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«The Waste Lands», The Waste Lands
IT BEGAN TO OPEN before his eyes. It disclosed a dark scarlet furnace, petal upon secret petal, each blazing with its own secret fury. Jake had never seen anything so beautiful, so intensely and utterly alive. Now, as he stretched one grime-streaked hand out toward this wonder, the voices began to sing his own name . . . and a dreadful, deadly fear began to steal in toward the center of his heart. It was as cold as black ice and as heavy as stone.
There was something wrong here. He could feel it pulsing in discord, like a deep and ugly scratch across some formerly priceless work of art. . . . Then the heart of the rose opened before him, exposing a bright yellow dazzle of light. … It was a sun: a vast forge blazing at the center of this rose growing in the alien grass.
The fear returned, only now it had become outright terror. It's right, he thought incoherently, everything here is right, but it could go wrong. …
THE WASTE LANDS
The Waste Lands is the third volume of a longer tale inspired by and to some degree dependent upon Robert Browning's narrative poem "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came."
The first volume, The Gunslinger, tells how Roland, the last gun-slinger in a world which has "moved on," pursues and finally catches the man in black, a sorcerer named Walter who falsely claimed the friendship of Roland's father in the days when the unity of Mid-World still held. Catching this half-human spell-caster is not Roland's ultimate goal but only another landmark along the road to the powerful and mysterious Dark Tower, which stands at the nexus of time.
Who, exactly, is Roland? What was his world like before it moved on? What is the Tower and why does he pursue it? We have only fragmentary answers. Roland is clearly a land of knight, one of those charged with holding (or possibly redeeming) a world Roland remembers as being "filled with love and light." Just how closely Roland's memory resembles the way that world actually was is very much open to question, however.
We do know that he was forced to an early trial of manhood after discovering that his mother had become the mistress of Marten, a much greater sorcerer than Walter; we know that Marten orchestrated Roland's discovery of his mother's affair, expecting Roland to fail his test of manhood and be "sent West" into the wastes; we know that Roland laid Marten's plans at nines by passing the test.
We also know that the gunslinger's world is related to our own in some strange but fundamental way, and that passage between the worlds is sometimes possible.
At a way station on a long-deserted coach-road running through the desert, Roland meets a boy named Jake who died in our world, a boy who was, in fact, pushed from a mid-Manhattan street corner and into the path of an oncoming car. Jake Chambers died with the man in black—Walter—peering down at him, and awoke in Roland's world.
Before they reach the man in black, Jake dies again . . . this time because the gunslinger, faced with the second most agonizing choice of his life, elects to sacrifice this symbolic son. Given a choice between the Tower and the child, Roland chooses the Tower. Jake's last words to the gunslinger before plunging into the abyss are: "Go, then—there are other worlds than these."
The final confrontation between Roland and Walter occurs in a dusty Golgotha of decaying bones. The man in black tells Roland's future with a deck of Tarot cards. Three very strange cards—The Prisoner, The Lady of the Shadows, and Death ("but not for you, gunslinger")—are called especially to Roland's attention.
The second volume, The Drawing of the Three, begins on the edge of the Western Sea not long after Roland's confrontation with Walter has ended. An exhausted gunslinger awakes in the middle of the night to discover that the incoming tide has brought a horde of crawling, carnivorous creatures—"lobstrosities"—with it. Before he can escape their limited range, Roland has been seriously wounded by these creatures, losing the first two fingers of his right hand to them. He is also poisoned by the venom of the lobstrosities, and as the gunslinger resumes his journey north along the edge of the Western Sea, he is sickening . . . perhaps dying.
He encounters three doors standing freely upon the beach. Each door opens—for Roland and Roland alone—upon our world; upon the city where Jake lived, in fact. Roland visits New York at three points along our time continuum, both in an effort to save his own life and to draw the three who must accompany him on his road to the Tower.
Eddie Dean is The Prisoner, a heroin addict from the New York of the late 1980s. Roland steps through the door on the beach of his world and into Eddie Dean's mind as Eddie, serving a man named Enrico Balazar as a cocaine mule, lands at JFK airport. In the course of their harrowing adventures together, Roland is able to obtain a limited quantity of penicillin and to bring Eddie Dean back to his own world. Eddie, a junkie who discovers he has been kidnapped to a world where there is no junk (or Popeye's fried chicken, for that matter), is less than overjoyed to be there.
The second door leads Roland to The Lady of the Shadows—actually two women in one body. This time Roland finds himself in the New York of the early 1960s and face to face with a young wheelchair-bound civil-rights activist named Odetta Holmes. The woman hidden inside Odetta is the crafty and hate-filled Detta Walker. When this double woman is pulled into Roland's world, the results are volatile for Eddie and the rapidly sickening gunslinger. Odetta believes that what's happening to her is either a dream or a delusion; Detta, a much more brutally direct intellect, simply dedicates herself to the task of killing Roland and Eddie whom she sees as torturing white devils.