“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 time, while the ka-tet rested in the apartment of the late Nigel, spider-baby Mordred watched, and plotted.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 3: The Shining Wire, Section 1
Fast-forward ten hours, and we find Mordred awakened from a deep sleep by—can it be? It is!—our old pal Randall Flagg-Walter-Man in Black. He’s wearing his usual Flagg uniform of jeans and a hooded jacket and holding a gun on our spider-baby.
Flagg is very pleased with himself because he has a woven wire helmet of sorts inside his hood, aimed at blocking Mordred from his thoughts. Too bad for him it doesn’t work. Flagg anticipated that, like his red father, Mordred’s mental powers “may exceed mere communication.”
As usual, Flagg is a chatterbox, but his chatter serves to tie together the events of Farson and Walter and Gilead with his Flagg incarnation. Mordred can tell Flagg is nervous, and he has no intention of sparing him, but first he needs some information—and there’s a deadline. The Tower will fall in two days, Mordred thinks, because the writer Stephen King “had only days left to live in his world, and the final Books of the Tower—three of them—remained unwritten.”
Flagg/Walter figures he has about five days to reach the Tower. His plan is to kill Mordred and amputate his foot with its red bookmark, which will be needed to open the door to the tower and bypass the Red King. Then, Walter can become “God of All.” He then reflects on more of his past, including the fact that he was the one who killed Cuthbert Allgood at Jericho Hill. He’d been at Mejis. And he reflects that maybe Roland had propelled Walter to his “greatness.” Before Roland, “Walter O’Dim had been little more than a wanderer left over from the old days, a mercenary with a vague ambition to penetrate the Tower before it was brought down. Was that not what had brought him to the Crimson King in the first place?”
But enough thinking. Walter drops to one knee in faux allegiance to the new baby spider king, and after a pause, Mordred raises his baby hands and thinks, “Rise, bondman, and come to me.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Ah, so Mordred might have a couple of long-lived daddies, but he can fall by the gun: “As he looked into the dark eye of [the pistol’s] muzzle, Mordred Deschain for the second time realized that even gods could die once their divinity had been diluted with human blood.”
Why is he Mordred Deschain and not Mordred King or Mordred the Red or Mordred Crimson-son?
Ah….duh. Now I see why that false news report of Stephen King’s death at the wheel of the driver is so important, or at least I have a glimpse of it. Mordred is accepting King’s death as a fact, and that the only thing keeping the Tower up is King’s continued survival—and his writing. If the creator dies, so does the creation.
As for Flagg, he’s happy that King hasn’t written anything in the Books of the Tower (first time I remember them being referred to thus) since page 676 of Wizard and Glass, when the ka-tet almost did him in at the Castle of “Oz the Green King.”
Had a LOL moment as Flagg reflects on the speed with which sai King can churn out books: “a genuinely talented writer who’d turned himself into a shoddy (but rich) quick-sketch artist, a rhymeless Algernon Swinburne, do it please ya.”
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 3: The Shining Wire, Section 2
Time for a snack, and Walter sits down on the floor to enjoy a repast of peanut butter and crackers. Mordred’s hungry too, but peanut butter’s not going to cut it.
Mordred swipes his baby-hand in the air, making a question mark. Walter/Flagg is always happy to babble, so he decides Mordred wants to know how he escaped Roland at the Mohaine Desert, when they had their palaver. He says he showed him several levels of the Tower to stun him and, while stunned, Walter hypnotized him. He dressed a skeleton in his clothes and moved on.
Mordred’s about tired of Walter’s rambling but knows he needs to find out where the ka-tet has gone while he slept. And then he needs to eat. In the meantime, Walter tells him the Red King is mad and locked up, and that he, Walter, is there to help Mordred complete what his red father began. Then he opens up a hidden staircase, showing how he’d followed the ka-tet, which gives Mordred the first part of what he needed. Now, all he had to do was follow Walter’s backtrail.
Oblivious that he’s about to become appetizer, entrée and dessert all rolled into one, Walter blithers on about how the ka-tet is headed to Thunderclap to release the Breakers. And he confesses he wants something more than the Tower—to see Roland dead. “As for the end of the universe…I say let it come as it will, in ice, fire, or darkness.” Finally, he adds that there’s only a single working door between their present location and the devar-toi in Thunderclap, and they might find the reception a bit hot.
Walter offers to carry Mordred and take him for a real feast. He holds his arms out and stops long enough to ask, “Y’won’t shit on me , will you?” before slipping his hand into his pocket. Mordred realizes with alarm that Walter had realized the “thinking cap” wasn’t working, and plans to shoot him now.
