King's Highway pt. 44: The Wind Through the Keyhole pt. 2 of 2

WE-THE-PEOPLE: I made an attempt to wrest satisfaction from the official Stephen King Forum about the shifting point-of-view in the central story, as discussed in pt. one. And I was wholly unsuccessful. ("TL;DR" was the general response.) If this changes, I'll update it here. Now... please prepare yourselves once again for the startling conclusion to...

As before, all art unless otherwise-indicated by Jae Lee, with copies of the limited edition at https://secure.grantbooks.com/z-sk-dt-twttk.html
DSO: So Marvel is adding their own original stories to the Dark Tower mythos?
Bryant: They are indeed.  Or at least, were.  The past few arcs have been more or less straightforward adaptations of The Gunslinger.  And the first was a more or less straightforward adaptation of the young-Roland chunk of Wizard and Glass.  But between those, there were something like five arcs that were almost wholly new.  The first couple were good -- close to great, even -- but they went quickly downhill, and ended up feeling like overblown fanfic.

I really need to get to work on a big old "episode" guide sort of post.  I think a lot of people might be interested in reading that. 

DSO: I almost hope you don't, as then they would call to me like Dark Tower glass at the comic shop. There's even a conveniently collected grab-bag of at least one of the story arcs at the counter of my local, and I've resisted temptation so far. But damn it, when you do, I may have to give in.
Bryant: How do you take the novel's dedication ("This is for Robin Furth, and the gang at Marvel Comics.")?  I would love to know exactly how aware King is of those comics.  I get the sense that he was involved with them during the pre-production phase leading up to the first few issues, but that he soon thereafter stopped having much involvement with them at all.  The timeline of this novel directly contradicts the comics; we see here that Cort is still in bed, direly ill, months after his defeat by David the hawk, whereas the Fall of Gilead arc in the comics (I think it was that one) shows Cort more or less back to being his old boisterous self, albeit with one less eye.  I am fine with the novel contradicting the comics, because after the first three arcs or so, I think the comics lost their way quite badly; it pleases me for King to contradict them.
DSO: Interesting. Reminds me of their old Star Wars comic.
Art and script by Walt Simonson immediately prior to his run on Thor. I was all about these from 1980 through the release of Jedi, then the series/ concepts seemed to drift.
Bryant: I used to have a few of those comics, but I never got to read as many of them as I wanted.  I seem to recall that Han had a smuggler friend that was a giant green man-rabbit, or something like that.  I remember something to do with landing on a water planet.  I remember a cyborg assassin.  We're talking dim, dim memories here ... but vibrantly dim, if that makes any sense.  I wonder, are there collections of that run of Marvel comics?  If so, I'm adding them to my vast, ever-expanding wish list.

Thing is, given that dedication, I have to wonder what his stance is.  My guess is that he views them the same way he views movie adaptations: i.e., he sees them as having essentially nothing to do with his own work.  I'm tempted to speculate that they have, at the very least, kept him thinking about Mid-World, though; and if that's the case, then I'm all for it.
DSO: I haven't looked at any of those, so I can only comment from "afar," but I imagine King sees that stuff as wholly separate from his stuff. Maybe, tho, as you say, it'll help keep his mind in Mid-World! I know when Marvel got around to Wolverine: Origin (the first mini-series; I never read anything but that, tho I know it became an ongoing thing) it was because they didn't want Hollywood to provide their own version. Maybe King will have something similar happen when it comes to any or all of the above.
Bryant: Yeah, that makes sense.  I get the feeling that the relationship with Marvel is both more and less complicated than it would seem, and it probably all boils down to King saying, "Yeah, sure, do what you want, I don't care."  I suspect he long ago decided to just trust Robin Furth implicitly, so that he doesn't have to worry about it in any active sense.  His involvement -- and this is a pure guess on my part -- is probably limited to fielding the occasional email question from Furth.  Who, it should be pointed out, is on the record as saying that for her, the comics represent a sort of alternate-universe version of the story.  It's all happening on another level of the Tower, in other words. Fair enough.
DSO: Different levels of the Tower is the gift that keeps on giving. Theme-wise, another home run for SK with the absent-father/ avenge-the-mother/ childhood's-end stuff. Many moving passages. I was very satisfied to see Big Ross's ax settle into Kells' neck.
Bryant: Indeed.  I've heard the book described as unimportant or irrelevant as regards its place with the Tower series, but the more I think about it, the less inclined I am to agree.  Roland's matricide at the end of Book IV was a major event, and the series never really dealt with it again in any way.  As such, the emphasis it receives here -- even if it is the emphasis of showing that Roland was able to make peace with his mother's memory -- does seem a bit essential to me. 
DSO: Absolutely essential. When I read Wizard and Glass I thought ok, if this flashback has no real bearing on why Roland wants to get to the Dark Tower (besides the whole saving-the-omniverse reason) I'll cry foul. But holy crap, did it ever. I think the same thing here and for this very reason you describe. That bit about his Mom living again through him (i.e. "I could see him falling into the tale, and that please me - it was like hypnotizing him again, but in a better way. A more honest way. The best part, though, was hearing my mother's voice. It was like having her again, coming out from far inside me. It hurt, of course, but more than not the best things do, I've found. You wouldn't think it could be so, but - as the old-timers used to say - the world's tilted, and there's an end to it." (pg. 106)) as he told the story really got me. King get justified credit for many things, but I think his ability to bring tears to one's eyes in never-expected ways is perhaps underrated.
Bryant: Agreed on all points.  He's best-known as a scare-meister, and for good reason, but the fact is that fear can't exist without love: sometimes that's love merely for oneself (i.e., I love myself and really don't want to get torn to pieces by this werewolf), but oftentimes, it's love for someone else.  I can't help but think of the death of Edgar's beloved daughter in Duma Key, which I found to be just utterly horrifying.

