“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, with Susannah off burying Eddie and Sheemie about to short-circuit, Roland, Jake and Oy transport to June 19, 1999, in an attempt to save the lazy author Stephen King and, thus, themselves and the Tower.
The Dark Tower, Part Three: In This Haze of Green and Gold; Chapter 1: Mrs. Tassenbaum Drives South, Section 1
Jake and Roland transport so quickly that Jake has to use his lightning-speed gunslinger hands to grab Oy by his fur to take the bumbler along. They land back in East Stoneham, near the general store, which doesn’t appear to have changed much since their 1977 visit. As they enter the store, Jake realizes he didn’t quite leave everything behind in their hurried departure—he still has the machine-pistol and his seemingly endless bag of Orizas.
What Constant Reader Learns: At least one thing has changed since 1977: there’s a sign in the window advertising worship services for the “1st Lovell-Stoneham Church of the Walk-Ins.” One has to wonder exactly who or what they’re worshipping, or if any walk-ins actually attend the Wednesday-evening “youth nights.”
Weren’t we told Jake was running out of Orizas when he used them on the guards in Thunderclap? Do they reproduce?
The Dark Tower, Part Three: In This Haze of Green and Gold; Chapter 1: Mrs. Tassenbaum Drives South, Section 2
The gabby storekeeper Wendell “Chip” McAvoy is still at the store, older but not too much changed. When Jake and Roland enter, he’s behind the deli counter slicing meat for Mrs. Tassenbaum, who’s on a rant about Al Gore claiming to have invented the Internet when it was actually Mr. Tassenbaum who has that distinction.
She’d moved on to how much hair product Mr. Gore used when the bell over the door jingled and they both look up. Chip freezes at the sight of Roland, the “man with the terrible blue eyes” still very much recognizable since That Day.
After a moment of paralysis, Chip turns to run but only gets three steps before a bullet whizzes past his head. He freezes and Roland says, “Turn around. The rest of you on the floor, but you turn around, shopkeeper. Turn around and see me. See me very well.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Ha. Since Mrs. Tassenbaum was “talky, meddlesome, good-looking, loaded with green, and a Republican,” Chip McAvoy feels perfectly justified in pressing thumb on the scale as he weighs her sliced turkey, getting a little extra for himself.
I love it when we get to see Roland going all gunslinger on hapless characters like Chip. Actually, anytime Roland enters our world it’s pretty funny.
The Dark Tower, Part Three: In This Haze of Green and Gold; Chapter 1: Mrs. Tassenbaum Drives South, Section 3
Chip finally turns to face Roland, and Ro notes that he looks the same as twenty years earlier, except his hair is white and he has the scar on his head from where Jack Andolini’s bullet grazed him.
Roland asks Chip if he has “a cartomobile, a truckomobile, or a tack-see,” which Jake pops up and translates as “What are you driving?” Chip reaches in his pocket so fast Roland almost shoots him and then is annoyed at the keys jingling in the man’s shaky hands.
It’s 3:50 p.m., which means Stephen King’s time is running out. Roland asks how far it is to Turtleback Lane. Chip is still too freaked to speak, but Mrs. Tassenbaum isn’t—she tells them it’s about five miles away. Roland asks Jake if he can drive and although Jake would like to say yes, it’s too important to guess, so he says no. Roland doesn’t think he can do it either, especially as the pain in his right hip grows worse.
So he hands the keys to Mrs. Tassembaum. “Are you going to kill me after you get to where you want to go?” she asks him? Roland answers: “Not unless you dawdle.”
They quickly jump in the truck (after Roland helps himself to a mouthful of turkey and gives some to Jake and Oy).
What Constant Reader Learns: A real laugh-out-loud moment as Jake quickly jumps in to interpret Roland’s transportation request.
Roland observes that this world is “full of clocks, as if the people who lived here thought that by having so many they could cage time.” We do try, don’t we?
So I did some reading to refresh the accident in my mind, and he was hit at 4:30 p.m.
