Eddie use it before with him? I’m too lazy to look.
The Dark Tower, Part One: The Little Red King—Dan-Tete; Chapter 6: On Turtleback Lane, Section 3
They drive the half-mile down to the lakefront, to the palaver spot. Eddie looks out at the water, which “had gone a shade of dead ebony that was somehow frightening—like the eye of a zombie.”
First, John shares the news that the local sheriff, Eldon Royster, arrested Jack Andolini and three companions who were sneaking around with a van full of “fiah-powah” such as machine guns, grenades and C-4. Eddie gets a good belly laugh at the idea of Jack in the local hoosegow.
Finally, the palaver begins, and Eddie tells the story; he and Roland had agreed on this earlier. He’s thorough. He starts with Roland “coming forward” in the middle of an airplane flight while he was trying to mule cocaine in the summer of 1987. On JC’s face lies a look of fascination—but not disbelief.
What Constant Reader Learns: Okay, sai-King, okay. We understand that JC has a heavy New England accent. We don’t need the constant interpretation of how he’s pronouncing thing, ayuh.
Roland enjoys hearing Eddie laugh: “When he was tickled, Roland reflected, no one could laugh like Eddie Dean. At least not since Cuthbert Allgood had passed into the clearing.”
The Dark Tower, Part One: The Little Red King—Dan-Tete; Chapter 6: On Turtleback Lane, Section 4
It takes Eddie an hour and a half to tell his story, and by the time he’s done it’s dark outside (a “premature night”) and yet still the storm hangs and hasn’t yet broken. Now it begins, and they lose power.
When Eddie asks Cullum how much of the story he believes, the old caretaker says “All of it.” And then, “You gut to take care of that rose in New York, don’t you?…Because that’s what’s ke’ one of those Beams safe while most of the others has been broken down by these what-do-you-call-em telepathics, the Breakers…The rose is takin’ care of one Beam. Stephen King’s in charge of the other ‘un.”
Eddie’s impressed at what a “trig cove” JC is.
What Constant Reader Learns: I’m glad JC understood the gist of the story so quickly, because that was a fine summation of what they need to get done, and why.
LOL. Eddie tells JC that Stephen King “bears weatching—all else aside, he’s got some lousy habits.” I really thought I’d find SK’s presence in the book annoying but he’s handled it so skillfully, it’s been a cool addition.
The Dark Tower, Part One: The Little Red King—Dan-Tete; Chapter 6: On Turtleback Lane, Section 5
Now they switch the tale-telling to Roland, who explains what Cullum needs to do in New York. Eddie thinks he’s seen the “killer and the diplomat who lived inside Roland of Gilead, but this was his first clear look at the envoy, a messenger to meant to get every word right.”
John parrots back his instructions. Go to New York and find Aaron Deepneau—keep Calvin Tower out of it. Once Deepneau’s drawn up the articles of incorporation, JC’s to see Moses Carver and convince him to his part. To help him convince Carver, Roland gives JC the cross given to him by old Aunt Talitha in River Crossing, and Eddie shared a story about Susannah’s dead pet and where it was buried—something no one but Susannah and Mose knew.
What Constant Reader Learns: I thought it interesting the reversal here, having Eddie tell the story of what’s transpired so far, but letting Roland tell the part about the New York deal. I guess JC would believe Roland and take him more seriously, even though many of the things Roland’s talking about—investments and business dealings—were things that Eddie came up with.
JC doesn’t seem too excited to have been made executive vice president of the Tet Corporation. And he’s oddly afraid of Aunt Talitha’s cross, given all else that he’s accepted without question. Maybe because he senses the “otherness” of it and it’s a tangible thing.
The Dark Tower, Part One: The Little Red King—Dan-Tete; Chapter 6: On Turtleback Lane, Section 6
Cullum repeats the rest of his instructions: let Tet swallow up Holmes. Trade in real estate. Remember three words, “Microsoft, Microchips, and Intel.” And no matter how big they grow, they “protect the rose, protect Stephen King, and try to screw over two other companies every chance we get.” Sombra and North Central Positronics.
“We’re the Three Toothless Musketeers, the Old Farts of the Apocalypse, and we’re supposed to keep those two outfits from gettin’ what they want, by fair means or foul,” he says.
At this, Roland stands and says it’s time to go, but Eddie has one more question: Why is JC willing to do this? “You boys want all the right things,” he says after much thought. “I believe in you. What I see in your eyes is true…Also, it appears to me you’re offerin the keys to one humongous great engine…Who wouldn’t want to turn it on, and see what it does?”
“Are you scared?” Roland asks JC.
“Ayuh,” he says.
Roland nods. “Good.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Eddie’s impressed with Cullum more and more: “This was the man ka had put in their road, and he was both trig and brave. If Eddie had been Walter at this moment (or Flagg, as Walter sometimes called himself), he believed he would have trembled.” Which confirms that once I finish DT, I must must must go back and re-read The Stand, always my favorite of SK’s books. Heck, maybe I’ll re-read them all! I think Tor.com has been doing a fast retrospective of all the books and I can go back and re-read those as well through my Dark Tower-stained glasses.
Ha! We’re told that until his death in 1989, JC will often touch Aunt Talitha’s cross when faced with a big decision, such as the one to sever Tet’s connection with IBM, a “company that had shown an ever-increasing willingness to do business with North Central Positronics.” I always wondered what prompted the decline of IBM. And here I always thought it was Bill Gates’ fault.
The Dark Tower, Part One: The Little Red King—Dan-Tete; Chapter 6: On Turtleback Lane, Section 7
They all drive back to Turtleback Lane in the cartomobile, and Cullum has another surprise for them—both Roland and Eddie’s gunna. He went back to the general store and in the midst of the confusion was able to just walk out with them.
Roland holds out the big revolver with the sandalwood grips and says, “Strap on your gun, Eddie.” And Eddie gets a chill at hearing Roland call it his gun. “I believe we have a little work to do…against those who killed Callahan and tried to kill Jake.” At those words, both Eddie and Cullum get a chill.
We’re told: “So came—although they did not know it, which was likely more mercy than such as they deserved—the death sentence of Flaherty, the taheen Lamla, and their ka-tet.”
What Constant Reader Learns: First time we’ve heard Roland in his killing machine mode in a while. In a lot of ways, he’s becoming more and more of a shadow in the story.
We’re told: “So came—although they did not know it, which was likely more mercy than such as they deserved—the death sentence of Flaherty, the taheen Lamla, and their ka-tet.” This wording is extremely vague: the death of Flaherty and Lama’s ka-tet, or the death of Eddie and Roland’s ka-tet? Now, I’m getting a chill.
The Dark Tower, Part One: The Little Red King—Dan-Tete; Chapter 6: On Turtleback Lane, Section 8
They final reach the end of Turtleback Lane, and are all agape. Lights are flying around on insect-like creatures with human faces (“Taheen,” Roland explains). Winged frogs, jeweled hummingbirds, flies. In and among the dense trees, hundreds of figures walk “as if in a rustic ballroom.” Most carry the obvious signs of radiation sickness, and they appear and disappear and reappear as they walk through the lights.
Roland says they have to hurry before the rain really begins and the door closes, trapping them here. They bid JC farewell, and Roland instructs Eddie to grab his hand and run into the light and keep his mind blank—“this is not a door of the old people but of the Prim…It’ll take us to the place we want.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Among the other taheen, guess they didn’t spot a spider with a face on its back.
Reading this description, I get a mental image of Galadriel’s kingdom from the “LOTR” movies, combined with “The Walking Dead.” I think it has series potential.
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.