Book Review: The Dark Tower #3 – The Waste Lands

Title: The Waste Lands
Author: Stephen King
Year of Publication: 1991
Series: The Dark Tower
#: 3
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 4.22
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 3

You’ve Been Warned: Watch For Spoilers

the waste lands

Plot Description: Roland, Eddie and Susannah travel along the path of the Beam until they meet up with Jake Chambers, the boy whose death Roland had allowed to happen in The Gunslinger. Then they search for Blaine the insane monorail, who might be able to get them to their next destination.

What is it about this book? I almost feel like a failure for not liking it so much. Goodreads is filled to the bursting with glowing reviews. I also have a sneaking suspicion that I might have liked it more right after I’d read it, but since I binge-read the entire series at a go (and these are BIG books), the ending of the series as a whole spoilt most of the books that came before it. The only real exception to this rule is Book No. 4, Wizard and Glass. 

After all of the world building and game-board setting that the reader had to endure in The Drawing of the Three, Roland’s ‘ka-tet’ is almost complete – with the exception of Jake Chambers and Oy the billy bumbler, to whom we are introduced in this book. [The creation of the billybumbler? Pure genius]

The Waste Lands is a roadtrip book. The characters are constantly on the move, and their journey is peppered with notable incidents – gunfights, mental battles, even the odd sexual battle. (Yeah, that was pretty odd). It’s not a bad book, but it’s far too long and could have done with some paring down. It also ends on a cliffhanger, which as I understand it, wasn’t resolved for about a decade after this? That’s awful, and I’m glad I wasn’t a Stephen King fan living in the 90s.  Waiting two years for the next Harry Potter was torture enough, not to mention my current love-hate relationship with G.R.R. Martin. If you can look past the mangled language (or inexplicably happen to love it), and you don’t mind settling in for a long journey, then this is definitely the book for you. I’ve also begun to classify anything strange within the books as the natural consequences of Stephen King’s penchant for horror.

Next Review in this Series: The Dark Tower #4 – Wizard and Glass

Next Review: Bloodlines #4 – The Fiery Heart

Next Up: Feminist Concepts – Gender Roles Part I

Book Review: Dark Tower #2 – The Drawing of the Three

Title: The Drawing of the Three
Author: Stephen King
Year of Publication: 1987
Series: The Dark Tower
#: 2
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 4.21
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 3

A Few Important Spoilers Here and There

drawing of the three

Plot Description: In this sequel to The Gunslinger, Roland of Gilead must meet three strangers who will help him on his quest – the Stranger, the Lady of Shadows and the Pusher. Together with new characters Eddie Dean and Odetta Holmes, Roland journeys further along the path that he hopes will eventually lead him to the Dark Tower.

At this stage in the series, I was still pretty absorbed by the plot. This was despite the fact that the writing remained dry and cramped, and the whole time I was reading this book I felt like I was eating something completely tasteless out of some weird compulsion.

Fascination might actually be a better term for it, because in The Drawing of the Three, King actually introduces a few characters who are far more likeable and relatable than his Cowboy With An Extra Helping of Hero. The problem with Roland is that he’s presented as practically flawless – his only flaw is his singleminded determination to reach the Tower no matter what, and since that’s the whole point of the series, it’s not really considered a flaw. On the other hand, Eddie Dean and Odetta Holmes are both extremely flawed characters who must balance their personal struggles with helping Roland on his quest. This is despite the fact that both of them were pulled unwillingly out of their respective lives – lives which take place in different decades in our modern world – by Roland the Selfish Hero.

Roland was last seen waking from his conversation with his old enemy Merlin, only to find that ten years have passed since he sat down to talk to the wizard, and that the wizard is now dead. I mention these facts because they are completely out of line with the story presented in later books (plothole alert!) where it says that a hundred years passed while he was talking to Merlin, not ten, and that Merlin isn’t dead after all. As an afterthought, Merlin’s continued existence is ret-conned and we’re told he faked his death. What purpose was served by this entire rigmarole is something we readers will forever remain in the dark about, unfortunately.

