The Dark Tower III: The Wastelands

Plot summary

The story begins five weeks after the end of The Drawing of the Three. Roland, Susannah, and Eddie have moved east from the shore of the Western Sea, and into the woods of Out-World. After an encounter with a gigantic cyborg bear named Shardik, they discover one of the six mystical Beams that hold the world together. The three gunslingers follow the Path of the Beam inland to Mid-World.

Roland now reveals to his ka-tet that his mind has become divided by the paradox of having let Jake Chambers die under the mountain after finding him at the Way Station in the desert, and yet also, after having subsequently prevented Jake’s earlier death in New York City, having an alternate memory of traveling through the desert and mountains alone.

Meanwhile, in 1977 New York, Jake Chambers is experiencing exactly the same crippling mental divide, which is causing alarm at his private school, and angering Jake’s cocaine-addicted father.

Roland burns Walter’s jawbone and the key to he and Jake’s dilemma is revealed—but to Eddie Dean, not Roland. Eddie must carve a key that will open the door to New York in 1977.

Jake, in a schizophrenic panic, abruptly leaves school. After purchasing a children’s book called Charlie the Choo-Choo at a used book shop, Jake finds a key in a littered vacant lot where grows a single red rose.

Jake is able to pass into Roland’s world using the key to open a door in an abandoned haunted house on Dutch Hill in his place and time. This portal ends in a ‘speaking ring’ in Roland’s world. During this crossing over, Susannah has sex with the demon of the speaking ring to keep it from attacking Eddie. Once the group is reunited, Jake’s and Roland’s mental anguish ends.

Following the path of the beam again, the ka-tet befriends an unusually intelligent billy-bumbler (which looks like a combination of badger, raccoon and dog with parrot-like speaking ability, long neck, curly tail, retractable claws and a high degree of animal intelligence) named Oy, who joins them on their quest.

The Waste Lands: The Dark Tower, No. 3 (Mass Market Paperback)


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In a small, almost deserted town called River Crossing, Roland is given a silver cross and a courtly tribute by the town’s last, ancient citizens.

The ka-tet continue on the Path of the Beam to Lud. The ancient, high-tech city has been ravaged by decades of war, and one of the surviving fighters, Gasher, kidnaps Jake by taking advantage of the near-accident the team faced while crossing a decaying bridge that looks like the George Washington Bridge of NYC. Roland and Oy must then trace them through a man-made labyrinth in the city and then into the sewers in order to rescue the boy from Gasher and his leader, the Tick-Tock Man. Jake manages to shoot the Tick-Tock Man, leaving him for dead. The ka-tet is eventually reunited at the Cradle of Lud, a train station which houses a monorail that the travelers use to escape Lud before its final destruction brought about by the monorail’s artificial intelligence known as Blaine the Mono. The “Ageless Stranger” (an enemy whom the Man in Black warned Roland that he must slay) arrives to recruit the badly-injured Tick-Tock Man as his servant.

Once aboard Blaine, a highly intelligent, computerized train which is insane due to system degradation, it announces its intention to derail itself with them aboard unless they can defeat it in a riddle contest. The novel ends with Blaine and Roland’s ka-tet speeding through the Waste Lands, a radioactive land of mutated animals and ancient ruins created by something that is claimed to have been far worse than a nuclear war, on the way to Topeka -the end of the line.

The Twelve Portals and Guardians

Twelve Guardians are explained to guard the Twelve Portals. Each Guardian matches up with a Guardian at the Portal on the other end of the Beam, and at the point where all the Beams meet is the Dark Tower. The Guardians are revealed in several scenes: the first is revealed when Roland is explaining to Eddie and Susannah Dean what Shardik was and his understanding of the Beams; another is revealed when Eddie and Susannah approach the Cradle of Lud; and the last, Bird and Hare, are revealed in the poem Roland and his lover, Susan Delgado, recite to each other occasionally: “Bird and Bear and Hare and Fish….” The only pairs identified are by Susannah and Eddie while at the Cradle of Lud.

Shardik was created by North Central Positronics Ltd., which may be connected to the mysterious Sombra Corporation.

The pairings as mentioned in the book are:

  • Bear – Turtle
  • Horse – Dog
  • Fish – Rat
  • Elephant – Wolf
  • Lion – Eagle
  • Bat – Hare

Connections to King’s Other Work

Towards the end of the book, an injured Andrew “Tick-Tock Man” Quick meets Richard Fannin. The initials R.F. suggest that he is an alias of Randall Flagg. His dialogue removes all doubt, as he makes reference to an old friend who betrayed him, but for whom he still has a soft spot. In reference to this old friend, Fannin asks Quick to say “My life for you,” which was also the mantra of Trashcan Man in The Stand. The Turtle, mentioned here as one of the Guardians, was revealed to be creator of our universe in King’s novel It.

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