The Dark Tower, Part Three: In This Haze of Green and Gold; Chapter 1: Mrs. Tassenbaum Drives South, Section 4
Chip’s truck turns out to be a stick shift with standard transmission, which Irene Tassenbaum hadn’t driven in years. So her first attempts to get out of the parking lot are jerky. As weird and scary as all this is, Irene realizes she’s actually enjoying herself. Roland tells her to calm down, and when she looks at him, she’s sharp enough to realize he is hypnotizing her—sounds are sweeter, and she can hear singing voices that calm her.
She finally gets the truck on the road and asks the question she’s been pondering: “Are you boys walk-ins?”
What Constant Reader Learns: I’m so enjoying this section. And Oy has been holding out on us. “Oy scrabbled for balance on Jake’s lap and sprayed out a mouthful of turkey along with a word he had learned from Eddie. Irene stared at the bumbler with wide, startled eyes. “Did that creature just say f*ck, young man?” Apparently so, since he says it again a few minutes later.
Has Roland’s hypnosis been this easy before? Just eye contact? And has it ever been accompanied by the song of the rose, or is this a new development?
The Dark Tower, Part Three: In This Haze of Green and Gold; Chapter 1: Mrs. Tassenbaum Drives South, Section 5
Bryan Smith has spent the last night in the local campground with his rottweilers Bullet and Pistol. He’s been hanging at the campground hoping to score some drugs—he’s a little buzzed already and got the munchies so he’s off in search of “Marses’ Bars.” He’s in a van, with meat in the cooler behind the driver’s seat, which he worries the dogs will want. The minivan pitches and weaves as he heads up a blind grade at fifty mph.
What Constant Reader Learns: How much of this Bryan Smith stuff is true? I found myself wondering this throughout the whole chapter. I know he had a long string of traffic violations and was charged with “driving to endanger.” He claimed he was distracted by his dogs, and died just over a year after the accident from a painkiller overdose. Guess I’m just conscious of the litigious nature of society, and Bryan Smith the character is definitely portrayed as simple and stupid and so utterly irresponsible that it seems like prime defamation of character charges. Maybe if one is dead one’s character can’t be defamed? Anyway, he compares Smith’s intelligence to that of Sheemie, who “could be Bryan Smith’s litter-twin.” Which, now that I think about, is quite an insult to Sheemie.
The Dark Tower, Part Three: In This Haze of Green and Gold; Chapter 1: Mrs. Tassenbaum Drives South, Section 6
Irene finally gets the hang of the truck, and is quite excited that she’s driving two walk-ins to Turtleback Lane. Roland notes that it has changed since the visit in 1977. He tells her they’re headed to the writer’s house, and Irene knows it’s Cara Laughs.
What Constant Reader Learns: Not much new here, except a reminder of how skilled sai King is at dragging out a scene for tension.
The Dark Tower, Part Three: In This Haze of Green and Gold; Chapter 1: Mrs. Tassenbaum Drives South, Section 7
Finally, they arrive at house number nineteen, and Roland notices the shocked, pale face of Jake. “He’s not here,” Jake says. “Not him, not any of his family.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland, who doesn’t have the touch nearly as strong as Jake, can tells the boy is holding something back but he doesn’t know what.
The Dark Tower, Part Three: In This Haze of Green and Gold; Chapter 1: Mrs. Tassenbaum Drives South, Section 8
Irene thinks Roland and Jake look upset; she’s mostly concerned about driving down the steep driveway in the stick shift.
What Constant Reader Learns: Irene also realizes the voices in her head are growing more high-pitched and frantic, probably as Roland grows more unsettled….or as time grows shorter.
The Dark Tower, Part Three: In This Haze of Green and Gold; Chapter 1: Mrs. Tassenbaum Drives South, Section 9
The “bondservant” cutting Stephen King’s grass tells them that the King family is across the lake for a part, and that Steve is taking a walk first.