Eddie Dean is the Prisoner represented in the first of the tarot cards Merlin draws for Roland during their ‘palaver’. (Old fashioned terms like this one are overused to the point of exasperation throughout this series). Eddie, it turns out, is not a conventional prisoner, but a junkie – a prisoner to heroin. Roland first encounters him as he’s endeavouring to get a couple of bags of cocaine through customs as a drug mule in 1987, and he eventually pulls Eddie out of our world and into his, where Eddie begins to experience withdrawal and is taught in the ways of being a gunslinger by Roland.

Odetta Holmes is a crippled civil rights activist from 1964 who suffers from multiple personality disorder brought on by multiple traumas in her life – including the accident which caused her to lose her legs. Odetta is educated, soft spoken and non violent, and thus the complete opposite of her alter ego, Detta Walker. Detta is extremely violent and dangerous, harbours a burning hatred for white people – especially white men, is delusional, and speaks in an exaggerated caricature of the stereotype of an uneducated Afro-American. Just as with Eddie and his drug addiction, Roland helps Odetta and Detta confront reconcile their personalities, thus creating Susannah Dean.

Both Eddie and Susannah (who have fallen in love and consider themselves married) prove to be ‘natural gunslingers’, picking up the knack of fast shooting and other gunslinger characteristics extremely quickly. This is despite the fact that neither of them have ever trained for any sort of active physical life, and considering it took Roland and his childhood friends a decade before they could be considered trained gunslingers, I find this premise unlikely (and therefore an example of shoddy and lazy writing). Eddie and Susannah are ‘natural gunslingers’ only because the plot demands it of them.

The final person Roland comes face to face with is Jack Mort, a lowlife criminal sociopath with murderous tendencies. Throughout his life, the Pusher has attempted to kill numerous people, either by dropping heavy things on them from above, or by pushing them – into traffic (as in the case of Jake Chambers) or into the path of an oncoming train (as in the case of Susannah Dean). When Roland realizes that Jack Mort is responsible both for Jake’s initial death in The Gunslinger as well as for the loss of Susannah’s legs and the development of her Multiple Personality Disorder, he kills Jack in revenge, and to prevent him from killing Jake (again). Roland’s actions here also set up for the return of an alternate version of Jake Chambers in the next book, The Waste Lands.

The vibrant and unique personalities of Eddie and Susannah Dean are what saved this book as far as I was concerned. Indeed, the further this series progressed, the more it became clear to me that of the eventual quintet, Roland was the least interesting, the least worth saving.

While The Drawing of the Three is still pretty good as far as novels go, the series is fast approaching decline, which is why I’d never recommend it to anyone. Unless they were stuck in Mid World with Roland of Gilead and had nothing better to do.

Next in this Series: The Dark Tower #3 – The Waste Lands

Next Review: Bloodlines #3 – The Indigo Spell

Book Review: Dark Tower #1 – The Gunslinger

Title: The Gunslinger
Author: Stephen King
Year of Publication: 1982
Series: Dark Tower
#: 1
Goodreads Rating (Avg.): 4
Goodreads Rating (Mine): 3

Spoilers, For The Other Books in This Series As Well

gunslinger

Plot Description: A lone man trudges across a vast desert, chasing after a stranger in a brown robe. He’s Roland Deschain of Gilead, the titular Gunslinger, and he’s on a quest to find the Dark Tower – whatever that may be.