I'd say the vast majority of his fiction -- and all of his successful fiction -- is deeply rooted in concerns like that.
And I think that makes its placement between Books IV and V interesting.  A hell of a lot of stories get told in that middle section of the eight-book structure, but it seems appropriate; it's almost as if Roland is being forced to come to terms with his past before he can proceed onward toward the Tower.

And I'm with you; I think there is WAY more of that past that needs to be told.  Where it could/would fit in, though, I do not know.  Let's hope we get to find out someday!
DSO: Let’s discuss the language and some specific quotes. I made note of a few as I went through the novel. Let’s start with "Time was a face on the water, and like the great river before them, did nothing but flow." (pg. 8) This made me very nostalgic and damn, I can only imagine how often one's heart aches as an old man. Hell, it aches enough now, on the tail-end-of-my-thirties. One more: "It was not fair, it was not fair, it was not fair. So cried his child's heart, and then his child's heart died a little. For that is also the way of the world." (pg. 256)
Bryant: As you will see the further you progress into the series, the overriding emotion of The Dark Tower seems to be melancholy for a bygone world.  Which, really, is probably the emotion that lurks behind most art; it's probably what motivates most art.  A sense of "this thing is gone, forever, but if I write about it then maybe it can sorta still be here."  This is a big topic, and probably not tackle-able here, but I definitely think that the way the Tower series takes past, present, and future and then makes a smoothie out of them is a compelling facet of those works.
By the way, how tempting is it to never say the word "telephone" again, when such a marvelous synonym as "jing-jang" has been brought into the world?
DSO: It really is, you're right. I like Thankee big-big, too. Almost all the swap-words Roland uses (castles for chess, etc.) are fun. Though it's funny which terms get their Mid-World equivalent and which ones don't. Roland refers to a "lunatic asylum" in Calla and I thought, 'Now you'd figure that'd be a term they'd have their own word for.'
Bryant: Made-up languages and words can be a real annoyance if they're done poorly, but I think King did pretty well.  He didn't go too overblown with it, which leads to why-not-here questions like the one you pose. But I can live with that.  That sort of thing is like cologne; a little dab is really all you need.

DSO: "Once I asked my Da what civilized meant. 'Taxes,' Big Ross said, and laughed - but not in a funny way." (pg. 111)
Bryant: You've got to love big-time liberal Stephen King taking a swipe at the taxman.  Even HE hates the taxman.  That said, I think it's interesting that he made the Covenant Man a somewhat ambiguous figure.  Evil, but also kinda helpful; what you need, mayhap, if not exactly what you want.  Someday, somebody will write a highly interesting book analyzing King's work from a political standpoint.  That person will not be me.

DSO: Oh, I so hope that never happens... It's probably inevitable.

As for this part, Man-Jesus… ""Before he could continue his dumbshow, however, the sore above his nipple burst open in a spray of pus and blood. From it crawled a spider the size of a robin's egg. Helmsman grabbed it, crushed it, and tossed it aside. Then, as Tim watched in horrified fascination, he used one hand to push the wound wide. When the sides gaped like lips, he used his other hand to reach in and scooped out a slick mass of faintly throbbing eggs. He slatted these casually aside, ridding himself of them as a man might rid himself of a palmful of snot he has blown out his nose on a cold morning." Now that's how you do that. I'm always impressed with a) his willingness to "go there," and b) how well he can wax-lyrical about such things. Whether it's describing the mutie horrors of Mid-World or Trooper Wilcox's demise or Rogette's face-splitting death in Bag of Bones, there's a beauty to the prose that can't be denied.
Bryant: The stuff with the spider coming out of Helmsman is just pure nightmare material.  God, I hope I die before I ever have to suffer through seeing that in a movie.  That said, that particular stretch of the novel was one of my favorites; I loved those repugnant fellows.
DSO: I agree on the mud-men. Not only did I enjoy the setting/ events of that part of Tim's journey, it was great to "meet" them. And it tied in nicely (if sadly) with the whole theme of wistful memory/ sad sacrifice. Poor bastards.
"Time is a keyhole, he thought as he looked up at the stars... We sometimes bend and peer through it. And the wind we feel on our cheeks when we do - the wind that blows through the keyhole - is the breath of all the living universe." (pg. 245) I was wondering when the title would make sense/ when these themes of starkblasts would coalesce. Good stuff.
Bryant: The quotation about how time is a keyhole, and the wind that blows through it is the living universe ... man, that's probably one of the better bits King has ever written.  He's continually charged with having passed his prime eons ago, and I'm continually skeptical; and if he HAS passed his prime, I think he passed it very slowly, so that he is still able to turn around and shake its hand once in a while.

