“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, Roland said a probably farewell to Keystone World—and to Jake—by visiting the Tet Corporation. Then “Olan” and Oy returned to the Dixie Pig and the door back to Fedic to rejoin Susannah and finish the quest.
The Dark Tower, Part Three: In This Haze of Green and Gold; Chapter 4: Fedic (Two Views), Section 1
We switch back into the authorial POV for our first view of Fedic, which has changed considerably. It’s bright and clear, with crisp shadows, cool air, and a wind “autumnal and somehow introspective.” Sitting in Fedic Station is a train engine—an atomic locomotive—with SPIRIT OF TOPEKA written on both sides, and only three cars behind it. We’re told there were a hundred cars behind when it left Thunderclap Station on its last run and a dozen when it reached sight of Fedic.
Next, our view shifts to Susannah, sitting again in front of the Gin-Puppy Saloon where she once sat with Mia. Her “Cruisin Trike” is sitting at the hitching rail, and she’s cold but senses she doesn’t have much longer to wait. And she doesn’t, because here comes Roland exiting the Dogan down the street. She notices he’s wearing new clothes, and that he’s holding a furry animal with its ears cocked, “but the boy who should be holding the animal is absent.”
When he sees her, Roland puts Oy down, and the bumbler races toward her, leaping into her arms with such force, he knocks her off balance. Roland holds out her hands to help her up and her first instinct is not to take them. “Part of her would turn him away, not to end his quest or break his spirit (only death will do those things), but to take such light as remains out of his eyes and punish him for his relentless unmeaning cruelty.”
But, of course, she doesn’t, because “ka is the wheel to which we all are bound, and when the wheel turns we must perforce turn with it, first with our heads up to heavy and then revolving hellward again, where the brains inside them seem to burn.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Okay, so something happened for the train to lose all but three of its cars just as it was reaching Fedic. I guess we’ll learn what that is in time. As the authorial, godlike voice says, “Ah, well, that’s Susannah’s tale to tell, and we will listen as she tells it to the man she called dinh when there was a ka-tet for him to guide.”
We learn that Susannah’s been in Fedic for three days, and that Ted Brautigan, Dinky Earnshaw and a few others have gone on toward the Calla, and that Sheemie has “gone into the clearing at the end of the path, say sorry.”
Oy’s greeting of Susannah is kind of heartbreaking. When she jokingly says “Let up on it ‘fore you kill me,” and realizes what she’s said, Oy “tilts his snout at the empty blue socket of the sky, and lets loose a single long howl that tells her everything she would need to know, had she not known already. For Oy has more eloquent ways of speaking than his few words.”
The image of ka as a wheel is a good symbol for this whole story, if Roland is indeed repeatedly working his way through a purgatory that he must “get right” in order to finally find peace, which is my own theory at this stage.
The Dark Tower, Part Three: In This Haze of Green and Gold; Chapter 4: Fedic (Two Views), Section 2
Susannah takes Roland’s hands and he pulls her into his arms. He tries to kiss her cheek but she turns her head at the last second and kisses him on the lips. “Let him understand it’s no halfway thing,” she thinks. “Let him understand that if I’m in it, I’m in it to the end. God help me.”
What Constant Reader Learns: God help her, indeed.
The Dark Tower, Part Three: In This Haze of Green and Gold; Chapter 4: Fedic (Two Views), Section 3
They explore Fedic a bit, and Roland finds some blankets in the Fedic Hotel. Susannah first asks about Jake. “The writer again,” she says once Roland has told her the story. “God damn the man.”
Next, Susannah tells Roland that Sheemie is dead. He assumes they had to force him to push again to get to Fedic, but she tells him the cut on his foot had become infected because the air and dirt of Thunderclap was poison. “He was delirious, but his head cleared at the end,” she tells Roland. “He spoke of you, and of Susan Delgado. He spoke with such love and such regret.” She assures Roland they will go to the Tower and if it isn’t worth it, somehow they’ll make it worth it.
“We’ll go,” Roland says. “We’ll find the Dark Tower, and before we go in, we’ll speak their names. All of the lost.”
