King's Highway: Lawdy Lawdy It's Pt. 40

I was originally just going to cover the title story from Everything's Eventual and "The Little Sisters of Eluria." But along the lines of this quote from Hearts in Atlantis:

“A book is like a pump. It gives nothing unless first you give to it. You prime a pump with your own water, you work the handle with your own strength. You do this because you expect to get back more than you give.” 

I gave enough to Black House to realize my working the handle any further probably wasn't going to result in any satisfying wellspring. So, let's get it out of the way first.

Just a picture of a 'black house' from the internet that I liked.
This sequel to The Talisman was published only days after 9/11/01. Tough timing. (Slayer's God Hates Us All had the misfortune of coming out on the day itself, so in this particular bad-vibes contest, Slayer wins) But even had it come out on Christmas Day of the Proverbial Best Year Ever, I doubt it'd have helped much.

As you may recall, I gave The Talisman 200 pages before calling it a day. When I started Black House, I said, "If I don't like this, it gets no more than 50." I got to about page 40. Bring on the Special Teams...

The narrative mind-meld of Straub and King is apparently just not to my liking.
Maybe I'll feel differently down the road, but good God, the narrative-style of this one, with its "We move from this house down the lane to this group (of philosophy-major bikers !!), and what do we see?"s and its impenetrable character-and-setting introductions, just magnetically-repulsed me. It was like a bad-CGI roving-map from some old Beyond the Mind's Eye videocassette, AND, I might add, something Salem's Lot accomplished much more effectively without resorting to this oh-so-precious-omniscient-narrator-prose. It probably didn't help that I just finished reading the uber-accessible nostalgia of Hearts in Atlantis last night and then started with this one this morning. That's like following up "Kodachrome" by Paul Simon (or insert-your-own-cotton-candy-for-the-ears) with Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music (or insert-your-own-acoustic-nails-on-chalkboard.)

I skipped around in the text to kill the rest of my train ride, read the end, read bits at random. No luck, though. I find the characters/ The Territories very uninteresting.

Speedy Parker/ Parkus in particular; this cover came to mind.
I'll give myself appropriate demerits for the scattershot-above approach, but egads. It's just so boring. These characters are as flat as ironing boards, and I can't justify spending time with them with so much ground left to cover.

Cool cover, though.
I probably should wait until Bev Vincent's Road to the Dark Tower arrives to tackle this one's connections to all-things-Crimson King, but meh. If you're interested, here's the relevant Dark Tower wiki and here's the relevant excerpt from the aforementioned. Suffice it to say, the Crimson King continues his quest to gather "Breakers" (more on them next blog) to sever the Beams and fell the Dark Tower. I'm feeling a little snarky, so take this with a silo of salt, but man, if he really wanted to destroy the Dark Tower, all he has to do is keep King and Straub collaborating... I don't think the Beams could survive.

Our trail guide notes, "To say this novel... is important to the overall series is an understatement of epic proportions." Appropriate demerits, again, for yours truly. If you're playing along at home, don't let my negative (and uncomprehending) reaction deter you from your Quest.

While I'm giving demerits to myself, I realized in gathering my notes for "The Little Sisters of Eluria" that I short-changed myself by skipping Desperation, which has some interesting cross-over with this. At the risk of turning this blog into a delivery mechanism for the heavy-lifting-of-others, here is a wealth of information between that novel and this story (as well as The Tommyknockers and Pet Sematary.)

Art by Michael Whelan, whose Dark Tower portfolio is pretty solid.
These connections I will bullet-point, somewhat, after a short recap:

Roland (sometime after the events of Wizard and Glass but before The Gunslinger) arrives in a deserted town called Eluria. He is immediately attacked by some Slow Mutants...

