“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 bid farewell with broken hearts to Oy the Brave, and to Mordred, son of Roland and the Crimson King and Mia and Susannah, with more pity than perhaps he deserved because sai King can even make us care about the monsters among us.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 3: The Crimson King and the Dark Tower, Section 1
Our nameless narrator backs away and notes that we are coming to the close of our long story, and draws the picture for us: a tall, older man with a gun on his hip pulling a cart. Beside it walks a young man with a drawing pad tucked under his arm. They climb a long, gentle hill, and the land around them is dotted with speaking rings and the remains of stone walls. They crest the hill, and the older man glances up, does a double-take, and stops.
What Constant Reader Learns: I won’t even complain about authorial intrusion here. It works.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 3: The Crimson King and the Dark Tower, Section 2
What has stopped Roland in his tracks is his first glimpse of the Tower—or at least the top of it on the horizon, beyond a higher hill. Roland takes the binoculars and gets a closer look. He can see three of the narrow windows ascending the Tower in a spiral. “Yonder is my destiny, the end of my life’s road,” Roland thinks. “And yet my heart still beats (a little faster than before, ‘tis true), my blood still courses, and no doubt when I bend over to grasp the handles of this becurst cart my back will groan and I may pass a little gas. Nothing at all has changed.”
But something has changed; he feels lighter, freer. Roland offers Patrick the option of staying behind, but the boy refuses.
What Constant Reader Learns: Is the “Eye of Sauron” er, I mean “Eye of Todash” reference new? It’s been mentioned a couple of times in the last chapters and I wondered if I’d forgotten it, or if it was something that just occurred to sai King as he wrote this particular section.
Seems as if they could leave Ho Fat II behind at this stage, but I assume there’s a reason to keep it.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 3: The Crimson King and the Dark Tower, Section 3
As they continue to walk, more of the Tower springs into view with the cresting of each hill. Roland can see two steel posts jutting from the top from which the paths of the two working Beams seem to flow. The voices grow louder, and Roland realizes they’re singing the names of all the worlds.
Roland tells Patrick to get in the cart and let him pull. He’s tired, but he “needs an anchor” to keep him from just running to the Tower because he knows “if plain old exhaustion doesn’t burst my heart, the Red King’s apt to take my head off with one of his toys.”
What Constant Reader Learns: So the steel rods at the top of the Tower serve as lightning rods, homing beacons, and beam guidance. Giant magnets. OK, I’m kidding. And now we know why the cart was needed.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 3: The Crimson King and the Dark Tower, Section 4
Three hours later, they approach a steep hill that Roland’s heart tells him is the last one. Just before they reach the top, Roland stops and releases the cart. He tells Patrick to get down, and senses danger, although he can’t identify it yet.
Hand in hand, they reach the top of the hill, and below them stretches the sight of Roland’s dreams—a blanket of roses surrounding a sooty Tower. In the midst of this serene and beautiful sight comes a crazy shriek: “Gunslinger! Now you die!”
There’s a whistling sound, and Roland knows it well. He shoves Patrick behind a heap of stones, and follows him to the ground as a golden sneetch flies overhead. It hits the cart and blows it up.
The Crazy King continues to rant, and Roland peers around the edge of the pyramid of rocks they’re using for cover and spots him. He’s on a balcony two levels up from the Tower’s base. He throws another sneetch, and Roland prevents Patrick from running. The pyramid of rock is built on a steel base and he figures the sneetches can’t do much to penetrate it.
Another sneetch is thrown, and it passes them, then doubles back toward them. Roland shoots it out of the air. “Oh dear, still here!” Roland mocks. CK continues to throw sneetches for a while, and Roland shoots them all down.
CK decides on a different tactic—he’ll wait Roland out, and Ro realizes it’s an effective way to win. He’s always imagined himself approaching the Tower at sundown, when the call of the Tower got too great to resist. The later in the day it grows, the harder it will be for him to not go to it.
What Constant Reader Learns: It gives a good feel for how big the Tower is to realize they’ve now been walking for more than four hours since they first spotted it, and only now reach the last hill before the Tower and it’s still five miles away.
Ha. Here’s the last gunslinger, the last of the line of Eld, and the crazed being who would end life as all the worlds know it, basically taunting each other and playing chicken. At one point, Ro looks back through the binoculars and sees CK: “an old man with an enormous nose, hooked and waxy; red lips that bloomed in the snow of a luxuriant beard; snowy hair that spilled down the Crimson King’s back almost all the way to his scrawny bottom.” He’s jumping up and down and shaking his fists in a way Roland finds almost comical.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 3: The Crimson King and the Dark Tower, Section 5
They are at a standstill for about an hour before the King tries another pair of sneetches. Again, Roland shoots them down.
