“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 joined the ka-tet in exploring the cave and their supply of weaponry, and learned that something is soon to break them apart.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 8: Notes from the Gingerbread House, Section 1
Back in the cave, the group settles down to listen to the tapes Ted Brautigan has left for them. It takes more than four hours to listen to the tapes, after which Roland feels they have a real chance to stop the Breakers but at a real cost, as the feeling of ka-shume makes clear.
What Constant Reader Learns: I wonder if this means we’re in for a four-hour read of backstory? Although I’m sure, because of where we are in the series, Ted Brautigan will be filling in a lot of gaps for us.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 8: Notes from the Gingerbread House, Section 2
Brautigan starts talking, and says he knew they were coming because of Sheemie. As he’s taping, he wonders where they are—maybe in Maine looking for the writer “who also created me, after a fashion?” He knows the path they’ll take, but not if they’re still alive. Ka is drawing them to Thunderclap, but the Crimson King’s “anti-ka” is working against them.
Ted tells them he’s recording this in what is basically Sheemie’s version of the mental Dogan—sitting on a chocolate chair with marshmallow mattresses in a room of gumdrops. A bright world made of candy in a house they call the Gingerbread House because it always smells of baking gingerbread.
Most of the Breakers, he says, are selfish loners, which the Algul staff likes because “no community is easier to govern than one that rejects the very concept of community.” But he always cared, and, before him, Dinky befriended the frightened Sheemie by telling him fairy-tales…thus the creation of “Casa Gingerbread.”
Ted calls the Gingerbread House a “fistula in time.” There are a billion universes comprising a billion realities, he says. “Reality is organic, reality is alive,” but the Gingerbread House is a place outside time and reality, a balcony on the Tower perhaps.
Sheemie is a teleport and Dinky can see the future—although there are blocked paths, which is why he can’t see what is going to happen there. Ted calls himself, Sheemie and Dinky “three rebels in a society dedicated to the idea of going along to get along, even if it means the end of existence.”
What Constant Reader Learns: So, off the bat, we learn that the reason Ted knew who was coming is that Sheemie told him, although he’d only seen Roland as a young man. But does he know all the details of their path—from Maine to NYC to look for Susannah—because Sheemie somehow knew, or because they’d followed this path before and maybe sometimes they reach Thunderclap and sometimes they don’t?
Ah, so Roland interrupts to say they didn’t realize how he did it when Sheemie managed to follow them all the way back to Gilead from Mejis and now they know he teleported. When he wrote that, I wonder if sai-King had already planned the teleportation angle or if all the unifying elements came later? He might have addressed this in one of his forewords or afterwords but I can’t recall.
More foreshadowing? Brautigan says he hopes they will arrive soon because Dinky has a bad temper and Sheemie could inadvertently give them away and things would be bad. Wonder how long ago Ted made the tapes? Lifetimes?
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 8: Notes from the Gingerbread House, Section 3
Brautigan begins his life story with his birth in Milford, Connecticut, in 1898. The ka-tet all think how similar Brautigan’s story is to that of Pere Callahan.
What Constant Reader Learns: Out in the dark, Mordred feels growing sympathy for Brautigan because his is “a story of addiction and isolation, the story of an outsider.”
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 8: Notes from the Gingerbread House, Section 4
Brautigan goes through his early background. He knew what he was, so before going to college he secretly tried to enlist in the Army—even proving what he could do and trying to show them how he could help. But there was no place in That Man’s Army for a telepath—he didn’t yet know he was a facilitator. After they threw him out, not seeing that he could end the war in a month, he took up his uncle’s offer to send him to Harvard.
When his uncle dies, instead of taking over the family furniture empire, Brautigan becomes a wandering man. In 1935, in Ohio, he kills a man who steals his wallet by pushing a thought at him. And runs and runs and runs.
What Constant Reader Learns: Interesting, but I do suspect Ted is going to be long-winded.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 8: Notes from the Gingerbread House, Section 5
Eddie threads the third tape into the machine, and Ted again begins talking, although they can tell how weary he is.
After killing the man, albeit by accident, he moved from town to town, staying nowhere long. He now realized that when he got angry, he could amplify his power and that of others. He at some point realized he was being watched by men in garish clothes with inexpressive faces. He saw symbols—stars, comets—red eyes—show up in odd places. Sometime in the 1950s, while in Sacramento, he saw a newspaper ad for “The Job of a Lifetime.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Jake points out that the Sacramento Bee was the same newspaper Pere Callahan was reading when he learned about his friend Magruder. Wonder if the folks in Sacramento know their newspaper is the mouthpiece of the Crimson King’s minions?
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 8: Notes from the Gingerbread House, Section 6
The tests for this miracle job are administered by humans (“humes” in algul shorthand). There are several questions that Ted answers not truthfully but in the manner in which he knows the people giving the test want. And five days later, he’s called back along with three other guys and a girl, Tanya Leeds, who we saw briefly in the last section whose marriage to a fellow Breaker our friend Pimli had officiated over.
He’s called into a back room, and the man shows him one of the questions whose answers he’d thrown and asks why he answered the way he did. “Because [answer] ‘c’ was what you wanted,” Ted tells him. And he finds himself feeling relieved; finally, someone wants him and values what he can do.
What Constant Reader Learns: The low men, we’re told, are human/taheen hybrids with aspirations of “becoming”—becoming human. The red marks on their foreheads—the Eye of Sauron, er, the King—usually disappears when they’re in the U.S. Which begs the question of whether the U.S. is the only lucky spot with doors and whens, or if there are a billion words and whens for London, or for Greece, or Sochi, Russia. Maybe a “when” with cold weather and snow?
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 8: Notes from the Gingerbread House, Section 7
Ted wasn’t prepared for the job he received, of course, but he admits he might have taken it anyway: “Because talent won’t be quiet, doesn’t know how to be quiet…It screams to be used.”
But at the time, the guy in the back room fed him a story about a consortium of rich South American businessmen he’d be working for, on a four-year contract. No visits home. No backing out. A quarter-million up front, and a half-million at the end. He agreed at once, figuring he was really going to work for the government.
What Constant Reader Learns: This is actually a good study of how people who have been disenfranchised by society, for whatever reason, are easy prey to an offer from a Jim Jones or the can-toi. The chance to belong and be appreciated for one’s perceived specialness would be seductive.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 8: Notes from the Gingerbread House, Section 8
On Halloween afternoon in 1955, Ted and the other four new recruits met two “humes” at a hotel and drove inland to a town called Santa Mira. They ended up, of course, in Thunderclap, and Ted realized this was a one-way trip into another world. They were checked in at the town, given a fine meal, and the next day they went to work as Breakers. “And, barring my little ‘vacation in Connecticut,’ we’ve been working ever since,” he says. “And, God forgive us, most of us have been happy. Because the only thing talent wants is to be used.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Ha—clever. Santa Mira was the town in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. So I guess the body snatchers were really can-toi.
The Dark Tower, Part Two: Blue Heaven; Chapter 8: Notes from the Gingerbread House, Section 9
Next, Ted talks about their work in the Study. He knew they were breaking something, but he was content. The food was good. He liked most of the other Breakers. And he likes that he’s able to help them—not only facilitating their skills, but helping them with homesickness. But he doesn’t realize he’s the only one with his special brand of facilitating until he’s told by Trampas.
What Constant Reader Learns: Ted’s description of the act of Breaking makes it sound pleasant, so there’s another reinforcement for them to do what they’re doing. They like getting in “that big old sliding groove.”
Guess we’ll find about Trampas next time….
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.