Last week, we began The Waste Lands with a towering 70-foot cyborg bear! This week, Jake Chambers returns, struggling with the duality of having died and longing to return to Roland's world.
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, Jake Chambers returns! Will he make it back to Roland and the group? Join us in the comments for a lively discussion of Part II of The Waste Lands: BOOK ONE JAKE: FEAR IN A HANDFUL OF DUST, Chapter II: “Key and Rose”!
BOOK ONE JAKE: FEAR IN A HANDFUL OF DUST
II. Key and Rose
Jake Chambers is alive, but he certainly doesn't feel that way. It's May 31, 1977, and Jake attends The Piper School, an exclusive institution for intelligent children. He should have his mind on Finals Week, but, like Roland Deschain of Gilead, he feels like he's losing it mentally. Or, as the gunslinger defines the clash of voices in his head, a “doubling.”
You're dead, Jake. You were run over by a car and you're dead.
Don't be stupid! Look—see that poster? REMEMBER THE CLASS ONE PICNIC, it says. Do you think they have Class Picnics in the afterlife?
I don't know. But I know you were run over by a car.
Yes. It happened on May 9th, at 8:25 A.M. You died less than a minute later.
No! No! No!
Jake is haunted by the way station, the man in black, and Roland not saving him as he fell to his death. Horrific images, yet he desperately wants to go back. As he walks to the precise position where he was pushed into traffic by Jack Mort (and the man in black), he longs for that death again. Craves it.
When it doesn’t happen, he becomes depressed and obsessed with this other world, looking for doors leading back to the gunslinger’s land. Mr. King continually puts one over the reader as we are left anticipating which door will be the one that opens to technicolor.
Jake hears what he thinks is Roland's voice telling him he needs to find his way back home. Is he delusional? Are the dreams and premonitions real? Fixated, he scribbles on a picture of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, coloring it black, and he doesn’t recall writing an essay: “My Understanding of Truth,” referencing Roland, Eddie and Susannah. Subsequently crossing dozens of transoms that don’t lead into his own personal Oz, Jake eventually finds himself at a bookstore where he purchases Charlie the Choo-Choo and Riddle-De-Dum! Brain-Twisters and Puzzles for Everyone!, sensing the two books contain further clues to getting closer.
Jack Kerouac talked about “the leave-outers” authors like Hemingway who were pithy in their word count and “the putter-inners” like himself who appreciated a verbose chapter. King is in the everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink variety. When I’m tracking simpatico with the master, I don’t mind, but as Jake repeatedly searches for his entrance, I kept turning the pages to see how far to the next chapter. And it was a good forty further on as he talks to the quirky bookshop owner named Tower and his riddle-churning friend and wanders about some more, noting it’s like he’s remembering forward as he sees the same people doing the same things. All of which leads him to a vacant parking lot where he finds a single red rose blooming … and much more.
He was hearing a sound—had been hearing it ever since he entered the lot, in fact. It was a wonderful high humming, inexpressibly lonely and inexpressibly lovely. It might have been the sound of a high wind on a deserted plain, except it was alive. It was, he thought, the sound of a thousand voices singing some great open chord. He looked down and realized there were faces in the tangled weeds and low bushes and heaps of bricks.
He also hears voices as if from a distant land. The faces disappear, but he discovers a key and falls asleep for five hours. Yet, he still doesn’t—as The Lizard King would say—break on through to the other side and ends up going back to his uptight father and worried, valium-popping mother. He had been anxious about leaving the single rose until Roland’s voice assures:
No one will pick it. Nor will any vandal crush it beneath his heel because his dull eyes cannot abide the sight of its beauty. That is not the danger. It can protect itself from such things as those.
So, it would appear the gunslingers are pulling this boy toward his destination, and though I found it a bit tedious, it did create a new Stephen King fan in a rather offbeat way: my five-year-old daughter, Ava, asked me to read to her from the tome I had in my hand. I just happen to be on the passages devoted to Charlie the Choo-Choo, and she absolutely loved this book within a book—though I left off Jake’s commentary about the author belonging to the list of sadistic storytellers that liked to make kids cry.
And from Jake’s disdain for the pictures of Charlie and Engineer Bob that are described as lunatics, I’m sensing that The Waste Lands cover featuring a demonic skull-faced train proves Jake has reason to worry … to be extremely worried in fact.
What do YOU think about Jake Chambers return? 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.
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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.