“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 said goodbye to Susannah as she rolled off through the door Patrick had drawn, and watched Roland first beg her to stay, then accept her departure as he examined his own reawakened heart.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 2: Mordred, Section 1
Mordred is hanging back and watching as his “Blackird Mommy” worked with the artist to draw the door. He’s gotten hold of a pair of binoculars at Dandelo’s house so he’s able to keep up with what’s going on, and is envious of Patrick’s ability: “Mordred longed to eat him just on the chance such a talent might be transmittable. He doubted it, the spiritual side of cannibalism was greatly overrated.”
A young man now, he has been able to dress warmly in Dandelo’s clothes, but it no longer seems to matter because he’s sick. Later, after Roland has moved on with Patrick and Oy, Mordred forces himself to eat Oy’s uneaten food, or at least a little of it. He needs his strength but can’t eat much before his guts would “spew everything back out, both north and south.”
Mordred knows that tonight will be his one last chance to kill Roland, partly because they’re so close to the Tower now and partly because Roland’s very tired and no longer has anyone to help him keep watch. He finds himself wanting to shift into his spider form, even knowing it will spread the sickness faster, and his Red Daddy is in his head, urging him to keep moving: “We’ll bring the Tower down, we’ll destroy all the light there is, and then rule the darkness together.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Although I still kind of feel sorry for him—even monster children don’t have much choice in how they came to be, after all—I had to laugh at: “Mordred was no longer a-hungry, but Mordred was a-sick, a-sick, a-sick. In truth, he was afraid Mordred might be a-dying.”
Mordred is happy that Oy doesn’t give Susannah the satisfaction of going with her, and dismisses the bumbler as being much of a factor in his coming showdown with his Great White Daddy. Which probably means he and Oy are going to go at it. I’ve had a feeling all along that Oy wasn’t going to survive, and maybe shouldn’t survive since Jake was gone, so this might be the means by which he goes.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 2: Mordred, Section 2
Mordred is burning with fever and reflecting that surely such a creature as himself, made for such greatness, couldn’t die of food poisoning. Roland could have told him that eating Lippy the horse, who was obviously sick himself, was not a good idea.
What Constant Reader Learns: Ha. I guessed right. He ate Lippy, and serves ‘em both right, I guess.
Nice summary: “The being whose coming had been prophesied for thousands of years, the being who would grow to be half-human and half-god, the being who would oversee the end of humanity and the return of the Prim…that being had finally arrived as a naive and bad-hearted child who was now dying from a bellyful of poisoned horsemeat. Ka could have had no part in this.”
Or, I would argue, ka had everything to do with this.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 2: Mordred, Section 3
Roland is moving along slowly so he can realize his dream of arriving at the Tower at sunset on the following day. Plus he is “disheartened, lonely, and tired almost to death.” He finds a wild rose growing along the roadside and stops to listen to its song, and is cheered by its health—it isn’t crowded out and faint like the one in the vacant lot had been before the Beams had been saved. He realized the roses feed the Beams, as the Beams feed them.
Roland prepares a meal for the three of them, but again Oy refuses to eat. Roland has grown impatient with Patrick and now feels that way toward Oy. Then when it occurs to himself that he should apologize, he rejects that feeling. “He felt angry and ill at ease with himself, feelings he had never suffered before hauling Eddie, Susannah, and Jake from America into his life. Before they’d come he’d felt almost nothing, and while that was a narrow way to live, in some ways it wasn’t so bad; at least you didn’t waste time wondering if you should apologize to animals for taking a high tone to them, by the gods.”
Finally, he decides to take a nap: “He didn’t know for sure what waited for him in the Dark Tower at the end of the field of roses, but even if he managed to put paid to the Crimson King, he felt quite sure that this was his last march.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland is impatient with Patrick and finds it hard to communicate with the boy, where Susannah found it easy. It makes him miss her more, and he realizes she’d “brought grace to his life.” Then he snaps at Oy. He’s acting like a crotchety old man, in other words, and one who’s ready for his long quest to be done.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 2: Mordred, Section 4
Roland doesn’t sleep more than ten or fifteen minutes before Patrick wakes him up to show him the latest drawing. This time, the boy has drawn the rose. He doesn’t try sleeping again because he knows Patrick will just wake him again. Instead, he goes to pet Oy and apologizes.
What Constant Reader Learns: Looks like bumblers hold a grudge: “I’m sorry I spoke rough to ‘ee, fella,” Roland tells him. “Will you not set me on with a word?” But he doesn’t. I think Oy would have liked to go with Susannah but remembers his promise to Jake, and that’s the only reason he stayed with Roland. But he doesn’t have to eat, and he sure doesn’t have to talk. Damn straight.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 2: Mordred, Section 5
Roland stops for the night well before sunset. There are more roses growing nearby now, and they don’t make him less tired but they do revive his spirit. He looks up, and the branches of the leafless trees form the number 19 over and over, and in one place spell out the word CHASSIT.
Again, Roland and Patrick eat, but Oy will not.
