“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 and Oy reunite with Susannah in Fedic, and prepare to try making their way beneath the Castle Discordia.
The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 1: The Thing Under the Castle, Section 1
Roland and Susannah plunder the kitchen and pantry of the Arc 16 Experiment Station. They also find the late Richard P. Sayre’s office, with files on all of them, which they destroyed.
Susannah asks Roland if they all will reach the Tower, or if “Oy and I will have to die, too, in order to open your way to the Tower?” He assures her that she and Oy will be with him when he climbs the nineteen steps and enters the Tower and deals “with yon capering red goblin.” It feels like a lie to both of them.
What Constant Reader Learns: There’s a painting on the wall of a boy about Jake’s age with black hair and blue eyes, a scar on his side and a crimson birthmark on his left heel. He’s shown with his left foot resting on the flank of a dead horse, which Roland identifies as Llamrei, Arthur Eld’s horse. Before Roland can destroy it, Susannah points out the artist’s signature at the bottom: Patrick Danville. Dandelo, perhaps?
A second painting shows the Dark Tower, with a window at the top of many colors, each corresponding to one of the Wizard’s glasses. The room behind that window is where his quest ends, Roland says.
The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 1: The Thing Under the Castle, Section 2
From the pantry, they pilfer canned goods, some cooking utensils, a knife, and an almost-dead flashlight. Susannah spots three cans of Sterno and takes those as well. She has a feeling they’ll be needed.
What Constant Reader Learns: It has been a long time since Susannah’s had to ride around on Roland’s back like a sack of potatoes and she is not happy to see him creating a sling for her to ride in.
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Susannah’s having a vision or dream or something of herself in Central Park in winter. Eddie and Jake join her, and she has a moment where she thinks it has all been a dream. There are no talking animals called bumblers, no taheen, no gunslingers. But then she realizes she has no idea what year it is, and if all this was a dream, she couldn’t be with Eddie and Jake because they’re from different whens.
What Constant Reader Learns: During her vision or dream, Susannah hears a voice: “This is nineteen, this is chassit. All your friends are dead.” And then she looks down and sees a dead polar bear with its paws in the air. Anyone here watch Lost? I think the dead polar bear in the TV show is one of the first things people used as a rationale for comparing the whole series with the Dark Tower books.
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Susannah awakens from her dream with the words “Watch out for Dandelo” on her lips. It’s cold there in the Fedic Hotel, and the blankets have all turned to rags. Roland is already up, and she wants a promise out of him before they try going into the Dogan and down in the tunnels: if something looks like it’s about to eat them, she wants him to promise to kill her. He responds by handing her one of his pistols and pretty much says he won’t be the one to take her life.
What Constant Reader Learns: Susannah’s feeling lonely and sad after her dream, and half angry at “sai Deschain.” I feel sorry for her.
Her reaction to Roland’s refusal to promise to kill her is priceless: “Roland, your f*cked-up scruples never cease to amaze me.” Then she takes the gun.
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Roland’s pushing Susannah in a rolling office chair—she refuses to riding in the sling until she has to. The chair actually manages to survive three flights of stairs before finally biting the dust.
What Constant Reader Learns: The Detta Walker side of Susannah is popping up with more frequency now that Eddie’s gone and she’s about had enough of sai-Deschain. Have a feeling she’s going to need Detta before this is over.
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Roland has to carry Susannah now, and they keep moving downward. Susannah’s thinking a lot about death, and thinks that maybe there is a little resurrection and an afterlife in the clearing at the end of the path. And what is the Dark Tower compared to that?
What Constant Reader Learns: LOL. Roland notices Detta’s around more often too. “Can you make Detta go away?” he asks Susannah. She apologizes and says yes. NO, Susannah! Don’t be such a doormat. Be who you are. It won’t kill the gunslinger to listen to a little trash talk.
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As they continue through the tunnels, they find a note from the Breakers: “We go to seek a better world. May you find one, as well.”
What Constant Reader Learns: When Suse sees the note from the Breakers, she says “May God love and keep em all,” and Oy says, “Keep-um.” It’s the first time he’s talked since Jake died and, we’re told, it was weeks before he spoke again. Guess that means he has at least a few weeks to live, then.
