Last week, we learned a bit more about Mid-World and the future for our ka-tet. This week, ramp the action back up as we travel into the city of Lud and meet the Pubes and the Grays.
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 get an action-packed chase as we snake our way through the city of Lud. Join us in the comments for a discussion of Part V of The Waste Lands: BOOK TWO LUD: A HEAP OF BROKEN IMAGES, Chapter V: “Bridge and City”!
BOOK TWO LUD: A HEAP OF BROKEN IMAGES
V. Bridge and City
On their mission to Lud, the gunslingers find evidence that the fabled tale Aunt Talitha had spoken of is true: the mummified remains of one David Quick—the man who had led The Grays in the battle of Lud—in the wreckage of a WWII plane. Eddie notes the plane is from his side of the alternate universe because of a prominently displayed swastika.
That evening while sitting around the camp fire, they begin telling riddles, reading some from Jake’s Riddle-De-Dum book. When Eddie doesn’t take the conundrums as seriously as Roland, who had learned riddles as part of his schooling, he’s chastised for his lack of regard. The riddle that eventually stumps the group reads, “There is a thing that nothing is, and yet it has a name. It’s sometimes tall and sometimes short, joins our talks, joins our sport, and plays at every game.”
Eddie finally recognizes the drum beat they’ve been hearing—bump … ba-bump … babump-bumpbump-bump—as “Velcro Fly” by ZZ Top. They also hear the unnerving sounds of gunfire, prompting unease that there may be greater threats to their survival. After a hair-raising moment on a dilapidated bridge leading into Lud where Jake almost dies rescuing Oy, a man with a crossbow named Gasher—looking and sounding like a demented pirate—threatens to detonate them all to hell with the grenade he’s holding unless they hand over Jake.
Roland assures Jake he will come for him, which Jake believes (though given Roland’s track record, I’d be a bit worried if I were in Jake’s shoes). Gasher tells Roland to stay put for fifteen minutes, then yanks away Jake by the neck, taking him through the twisted remains of the bombed-out, abandoned-car littered city. Gasher is a vile, perverse scoundrel, beating Jake with his fists and threatening him with sexual assault. After weaving about the city, avoiding the booby traps set by the Grays, they open a manhole cover into a more complex Cradle of the Grays labyrinth.
The rest of the gunslingers split up to save time; Roland and Oy track Gasher with Jake while the Deans search for Blaine the Mono, aka Charlie the Choo-Choo. The couple runs into another gang, the Pubes, who attack without realizing they are engaging gunslingers. Two of the Pubes (what a name, huh?) are terrified when the Deans ask to be taken to the railway station and Blaine the Mono. The simple-minded gang members believe ghosts are everywhere: in the machine, underground, and even in the music droning from the speakers. And when Eddie tries to educate them that it’s the Grays behind much of their hell, the Pubes are too set in their ways to understand his reasoning. But Eddie has bigger problems to face … when “waking up” Blaine, a warning in the form of an unexpected diminutive voice says:
“I’m Little Baine,” the child’s voice whispered. “The one he doesn’t see. The one he forgot. The one he thinks he left behind in the rooms of ruin and the halls of the dead.”
Whaat? How is that possible? Blaine, now fully roused, is set to kill Eddie and Susannah. An electricity surges around them, and its Susannah to the rescue, again, as she recites: “There is a thing that nothing is, and yet it has a name. It’s sometimes tall and sometimes short, joins our talks, joins our sport, and plays at every game.” Lucky for them this machine is a riddle fan. Blaine is so impressed, especially when they inform him that Jake is carrying a whole book of them, that he shuts down his intent to destroy—at least for the time being.
Underneath what’s happening with the Deans, more or less, Roland and Oy are closing in on the headquarters of the Tick-Tock Man—ruler of the Grays and, as Jake learns, Andrew, the great-grandson of David Quick. His fascination with the clocks that are incorrectly marking off the time all about him earned him his nickname, and Tick-Tock Man takes a keen interest in Jake’s Seiko wristwatch that is running backwards.
As a psychopath who shoots his own people for the smallest of offenses, like laughing, he slaps Jake around when his questions are not answered to his satisfaction. Jake is a quick study though, and when quizzed about being a Not-See, he remembers the downed plane with the swastika and quickly replies that he is not a Nazi—that that era happened long before his time.
Jake notices Oy peering through the duct system, and the billy-bumbler jumps out and latches onto Tick-Tock’s head, throwing the entire underground kingdom into disarray. Jake is panicked to see Oy risking his life, and if it’s Roland’s plan to telepathically get Jake to unlock the door, then that mind-to-mind conversation is lost on Jake while he worries about his four-legged friend. Instead he grabs a gun and aims it at the Grays ruler.
Tick-Tock’s mouth opened in a shocked O of surprise, an expression which said more clearly than words could have done that, for all his intelligence, Tick-Tock had expected to live a long, happy life where he shot people but was never shot himself. Shot at, perhaps, but actually hit? That surprised expression said that just wasn’t supposed to be in the cards.
Roland finally gains entrance after Blaine taps in to unlock the massive door, and he eliminates several of the Grays. Blaine’s voice is heard, and Roland, Jake, and Oy begin following a steel sphere guiding them to the railway station.
Blaine turns out to be one helluva massive computer controlling all of Lud, and because he has grown “tired” of its inhabitants, he plans to biologically wipe them out. Yet, he will save the gunslingers by whisking them away from the impending doom if they can solve a riddle with only ten minutes to do so.
Tick-Tock, left feeling like his head has been cider-pressed, is approached by “The Ageless Stranger,” who’s looking to recruit a servant. Seeing Tick-Tock is in misery, The Stranger reaches down and rips free a piece of Tick-Tock’s peeling scalp with a calm, “Is that bothering you? It must be. Here!”
Woah! The Ageless Stranger shows him to a stash of gas masks for the impending annihilation, and primes him for revenge. Aside from being professed by the man in black as someone that Roland must defeat, who is this guy? Any thoughts?
Who do you think The Ageless Stranger is? 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.