“Come, gunslinger,” CK says. “Perhaps I’ll let thee come, after all! We could at least palaver on the subject, could we not?” To Roland’s horror, he thinks he hears sincerity in the King’s voice. But he won’t, as long as he can resist. But the pull of the Tower continues to strengthen.
What Constant Reader Learns: About time to give the boy an eraser, I say.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 3: The Crimson King and the Dark Tower, Section 6
Roland endures the torture for another hour, trying to think of something that will “save him from having to put his life and his fate in the hands of the talented but soft-minded boy.”
Finally, he realizes he has no choice and realizes it’s only been pride that’s kept him from using Patrick earlier. He instructs the boy to look through the binoculars and to draw the man he sees. Patrick reaches out and touches his forehead to Roland, which lets Ro into his thoughts—and he thinks the Crimson King will be a hard subject to draw.
Roland plays to Patrick’s own pride, challenging him, and it works. Patrick looks through the binoculars for a while, and then begins to draw.
What Constant Reader Learns: Get over yourself, Roland. Ka put the boy in your path, so obviously ka intends that you should use him. Roland keeps looking at his pocket watch, which is running backward now, faster and faster.
When I first realized how Patrick was going to figure into this story (at least I think I know), it was kind of annoying because it was, while clever, awfully convenient. But now I do like it because Roland’s pride was the one part of the old Roland he’d held onto. This forces him to let it go and depend on someone he wouldn’t normally consider his equal. He’s forced to acknowledge that Patrick’s hands are, in their own way, as talented as his.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 3: The Crimson King and the Dark Tower, Section 7
Patrick takes his time on this one, and Roland doesn’t chastise him because of its importance—even though the call of the Tower is downright painful now. Meanwhile, the Crimson King is wheedling for Roland to come and talk to him, maybe put the past behind them and climb the Tower together. When that doesn’t work, he throws more sneetches.
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland realizes the reason the Tower’s call is so strong is that it’s calling him specifically. “Not Roland, exactly, but to the entire line of Eld…and of that line, only I am left.”
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 3: The Crimson King and the Dark Tower, Section 8
At last, Patrick holds out the drawing to Roland, and he’s troubled. When Roland sees it, he’s amazed at the detail and the beauty of it. He’s humbled by it. Surely if Patrick could erase the sore from Susannah’s face, Roland thinks, he can erase the Crimson King from that balcony. Finally, though, he sees what Patrick is concerned about: the eyes are not quite right.
Patrick tries to tell Roland something but it takes him forever to figure it out. He wants a rose.
What Constant Reader Learns: All the while Roland’s looking at the drawing, the Crimson King is screeching and screaming and wanting to know what Roland’s up to. When a flock of birds flies overhead toward the Tower, Roland rises and almost follows them, the call is so strong—and of course the King sees it and screeches about that for a while too. If I were Roland I’d be tempted to step out and shoot him just to shut him up. Although since he isn’t really human, I guess that wouldn’t work.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 3: The Crimson King and the Dark Tower, Section 9
Patrick is afraid to go and get a rose because of the sneetches, and despite Roland’s promise that he can shoot down anything before it lands, he doesn’t budge. Roland has to do it. So he puts on his deerskin gloves to protect him from the thorns and makes a run for it.
Panicked, Patrick grabs his coat when he runs, throwing Roland off-balance and causing him to lose his gun in the tall grass. The King sees it happen and sends another sneetch, but Roland is able to grab the rose, pull it out by the roots, roll to grab the gun, and shoot the sneetch just before it hits him.
The two old dogs exchange another round of shouted insults and mockery.
What Constant Reader Learns: The thorn from the rose goes right through the heavy deerskin as if it were “nothing but a coating of cobwebs,” giving Roland a glove full of blood.
Nifty set of moves, old man.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 3: The Crimson King and the Dark Tower, Section 10
When Patrick takes the rose, he isn’t so much as scratched, while Roland’s palm is cut open and one of his remaining fingers is hanging by a single tendon. He has no feeling in the hand, and knows that he’ll never regain his feeling.
Patrick plucks two petals from the rose, puts them in his mouth, then spits out a red paste the color of fresh blood. He takes some of the blood from Roland’s palm and mixes it in, then uses it to paint in the Crimson King’s eyes. Almost immediately, the King starts screeching that his eyes burn.
