“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 out, Roland began choking on Joe Collins’ bad standup routine and Susannah, in the bathroom, got a mysterious, convenient note giving her a clue as to Collins’ agenda and his real name—Dandelo.
The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 6: Patrick Danville, Section 1
Susannah hears Roland literally choking with laughter and rushes out of the bathroom, wishing she had her gun. As Roland is choking, Dandelo is growing visibly younger—his white hair has grown black, wrinkled skin grown smooth. Susannah realizes he’s an emotional vampire.
Fortunately, he’s so caught up in his joke-telling and “feeding” that he doesn’t hear Susannah approach or raise herself into the chair behind him, so that she’s able to lace her hands together and clock him upside the head. He loses his balance, then trips over a conveniently placed Oy. It gave Susannah enough time to grab Roland’s gun (after he put up some halfhearted resistance) and shoot him before he could finish his transformation into a ginormous cockroach-like thing.
What Constant Reader Learns: When Susannah hits him, Dandelo’s face begins to change into something ugly and no longer human—the face of a “psychotic clown.” Pennywise, anyone?
So what’s with sai King and enormous insects? I guess it’s the ick factor most of us have toward bugs.
The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 6: Patrick Danville, Section 2
Roland staggers to the door and throws it open, only to throw up. Now that Dandelo’s “glammer” is fading, Susannah sees the room as it really is—shabby and way too hot. Dirty and dimly lit. Roland comes to Susannah, drops to his knees and cries her pardon for having been taken in like a child by Dandelo’s act.
What Constant Reader Learns: Susannah’s not only uncomfortable having Roland ask her forgiveness, but is horrified.
Susannah’s also quick to identify the source of the note as Stephen King, recalling that he’d left Jake and Callahan a key to the room in New York.
The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 6: Patrick Danville, Section 3
Susannah takes Roland to see the note, and like the rest of the hut, the bathroom is now rusted and shabby. Roland’s still aghast that he never saw it coming, never figured it out, even after Susannah assures him she only figured it out because she got away from him for a few minutes and was able to figure out the anagram.
Roland points out they never looked in the medicine cabinet, so they do so, and find an envelope. On the front is: Childe Roland, of Gilead, Susannah Dean, of New York. You saved my life, I’ve saved yours, All debts are paid. S.K.” Roland explains that “Childe” is an ancient formal term for a knight on a quest.
What Constant Reader Learns: Haha—Susannah points out that Roland was more susceptible to Dandelo’s bad jokes because his own sense of humor is “pretty lame.” He has the good sense to agree.
The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 6: Patrick Danville, Section 4
Inside the envelope, they find a photocopy of the poem by Robert Browning with five stanzas marked. Roland asks Susannah to read them to him. The first stanza refers to a “hoary cripple” who was a liar—Dandelo. The second refers to the cripple’s staff—again, Dandelo. Next stanzas refer to the stiff blind horse, Lippy; Susannah somehow knows that the horse wandered out into the storm as soon as Dandelo was dead.
Finally, she reaches the last stanza: “Not it! I fancied Cuthbert’s reddening face/Beneath its garniture of curly gold,/Dear fellow, till I almost felt him fold/An arm in mine to fix me to the place,/That way he used. Alas, one night’s disgrace!/Out went my heart’s new fire and left it cold.” That, Roland says, is about Mejis, and how things between himself and Cuthbert were never the same after they fell out over Susan Delgado.
Then the cry comes again, from someone in the basement.
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland is curious about Robert Browning and seems surprised to hear he died long before Susannah’s When, but she realized the poem was King’s inspiration for the story. That Browning must have seen them. Then she decides it’s too confusing to think about. I agree.
Guess Patrick Danville is in the basement? (The chapter title’s a bit of a giveaway!)
The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 6: Patrick Danville, Section 5
Dead old Dandelo is beginning to smell like a ripe oozing bug, but Roland makes Oy stand watch over his body while they explore the basement. They finally find a doorway behind the refrigerator. Roland calls out to whoever is down there to come out, but it only cries again, “a sound that was loaded with woe and terror and—Susannah feared it—madness.”
What Constant Reader Learns: As she watches Roland lead the way down the steps, the barrel of his gun resting in the hollow of his shoulder, Susannah is reminded of Jake and almost cries. Actually, I think sai-King has done a pretty good job of leaving Jake and Eddie behind without letting us forget them—with just a raw memory here or there.
The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 6: Patrick Danville, Section 6
In the cellar is a maze of boxes and barrels and unidentified things hanging from hooks that Susannah doesn’t want to think about too much. In the back far corner, they find a makeshift prison cell and, inside, a scrawny boy she knows to be Patrick Danville. She thinks he’s maybe seventeen years old. He backs into the corner and begins to scream when Roland opens the cell and tries to go in.
Susannah goes instead, or, rather, Detta Walker does. But it’s the kinder, gentler version of Detta Walker. She assures “Mistuh Collins, he daid.” She asks him questions and he mimes enough answers for them to know Dandelo had been feeding from the boy emotionally for a long time. Then she asks Patrick to open his mouth and when he finally does, they see that his tongue has been pulled out.
What Constant Reader Learns: On their way through the cellar, Roland and Susannah pass a stack of crates labeled TEXAS INSTRUMENTS. Wonder what those had in them? Pocket calculators?
Why would Detta be needed here? Why would she be less threatening to Patrick than Susannah? Don’t get me wrong—I’m always happy to see Detta because Susannah’s often just so much milquetoast. I just didn’t see the point.
