Stephen King’s THE DARK TOWER Book Profile: THE WASTE LANDS

WasteLandscoverYear Published: 1991

“Re” Word: Redemption

Dedication: “This third volume of the tale is gratefully dedicated to my son: OWEN PHILLIP KING: Khef, Ka, and Ka-tet.

Interesting that it took until the third book for SK to dedicate one of these to a family member.  It shows how much he has grown throughout the series, from college student to successful author to proud dad.

WasteLands6Overview: Roland has formed a new ka-tet with Eddie and Susannah and finally explains the Dark Tower and his quest a little bit.  Shortly after resuming their journey, they are joined by Jake and a billy-bumbler named Oy, and travel across a dystopian world of dangers, demons, trains, riddles, and waste lands.

WasteLands1Critique: I have always been able to critique this one with just one sentence, which sums it up perfectly: this is the EMPIRE STRIKES BACK of the series.

Maybe the first book wasn’t for everyone and felt more like a prologue (though I love it).  The second book was more accessible to the mainstream and the story found its voice.  But in Book Three, SK nailed it!  He just fucking nailed it!  We finally get a broad sense of what this Dark Tower is all about and why we’re on this quest.  All the characters are solid and come alive here.  Susannah was briefly introduced at the very end of the previous book, so we finally get a full portrait here.  And Jake also comes off like a fully-realized character this time instead of a symbol.  But it’s probably Eddie who shines the most.  He was already a funny and colorful character in the previous book, but here he starts to have more depth.  He’s no longer a victim of heroin and his brother, but a character who is recovering and growing up.  The role he develops in the group is also quite interesting.  The sense of fantasy and especially horror is also much stronger this time, as we learn about the rose, Calvin Tower, Charlie the Choo-Choo, and Aunt Talitha at River Crossing.  Which leads me to my next point: the villains are quite fun this time: Gasher, Tick Tock Man, Blaine the Mono, and the creature in the mansion at Dutch Hill.  Even artists as diverse as TS Elliot and ZZ Top get a shout-out in this book!  From action to clever riddles to world-building to just great storytelling, THE WASTE LANDS has it all.

WasteLands5However, nothing is perfect, and as much as I love this book, there are three slight criticisms I think are worth pointing out.

1. Roland and Jake are both losing their minds at the start of this story, due to the paradox created in the previous book.  They both remember a version of events where Jake was pushed by Jack Mort, died, was present at the Way Station, and died again under the mountains, and a version of events where he didn’t.  Halfway through the book, Jake finally crosses over to Roland’s world, the two are reunited, and the paradox is apparently resolved.  But why?  I mean, think about it: the paradox is still present.  Jake being in Roland’s world doesn’t really make it go away.  I guess I can chalk this up Ka just wanted Jake back in Roland’s world and that was all.

2. After he is apparently killed in Lud, there’s a scene of Tick Tock Man being revived by The Ageless Stranger (I was initially confused if this was Walter or Marten, before it was later discovered they’re all one in the same).  I’ll discuss this further when I critique the next book but, in short, this plotline ultimately goes nowhere.  SK should have just cut this scene and let Tick Tock remain dead.

3. The book ends on a cliffhanger.  While an interesting idea, and I guess I should acknowledge that EMPIRE STRIKES BACK did this as well, I don’t feel it’s really necessary here and is just kind of a cheap gimmick.  The first three chapters of WIZARD AND GLASS should have been included at the end of this book.  The result is that THE WASTE LANDS would have been even better, with a proper climax and well-rounded story, yet still have ended with a sense of uncertainty (our ka-tet exits Blaine to find themselves lost in Topeka), and then WIZARD AND GLASS would have started better and gotten to the flashback, which is the heart of that book, a lot quicker.

WasteLands4Trivia:

-This and THE GUNSLINGER are the only two books of the series to not feature either a prologue or epilogue.  WIZARD AND GLASS contains a prologue, though it just material recycled from this book.

-First appearances of Oy, who will appear in all remaining entries of the series, and of Calvin Tower and Aaron Deepneau, who will play a much bigger role down the line.

-Walter’s Cameo: He only appears once when he revives Tick Tock Man, using the name The Ageless Stranger.  However, if one were to cut out this pointless scene (as I recommend), and if one also considers Jack Mort to have been an extension of Walter (as I do), then that makes this the only book of the series to not feature Walter.

-Susannah loses her wooden wheelchair here, introduced in the previous book.

WasteLands3FINAL SCORES

The Book Itself: This is the series at its peak.  An epic, filled with great storytelling and a sense of magic and horror.  Most folks consider this the best of the series, but I will always have a soft spot for THE GUNSLINGER.  Verdict: This is the SECOND BEST book of the seven.

Afterword: The afterwords for THE DRAWING OF THE THREE, THE WASTE LANDS, and WIZARD AND GLASS are all pretty much the same: SK is basically giving you a “Where I am now” in this ongoing work-in-progress.  These afterwords were nice; allowing you to see into the writer’s mind while the story was still taking form, and get a peak at what was coming next.  Verdict: DT2, DT3, and DT4 are all tied for the SECOND, THIRD, and FOURTH BEST of the entire series.

Illustrations: This book features illustrations by Ned Dameron, shown throughout this article.  Hmm, my response to these has always been very “meh.”  They just feel kind of cartoony to me and contrast sharply with the gritty feel of the previous book.  In other words, if you want straightforward depictions of certain scenes, they’re adequate.  As works of art, they’re not that that great.  I especially dislike this Charlie the Choo-Choo illustration:

WasteLands7All the ambiguity of the book that was described in the text is lost, as this depiction of Charlie is blatantly evil, and the children are blatantly crying.  Verdict: This book has the FIFTH BEST illustrations of the entire series.

WasteLands2Click here for the next book in the series, and lose yourself in the Wizard’s Rainbow!

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2 thoughts on “Stephen King’s THE DARK TOWER Book Profile: THE WASTE LANDS

  1. Pingback: Stephen King’s THE DARK TOWER Book Profile: THE DRAWING OF THE THREE | Let Us Nerd

  2. Pingback: The Waste Lands (The Dark Tower Book 3) By Stephen King #SpoilerFree #BookReview | Smitten For Fiction

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