DSO: That charge holds little sway with me. I like that handshake-description, though.
Bryant: Speaking of starkblasts, a question pops to mind: what do you make of it?  Do you think that's some sort of sci-fi type of storm that's purely indigenous to Mid-World?  Do you think it's a result of the (probably) nuclear cataclysm that brought the Old world to its end?  Do you think it's a result of what the Crimson King is doing, and a byproduct of the world Moving On?  Or none of the above?
DSO: I hadn’t considered any of those, to be honest, but I can’t answer ‘none of the above,’ either. I assumed it was just some strange weather phenomenon unique to Roland’s world but not necessarily as a result of the Old Ones. That’s a cool idea, though, and certainly more than plausible. Perhaps it’s even alluded to in the text. I didn’t get a sense that it was related to the CK, though, but perhaps these things gather strength or are even triggered by his breaking down the Beams. Not like the beam-quakes that come later (sorry, editing this a few weeks after this conversation occured, so I'm as confused-about-sequence-of-events-and-time as Ted Brautigan) but maybe some temporal-tear-in-everything caused simply by the CK doing his business.
Bryant: You're on the record as to wanting to read a series of spin-off Tim Stoutheart adventures.  Could much the same be said of Sister Everlynne, the badass mountainous nun?  Man, I definitely want more of her; I can only hope that if King ever gets around to writing the tale of how Gilead fell to John Farson, and the tale of how Roland finally got even with Rhea, he will find a way to incorporate Everlynne into those tales.  She's just too good a character to exist only on a few pages here.
DSO: Agreed 100%. I hope the name of said novel is Bad-Ass Mountainous Nun.

Let's make a list...
- Roland gets even with Rhea
- Fall of Gilead
- Thomas (from Eyes of the Dragon) meets up with Flagg
- Further Adventures of Tim Stoutheart

and it could be that this is revealed in the last two volumes, but I for one would love a novel-length story of Arthur Eld and Maerlyn and how the hell all this got started.

I'd also love a book about the Outlaw David Quick, and perhaps Andy (though I suspect his time is short... I'm about 100 pages from the end of Calla). Also: Directive Nineteen and North Central Positronics; it'd be fun if there was a fake-welcome-to-NCP sort of book published, or an Atlas of Mid-World coffee table book.
Bryant: I would add several things to that list, but seeing as how they pertain to events in the final book, I shan't mention them here.  But I agree with all of the ones you mention. 

There also needs to be a third novel in the Talisman-verse; neither of the extant ones is high on my list of favorite King books, but they still cry out for conclusion.  And presumably, that would have DT ramifications.
Can I assume you were reading the mass-market hardback?  Probably.  If so, how great is that cover art?  I loved it the second I saw it, months before the book came out, but once I'd actually read the book it made it even better.  

Here it is again.
Sadly, the mass-market edition did not contain the outstanding interior art by Jae Lee.  That's a real shame, and I'm not sure why King and his publishers decided to go that route.  I can't imagine it made Jae Lee very happy, either; this was an opportunity for a HUGE number of people to see his work who had never seen it before.  Oh, well; I sure am glad I decided to pony up for that limited edition.
DSO: Mine does not have interior art, which makes me mad to discover was an edit/omission. It’s one of my all-time favorite King covers, though, particularly once I was finished and looked it over. Rich in detail and quite a stunning illustration.
Bryant: Just a fantastic cover; the one for the paperback seems to be from the same artist, but is a different drawing (painting?).  It's quite good, too.

The decision not to put the Jae Lee art in the mass-market editions is just galling, mainly because it breaks precedent with the rest of the series.  I get making artwork like that exclusive to limited editions; I really do.  But consistency matters, and in this instance I think the wrong decision was made.
As somebody who recently read Wizard and Glass and has since moved on to Wolves of the Calla, how did The Wind Through the Keyhole strike you in terms of tone and voice?  Does it seem consistent with the rest of the series?  Or does it instead seem like what it is, an add-on written years after the fact?
DSO: I think the voice is consistent. Outside of what you mentioned in your other email about the confusion of the omniscient point of view of the story within a story. Which isn't so much a tone/voice thing, I guess, but just to mention it. 
 Thanks again to Bryant Burnette for the palaver. Check out the Double-O-Rating-System at You-Only-Blog-Twice and the general goings-on at The-Truth-Inside-the-Lie


King's Highway pt. 43: The Wind Through the Keyhole pt. 1 of 2

Welcome back to the Dark Tower National Park and Wildlife Preserve! You're in for a special treat this time around, as we are joined by our trail guide himself, the man-behind-the-curtain at Truth-Inside-the-Lie and You-Only-Blog-Twice, Mr. Bryant Burnette. Please prepare yourself for... part one of... 

Together Again For the First Time!! And other hype!!
Overview: Although published in early 2012, this tale-within-a-tale-within-a-tale takes place between the events of Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Calla. 

Tale Number One, "Starkblast": The beginning and end of the book describe Roland's ka-tet seeking shelter from a "starkblast," i.e. a Perfect Storm that occurs in Roland's world every so often and that bumblers like Oy can predict. Roland passes the time by telling Eddie, Susannah, and Jake (and Oy, I guess) an adventure he had shortly after the flashback-events of Wizard of Glass; within this tale, he tells...