Then Susannah relates the journey from Thunderclap. The train had already slowed down to about fifty mph on its way into Fedic Station when it came to a high trestle that was giving way. They were so sure they’d die that Ted shook her hand and told her it had been a pleasure to know her. For a second or two, the train slid backward on the falling tracks before lurching forward again with a burst of final energy with only three cars.
The good thing, she says, was the train did travel up to 300 miles per hour before reaching the trestle, so “we must have left Master Spider-Boy in the dust.” To which Roland responds, “I wouldn’t count on it… But we’ll deal with Mordred when the time comes, and I don’t think that will be today.”
They talk about the hallways beneath the Dogan. She asks if he saw the sign that said “show orange pass only—blue pass not accepted,” but it didn’t mean anything to him. There is a passage, she tells him, that goes deep under the castle and comes out on the other side, in the Discordia—she knows this from ghost-thoughts Ted and his friends picked up. Ted also touched the minds of the monsters that “live in that crack outside of town.” The monsters are neither for the Crimson King or against him, but they are sentient and telepathic. They have been tunneling toward the catacombs under the Dogan for a long time and are close to breaking through.
Roland thinks this could work to their advantage. “He hoped he and Susannah would be long gone before that breakthrough happened…but perhaps it would happen before Mordred got here, and the Halfling would have to face them, if he wanted to follow. Baby Mordred against the ancient monsters from under the earth—that was a happy thought.”
Finally, Susannah says that while Ted and the others were headed to Calla Bryn Sturgis, they’re hoping to use the Doorway Cave to get back to America, and Roland thinks they might succeed.
He asks her if the word “Dandelo” means anything to her. She thinks it’s faintly familiar but can’t get closer than that. He explains about Eddie’s message to Jake and then to Oy.
What Constant Reader Learns: As Roland tells the story about his hip giving way, he almost calls Jake “the boy” instead of by this name, thus dehumanizing him. It’s how he’d through of Jake when they were pursuing Walter and he let “the boy” die. But he catches himself and uses Jake’s name.
Ha—glad Susannah got a chance to get another shot in at Stephen King.
It’s gonna take a while to speak all the names of the lost at this point. Hope he’s not in a hurry or being chased by a crazed Crimson King.
Beneath the Dogan, when they arrived at Fedic Station, Susannah says Ted and the other Breakers were amazed by the rotunda where all the doors were, especially the one going to Dallas in 1963, where JFK was killed. A door two levels down went to Ford’s Theater, where President Lincoln was assassinated. Through other doors, they could hear the todash chimes and, behind others, slithery things. Mia talked about the monsters in the todash darkness, too, and I wondered at the time if they’d have to encounter them. Maybe so. It’s probably full of big ugly spiders. Maybe Mordred can join them.
The Dark Tower, Part Three: In This Haze of Green and Gold; Chapter 4: Fedic (Two Views), Section 4
On Turtleback Lane, it’s 2002 and Stephen King awakens from a dream of Fedic. He saves his writing for the day, and limps to the window, his hip giving him pain. “Roland, you bastard, you gave me back the pain,” he thinks. He reflects on Jake’s death and is sorry that readers are going to be upset when they read the last book. They’ll be like Annie Wilkes in Misery, shouting that Paul Sheldon was the writer and is God to his characters.
But sai King is not God, not in this story. “He knows damned well that Jake Chambers wasn’t there on the day of his accident, nor Roland Deschain either—the idea’s laughable, they’re make believe for Christ’s sake.” He simply has to hear the son, Ves’-Ka Gan, and follow the “trail of breadcrumbs if he is ever to emerge from this bewildering forest of plot he has planted, and…” And then is he really sure he planted it? Is he really sure Jake wasn’t there that day?
He’s visited in his office by his dog Marlowe, and tries to remember what he does recall of the accident. He remembers voices, and a conversation with Roland, and thinks of Jake, “It was so odd for Jake to die like that. Jake is in all his notes, and no surprise there, because Jake was supposed to be around until the very end. All of them were, in fact.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Interesting to flash back to sai King as he’s writing the story, wondering what’s real and what’s fiction, where one ends and the other begins.
A slow catch-up section, and then next we’ll move into the march toward the Tower once again.
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.