Off the Shelf

The Dark Tower III - "The Wastelands"

By Marcus Pan

The WastelandsBy the time you're part of the way through "The Wastelands," King's third installment in the Dark Tower series, the connections that started to show up in the second book are growing heavier and increasing at a steady rate. All of them begin getting visions and dreams that help them along. Normally I'd complain about such levels of convenient divine intervention, but King works them so well and so strangely together that you don't get that feeling. The associations of words, names, books and fate are wound together so tightly by the time you finish this novel that you might even find yourself looking for the same ka-tet (pardon my use of your word, Mr. King) in your own life. Even after you put the book down you can be off on tangents with the thought. The course of the story flows smoothly. I'm still able to remember back to when Roland came across the town of Tull, or when he nearly lost a battle to the first party of monstrosities.

It's easy to go back and tie things together. Roland is slowly going crazy throughout part of this book and King changes his behavior "just so" to make it perfectly how you would expect a true Gunslinger to act. Jake too, however on a distant world. The visions and dreams of both Eddie and Jake become a key factor into bringing the boy back into Roland's world to join the three there. King also adds another character, a billy-bumbler (Want to know? Read the book.) named Oy who throughout some of the thickest and darkest parts of the story adds just enough comic relief to keep the book lighthearted in it's own, albeit moody, way. He also shows his knack for knowing the human psyche when he portrays the final downfall of the people of Lud. And he does exceptionally well with portrayal of the sentience in Blaine the Mono, who's first appearance was in a children's book (it makes sense, really it does), who would match HAL's neurosis in 2001.

You have to respect a novel that ends in a cliff hanger about riddles. Yes, riddles. Riddle me this and riddle me that, Roland turns out to be a king at these twisters of words. So does Blaine. Frankly, I'm worried. I mean, didn't Big Blue beat the Russian guy in chess best out of three? Only he wasn't threatened with smashing 800+ miles per hour into Topeka. Maybe that'll give Roland and crew the will or motivation to not lose this match.

An annoying nuance about the book that bothered me enough to risk sounding picky? Sure, I have one. Susannah, Eddie and Roland spent about two months in the highlands after getting away from the terrible rocky beach where the doors were. By halfway through the book, Roland tells them that they're gunslingers. After two months of training? "As he expected, both were born gunslingers," writes King. This doesn't wash for me because it wasn't long ago when Eddie was a junkie strung out on heroin and about to take a drug dive that'll land him in the pen for a few years and Susannah was a schizophrenic kleptomaniac. And after a couple months of training they're gunslingers. Another nuance is I thought the plaster man, as Jake called him, that lived in the mansion where he was pulled through was a bit, well, ok we'll use my favorite word; cheezy. It fortunately didn't take away from the suspense of that particular climax however.

The best part of Wastelands is again the coming together of all the different tiny details that I mentioned earlier. And these details further bind together the three that previously lived in New York prior to their deposit in Roland's world which is still moving on with every step they take. The way Jake sees Eddie, on the street his own age, in his "when" before the older Eddie pulls him through the doorway in the mansion to where he, Roland and Susannah are. Or how anonymous graffiti sprayed on an empty lot wall is known as a children's poem in Roland's world. So many cross-references go on here that it might get confusing…but hold on and keep going. Nevermind the purple clouds or the parrot-like field animals. Don't even worry much about the Grays, the Pubes or even the fact that the Tick Tock Man was helped off the floor by a man who was once called "Merlin" in another time and place. Le Morte de Arthur meets John Wayne? An interesting concept…and one I'm looking forward to learning more about as I delve into the fourth part of King's Dark Tower series; "Wizard and Glass."

"The Dark Tower III: The Wastelands" by Stephen King
Published by the Penguin Group
Copyright © 1991 by Stephen King
ISBN 0-451-17331-7

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