Tale Number Two, "Skin-Man": A few months after the flashback-events described in the pink glass at the end of Wizard and Glass, Roland is sent by his father / dinh with another young gunslinger named Jamie to investigate a possibly-supernatural murder spree in the outland mining town of Debaria. A "skin-man," i.e. a shapeshifter who may not even know he is the monster, is preying on the miners and families there. With the help of a mountainous nun named Everlynne and a Richard Farnsworth-esque Sheriff named Peavy, Roland rescues the survivor of one of these attacks, a young boy named Bill, concocts a plan, lays his bait, and gets his man in typical Gunslinger fashion, i.e. with extreme-prejudice.

Before this tale wraps up, he tells young Bill Tale Number Three, "The Wind Through the Keyhole," about a boy named Tim, whose father is betrayed and killed by his wood-cutting partner, a dickhead man named Kells, a husband in the tradition of Rose Madder's Norman Daniels, or King Claudius from Hamlet. Our old friend Mr. Flagg aka the Ageless Stranger shows up as "Marten Broadcloak" aka The Covenant Man to collect the king's taxes from everyone. 

While there, he puts the idea in young Tim's mind that Tim can save his mother from their plight (which now includes blindness from one of Kells' beatings...) and avenge his murdered father by traveling to the end of the world to see old Maerlyn:
who, we eventually learn, has been imprisoned there, on command of the Crimson King.
Tim leaves to accomplish this and along the way, encounters an impish fairy, a mud dragon, and a tribe of mud-men who hail him as a gunslinger on account of the hand-cannon he carries, given to him by his elderly ex-tutor before he left. (King will always stick a writer, tutor, or teacher into his stories, even ones that take place only in the enchanted forests of Mid-World memory) These mud-men give him Daria, a talking directional device with the patented North Central Positronics guarantee stamped on it, and it leads him to "North Forest Dogan," an enormous tower with a tiger in a cage outside it. A starkblast is brewing, and Tim is certainly to be killed when it comes...

All art unless otherwise-indicated by Jae Lee, and copies of the limited edition are, amazingly, still available.  That link is https://secure.grantbooks.com/z-sk-dt-twttk.html
(From here on out, Bryan's-thoughts will be represented by the abbreviation for this blog, i.e. DSO, while Bryant's will be represented by Bryant. I thought about giving us great aliases like Doctor Phil and The Alabama Gunslinger, or Todash Malone and the Positronic Five - or even going the easy-to-confuse / visually-repetitive Bryan/ Bryant route - but... well, I didn't. One last word of trail-caution, travelers: anything unspoiled by the above will be spoiled, and spoiled Gunslinger-style, from here on out. Away we go.)

DSO : I almost hate talking about it, as the surprise of the tyger turning into Maerlyn - in the flesh! - is just fantastic. Is this his only appearance? I can only imagine how cool it must have been to see him pop up here. How was this for you, having read them all? Is there anything in here that answered a lingering question or rewarded the long patient reader? Or is this Maerlyn's only appearance?

Bryant: So as to save you any needless anticipation, I will verify that this is indeed Maerlyn's only appearance in the series.  As far as I know.  Within the overall context of the series (if not the entire Dark Tower storytelling universe), I'm not entirely persuaded that it makes any sense.  After all, this isn't young Roland we're talking about; it's young Tim, a character who -- so far as I can tell -- is of zero significance to the overall Tower mythos.  And yet, for Flagg and Maerlyn to have taken such an active role in his life --  a development that might be coincidental, although I have a hard time reading it that way -- seems awfully significant.  

My personal feeling on the matter is that Maerlyn almost HAS to serve as the opposite to the Crimson King.  In other words, the CK is working to bring down the Tower, and is very public and vocal and vigorous about it.  Meanwhile, opposing him -- but almost without anyone ever knowing it (which would explain why he never pops up in any of the other books) -- is Maerlyn, a force for the power King refers to as the White.  I am tempted to say that he and the Turtle (in It) are one and the same, and that that is the nature of the sort of thing Maerlyn does: he puts himself in the position to help bring about small -- relatively small, at least -- events that help to steer the universe as a whole away from collapse.

That's obviously pure speculation, and it's SO unsupported by evidence that it may as well be fanfic.  But I kinda like it, personally.  And again, once you start taking a truly macro view of what King is doing with the Tower series -- by which I am referring to the overall series of connected works, however big or "small" you want to define it as being -- then I think you almost have to start posing questions like that, whether or not you decide to answer them for yourself.

This is all very complicated, and I dearly hope that King plans to tidy it all up a bit before he proceeds to that clearing at the end of the path.

: I've been intrigued by the ongoing Arthur Eld/ Excalibur/ Maerlyn's Glass concept in general. Other worlds than these, indeed.

Bryant: Doesn't that make it seem almost mandatory for there to be some sort of spinoff series of Tim Stoutheart novels that explains exactly why, and for what purpose, these cosmic beings are so interested in such a small figure?
DSO: I thought the same thing. Setting us up for another Mid-World spell? Tales from Old Mid-World? I'd eat that shit for breakfast, as Shooter McGavin might say. Especially since he becomes a gunslinger later in life. (Tim, that is.)

Hell, instead of Haven, why doesn't somebody just make a Tim Stoutheart tv series?