What Constant Reader Learns: The “bondservant” offers to drive them along the route where Stephen King takes his walks, but Roland believes ka put Irene in their path, so he decides to stick with her. I’m sure, given the difficulty of a novice stick-shift driver climbing a steep driveway, she probably wished he’d chosen otherwise…except she is having fun.
The Dark Tower, Part Three: In This Haze of Green and Gold; Chapter 1: Mrs. Tassenbaum Drives South, Section 10
Jake has his eyes closed, concentrating. Irene thinks he has fainted at first, but then he says, “I have him. Not Stephen King but the other one. I have to slow him down. How can I slow him down?” Irene thinks of what always slows her down. “Too bad he doesn’t need to go to the bathroom,” she says.
What Constant Reader Learns: So, can Jake touch Bryan Smith well enough to put a bladder urge in his mind?
The Dark Tower, Part Three: In This Haze of Green and Gold; Chapter 1: Mrs. Tassenbaum Drives South, Section 11
Now we switch to Justine Anderson and Elvira Toothaker, who also are taking a walk along Route 7 with plastic buckets for raspberries. They have a close encounter with Bryan Smith in his minivan, who almost mows them down but swerves in the other lane and misses them. “Gosh, I hope Stephen King sees that asshole,” Elvira says.
A few yards down the road, the minivan jerks to a stop and the driver, using a cane, stumbles out and into the bushes, leaving the van running. Elvira guesses he’s gone to take a leak.
What Constant Reader Learns: Again, there were a couple of women who reported seeing Stephen King walking and also the weaving van, and testified that they recalled thinking they hoped the writer saw the van. How much of the detail here—the women’s backgrounds—is embellished and how much is real? I find this process of blending fiction and fact fascinating. I know when I did it using Hurricane Katrina as a backdrop for one of my books, I stuck very, very close to the real events but I was using fictional characters in a real setting. Using a blend of real and fictional characters—where the author is one of the characters—is….fascinating. And a bit brilliant.
Guess Jake sent that “gotta go” urge.
The Dark Tower, Part Three: In This Haze of Green and Gold; Chapter 1: Mrs. Tassenbaum Drives South, Section 12
While Roland waits for the gardener to give Irene directions, he watches Jake, who looks “unutterably weary.”
Jake tells him they have to hurry. “We’re awfully late,” he says. “This is bad.”
Irene assures them she knows where to go.
What Constant Reader Learns: The gardener “bondservant,” as Roland prepares to leave, raises his fist to his forehead and saluted the gunslinger. “Why would he not?” we’re told. “The stranger was surrounded by white light.”
Again, Roland seems to be channeling the rose or something like it in a way we haven’t seen before that I can recall. Maybe because he’s in Keystone World?
The Dark Tower, Part Three: In This Haze of Green and Gold; Chapter 1: Mrs. Tassenbaum Drives South, Section 13
As Roland is getting back into the truck, his hand touches Jake’s leg and he suddenly knows what Jake had been hiding, and why. It was not “ka-shume” exactly, because the ka-tet had already been broken. “Now they were just three friends (four, counting the bumbler) united by a single purpose…They could save the writer and come a step closer to saving the Tower by doing so. But one of them was going to die doing it.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Holy crap. No. Just no.
The Dark Tower, Part Three: In This Haze of Green and Gold; Chapter 1: Mrs. Tassenbaum Drives South, Section 14
Roland digests his new knowledge and realizes how much he has changed. All those years he chased the Tower, he couldn’t imagine anything being more important to him. But that’s no longer true. “Now he had a son and he had been given a second chance and he had changed. Knowing that one of them must die in order to save the writer…would not make him cry off. But he would make sure that Roland of Gilead, not Jake of New York, provided the sacrifice this time.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Okay, butter a biscuit and call me a girl, but this makes me want to cry. (Yeah, I’m from the South, we say crap like that.) Because we know damn well Roland isn’t going to die with 48 percent (according to my reader) remaining in the book and Eddie already gone. I love Oy dearly, but I hope it’s him and not Jake. And not both, although what one would do without the other, I can’t imagine.