The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 6: Patrick Danville, Section 7
Twenty minutes later, they have Patrick upstairs and eating soup. Roland says he’s too weak for them to take him out in the storm—even if they bundle him up, it would kill him. But Susannah doesn’t want to stay in the house, even though they’ve tossed Dandelo’s corpse out into the snow.
Roland suggests they can camp in the barn, although it means no fire for the next two days or even four if the storm lasts longer.
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland warns Susannah that Lippy might come back, or Mordred might come. And he’d kill them both if he got the chance. It doesn’t even occur to them to leave Patrick behind.
The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 6: Patrick Danville, Section 8
It took three nights and two days for the storm to blow through. Lippy came hobbling in on day two and Roland killed her. Mordred never showed up, although they had a sense of him lurking nearby.
While Patrick Danville’s mind has been damaged by Dandelo, his skill hasn’t been impacted—he’s quite the artist. In the pantry, Roland had found a stack of drawing pads and a package of #2 pencils, with their erasers cut off. Patrick draws pictures of the things he’s seen, often in a comic style with thought balloons.
What Constant Reader Learns: Hm…wonder what the significance of the removed erasers is? And why it’s worth mentioning that Patrick might never ask for one because he might not know they exist? Methinks it is relevant, in which case when they do leave I hope it occurs to someone to take the erasers with them since they’re all in a jar.
The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 6: Patrick Danville, Section 9
Near the end of the third night, Susannah wakes up to find Roland standing in the doorway of the barn, smoking. She can hear a machine in the distance, and Roland thinks it’s Stuttering Bill, doing his road-clearing. Roland hopes the robot will give them a ride to the Tower, or at least part of the way, as long as he’s not loyal to Dandelo—and he thinks not.
What Constant Reader Learns: Enigmatic little bit at the end of this section, where Susannah is reflecting on how close they are to the tower, but she felt the songs she heard were for Roland and not her: “She had begun to hope that that didn’t necessarily mean she was going to die between here and the end of her quest. She had been having her own dreams.”
Yeah, except in some ways it makes better story and better symmetry if Roland, whom we met alone on his Tower quest, should end it alone as well.
The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 6: Patrick Danville, Section 10
Just after sunrise, a robot-driven snow plow arrives. Patrick writes “Bill” on his pad, marking through a lovely drawing of Oy with “Yark Yark” written above his head.
What Constant Reader Learns: The sun is rising “firmly in the east, and we all say thankya.” Which makes me wonder: why separate the issue of the Beams from the reaching of the Tower? The whole Beam thing, upon which rested the fate of the entire universe-as-we-know-it, was resolved rather anti-climactically. It has made the remainder of the Tower quest feel somewhat like a different story.
I guess the DT saga has always been a story within a story within a universe of stories, but the separating of the Beam story from the Dark Tower quest is why I think this book has felt so slow to me. We still have a big showdown coming, I assume, between Roland and the Crimson King, but what implications does it have for the larger world? Other than Roland’s own ambition needing to be satisfied, why not just go on about his business and settle down with Rosa in the Calla, and let the crazy old Crimson King rot out there on the balcony? Or is the whole story, in the end, just the final showdown between two old dogs who’ve both seen better days?
I hope Patrick X’ing out Oy’s drawing isn’t foreshadowing.
The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 6: Patrick Danville, Section 11
An eight-foot robot that looks like C3PO—not that anyone present would know who that was—climbs down from the snow plot and his name of Stuttering Bill is apt. He seems surprised to see them, if his flashing blue eyes are any indication. He introduces himself as William D-746541-M, Maintenance Robot, Many Other Functions.
When Stuttering Bill sees Patrick, he greets him so warmly that Susannah decides the robot doesn’t need killing.
What Constant Reader Learns: Susannah’s reaction is great: “They’ve come all this way to meet an oversized electronic version of Porky Pig.”
The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 6: Patrick Danville, Section 12
They palaver with Stuttering Bill in the yard. Bill tells them that while he wasn’t allowed to tell Dandelo his code words, he was allowed to bring him the manuals that contained the code words. But he says if they couch their orders to him as suggestions, he’d be happy to oblige, because he didn’t much like Dandelo.
Roland’s first suggestion is that he fix his stutter, which makes Patrick Danville laugh.
What Constant Reader Learns: Yeah, yeah, yeah, let’s go (Constant Reader makes “move it along” Roland motion with right hand).
The Dark Tower, Part Four: The White Lands of Empathica; Chapter 6: Patrick Danville, Section 13
Back in the woods behind the plowed road, a “shivering adolescent boy wrapped in stinking, half-scraped hides” watch the palavering. As soon as Roland and the others pile in the cab of the snow plow and ride away, Mordred creeps down to Dandelo’s hut and spends the next two days eating from Dandelo’s pantry.
He hears the Tower too, but he doesn’t hear a chorus of voices but only one—the voice of his Red Father, telling him to come and kill all the others. Then they’d destroy the Tower and rule todash together.
By the time Mordred leaves the cabin, he’s now a young man of about twenty, “tall and straight and as fair as a summer sunrise.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Hm…we’re told that Mordred “eats something else as well, something he would live to regret.” One of the corpses in the basement, mayhap? Dandelo himself?
Ah, I guess Mordred is the reason the quest has to continue since he could always trot over and free big red daddy.
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.