Worth enlarging. Art by Luke Ross, I believe.
...who overpower him and knock him unconscious. He is saved by some mysterious ladies who call themselves the Little Sisters of Eluria, whose medical technique involves covering the patient's body with little bugs they call "doctors" and drugging them senseless. The Sisters are actually vampires who capture stray survivors and keep them alive/ fatten them up in order to feed on them. One of these vampires, Sister Jenna, falls in love with Roland and helps him escape. But, tragedy strikes, as she disintegrates in the Mid-World sun. Another doomed would-be romance for our man Roland.

Note to everyone: it does not pay to get mixed up with Roland.
This is a good read, and it was nice to check in with the gunslinger again. After devouring (perhaps poor choice of words, given this story's goings-on) Waste Lands and Wizard and Glass, it took all my restraint not to just keep charging through the Dark Tower series. I quite like Roland and his ka-tet and am eager to rejoin them on their quest... but, undoubtedly, my appreciation of the last novels of the series will be enhanced by these side-trails.

No need to detail the Dark Tower connections, obviously, but here is the aforementioned bullet-point list:

- The operating theater of the Little Sisters is similar to the one housing Queen Laura in The Talisman.

- Sai King (I seem to have adopted the use of this nickname, used often at the SK Forum; "Sai" is simply the "Sir"-term of Roland's language, aka the High Speech of Gilead) writes, "in the long ago, the Little Sisters had been human. They served the White but turned to the dark side."

- Both Little Sisters (well, sort of) and Desperation take place in the Desatoya Mountains.

Word to the wise traveler: bring a cross.
There's lots more, and while you don't need it to enjoy Little Sisters, King's inner-networking of concepts and characters is really fascinating and rewarding to work out. If you look at his novels as individual buildings, there are numerous underground caverns and secret passageways connecting them. (Bring a flashlight. And, again, a cross or two.) I feel a bit like I'm blowing off class by not detailing them further, but it requires more space-time than I have at present.

Finally, we come to "Everything's Eventual."

Cover to the collection. Apparently, there's a short film of this, as well. (Haven't seen it)
What did I say about this when I covered King's short fiction in these pages last June?

"(It) feels like the beginning of a great story; it ends right when it gets interesting/ complicated... tantalizing questions and possibilities are raised that are left dangling."

Guess I was onto something, as this is, apparently, a lead-in to the events of Dark Tower VII, where Dinky Earnshaw, the protagonist, re-appears. What we have here is his recruitment by "Mr. Sharpton" into "the Trans Corporation." (Which, we later discover - tho not here - serves the Crimson King) He becomes one of their "trannies." (I know, I know.) Dinky possesses a mysterious gift where he can send poison-pen/evil-emails to people, filled with weird symbols, that inject a suicidal virus or death-magnetic into the recipient's consciousness. Let's turn it over to the wiki:

"For a time, Dinky is happy with his new position, living life in a semi-mindless bliss; however, when Dinky finds an article in the newspaper about one of the individuals whom he has killed (a seemingly innocent old newspaper columnist) he begins to feel guilty for what he has done. After researching more into his other victims, Dinky realizes that the Trans Corporation has been using him to assassinate political dissidents and alternative thinkers. As the story ends, he is planning his escape from the Trans Corporation, but not before sending one final email to Mr. Sharpton, his recruiter."

If I had a problem with this one on my re-read, it was that Dinky's realizations are rather one-sided. Who's to say these people he's targeting aren't actually evil? Or serving evil ends? There's not much ambiguity drawn, here; they seem to be good merely because they're "left-wing." Well, so? Left-wingers like Alger Hiss? Pol Pot? Any number of domestic less-than-heroes? Granted, he's only a kid, more or less, and perhaps it's in-character for him not to investigate further, but... felt like stacking the deck, on King's part.

(And why would the Crimson King target an anti-AIDS activist? What's the point of that? Dunno. I aspire to be beyond left and right, but I'm definitely jaded by the ongoing climate of polarization in this country, so hey, maybe I'm projecting. Perhaps the answers lie in book 7, so I'll shrug it off for now and be patient.)

