The Waste Lands by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Book three of Stephen King's Dark Tower series is where the King of Horror embraces his inner Tolkien nerd and creates the darkest fantasy world this side of Mordor. In The Waste Lands , King's boundless imagination is on full display: we encounter warring tribes, subterranean societies, monstrous mutants, a sentient monorail train, and a full Stephen King multiverse (decades before the Marvel Cinematic Universe made the concept ubiquitous). If you cross The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly with Stranger Things and Westworld you might end up in the general proximity of The Waste Lands. It's a wild ride.
The Waste Lands begins shortly after The Drawing of the Three , with Roland, Eddie, and Susannah (formerly Detta/Odetta) journeying through the wilderness. In short order, our trio enters a sci-fi electronic way station, helps deliver the inter-dimensional "birth" of a tween-ager from a parallel universe, and even crosses paths with a cyborg bear. Did I just write "cyborg bear" in a book review? Yes, I did. The new film Cocaine Bear has got nothing on Stephen King.
As in "Right Hand Man" from Lin-Manuel Miranda's "Hamilton," our peerless protagonists are "Outgunned / Outmanned / Outnumbered, outplanned / We gotta make an all out stand / Ayo, I'm gonna need a right-hand man." In The Dark Tower, however, Roland ends up with more than just one "right hand man" - he has a trio of humans and a canine/rodent/raccoon hybrid creature (a "billybumbler") by his side. While these makeshift gunslingers are, indeed, outgunned and outmanned, they have their wits and courage to carry them through the arduous journey ahead. And, since Stephen King is playing the "Dungeon Master" for this story, you know it's going to be a horrific, heartfelt, and humorous adventure.
I find it fascinating how The Dark Tower series evolved so quickly after its first installment. The gritty, grim tone of The Gunslinger made way for humorous observations, absurd "fish out of water" scenarios, and comical monstrosities (or lobstrosities, as it were). As much as the author is best know as the "King of Horror," he's also the "King of Quips and One-Liners." Much of King's humorous side is delivered through the mouthpiece of Eddie Dean, a crafty New Yorker with a tongue as sharp and piercing as any blade. Although the figure of Eddie felt obnoxious when he was introduced as a struggling addict with a twisted worldview in The Drawing of the Three, King redeems this character with a nobler, conflicted, three-dimensional depiction in the sequel. Likewise, Susannah's evolution from her initial portrayal as a disabled woman with Dissociative Identity Disorder to a more nuanced representation reflects King's growth as a writer and wordsmith from 1982 to 1991. As for Jake... Well, it feels at times like Jake's story is one of the most convoluted RETCONs in literary history (paradox and pondering and parallel universes, oh my!); however, his resurrection from The Gunslinger offers Roland a much-needed redemption and victory that he - and the reader - desperately crave. I'll just have to see how Jake plays into the remaining novels in the series.
The Waste Lands is - for lack of a better term - batshit crazy... but in the best way possible. King is clearly indebted to J.R.R. Tolkien: here we have a ragtag group of misfit underdogs inexplicably drawn to a mysterious destination to save the world(s). However, whereas Frodo and company cross from the Shire into Rivendell and beyond, King's Ka-Tet (group of banded travelers) crosses into parallel universes through mysterious portals. That being said, I don't remember Gandalf the Gray or Bilbo Baggins ever engaging in an *ahem* intimate *ahem* encounter a succubus demon. Regardless of R-rated components, it's still an engaging experience to read about a ragtag group of adventurers who have been tasked with an impossible task.
On to Wizard and Glass I go! Wish me luck, fellow "Constant Readers" - I have a feeling I might need it...
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Mild-mannered librarian by day… and a mild-mannered rock & roller by night.