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland takes out his gold watch and we’re told it had stopped the day before. Now, when he looks at it, the hands have begun to move backward.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 2: Mordred, Section 6
The night is long and boring, and next to the long night’s palaver with Walter in the mountains beyond the desert, Roland thinks it’s the longest one he’s ever spent. He knows Mordred is out there and that if he falls asleep, the spider will be on him.
About three a.m., he rouses himself from a light doze and looks around to see if Patrick is awake. He isn’t, but Oy is at the edge of the lighted area. Finally, he wakes Patrick and gets him to draw, telling him to wake him up if he sees anything amiss or when the moon goes behind a certain branch. He has doubts that Patrick will succeed, but he has to sleep.
What Constant Reader Learns: It obviously hasn’t occurred to Roland what might happen to Oy after they reach the Tower: “The question of what would become of Oy after tomorrow tried to rise to the surface of the gunslinger’s troubled, tired mind, and Roland pushed it away.” Mayhap because Oy is not going to get there, I think.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 2: Mordred, Section 7
Watching through his binoculars, Mordred watches as Roland turns the night watch over to Patrick and falls asleep. He’s violently ill, and his body is slowly trying to shift—his left hand has already gone spider on him and Mordred thinks he has only one change left in him before he dies. Still he holds back, as Red Daddy tells him to wait just a bit longer.
After a few moments, after Red Daddy says he might have another trick up his sleeve, the pulse from the Tower changes.
What Constant Reader Learns: It obviously hasn’t occurred to Mordred that Red Daddy’s not any more interested in him than Great White Daddy.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 2: Mordred, Section 8
Patrick feels the change in the pulse from the Tower, and finds it soothing and sweet. So soothing, in fact, that he falls asleep.
What Constant Reader Learns: Uh-oh. Bad Red Daddy.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 2: Mordred, Section 9
“Now, my good son,” whispers Red Daddy, and Mordred’s a’moving. He shifts into the spider, “a black nightmare on seven legs,” and rushes toward the camp.
What Constant Reader Learns: He’s focused on Roland and Patrick. I, however, think Oy might be watching. It never occurred to Roland to ask Oy to keep watch, only to ask Patrick.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 2: Mordred, Section 10
From deep in sleep, Roland hears urgent barking and a scream of agony. He jumps up and yells “Oy, to me!” But Oy is already in the spider’s grip, wriggling and snapping. He bites into one of Mordred’s legs, and could have gotten away at that point but chose to attack instead.
Mordred regains his grip and takes a big bite out of Oy. Roland yells for Mordred to put him down and swears he’ll let him live if he does. He hears Oy’s spine crack, but even then the bumbler doesn’t let go his grip on Mordred’s leg.
Finally, it occurs to Roland to reach for his gun and then realizes Susannah took it. By the time he gets the other gun out, Mordred has loosened Oy’s bite and has tossed the bumbler away from him. Oy gives a death cry and hangs from one of the tree limbs above Patrick’s head.
Now, Mordred heads for Roland but is moving slowly. “He saw the white node and the blue bombardier’s eyes that were his eyes. He saw the face of his only son peering over the back of the abomination and then it was gone in a spray of blood as his first bullet tore it off.” He gets off a couple more shots before Mordred falls into the fire and burns.
In his head, Roland hears the Red King crying out that Roland has killed his only son, to which Roland replies, “He was mine too.”
Roland goes to Oy, who speaks one final word before he dies: “Olan.”
What Constant Reader Learns: While standing there and watching Oy being torn apart by the spider, Roland spots Patrick “hooting in terror” behind them and thinks, “Worthless whoreson fell asleep after all.” Yeah, big boy, what are you doing, standing there and watching?
As he rants and raves about how Roland will never set foot inside the Tower, the Red King says Susannah is dead on the other side of the door. Roland doesn’t think it’s true and neither do I.
This is all over quickly and rather anticlimactically, but I’m reminded of Roland’s assessment of such battles back in the Calla (I think it was then), that there is a lot of buildup and preparation in such a battle but the actually killing time is short. The thing that did surprise me was Roland’s slowness to action. Like the world before the Beams were repaired, he seems to be winding down like an old clock. The “son” factor also surprised me. I thought if anyone got a little soft on old Mordred, it would have been Susannah and not Roland. He’d barely acknowledged that spiderboy was his up till now.
And now let us have a long, heartbroken moment of silence for Oy, who died well. May he meet Ake at the path in the clearing.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 2: Mordred, Section 11
Patrick arises in the morning, and finds Roland sitting in the dry streambed with Oy’s body. There’s no need to hurry now, Roland tells him. He believes the Crimson King’s vow that Roland would die of old age before he as much as touched a door of the Tower.
He’s in a reflective mood, thinking about all who traveled with him ended up dead. Oy was the last. He doesn’t think Patrick’s in danger because “I only kill my family.” He now realizes Oy knew it was his last day. He and Patrick bury the bumbler, which doesn’t take lost: “The body was far smaller than the heart it had held,” Roland thinks. And then they set out for the Tower.
What Constant Reader Learns: Reflective though he might be, Roland’s still angry with Patrick because the boy is drawing him. But he can hear Susannah in his head telling him it’s the boy’s only way of coping with his fear, and for her sake Roland tries to make peace with him.
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.