King states in the foreword that he got the idea for this after dreaming about a person pouring change into the storm drain. This image/ action appears in the story, as well. There's a quick word about how this serves to keep Dinky tethered to his situation, but... it doesn't quite work for me. It struck me as the sort of detail that perhaps could have been jettisoned once the story took shape. But, it's not much of a distraction, just something that seems a bit out-of-place, for me.



  1. "AND, I might add, something Salem's Lot accomplished much more effectively without resorting to this oh-so-precious-omniscient-narrator-prose."

    Perhaps I meant omnipresent, but I'm glad I wrote "omniscient," as I believe it's the difference between the two informs my dissatisfaction with it. It's the difference between a roving eye, carefully placed, and this bird-on-the-breeze "and we float down and what is THIS? A lane with a house?" style. Ugh. Just not my thing at all.

  2. I loaned Black House to a friend earlier this year, and he had the same complaints about the stylistic choices of the first few dozen pages that you have. I don't remember being particularly bothered by that style, myself, but then again, I've only read it once (and then listened to the audiobook, read by the fantastic Frank Muller, who can make a turd smell like a tulip). It may be that when I get around to rereading the book, it'll bug me too.

    In retrospect, by the way, I'm not sure I stand by my assertion that Black House is monumentally important to the overall Dark Tower story. The events here definitely help to explain a particular development in Book VII, but since the results of that development are among the most disappointing aspects of the entire series, I'm not sure that's a good thing. I don't want to be specific, so I'll just say that King, with Straub's help, shot his wad too early in some ways with Black House. And yet, because they were trying to stay focused on Jack Sawyer, they simultaneously failed to actually do the job they really needed to do.

    It's a decent book, I think, but in terms of the overall Tower mythos, it creates expectations which go unfulfilled, and it also answers questions and resolves conflicts which really needed to be answered/resolved elsewhere. Like, in the actual series.

    As for "Everything's Eventual," don't get your hopes up in terms of expecting Dinky -- who has one of THE dumbest names in King's canon -- to be a major player in Book VII. He isn't. He's got a cameo role, and that's about it. You know, the more I comment here, the more disappointed I am in Book VII. Which is a novel I simultaneously love and ... "hate" is the wrong word; let's just say that it disappointed me massively in some ways, mostly in terms of defeating my expectations. And yet, I really DO love it. It's an odd case; I'll have much to say when you get to that point.

    Finally, on the subject of The Little Sisters of Eluria: I really like that story. If and when movies are ever made, I'd love to see it incorporated into the first movie somehow. That's probably not realistic, but hey, I can wish, can't I?

    1. I'm sure I was a bit harsh in my dismissal of Black House, but man, that hour-and-fifteen minutes this morning rankled me. I was flipping through it on the way home and was a bit more forgiving, but... well, one for that rainy day down the road, I suppose.

      I bet a lot of my reaction had to do with just finishing Hearts in Atlantis and my eagerness to begin From a Buick 8, as well. I've been really intrigued by the description of that last one (and I quite enjoyed Hearts in Atlantis.)

      Perhaps what didn't get resolved in pt. 7 is meant to be resolved in pt. 3 of the Talisman saga? I could be wrong... and not that I'd agree with that choice, but perhaps that's the plan. I have a lot of questions as to how they plan to do things/ why they made the choices they did. (I'm also really not looking forward to sitting down with the 3000 pages the whole trilogy will likely amount to... but who knows? Maybe what's not clicking with me now will ring like Tibetan bells in the future. Stranger things have happened.)

      I'm intentionally keeping my expectations neutral for pt. 7. I'll likely fail in this, but it's my goal, at any rate. With each tantalizing piece glimpsed in these side-trails, I get more and more excited. I'm surprised to hear Dinky (and I agree - what the hell is with that name?) is only a bit player; I figured he'd figure prominently. But, we shall see, we shall see.

      Great idea about incorporating Little Sistsers into the Gunslinger movie - that would be great. I hope they really do take all peripherals into account when they make those. (I also hope they see reason and turn it into an HBO series rather than movies! Look out, Game of Thrones...)