Bryant: Oh, don't get me started on how lousy Haven is.  It astonishes me that so many King fans are giving this crap a pass.  I mean, I've seen worse, but compared to any number of shows currently active on television, this shit just don't pass muster. 

DSO: Does Tim appear again? Or is that one of those "tales for another days," a la Flagg vs. Thomas from Eyes, or the further adventures of Wyzer and Dorrance from Insomnia, etc.? I hope we get at least a dozen more Dark Tower books... not to be morbid, but once King passes, will Joe and Owen have any interest in writing a few? They have their own distinct styles, and, of course, it doesn't have to be someone in the King family to do it...

Bryant: If Joe Hill or Owen King do it someday, I'd be okay with that (although even with them, I'm not sure I think it would work).  Otherwise, I hope and pray it never ever ever ever EVER happens, because I simply don't think anyone could channel whatever King is channeling.

DSO: Yeah, it's probably not a good idea, even if Owen or Joe (or Tabitha or Naomi for that matter) wanted to do it.

Bryant : How awesome would it be if Naomi turned out to be the one to continue to King family's march toward the Tower?  It seems unlikely, though; as far as I know, she's never published anything.

It's more likely that Robin Furth would be King's proxy in this regard, and evidence indicates that that wouldn't be a very good idea.  She published a sorta-prequel to The Little Sisters of Eluria in the backs of the comics, and it ... was not very good.  Didn't match tonally, didn't match plot-wise; it just plain didn't work.

DSO: I'd love to see at least a trilogy of Tim's adventures. I'd settle for one. Maybe Marvel will go in this direction.

Bryant : I get the sense that Marvel's days on the path of the Beam are numbered, but you never know.

I'd love to see a movie version of The Wind Through the Keyhole.  Just the central tale, with no allusions to the larger story.  I think that could make a pretty solid dark-fantasy flick.

DSO: You’re right. As soon as he leaves in search of Maerlyn, things go from zero to ninety in that direction.
It would even work as a Rankin-Bass animated feature, perhaps particularly as one.
If anyone decided to make another Rankin/Bass movie, of course.
Similarly, Directive Nineteen. Damn it, what the hell!? I so wanted to learn what that was. Daria was great, particularly the burgeoning friendship she developed with Tim. One other thing re: Daria: I get a kick out of how my parents/ that generation;s approach things like GPS devices. It's perfectly understandable - they're cool as hell , for any generation - but it must really be Star-Trek-For-Real for Baby Boomers to interact with GPS devices and Siri and such. I know my Dad gets a little-boy look on his face when he talks about his TomTom. Can't blame him. I particularly liked that aspect in "Big Driver," and I enjoyed it here, as well.

Bryant: Structurally, and in terms of its implications for the macro view of the Tower series, this is a problematic novel.  But Daria is one of the many, many, many reasons why I am willing to just overlook all of that in favor of enjoying the book.  Daria is great!  I also loved the little malevolent fairy, whose name I cannot remember.  Within my experience as a reader, there is nobody who comes even close to being as good as King at creating memorable characters.  This novel is a fairly slight work, all things considered, and yet it fairly bursts with excellent new characters, at least one of whom is nothing more than a souped-up GPS unit.  Fascinating.

As for "Directive 19," I do not believe it makes any return appearances, although I could be wrong about that.  It might in Book V, actually.  Either way, the number 19 definitely appears again.
DSO: Andy responds with "Directive Nineteen" a few times in Calla, but I'm disappointed to hear we get no further explanation. Although, for the most part, I kind of like being dropped into the mystery along with the characters and focusing on their quest/ adventures rather than a big info-dump of the world-that-was - more tantalizing that way.

Bryant: It's frustrating, but it also makes a lot of sense.  I think there is definitely room to explore the whole sci-fi side of this story via a spinoff novel of some sort, but I'm not sure how it could be dropped into an actual
Dark Tower novel or story without bringing in a character who would basically just be an info-dump device.  And hey, if that's what it takes, I'm all for it ... but something tells me that unless King can invent for himself a story to hang it all on, then it'll never happen.

And though that would kinda disappoint me, I'd be okay with it, too.  I can sorta concoct my own half-baked theories, which is the pleasure of mysterious-and-unrevealed-mythology stories like the ones King is hinting at here.  The downside is that you just
know some professional hack will eventually decide to set 'em all down on paper and sell 'em to us.  I'd like to think that King's estate will persist long enough to either block that altogether, or at least ensure that it ends up being good, but hey, you never know.  Either way, I'll buy it, because I am a sucker.

DSO: Me, too. Along those lines, I'll have to buy some kind of poster with all the Beam guardians and the rhymes after this is done, or make one myself. I just love the concept so much. It reminds me a lot of Elric/ the Eternal Champion. I have yet to see that come up in Dark Tower commentary/ King interviews, so probably just one of those Jungian "coincidences."

You mention structural problems, and I just want to spend some time on those. North Central Positronics - I'm a total nerd for this idea and get excited anytime it appears. I'm dying to learn more, though I'm not sure if I actually will.

Bryant: Ah, yes, good old NCP.  You know, it only now (at this late date) occurs to me that I have no bleedin' idea what "positronics" is.  (Are?)  

DSO: Only Dr. Soong knows for sure.