*Cue lamentation* Oh Gunslinger! How I wanted to love you! You and every character, every plotline, every single repeated phrase and cringe-worthy expression of emotion and…

Oh well. The Gunslinger opens on Roland trudging through the desert, then flashes back to the village he’d stayed in a while back, then back to Roland trudging through the desert and thinking deep thoughts, now back again to that village, and now Roland is thirsty in the present and that reminds him of how he was thirsty a while back and had come across a random farmer after he’d left the village…

The flash backwards would have been an interesting narrative device, but they get swallowed up in the vast, navel gazing desert that is The Gunslinger. The book tries to keep the mystery of Roland and his quest alive by dropping tantalizing hints – and this works, but not for too long. And all the while you’re being distracted by scenes, themes, parallels, and Easter Eggs – all the things, in short that a fan would want to see while doing a re-read.

Roland’s universe is – as far as I understood it – set far in the future. So far in the future, in fact, that the human race hit the ultimate limits of technology, surpassed it, had themselves a couple of nuclear wars and worldwide plagues, managed to find Magic in an alternate universe and marry it to technology in an attempt to keep the world alive… and then disappeared/ died out, taking their knowledge and most of their tech secrets with them. What came after (the Great Old Ones, which is what these masters of technology are called) is a mixture of the medieval era and the wild, wild west. Roland is of the line of Eld, started so many years ago by King Arthur of Eld, who was I suppose the first gunslinger. Arthur founded an order of gunslingers – legendary law enforcers and fighters, and Roland is the last of them. It is imperative, it seems, that the reader understand just how important and awesome and cool and effective Roland is.

Yeah, we get it.

The plot isn’t bad, as far as fantasy novels go. The universe is a fascinating mix of futuristic technology, the Wild West and medieval europe – a holy trifecta for fantasy readers. But then we get to the details, and I start wondering just how disturbed the mind of Stephen King is.

Don’t get me wrong. I can read smut, and crass stuff, and I’m often impressed by it. Because masterfully placed smut can jolt the reader like not much else can. But – and here’s what I think is a golden rule – smut should never be used purely for shock value. There has to be a point. It must further or enrich the plot somehow.

So hearing about a crazed religious preacher who claims the man being chased by Roland has magically impregnated her, and who then tries to kill him… is a bit confusing, to say the least. Like, what is the point of this pregnancy? Why was it mentioned? Does all of this serve to heighten the atmosphere of strangeness and occult horror, making the reader jumpy and on edge.

Yes, it sort of does. Until the reader is saturated with this nonsense and no longer feels surprised at anything not even a mutant spider-man hybrid baby that was born of two human and two supernatural parents, and whose only goal seems to have been to murder all of its parents… by eating them, and anything else that gets in its way. 

The reader is supposed to focus on Roland. Roland the man, Roland the deadly killing machine, Roland who is blindly focused on his quest, Roland who regrets killing the people he doesn’t completely hate, but can’t care enough to do anything about it.

The moment where Roland sacrifices a newly acquired travelling companion (a young boy called Jake) for the chance to face the man he was chasing is a turning point in his life. While he remains unsure of whether he’d repeat this act if he had to, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have. If he’d ever been faced with the choice of Tower versus the life of a loved one, Roland would pick the loved one.

Roland is so impossibly perfect (as far as gunslinging goes) in this book that you can’t help but admire him. But that’s about it for this book. The writing is sloppy, there are plot holes that you won’t notice until you get further along in the series, and the whole experience is dry and distracting, thanks to all the flashing back and forth.

Stephen King refers to this series as his magnum opus. I agree, if by magnum opus you mean the biggest story you’ve ever written. Just like with Orson Scott Card’s Alvin Maker series, the first book in the Dark Tower series is a set up. It has just enough background and slow plot to keep the reader interested, and it ends on a pause, not a stop. And just like with Alvin Maker, the Dark Tower series seems to spin rapidly out of control the further you get.

I honestly cannot decide which series is worse – the pros and cons cancel each other out – but like with Alvin Maker, this book (and by extension, this series) shouldn’t really be picked up by anyone who’s going to feel cheated by an unsatisfactory ending which comes on the heels of pages and pages of word vomit.

Next In This Series: Dark Tower #2 – The Drawing of the Three

Next Review: Bloodlines #2 – The Golden Lily