      And yes, all hats off to Frank Muller, whose audio stylings are sorely missed.

  3. First, that pic of King and Straub looks like the old-fashioned felt-beard-and-hair GI Joe came to life and buddied up with Jim Carrey playing a bald accountant.

    Second, I was thinking about your objection/distaste for King stacking the deck on the Liberal side (I assume he is, but I have no idea besides what you write here). I read a few authors whose political leanings grate on me.

    While reading Asimov's The Gods Themselves - the bearing of which on the discussion at hand is only tangential - I had an epiphany. In the book, parallel universes exist, and have differing laws of physics. That is, the very fabric of reality differs in these places, so that the assumptions we have about the balance of things simply don't apply.

    The epiphany had to do with extending this out to worldviews and politics. Thus, after that epiphany, it hit me that these writers, whom I love but who also drive me up a wall by crowbarring their political and philosophical thoughts into every aspect of their books, whether the situation applies or not, create universes where their side of the debate, politics-wise, is hard-wired directly into the fabric of the universes they create. So, I gave up on expecting balance - these were universes where there was an objectively "right" way of thinking. Based on what you mention, it seems King is using the leanings and efforts of the victims of the "poison pen" letters as shorthand for "these are the good guys." I assume it's like if we're playing classic D&D and I tell you "this guy's a paladin," you can know, unambiguously, that he's a good guy, and there's no staining of his reputation with atrocities against nonhumans.

    Man, I hope I articulated that coherently.

    1. Good stuff, Jeff. Makes sense to me. I suppose it's inevitable, really, as you say: in order to create his/her universe, the writer can't help but hard-wire their morality into things... I'm not sure if I'M articulating this coherently. I was going to wait til tomorrow, armed with coffee, but just started typing. King is better than most and nine times out of ten is very objective.

      I guess what I look for in any political discussion is increasingly hard to find, i.e. a fair treatment of all sides/ nuances without making a value judgment FOR me. That always bugs me. In "Everything's Eventual," I have no quarrel with the main character's change-of-heart/ re-evaluation, I just felt like maybe there needed to be more to it than "hey, these guys they want me to kill are DEMOCRATS, for God's sake; that's TERRIBLE." Which, again, may be only a projection on my part due to the partisan toxicity in the air these days. (All days, really.)

      Once again, I fear I may not be representing this train of thought as well as I could/ should. I'll sign off for now and stew on it a bit more, see if I can make a clearer case in the morning.

    2. p.s. Maybe it's as simple as this for me - as a matter of personal taste, I like when characters thwart expectations. I like when Democrats own guns and when Republicans smoke weed or when Nazis like flowers or what not. Seems more human, more real/ fully-human/ more-INTERESTINGLY-human to me. The difference between a bag of bones and a three-dimensional-being casting a shadow, perhaps. When things fall into patterns that are too predictable or appeal to the broadest base/ any sensibility that would make easy-sense to an MSNBC or Fox News consumer, I tend to feel... not cheated, exactly, not disappointed, exactly, but like something with greater depth could have been achieved.

      But, I just realized, maybe all it really is, is personal taste. So, I'm fine with it, really, unless a writer/ artist does it all the time. Thank God SK doesn't, (if he did, I never would have made it this far; I can't stand that crap.) and double-thanks he doesn't have a twitter account; constant repetition of such things is so alienating for me.

      Along those lines, twitter has ruined so many actors and writers for me. Once I know someone is always banging on in one direction with no change in tune/ subtlety/ variation, it becomes impossible for me to suspend disbelief. I used to like a lot of actors who now I just can't stand, knowing what I know. Artists should follow the Ed Norton/ Bob Dylan model... well, at least if they want to appeal to Bryan Freaking McMe.

      (As recounted in Jerry Rubin's DO IT! - a hilarious slice of 60s LSD craziness - when asked if he'd march against the Vietnam war by the Yippies, Dylan said sure, but only if everyone held signs that depicted apples with no political slogan. That guy cracks me up.)