Bryant: Sometimes the word -- if we're to the point where this is considered a word (and I think we are) -- "lol" is used less than literally,  Here, I literally LOLed.

(Here is Dr. Soong, for those readers who did not have brought TNG to mind by the above.)
DSO: Similarly, though, I have no idea what the hell "Dipolar Computers" are. I keep meaning to look it up.

Bryant: I seem to recall that Book V touches on some of this a bit, and that there might be some vague hints in the final two volumes as well; but King never tackles it head-on, sadly.  I am both okay with that AND annoyed by it.

DSO: I was a bit confused by what the point of the North Forest "dogan" was/is; is this something explained more in the books to come? Or is it (like Directive Nineteen) left a mystery? Also, since NCP plays such a self-identified part in Roland's telling of The Wind Through the Keyhole story, he's obviously familiar enough with concept. He might not know what it means, but as a term he'd recognize... But I don't recall his mentioning this in The Waste Lands when this first started appearing. (I flipped through the section right after they destroy The Bear and didn't see anything) Of course, Roland was losing his mind at the time, and grappling with other stuff. But given its prominence in the Wind Thru the Keyhole tale his mom told him, just curious.

Bryant : Here is where we get into an element of TWTTK that does not work: it is entirely too vague as to whether the central tale of Tim Stoutheart represents a story that Roland is literally telling the young boy who has been menaces by the skin-man (and, consequently, to his tet-mates and to us), or if that section is merely a representation of the tale Roland is telling.  In other words, that section represents the "real" version of the story Roland is telling (which was in turn told to him by Gabrielle, his mother).  I say that not because there is any evidence of it, but because if you assume that it is instead the literal transcription of the story as told by Roland, then it makes no sense; there is too much information in it that it seems unlikely that Roland could have possessed, such as the strong hint that the Covenant Man is actually both Randall Flagg and Marten Broadcloak.  How would his mother have known this?  How would whoever told her the story have known it?

DSO: Yeah, good point! I didn't think of that, but absolutely. A few sentences (maybe even just one) would've cleared it up. I mean, in Wizard and Glass, the traveling-through-the-glass conceit holds it all together very well. I don't know why he didn't try something similar (not one of Maerlyn's Globes, per se, but something) here.

Bryant: It simply begs too many questions, so I choose to see it as an omnisicient-POV representation of the core tale as told by Gabrielle to Roland to the boy.  I'm aware that that is a convoluted mess, but it's the only way I can make it all make sense; truthfully, it doesn't work, but the tale itself is so damned good that I'm inclined to take the approach of making shit up in order to MAKE it all make sense.

The more I think about this element, the more worrisome it seems.  In looking at the text, the first "Skin-Man" section ends with Roland saying -- AS dialogue -- the first paragraph of (the "The Wind Through the Keyhole" section). So really, the text itself gives evidence that that entire section IS, in fact, meant to be taken literally as a transcription of the story Roland tells Bill.

And yet, I just don't think that can possibly be the case, due to the implications it would hold about what Roland does and doesn't know.

This might be a question worth posing on the messeage-boards at King's site.  Maybe Ms. Mod could fish an answer out of King for us.  How cool would that be?

DSO: That'd be great. I'll post it up there and see if anything develops.

Bryant: How did you like the skin-man sections of the book?

DSO: I liked this bit, but... there wasn't much to it, was there? As a book-end to the Tim Stoutheart story, it serves its purpose, but it seemed a bit like a monster-of-the-week sort of episode. I did enjoy the revelation of the demon-things under the mines and wanted to learn more about that. 

Bryant: It's definitely a vignette moreso than anything else, but it felt moderately crammed full of import to me.  For one thing, since the stuff with Cort seemingly answers the question -- which had been a persistent one in my brain for several years -- about how canonical the comics are, that felt like a big weight had been lifted.  And I think also the central conceit is cool, for all its slightness.  It's a nice glimpse at the sort of thing that a Gunslinger has to deal with on a regular basis; in that way, its very lack of importance seems ... important.

It also reinforces the notion of ka being a wheel.  After all, this is a dangerous and bloody assignment, but it's a minor one; and yet despite that, it leads Roland to some fairly vital information about his mother, which in turns leads him to some solace.  And that, arguably, restores enough of his confidence and self-worth that it will later set him on the road to the Tower.  Without this episode, or some equivalent to it, would Roland have come back to himself enough to take on a quest like that?  Maybe; maybe not.

DSO: I wanted to find out what happened to the kid in later years. He goes to live with Everylnne and the sisters of Serenity. I'd like to think he eventually made his way to Gilead - not that I want to discover he died or anything. 

Bryant: I'm with you; I'd kinda like to know what happens to Bill after this, too.

DSO: Otherwise, the only structural distraction for me was Susannah's "sugar" tic. I kept a count of how many times she called someone "sugar." Only 6 this time, with 2 "honeybee"s. Wouldn't be a bad total for the whole story, but she's only in the novel for 33 out of the 309 pages, so... kind of high.

