When we last left Roland and his friends, the Drawing of the Three had just been completed — the ka-tet without whom the quest for the Dark Tower could not continue. Eddie Dean, former junkie; Susannah Dean, former schizophrenic; and Jack Mort, former psychopath — all had been drawn according to their fate.
Jenny: If The Drawing of the Three was almost pure characterization — getting to know Eddie, Susannah, and Roland — then this book is much more about action. There is another big chunk of character, of course, because we get to know both Jake and Oy, but this book shows us large, important pieces of plot: key, door, rose; the Beam; the City of Lud; Blaine the Mono.
Teresa: When I think about my favorite events in the Dark Tower books, a huge number of them come from The Waste Lands. So much happens in this book, especially when you compare it to the previous two books. But even though it’s not much longer than the previous books (and not nearly as long as the rest of the books), it doesn’t feel rushed, except perhaps in the final moments in Lud. It’s just packed with happenings, and lots of new clues about the Tower and how Roland’s world connects with ours.
Jenny: The first part of the book, when Jake is being brought into Roland’s world, with the rift between two realities that is maddening both him and Roland, is so well done. King has written about minds descending into madness before, but seldom so sympathetically, if you know what I mean. I particularly like Jake’s final English Essay, so charged with symbolism. And in this book, you can’t miss a trick: everything is meaningful. Everything is a sign, even the names of streets. (I know you haven’t read It yet, but there are several references in this book that make connections.)
This time around, I saw less purpose in the time with the old people at River Crossing. It seemed to me to be there just to cement the gunslingers’ role: ancient heroes in a world that had moved on. Hadn’t we already established that? What did you think?
Teresa: Oh, Jake’s essay! I love Jake’s essay. And the Manhattan Restaurant of the Mind. So much good stuff in the Jake sections.
As for the River Crossing section, I think you’re right that one purpose is to further demonstrate what gunslingers are about. But perhaps there’s also something about story-making here. The old people have their stories of the past, of gunslingers and Gilead, and these stories keep them going even when there seems to be no point. But after all the symbolism and foreshadowing in the earlier chapters, that section does feel insignificant in comparison.
Jenny: And in comparison to what comes after! The dreaming spires of Lud, which looks just a little bit too much like an apocalyptic New York. Jake’s abduction. The Tick-Tock Man (a reference, of course, to the Oz books — it wasn’t the first and it won’t be the last) and our first sight of the Ageless Stranger.
I love Lud as a city. Of course it’s utterly ruined by time and war and deliberate sabotage, but King lets us get a sense that originally, it was huge and mysterious and beautiful. This same sense — that once, marvels ruled the world — crops up again and again in this book, from the Portal of the Bear to Blaine himself. It’s a wonderful piece of world-building, because it gives a simultaneous sense of wonder and of loss.
Teresa: The full story of Lud just begs to be told, doesn’t it? One of the remarkable things about these books is how the further you dig, the more history and the more stories you unearth. There’s a feeling that it can never end. And the references to the Oz books are wonderful! I don’t think I’d ever even noticed before this reading that Roland and the Ka-Tet match Dorothy and her friends in number—right down to the dog/billy-bumbler. But there’s not just Oz; there’s also Middle Earth and the sometimes high-stakes game of riddling.
Jenny: Oh, yes, it was just on this re-read that I noticed how Susannah resembles the Tin Man, with her wheelchair. It was when Eddie thought, My kingdom for an oilcan. Then I couldn’t stop thinking about it. If Roland is Dorothy, though, that’s some weird casting.
The riddles fascinated me this time around. I always enjoyed them, because I like riddles, but this time they seemed to me to have a deeper importance to the structure of the story. Calvin Tower (great name!), one of the men who gives Jake the riddle book, says that good riddles are doubles — they have two meanings. Isn’t everything a double in this world, like Lud and New York? All the connections between Roland’s world and ours seem like a riddle we could solve if we just thought about it enough.
Teresa: Roland as Dorothy, ha! But, you know, he is the one whose desire governs the quest. I do like your idea of the whole story as a riddle. It’s feeling more and more like that. That whole feeling that there is a riddle here to solve is one of the reasons I love this series so much.