Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands

Stephen King frequently alludes to popular film and literature.  The third volume of the Dark Tower series, subtitled The Waste Lands (Grant, 1991), frequently alludes to Eliot’s The Wasteland: in epigrams, language, and the thoughts of characters.  Direct quotations or paraphrases are common.  King mentions or similarly quotes from other writers as well.  Often these allusions connect to some aspect of the plot and theme.  In general, of course, Robert Browning’s poem “Childe Roland” is fundamental to the nature and substance of the Dark Tower series and its characters.  These allusions show how King seeks to ground his novels in a larger literary tradition, to insist on their inclusion in that tradition even though they are of a genre (fantasy, terror, the supernatural) not always admitted to it.  They also show King’s desire to make clear that his fiction has substance.  He must have been an English major.  Allusions to popular films also occur.  On occasion these filmic and cinematic references seem gratuitous, but often they play an important role.
If the second volume might have seemed slow at points, this third volume, which is longer, is certainly more full of action and events.  Notable among them are the appearance of a 50-foot tall robotic bear, one of the Guardians of the twelve portals, and the struggle of Roland’s group to bring the boy Jake, who ostensibly fell to his death in the first volume, back into the world of the Dark Tower series.  The arrival of Roland and crew in the city of Lud is also notable.  Can you think of a novel in which there is a train named Blaine (Blaine the Train) that loves puns, slaughters the citizens of an entire city, and wants to commit suicide?
King frequently departs from the main narrative to tell the backstory of characters.  In this volume he tells Jake’s story.  As with other some other digressions, the Jake story threatens to grow tiresome--until it becomes clear that it’s aimed towards an event of growing significance.  King’s handling of this event, with two characters in wholly separate worlds gradually becoming aware of each other, passing information back and forth, and finally meeting together in a climactic moment is impressive.  It’s the best writing so far in this series.  Another excellent section of the novel relates the efforts of the gunslingers to rescue Jake from a kidnapper later in the narrative.

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