The Dark Tower, Part Three: In This Haze of Green and Gold; Chapter 1: Mrs. Tassenbaum Drives South, Section 15
Bryan Smith thinks it’s weird that he needed to piss so badly and then could barely go. But now that he’s back in the car, he needs to fix the Styrofoam cooler behind his seat before his dogs get to it and eat his hamburger meat. He cranks up his music and drives on, mostly looking behind him rather than at the road.
What Constant Reader Learns: Again, we’re hit with lots of comments about the stupidity of the hapless Bryan Smith, “the sort of person who cannot fix the radio without looking at it.” Then again, if you’re writing about the careless, thoughtless dude who almost killed you, turning him into a three-dimensional character might not be possible.
The Dark Tower, Part Three: In This Haze of Green and Gold; Chapter 1: Mrs. Tassenbaum Drives South, Section 16
Since Roland had met Stephen King before, he is able to touch his mind—something Jake hadn’t been able to do. He can’t change his direction, but he knows what he’s thinking. “When he’s alone, he hears the Song of the Turtle and knows that he has a job to do,” Roland thinks. “One he’s shirking. Well, my friend, that ends today.”
Irene is burning rubber to get there in time, once taking the truck airborne when cresting a hill at high speed. She enjoys it thoroughly.
What Constant Reader Learns: Irene Tassenbaum is a fun character. She might be married to the man who invented the Internet (and who is not Al Gore), but this is the best thing that’s ever happened to her.
The Dark Tower, Part Three: In This Haze of Green and Gold; Chapter 1: Mrs. Tassenbaum Drives South, Section 17
Stephen King is walking along his usual route and has to make a decision—go the long way or take the shortcut home? If he takes the short route, maybe, he could get home before going to the party. Maybe write. Maybe start the next Dark Tower story. But he doesn’t want to write the Dark Tower story, even though it’s nagging at him—it means “swimming in deep water” He’ll have to listen to what he thinks of as the Ves’-Ka Gan, the Song of the Turtle. He’ll have to fight with his editor to put in “unpronounceable words in some made-up language.”
“No,” he says to himself. “I’m gonna walk, and then I’m gonna party. No more writing today. Especially not that.”
And so he walks on, unaware of what’s to come. Unaware of the Dodge Caravan barreling toward him on the shoulder of the road. Unaware of the pickup truck racing up behind him.
What Constant Reader Learns: Nice, this: “The ka of the rational world wants him dead; that of the Prim wants him alive, and singing his song. So it is that on this sunny afternoon in western Maine, the irresistible force rushes toward the immovable object, and for the first time since the Prim receded, all worlds and all existence turn toward the Dark Tower which stands at the far end of Can’-Ka No Rey, which is to say the Red Fields of None. Even the Crimson King ceases his angry screaming. For it is the Dark Tower that will decide.”
The Dark Tower, Part Three: In This Haze of Green and Gold; Chapter 1: Mrs. Tassenbaum Drives South, Section 18
Bryan Smith is barreling along, about to crest the blind hill, when he hears the scrape of the cooler’s lid. In the rearview mirror, he sees Bullet the Rottweiler with his head in the cooler, munching on Bryan’s hamburger meat. “At this point any reasonable driver would pull over to the side of the road, stop his vehicle, and take care of his wayward animal,” King writes. “Bryan Smith, however, has never gotten high marks for reason when behind the wheel, and has the driving record to prove it.” Instead, he twists around to try to push the dog away from the cooler. At the same time, he presses the accelerator, and does not see the man in his path, nor the pickup truck that has stopped behind the man, or the “lanky cowboy type who leaps out, thus dropping his gun.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland dropped his gun???? WTH?
The Dark Tower, Part Three: In This Haze of Green and Gold; Chapter 1: Mrs. Tassenbaum Drives South, Section 19
Irene is sure-footed as she lurches the truck to a stop behind Stephen King. And there we hang: “The door popped open and the one named Roland half-rolled, half-jumped out of the truck. After that, things happened very, very fast.”
What Constant Reader Learns: It’s killing me.
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.