Who Cares?: What A Haunted House, A Billy-Bumbler, And Black Dog Ka All Have In Common


12/6-12/12
The Waste Lands:
Chapters 3.xvii-4.viii

Jake Chambers In The House

I’m not going to lie, this week I came dangerously close to falling behind on my reading and missing a post. As I’ve mentioned previously, my wife and I are preparing to spend a year living in Barbados, and part of our preparations include selling our house. We’ve been working non-stop for the past two weeks to get the place fixed up and clean for realtor photos and showings. We finally finished yesterday, leaving just enough time for me to catch up with Jake as he followed young Eddie & Henry through Dutch Hill to The Mansion. I spent all week working on one house, only to find myself stuck in another.

Luckily, my house is in much better shape than The Mansion; it’s got far better curb appeal, and the fact that it’s not an evil demon will really help with the inspection. Still though, it’s not without its flaws. There was caulking around the tub that had to be redone, rooms that needed to be repainted, and a score of minor home improvements that we should have gotten around to fixing years ago. After spending the past few weeks obsessing over my own house’s bruises and blemishes, I couldn’t help but examine the Doorkeeper of Dutch Hill from a new perspective, through the eyes of a homeowner.

Houses in King’s tales often turn out to be imbued with evil in some way. There’s the Marsten House in Salem’s Lot and Rose Red in Rose Red; there’s The Mansion in the Waste Lands (on Rhinehold St.), the house from IT (on Neibolt St.), and the Black House from Black House (shoutout to all the Talisman Stans in my mentions). And of course there’s the Overlook, which technically isn’t a house, but still fits the theme. For some reason King seems to associate domiciles with the demonic. Houses only ever serve as places of danger and terror in his stories, and almost never places of safety or salvation. But why? What’s so bad about a building?

In those long-gone days it must have been white, but now it was a dirty gray no-color. The windows had been knocked out and the peeling picket fence which surrounded it had been spray-painted, but the house itself was still intact.

The Waste Lands, p. 269

Well, if there’s anything the past few weeks have taught me, it’s that a house can tell a story of care or neglect. A house’s flaws are really just a manifestation of the flaws in its caretakers; all the things that are wrong with a house reveals a deficiency or negligence. So when we come upon houses like The Mansion in a story, we see all of the horrible details—the spiders, the peeling wallpaper, the moldy floorboards—as reflections of humanity. This is how uncaring a person can be, to let their own home fester and rot.

Of course Jake is not the owner of The Mansion on Rhinehold St, which has probably been condemned longer than he’s been alive. He sees himself reflected in it because just like The Mansion, nobody is taking care of him. Sure, there’s Greta Shaw and the teachers at Piper School, but they are just “professional people” (as he refers to them while hypnotized in The Gunslinger), paid to look after him because it’s part of their job description. It’s clear Jake’s parents don’t care at all. In fact he’s so starved for love that he actually envies Eddie for having a big brother, even if Henry is a particularly shitty one.

Jake is a sweet and sensitive soul, completely uncorrupted, but if he fails to cross back over to Mid-World and join his new family he will be stuck in a world of cold neglect, and he will waste away just like the condemned Mansion of Dutch Hill, a once-beautiful thing left to ruin.

This Is For My Dogs

The question of how we care for things is continued as Jake escapes from the haunted house, carried across the rest of this week’s chapters by the dog imagery King has been threading throughout this book. Earlier in the book Roland likens his apprentice gunslingers to dogs, Susannah echoes that comparison soon after, and the outside of The Mansion makes Jake “think of a dangerous dog pretending to be asleep.” For just like a house, a dog that is well taken care of will be a good dog, and one who is neglected and mistreated is apt to be bad. This isn’t exactly a new idea; you’ve probably heard the Native American proverb about two wolves fighting within every man, and whichever wolf the man feeds will always win.

“I saw you show your teeth and knew you meant to bite, so I put a stick in your jaws.”

– Roland Deschain, The Waste Lands, p. 14

Roland makes yet another canine comparison when Oy first introduces himself to Jake, and the gunslinger tells the boy about all about billy-bumblers: “They can be faithful—or were in the old days—although I never heard of one that would remain as loyal as a good dog. The wild ones are scavengers.” (p. 311).

But it turns out Oy is as loyal as a good dog, and for all narrative intents and purposes, I think it’s fair to say he is a dog, in spirit if not in species. And as we know, Jake takes great care of the billy-bumbler and it quickly becomes his best friend. If the evil Doorkeeper is the result of The Mansion not being cared for and left to rot, then Oy is what happens when something is cared for and loved a great deal.

But the dog motif doesn’t end there. Aunt Talitha also has dogs on her mind, calling the Dark Tower “that black dog” and referring to Ka as “black dog Ka” (p. 326).

”Will a strange dog bite?” the gunslinger countered.

The Waste Lands, p. 315

Perhaps this is Aunt Talitha’s way of trying to warn Roland (and King’s way of trying to warn us Constant Readers) that Ka, like a dog, will reflect the care you put into it. If you’re kind and take care of the people in your life, maybe your Ka will take care of you in return. And maybe if you treat people poorly and let your relationships waste away like a condemned house, your Ka will become just as horrible as The Mansion of Dutch Hill.

Next Week’s Reading
The Waste Lands:
Chapters 4.ix-5.xiii

Published by Joe Rechtman

Screenwriter/watcher. Constant Reader & Dark Tower Junkie.

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