The Dark Tower: The Waste Lands, Part I

Last week, we finished up The Drawing of the Three in dramatic fashion! This week, our ka-tet leaves the beach and continues their journey into Out World with the beginning of Book III of The Dark Tower series: The Waste Lands

Thank you for joining me on a journey of Stephen King’s The Waste Lands (1991), the 3rd book in The Dark Tower series. We just finished our journey across the beach in The Drawing of the Three, drawing Eddie and Susannah Dean into Roland's world and ending the pitiful life of Jack Mort. Eddie is off heroin, and Susannah's previously split mind has merged into one—but Roland Deschain is troubled. It seems by killing Jack Mort and allowing Jake Chambers to live, he has created a paradox … and it's tearing his mind apart. What's next for this new ka-tet? Will Roland be able to rectify this butterfly effect? Join us as we make our way into The Waste Lands!

 *Remember: While this is a reread, please avoid spoilers in the comments. The point is to get there together!

This book's chapters set up nicely, so the plan is to read a chapter a week (about 100 pages) and meet here at our usual time (Tuesday at 12 p.m. ET) to discuss major themes, motifs, and reactions. Make sure to bookmark the HQ page for the schedule and links to all of the chapter discussions as they go live! This week, we begin our journey into Out World with the start of The Waste Lands. Join us in the comments for a lively discussion of Part I of The Waste Lands: BOOK ONE JAKE: FEAR IN A HANDFUL OF DUST, Chapter I: “Bear and Bone”!

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I. Bear and Bone 

It’s a couple of months after the events of The Drawing of the Three. Roland Deschain, Eddie, and Susannah Dean have trekked sixty miles or more northeast of the Western Sea and crossed into the woods of Out World.

Roland has been training his new ka-tet in the art of being a gunslinger—catching game like rabbit, skinning them for food, and other basics for survival in his world. Eddie has renewed an interest in wood carving, something he enjoyed as a kid, and we take part in more flashbacks of his caring but somewhat jealous older brother Henry. And the trio is living an almost peaceful existence compared to what they had been going through in The Drawing.

Yet, I can’t help but wonder who will be the next to fall, especially since Mr. King warns in his introduction, “… the gunslinger has a way of being bad medicine for his friends.“ 

Donald M. Grant, Publisher, INC MIR EMBRACED THE TREE ©1991 Ned Dameron
Enter their next challenge: a killer bear towering an enormous seventy-feet tall that for centuries had tormented the locals scattering them amok. Roland had considered it merely folklore until they cross its path. Susannah is put to her first test as a gunslinger when her hubby needs help. Eddie’s scrambled up a tree to escape the bear’s wrath, and Susannah shoots it. The beast turns and lunges in her direction. After more gunfire puts the bear down for the count, Susannah sees it’s not all flesh and blood—a visible label identifies it as a Shardik, a cyborg bear made by North Central Positronics, LTD. 

Eddie reached in with his little finger, nerves set to draw back if he felt even a tickle of electricity. He touched the cooling meat inside the eyesocket, which was nearly the size of a baseball, and then one of those strings. Except it wasn’t a string; it was a gossamer-thin strand of steel. He withdrew his finger and saw the tiny red spark blink once more before going out forever.

In the middle of all the “Grizzly Adams” action, inner voices are throwing Roland off his game. ”The boy's name was Jake! Another voice shouted back, There WAS no boy! There WAS no boy, and you know it!“ It seems Jake's cryptic declaration in The Gunslinger, ”Go, then—there are other worlds than these,“ is about to make more sense.

Roland repeats these lines to Eddie and Susannah almost like he’s in a trance. He postulates that he never met Jake at the way station and the only thing he took away from the station was water—not the jawbone of the demon as we were led to believe in The Gunslinger (that certainly goes a long way in placating that thorny paradox issue).

Roland now suspects that Jack Mort wouldn’t have pushed Jake in front of the car at that particular moment and that Walter probably had a good laugh over the gunslinger killing Mort. But, to compound the “wibbly wobbly timey wimey,” Jake—who is now very much alive in 1976’s NYC—would have been killed by Mort at some future point … and how does that effect the space-time continuum with Mort dead?! 

Roland draws a circle on the ground with twelve X’s lining the edge—almost like a clock’s face. At each of these portals, the Great Old Ones placed a Guardian. He links these points with six lines, and where they intersect in the center represents the Great Portal—the Thirteenth Gate. Roland is convinced that if they locate the portal that the Shardik was guarding—one of six mystical beams that bind the world together—it will be a simple matter of following the direct line to the midpoint and his destination.

He tosses Walter's jawbone into a camp fire—in a move that Eddie didn't think Roland did on his own accord but more like he had no free will in the impetuous action. Before burning up, it turns into the shape of a key that Eddie memorizes, then morphs into a rose, which he also notes. 

Roland, Eddie, and Susannah find the lair of the Shardik, where there are several other robotic helpers, a tech support of sorts for the cyborg. Eddie blows five of them away, and in a swift fluid motion, Roland wastes a bat-like flying robot, which shows the gunslinger hasn’t completely lost his touch. Eddie discovers something in that moment that he keeps to himself—he likes being a gunslinger.

Roland’s distressing thoughts about Jake has him questioning his sanity, and his sleep is disrupted as he continues to obsess on the boy who he apparently has never met.

There was a boy.

There was no boy.




He closed his eyes, cupped his aching forehead in one cold hand, and wondered how long it would be until he simply snapped like an overwound bowstring.

In a move that shocks Eddie and Susannah, Roland turns his gunbelt and knife over to them because he doesn’t trust himself.

Some real answers, it would seem, in the opening to The Waste Lands: Jake and who knows who else are very powerful illusions. Roland saying, ”Oh, Walter was there. They were both there, and they both pushed Jake,” explains my confusion over who nudged him into traffic. And, after all these years of searching, Roland finally has a definitive direction to absolute zero—the Dark Tower. Though, I’ve learned not to stand on the proverbial rug when Mr. King’s hands are hanging on the corners.

Also, a bit more of the gunslinger’s past is revealed when Roland mentions John Farson, who led a revolt that toppled Gilead. Apparently Roland swiped something dear to Farson and that’s all we know for the time being.

What do YOU think about the beginning of The Waste Lands? Head to the comments and start/join the conversation!

*Remember: Be careful with your comments—NO SPOILERS! We will be moderating the comments and deleting anything we feel is a spoiler, so pause before you post and make sure you're not ruining it for someone else.

The Dark Tower Reread Navagation
The Drawing of the Three Part VI | Index | The Waste Lands Part II


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David Cranmer is the publisher and editor of BEAT to a PULP. Latest books from this indie powerhouse include the alternate history novella Leviathan and sci-fi adventure Pale Mars. David lives in New York with his wife and daughter.


  1. Alan Williams

    This is a great opening to the third book, the characters are really developing and seem to be more formed in this book than the previous one. The cyborg bear guardian reminded me a bit of the lobstrosities in the first book and the imminent peril for Eddie. I can’t help wondering whether there will be more guardians for the three to contend with as they seek out the Dark Tower?

  2. David Cranmer

    Not sure, tontowilliams, but it does leave the door open for the ka-tet to battle other such guardians, and, dios mio!, I wonder what kind of hell that would unleash?!

  3. Adam Wagner

    In this mystical world of doors on a beach, wizards, and such, it feels weird that one of the great guardians was a cyborg bear with a clear target on his back. Seems like a weird mashup of magical mysticism and Terminator-like machinery?

    Either way, I thoroughly enjoyed this chapter. As opposed to fighting each other and the elements, it seems like they’re starting to form a pretty badass ka-tet.

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