The Waste Lands

November 21, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

wasteThe Waste Lands by Stephen King

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There’s a curious thing about The Dark Tower that I’ve never really noticed before: Much of the mythology and legend of Mid-World and End-World and What-Have-You-World exists outside of the series proper. I think it started with Insomnia, which fell between this book and Wizard and Glass, and then started leaching out into everything else King wrote. As such, the books in the actual series so far touch on some of what defines Roland’s world, but the bulk of it resides elsewhere.

What’s left, then, in the series proper is to tell the stories of the main characters — Roland, Eddie, Susannah, and Jake. We get some of Roland’s story in the first book, and Eddie’s and Susannah’s stories in The Drawing of the Three, and now in The Waste Lands we get Jake’s story. It’s hinted at in the first book, but here we learn the details of his life and what draws him to the Tower and Roland’s world (quite literally). King writes best when he writes personal stories, so these have been among the best parts of the series for me.

Jake’s story only takes up half of the book, with the second half comprising their journey to and through Lud to find Blaine the Mono. This half was much less interesting than the first half, because we go from the personal to the journey, and I was surprised that, before re-reading the series, I had forgotten about this part of the journey to the Tower. I had expunged this part of the story from the chronology all together, putting the trip across the bridge right up next to the ka-tet boarding Blaine. I remembered it all as I was re-reading it, but it was such an unmemorable part of the story I had blocked it, partly because it has nothing at all to do with the Tower.

By now, we understand what the Tower is, and what it means to protect it, but so far the story hasn’t been about the Tower, save to establish its importance. All the journey through Lud does is support the idea that the world has moved on, and that it shares some similarities with our own world. King has already suggested this, but here he drives the point home with the George Washington Bridge and “Velcro Fly” by ZZ Top (which, unfortunately, dates the story quite a bit).

I’ve been making a concerted effort to keep each book in the series in its place in King’s ouevre, seeing how it sits in context with this other works, and I see this volume was published a year after the revised, uncut version of The Stand. It shows,  because his inclusion of the Tick-Tock Man suggests some similarity to the Trashcan Man, in name if not in character. Sure enough, King uses this book to introduce the idea that Randall Flagg exists here, too, though this is before King retcons the story to make him Walter, too (though I expect it was on his mind by now).

So far, my ratings now reflect my ratings from when I last read them. I suppose this is good, since it suggests the stories have held up well, but I’m starting to see some of the holes in the story. Reading the first book strongly suggests King didn’t have a firm idea of where he was taking the story (even without his afterwords in all the books telling us, it’s clear when you look at it in context to the entire series), and I expect the further I read, the more I’ll find his other books encroaching on the story. I know I’ll see further connections to The Stand in Wizard and Glass, and to ‘Salem’s Lot in Wolves of the Calla, and the concepts of the Crimson King and the Breakers will come from Insomnia and Black House, respectively. I’m not wild about the series being so dependent on books outside of it, but I’ve accepted it.

Despite all of that, The Waste Lands comes from King’s best era, and it shows. It wasn’t until The Dark Half and beyond that it started to feel like King was writing without a destination, and the start and finish of The Waste Lands surrounds that point. In that way, the book is a perfect balance of his two styles, for better or for worse.

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