Last week, Jake Chambers returned to Roland's world in an incredibly tense scene featuring a monster haunted house. This week, we slow down a bit to learn more of Mid-World and the future for this newly formed ka-tet.
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 meet an incredibly adorable billy-bumbler named Oy and learn more of Mid-World and our newly formed ka-tet. Join us in the comments for a discussion of Part IV of The Waste Lands: BOOK TWO LUD: A HEAP OF BROKEN IMAGES, Chapter IV: “Town and Ka-Tet”!
BOOK TWO LUD: A HEAP OF BROKEN IMAGES
IV. Town and Ka-Tet
Four days after Jake Chambers barely escaped the haunted house on Dutch Hill, he wakes up in Mid-World to find a billy-bumbler licking his face. After the seismic impact of Jake entering Mid-World, nearly dying in the crossing, King slows the narrative way down, allowing time for the characters to get used to their new traveling companion with lighter moments abound. Hell, Roland almost cracks a smile at a shared joke with Eddie. Susannah muses to herself that they are witnessing a glimpse of what Roland must have been like when he had the gunslingers of his youth surrounding him before the world moved on.
Jake names the straggling billy-bumbler Oy and begins caring for it, adding a “boy and his dog” warmth to the proceedings along with some depth to the world in which Roland lives. Kind of like a racoon but with a longer neck, Oy shows off his ability to mimic sounds that he hears. It’s explained that once upon a time, many homes in Mid-World had billy-bumblers traipsing about—much like our own pets—and they possibly have a greater intelligence than first observed. I’m really taken with Oy, and I’m getting the vibe he will take a large part in the Dark Tower quest as we go along, and to some purpose.
The ka-tet pass deserted buildings resembling farms as they trek toward the once vibrant city of Lud. Here and there, they see muties that look like bison—though some have two heads. Jake is visibly anxious, remembering the mutants under the mountain, but Roland calms fears by explaining that these mutant strains are mostly bred out and wandering about trying to survive like everyone else.
Further on, at a town called River Crossing, Roland cautions the others not to draw first on any inhabitants. As they pass the hotel and saloons, they see faces drawing away from windows. Two older citizens named Si and Mercy finally venture forth to greet them, followed by the Old Mother named Aunt Talitha Unwin, who announces to the tribe made up of the aged:
“Behold ye, the return of the White! After evil ways and evil days, the White comes again! Be of good heart and hold up your heads, for ye have lived to see the wheel of ka begin to turn once more!”
Behind the Church of the Blood Everlasting, in an oasis set aside from the rest of the atrophied, desolate lands, a feast is held to celebrate the gunslinger. Ravagers with names like Harriers, Grays, and Pubes rape the land and routinely search out what’s left—feeding off a dying population. Talitha and her small band hide from these destructive forces, and now with the gunslinger appearance, she believes once again in hope. In ka.
Susannah notes that Roland is a living remnant the old people only know from stories they were told as children. Talk turns to the great city of Lud and possible dangers, and mention of a train immediately piques Jake’s interest. When Mercy says she used to hear a locomotive that made trips between Lud and the waste lands years ago, she is contradicted by other members of the clan who neither heard the train nor believe it would venture into the forbidden territory. The group leaves the town that night because they don’t wish to grow too attached to the kindly old folks, and Talitha gives Roland a silver cross that she has worn for a century, requesting he lay it at the foot of the Dark Tower.
Later, during an epic all-night palaver, Roland explains they are a ka-tet, which is a group of people bound together by fate that only death or treachery can separate. They also have khef, a sharing of the minds, and the gunslinger gives several examples of when he talked to them telepathically without them even realizing what was happening.
Then, each of them—Eddie, Susannah, and Jake—tell of their experiences, culminating in Roland saying what happened to Jake in the vacant lot was not only the most important thing in Jake’s life, but in all their lives—the epicenter of the ka-tet they shared.
“When it opened,” he said, “I saw the middle was the brightest yellow you ever saw in your life. At first I thought it was pollen and it only looked bright because everything in that lot looked bright. Even looking at the old candy-wrappers and beer-bottles was like looking at the greatest paintings you ever saw. Only then I realized it was a sun. I know it sounds crazy, but that’s what it was. Only it was more than that one. It was—”
“It was all suns,” Roland murmured. “It was everything real.”
Eddie and Susannah both remember having a copy of Charlie the Choo-Choo with a similar vibe of an evil subtext where the kids were probably screaming rather than enjoying the Charlie experience. All decide that even though it’s dangerous and that Aunt Talitha had stated the people of Lud would want Charlie, they will go to the city and find the train.
Privately, Eddie confronts Roland, telling him that he’s tired of the gunslinger prodding them along like they’re lemmings, stating, “… I want to die knowing I was more than a marker on your game-board.” Roland develops new found respect for Eddie, even if a bit annoyed the former heroin addict has seen through him. Roland has other concerns, though: the name Charlie. In his world, “Char” means death.
Like I said, a quieter chapter but absolutely enthralling, bringing deeper insight into Mid-World, its inhabitants, and a road map to what lies ahead. Oh, and there’s the cute billy-bumbler, Oy. Did I mention I like Oy?
What did you think of this “Town and Ka-Tet”? Do you like Oy as much as us? 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.