Bryant: Here's my viewpoint on that: King's tendency to give characters verbal tics like that is one his absolute worst characteristics, and it's a shame nobody has ever -- seemingly -- talked him out of it.  All that "beep-beep, Richie" and the inane things that come out of Trashcan Man's mouth and all the "SSDD" in Dreamcatcher so forth ... it just doesn't work for me, nine times out of ten.  Susannah has some of those characteristics, and so does Eddie, although they don't bother me all that much, because ... well, to be honest, I don't know why.  And to be fair, the only time it's ever really taken me out of a story to any meaningful degree is in Lisey's Story, which has an abominable amount of it.

DSO: It doesn't really bother me, really, either, any more than Wireman's in Duma Key with his endless "muchachos;" it's just King's style, I guess. I wonder, though, how no one at Scribner has pointed this out, if only to shield him from more unflattering accusations than "his style." Whether it's Susannah or Sara Tidwell from Bag of Bones, you'd figure someone would've said "Hey, uh..." Or maybe they do, and SK is insistent. That would be funny. Maybe he's just got a thing for The Archies:

Bryant: I suspect that this is a side-effect of King "seeing" his characters so clearly as he writes them; in his brain, that's just what they talk like, so he is merely transcribing them accurately.

Pt. 2, Wherein we Discuss Quotes, the Art, Starkblasts, and More.


King's Highway pt. 42: From a Buick 8

I had no idea this novel existed when I started this project five months ago. During the years I wasn't reading any King, I'd click on a link or two or read the odd newspaper story, but it wasn't until 2012 that I took a close look at his post-Tommyknockers bibliography.

The hardcover comes with this poster, as well.
I first heard about it in On Writing, when it was then only a first draft. King summarizes it as follows:

"A mysterious man in a black coat - likely not a human being at all but some creature inexpertly disguised to look like one - abandons his vehicle in front of a small gas station in rural Pennsylvania. The vehicle looks like an old Buick Special from the late 1950s."

In the final draft, it's a '54. But, like our mystery-man in the black coat, it is not exactly a car but... something else, inelegantly masquerading as one.
"(It) falls into the hands of some State Police officers working out of a fictional barracks in western PA. 20 years or so later, these cops tell the story of the Buick to the grief-stricken son of a State Policeman who has been killed in the line of duty." (pg. 229)

That's the bare bones of the plot. I was very intrigued by this description. The first thing I thought of was That would make a great sequel to Duel. 

I mean, someone had to come along and clean up that mess, right? And who's to say the driver of the truck wasn't a Can-Toi?
He goes on to relay how it was between drafts at that point (1999) and the dot-your-Is/cross-your-Ts part of it - i.e. traveling to Pennsylvania for some ride-along time with actual Western PA state troopers - was delayed by his car accident and recovery. He made it, though, and he thanks them for their patience and instruction as he hopped after them on one crutch, learning everything he needed to learn in order to make it all believable.

(I enjoyed this section of On Writing a lot. Well, the whole thing's amazing, but it was fascinating to peek behind the curtains at SK's process. Write the whole thing first, let it "cool" for a few weeks so you can edit it with fresh eyes, and then do your research and make sure you haven't put Pittsburgh in Ohio or got the real-life details too mixed-up. After all, "It is a story about monsters and secrets, not about police procedure in western PA." I tend to get too bogged down in research-details when I write; it can really delay and derail things.)

This is a pretty typical view from the thruway in western PA.
But once you get off the turnpike or away from the cities, it varies wildly...
from this
to this. Just wanted to give you folks who haven't been there an idea of the setting, which like many of King's settings, is fictional but next-door to real places. I've always loved the look of western PA.
While I have you here, he mentions how he set this story "down the road" from K.C. Constatine's series of "increasingly philosophical" detective novels centering around chief of police Mario Balzic.
Great, more stuff to read, thanks, SK! This author sounds like a real character, and I loves me a good ongoing series... But! One thing at a time.
Back to "America's schlockmeister," this time from the author's afterword to the book itself. "(From a Buick 8 is a) meditation on the essentially indecipherable quality of life's events, and how impossible it is to find coherent meaning in them."

Unsurprisingly, the author nails it; that is exactly what the novel is about. I think one's enjoyment of this will depend on how comfortable one is with that perspective. The Buick and the troopers are just the delivery mechanism. As Kev notes in his review, "In the early 2000s, Stephen King began experimenting with uncertain endings in more depth and with more frequency than ever before. While books like Pet Sematary, 'Salem's Lot, The Waste Lands, and Christine featured cliffhanger finales, these were mostly done for effect rather than ambiguity. Starting with From a Buick 8 and continuing through The Dark Tower, The Colorado Kid, and Cell, King is fascinated by the way books generally offer a sense of completion, in ways that real life rarely does. With From a Buick 8 on, King seems far more interested in the nature of mystery than closure, and how questions without answers affect his characters."

Art by Berni Wrightson
Post-modern, in other words, for us lit-nerds. Anyway, does it work? I'd say so. About halfway through this, our narrator - well, our main narrator; the book is split between several narrators, each with his/her own particular way of speaking, which makes for a fun read, tho I can see how it might irk some people - begins to get frustrated with Ned (the grief-stricken son, mentioned above) for wanting the story delivered in bullet-point form, marching logically to its conclusion. But there is no conclusion. It's the journey, not the destination; it's the mystery, not the solution. Kind of an anti-Agatha-Christie attitude... I think I'd be unsatisfied if this was his approach to every story, (I don't think King is cut out to be David Lynch; hell, David Lynch might not even be cut out to be David Lynch) but as a meditation on "life's unknowables," it works here.