Finally, the drawing done, Roland holds out the eraser: “Make him gone,” he tells Patrick. “Make yonder foul hob gone from this world and every world. Make him gone at last.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Interesting that the rose’s thorns, so destructive to Roland, doesn’t hurt Patrick. Ka. I like the touch of the blood sacrifice—Roland’s blood mixed with the color of the rose.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 3: The Crimson King and the Dark Tower, Section 11
As soon as Patrick begins to erase, the Crimson King screams in pain and horror—and understanding. He throws out more sneetches, which Roland shoots down handily. And then Patrick erased his hands. And then the screeching mouth, ending that particular horror. Finally, he erased everything but the eyes, which would not so much as blur.
What Constant Reader Learns: And so we come to the end of the Crimson King. To paraphrase TS Eliot: “This is how the King ends, not with a bang but a whimper.” In the end, he was much like Oz the Great and Powerful, a little old guy stuck on a balcony making a lot of noise.
And, ironically, killed not at the hand of the last line of eld, but with a boy and a pencil. The artist (and writer) as creator and destroyer.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 3: The Crimson King and the Dark Tower, Section 12
The sun begins to set, and Roland knows it’s time—the call of the Tower has reached the point at which he can no longer resist it.
Yet there’s Patrick, “this friendless boy….Roland would not leave him to die here at the end of End-World if he could help it. He had no interest in atonement, and yet Patrick had come to stand for all the murders and betrayals that had finally brought him to the Dark Tower. Roland’s family was dead; his misbegotten son had been the last. Now would Eld and Tower be joined.”
He tells Patrick to go back to the road and find the tins of food scattered from the cart by the sneetch. He’s to take them and return to Stuttering Bill and tell the Robot to take him to a door that leads to America-side. Draw the door if he has to. He hopes that Patrick will find his way to Susannah.
With Patrick nodding his understanding, Roland finally turns back to the Tower, shouting, “Now comes Roland to the Dark Tower! I have been true and I still carry the gun of my father and you will open to my hand!”
Patrick watches him advance:
I come in the name of Steven Deschain, he of Gilead!
I come in the name of Gabrielle Deschain, she of Gilead!
I come in the name of Cortland Andrus, he of Gilead!
I come in the name of Cuthbert Allgood, he of Gilead!
I come in the name of Alain Johns, he of Gilead!
I come in the name of Jamie DeCurry, he of Gilead!
I come in the name of Vannay the Wise, he of Gilead!
I come in the name of Hax the Cook, he of Gilead!
I come in the name of David the hawk, he of Gilead and the sky!
I come in the name of Susan Delgado, she of Mejis!
I come in the name of Sheemie Ruiz, he of Mejis!
I come in the name of Pere Callahan, he of Jerusalem’s Lot, and the roads!
I come in the name of Ted Brautigan, he of America!
I come in the name of Dinky Earnshaw, he of America!
I come in the name of Aunt Talitha, she of River Crossing, and will lay her cross here, as I was bid!
I come in the name of Stephen King, he of Maine!
I come in the name of Oy, the brave, he of Mid-World!
I come in the name of Eddie Dean, he of New York!
I come in the name of Susannah Dean, she of New York!
I come in the name of Jake Chambers, he of New York, whom I call my own true son!
I am Roland of Gilead, and I come as myself; you will open to me.
A horn sounds, followed by an echoing boom like a door swinging shut. And then silence.
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland tells Patrick the traditional farewell about meeting at the clearing at the end of the path, but he knows it won’t happen. “The worlds would never end, not now, and for him there would be no clearing. For Roland Deschain of Gilead, last of Eld’s line, the path ended at the Dark Tower.”
Okay, that brought on some chillbumps and a bit of eye leakage. Well played, sai King.
The Dark Tower, Part Five: The Scarlet Field of Can’-Ka No Rey; Chapter 3: The Crimson King and the Dark Tower, Section 13
Patrick sat for a long time where Roland had left him, until it grew dark and the song of the roses lowered to a murmur. He went back to the road, gathered the cans, and walked until midnight. Next to his pencil, he’d found Roland’s watch and by noon the following day, it had begun to run forward again.
What Constant Reader Learns: This is, apparently, the last we’ll hear of Patrick: “I can tell you no more,” our narrator says. “Here the darkness hides him from my storyteller’s eye and he must go on alone.” Since he has Roland’s watch, we can hope he perhaps uses it to ease his way on America-side, even if he doesn’t find Susannah.
We still have unfinished business however, don’t we? And one more week before our long journey together comes to an end.
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.