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The trio is having trouble navigating the tunnels, eventually righting their path with Oy’s help. There are doors now along the sides of the tunnel and unpleasant noises from behind them. There’s one behind which is a terrible “chewing” sound. She realizes the lights are motion-sensitive, coming on and going off as they pass by, but also that they’re coming upon fewer that are working. And something, she senses, is following.
What Constant Reader Learns: As they cross through the turns and tunnels, Susannah keeps getting lost. What Roland doesn’t tell her, because he can tell she’s one step short of panic, is that the tunnels might be “in drift.” He also tells her the things behind the doors can’t break through, but he’s not sure of it at all.
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Roland is running now, breathing hard with Susannah on his back, and fewer and fewer of the globed lights are working now, and it’s getting colder. There’s a poster for Circus Maximus on the wall, with crowds cheering as a tiger yanks open a guy’s guts. “What were they?” Susannah asks. Roland doesn’t answer, but thinks, “they were folken who had run mad.”
What Constant Reader Learns: One of the skeletons whose path they cross is wearing a familiar ring. Susannah has Roland stop and pick it up, and she’s amused/amazed to see it’s a Fraternal Order of Elks ring like her father had. “What the hell would an Elk be doing down here?” she asks. “A Shriner, now, that I could understand.” Ha.
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They pass more skeletons and Susannah’s about to comment on the bullet holes in the tile walls of the tunnels when they hear a low thudding sound behind them. They’d heard it once before, but now it’s closer. They both realize they’re being followed. Susannah offers to throw a shot at it, or an Oriza, but Roland says not yet. He doesn’t want it to know what they are. They’re running faster, but it’s catching up. She feels “the air around her reverse direction…whatever was back there, it was big. No. Enormous.”
What Constant Reader Learns: It’s the Balrog! Anyone else having flashbacks to the Mines of Moria? Dum-da-dum-da-dum.
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The light finally gives out, and they’re running in pitch darkness. Roland orders Oy to bark so they don’t run into each other, and Oy complies. Somehow, Roland makes it down at least two more flights of stairs with no falling, but Susannah figures his luck or skill can’t hold forever.
Finally, it occurs to Susannah that the thing behind them has been gaining ground since the lights went out. The flashlight’s useless because its batteries are almost dead, but she can make a torch from Sterno and the long flashlight handle. In the meantime, she needs time, so she tells Roland to go faster.
What Constant Reader Learns: The Balrog is gaining ground. It might be time to turn and shout “You shall not pass!”
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As Roland runs at top speed, Susannah manages to locate the flashlight in his gunna, fashion it into a torch, find the Sterno, coat the barrel with it, reach into Roland’s shirt pocket, and light the match between her teeth.
Finally, she shouts for Roland to stop and she holds out the torch to see a giant worm of sorts covered in pink albino eyes and a mouth filled with squirming tentacles. It recoils against the light, and Susannah struggles to light another torch using one of the long human leg bones of the skeletons lying conveniently about—they’re dry, she figures, and will burn. It works.
What Constant Reader Learns: The whole acrobatic aspect of this part of the scene is best not imagined in too much detail. I was almost waiting for Indiana Jones to come riding up.
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They start running again, and now Susannah is riding backwards in her sling. Roland and Oy are handing her bones, which she coats with Sterno, lights, and holds the Worm Monster at bay. She realizes she’s reached the bottom of the second can of Sterno and after the third one is gone, they’re worm bait.
What Constant Reader Learns: Yeah, don’t really want to imagine the whole “riding backward in the sling” thing either.
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Just as she’s trying to figure out what the fallback plan will be, Roland spots light ahead, and she realizes she can gradually see more and more without the torch. She bids Worm Monster a triumphant, Detta Walker farewell and for a second she sees it roaring at her—a lumpy face covered in eyes, segmented body, four arm-like appendages with pincers.
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland made a funny! Well, sort of. “Did your mother never teach you that it’s wrong to tease the animals?” he asks her after Detta enrages the beast.
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.