This theme is expressed most clearly in two motifs that appear throughout the book like counterpoint in a Brandenburg concerto. One is "Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought him back:" the Troop D mantra, stated in various ways by all of the characters at some point. The other: "I didn't know about reasons, only about chains - how they form themselves, link by link, out of nothing; how they knit themselves into the world. Sometimes you can grab a chain and use it to pull yourself out of a dark place. Mostly, though, I think you get wrapped up in them. Just caught, if you're lucky. F**king strangled, if you're not." (pg. 13) Chains are Sandy's (our main narrator) main metaphor for life/ time.

The only part that might work against this (I'm not sure how I feel about it, after only one read) is the dissection scene. But I guess I have to give you a bit more background to discuss that. The Buick, once it's stored in the shed behind the barracks, gives off "lightquakes" from time to time, always preceded by a hum and a drop in temperature. Sometimes, but not always, these lightquakes result in either something from our world disappearing (as is the case with one unfortunate trooper) or something from some other world appearing...

as is the case with this weird-ass wanger-chested thing, as imagined by Tanem at ConceptArt.
Among the other things that appear is a bat-like creature, which Curtis (the grief-stricken son's father, in flashback) dissects. Both the dissection and the lead-up to it take up a bit more space in the narrative than may be necessary. But, it's wonderfully gross, so that's a plus.

As we've come to expect from Sai King, there are some lyrical flashes of description/ turns of phrase worth noting:

"It's funny how when you look back at disasters or love affairs, things seem to line up like planets on an astrologer's chart." (pg. 13)

"It was the early afternoon on the sort of day that's common enough in the Short Hills Amish country during midsummer; overcast and hot, the heat magnified by a syrupy humidity that hazed the horizon and made our part of the world, which usually looks big and generous to me, appear small and faded instead, like an old snapshot that's lost most of its color. From the west came the sound of unfocused thunder." (pp. 18-19)

"This young fellow, twenty-two years and untold thousands of beers later, would come along and kill the feather of a boy who was not then born, crushing him against the side of a Freuhof box, turning him like a spindle, unrolling him like a noisemaker, spinning him almost skinless into the weeds, and leaving his bloody clothes inside-out on the highway, like a magic trick. But all that was in the yet-to-be. We are in the past now, in the magical land of Then." (pg. 25)

"We smiled at each other, the way men do over love or history." (pg. 67)

"Curt handed out Polaroids... the best had that odd, declamatory quality which is the sole property of Polaroid photographs. I see a world where there's only cause and effect, they seem to say. A world where every object is an avatar and no gods move behind the scenes." (pp. 96-97)

"When desire drives, any fool can be a professor." (pg. 128)

And I quite liked this bit from the end:

You don't know where you came from or where you're going, do you?" I asked him. "But you live with it just the same. Don't rail against it too much. Don't spend more than an hour a day shaking your fists at the sky and cursing God."
"There are Buicks everywhere," I said.

Someone on the SK Forum took that to mean there are all these portals to other dimensions, everywhere, which, while certainly true in the King-verse, is too-literal a read of that line, for me. I don't think King meant there are specifically a whole bunch of magical Buicks everywhere (though that's an amusing thought.) Much more likely that what-the-Buick-represents vis-a-vis man-and-eternity/unknowable-mysteries is everywhere for the pondering.

"If there could be some sort of test at the end of this... some way in which Ned could demonstrate new maturity and understanding, things might have been a whole lot simpler. But that's not the way things work nowadays. At least not by and large. These days it's a lot more about how you feel than what you do. And I think that's wrong." (pg. 143)
Yeah, but what about The Dark Tower, you ask?

Maybe I'm not done looking at old cars... I mean, seriously, these things look pretty bad-ass. I want to watch American Graffiti now.
- Sandy's last name is Dearborn. Probably just a fun coincidence, but Dearborn is the alias Roland assumed during his time in Mejis (in Wizard and Glass).
- The original driver of the car (who disappears, leaving the car in Troop D's hands) certainly seemed to me like a "Low Man," aka one of the Can-Toi. I don't know if its subsequently revealed what the hell he was doing in Western PA or where he went, though. (Didn't look it up.) I also don't know if any of the creatures the Buick coughs up are mentioned for their absence, elsewhere, not that that really matters. (But I wouldn't put it past him, if they are.)
- At the end, Sandy peers into the other-dimension on "the other side of the car" and sees a landscape that reminded me of The Drawing of the Three, though I think it's meant to be something else. (The Todash Darkness, i.e. the land of "The Mist," most likely.)

Anything else? If so, I missed it. I didn't look into these too closely. I'm so close to the end that I figure, why spoil anything.

One last thing. This bit: 

"Sandy's opinion was that when the Feds did show the occasional flash of intelligence, it tended to be self-serving and sometimes downright malicious. Mostly they were slaves to the grind, worshipers at the altar of Routine Procedure." (pg. 98) 

should be printed on currency right next to Annuit Coeptus and Novus Ordo Seclorum.

As a certain Vulcan scientist of my acquaintance might put it, "I would accept that as an axiom." (As my wife might put it: "...NERDS.")