What Constant Reader Learns: Love Mordred’s assessment of Flagg: “A cracker-gobbling, crumb-spewing fool who was too full of his own past exploits to sense his present danger, or to know his defenses had been breached. By all the gods, he deserved to die.”
Will Walter become dinner? It’s looking that way.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 3: The Shining Wire, Section 3
Walter realized Mordred was in his head much later than Mordred thinks, but he does know it now, so he changes plans—from killing the kid later to killing him now. But he discovers he no longer has control of his hand—so close to the gun but unable to grasp it.
And he sees the “shining wire” for the first time—spanning from the baby sitting in the chair, and winding itself around him, pinning his arms to his sides.
What Constant Reader Learns: Neat little trick, that, with the spider spinning an imaginary shining web to encase Flagg, who understands that the wire “wasn’t really there…but at the same time, it was.”
I can’t explain it, but I find myself feeling a bit sorry for old Walter for whatever’s to come, probably because he at least has a charming attractive façade to his nastiness. Mordred, not so much.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 3: The Shining Wire, Section 4
Mordred didn’t see the shining wire, we’re told, “perhaps because he’d never read Watership Down.” But he had had the chance to plunder around in Susannah’s head and knows about her dogan, so he constructs a similar one in his mind, only changing the knobs to control Walter’s movement.
What Constant Reader Learns: Well, okay, sai King is able to make Mordred entertaining, if not charming: “The only problem was that he was a baby. A damned baby stuck in a chair. If he really meant to change this delicatessen on legs into cold-cuts, he’d have to move quickly.”
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 3: The Shining Wire, Section 5
Finally, Walter realizes he’d seriously underestimated “the little monster.” But he figures if Mordred’s going to make a move, he’ll have to change forms since the baby can’t walk yet. That will be his only chance.
Sure enough, when Mordred begins to change, Walter feels the shining wire loosen, and he prepares to run. Before he can, however, the wire resets, this time around his throat—and tight. Now, he can hear Mordred in his head: “Now I do the one you call my White Father a small favor. You may not have been his greatest enemy, Walter Padick (as you were called when you set out, all in the long-ago), but you were his oldest, I grant. And now I take you out of his road.”
When he hears himself called by his original name, he finally realizes that the only hope that remains is the hope of dying well. But that’s not to be.
First, Mordred demands that he pluck out his own eyeballs and hand them over, and “the sound that marked the end of sight was low and wet.” He drops the eyeballs, and spider Mordred catches them and lets them slide down like an oyster on the halfshell. Next, he asks for Walter’s tongue, and he can only rip it halfway out before his hands grew too slippery, so Mordred tells him to stick his tongue out, and Mr. Spider “tore it free with a single, powerful wrench.”
Appetizer course completed, Mordred’s ready for a serious gnosh. “He pounced upon Randall Flagg, Walter o’Dim, Walter Padick that was. There were more screams, but only a few. And then Roland’s enemy was no more.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Walter got this particular Randall Flagg hoodie in the town of French Landing, Wisconsin, which was the setting for Black House, where the Breakers originated. Did it appear anywhere else?
One more loose thread wrapped up (or eaten up). I know Walter deserved it, but…ick!
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 3: The Shining Wire, Section 5
By the time he finishes off his “legendary meal” of Walter, Mordred is overstuffed, feels the need to toss his cookies, and then wants to take a nap. Instead, he stays in spider form and follows Walter’s trail down the stairs and into a corridor below. Since Walter’s now a part of him, so to speak, Mordred has access to all of his years of knowledge.
Eventually he reaches an elevator shaft. When it looks to be short-circuited, the spider’s able to crawl up the inner wall and climb the cable. He reaches another corridor where Walter’s scent separates from those of the ka-tet, so he follows Roland. Eventually, he reaches a door with a sigil showing a cloud with a bolt of lightning coming from it—the door to Thunderclap.
Mordred wants to go in now, but he doesn’t want to get too close to Roland and his friends yet—while he’s still a baby in human form. After all, the gunslingers are fast and he can be killed by gunfire. No, he wants to hang back and watch Roland for a while. And in the meantime, he can nap. He spins a web from the ceiling and, hanging in it, goes back to baby form.
What Constant Reader Learns: We’re told Walter was at least 1,500 years old and even though Mordred has access to his knowledge for now, he doesn’t use all of it. For example, we’re told he doesn’t know what the Breakers are, only that Roland’s ka-tet is going to release them. “It had been in Walter’s mind, but Mordred hadn’t bothered looking for it.” I suspect this will come back to haunt him.
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.