Stephen King’s Problem With Authority

The Waste Lands:
Chapters 4.ix-5.xiii


This week’s reading is the first in which the Ka-Tet is already intact. The band is officially back together, the gang’s all here, and they’re cruising along the path of the beam. Though we are now more than halfway through the third book—a quarter of the way through the series—in many ways it feels as though the story is just beginning. But unlike the first book, which drops us in the middle of the desert, just as lost as Jake at the Way Station, we are now setting forth for the Dark Tower with at least some context and knowledge of the world we’re in. Like the three time-traveling New Yorkers, we have had time to learn from the gunslinger and get our bearings. And just like Eddie and Susannah, we even find ourselves becoming familiar with the High Speech. We know words like Ka, Ka-Tet, and Khef.

There’s another bit of High Speech that won’t be mentioned until the next book—Dinh—but unlike ideas like Khef or Ka, the definition of Dinh is not so complicated. “A leader or a king,” is how Robin Furth defines it in The Dark Tower: The Complete Concordance. “It can also mean father, as in “father of his people.” In other words, a Dinh is an authority figure, and you don’t need to know the High Speech to see that, in the case of the Ka-Tet, Roland is the authority figure.

In light of this new perception, Susannah could see how cleverly the gunslinger had managed them since that awful morning in the speaking ring.

The Waste Lands, p. 365

Perhaps that’s the reason that Roland does not share in their Khef as strongly as the others; not because he’s from a different world, as he suggests, but because he’s essentially their boss, and the boss doesn’t hang out in the breakroom with the workers. Commanders don’t fraternize with their soldiers.

But what does it mean for Roland to be in charge when this whole book rails against the very notion? Jake’s entire journey to Mid-World is a Holden Caulfield-esque celebration of rebelling against the system. Everything he does is a repudiation of the people and institutions controlling his life, from skipping school and standing up to his father, to running away from home and hypnotizing a cop in Times Square. Is it possible that Bonnie Avery’s analysis of Jake’s final English paper wasn’t so far-fetched?

Jake is far from the only evidence that King is dubious of authority. The entire city of Lud has completely cast aside any semblance of law and order; Mercy disobeys her orders to stay away from the palaver in River Crossing, to the benefit of the Ka-Tet; even Blaine is a rebel, turning on his creators, driven mad by the prison of his own programming.

Until now, the book has counterbalanced its disdain for institutional authority by showing that it is still possible for an individual authority figures to be a positive force. Eddie for instance, who grew up with a sorry excuse for a Dinh (if Henry could even be called one), is now thriving under the tutelage of Roland, who seems to know exactly how to guide the young man through every obstacle they encounter. As bleak as their existence is, the people of River Crossing seem to be better off with Aunt Talitha in the driver’s seat. This week, however, we saw that even Dinh as experienced as her or Roland are not infallible.

It turns out that Aunt Talitha has no idea what she’s talking about when it comes to the flight (and subsequent fall) of David Quick, and if she was wrong about that, what else might she be wrong about? Is it possible she’s actually not the best person to be leading the old folk of River Crossing?

“Looks like Aunt Talitha was wrong and the old albino man had the right of it, after all,” Susannah said in an awed voice. – The Waste Lands, p. 388

Roland’s authority is also called into question in this week’s chapters when Eddie confronts him on the road at night. “Sto behaving like we’re a bunch of sheep and you’re the shepherd walking along behind us,” Eddie criticizes his Dinh. “Open your mind to us. If we’re going to die in the city or on that train, I want to die knowing I was more than a marker on your game board.” (p. 381). At least Roland remembers the face of his father well enough to admit when he’s erred, and cries Eddies pardon with gravitas, addressing him as “Gunslinger.” (p. 381).

It would seem that no matter how good the intentions or abilities of an authority figure, they will never be perfect. Which brings us to the matter of riddling. Like a proper Dinh, Roland moderates the Ka-Tet’s palaver about Riddle-De-Dum and he lays down strict rules about what kind of riddling will be tolerated. Obviously Eddie’s humorous approach to the pastime is offensive to Roland, and he shuts it down. But as we know, Roland is wrong to do this. Eddie’s jokes are what that will save them in the end. Roland is unable to see it for the same reason he’s bad at solving regular riddles, because he’s “never been much good at thinking around corners.” (p. 392).

Jokes are supposed to make you think around corners too. You see…” he looked at Roland’s face, laughed, and threw up his hands. ”Never mind. I give up. You wouldn’t understand. Not in a million years.”

– Eddie Dean, The Waste Lands, p. 395

Roland’s dismissal of Eddie’s outside-the-box thinking almost gets them all killed. If it wasn’t for Eddie’s rebellious class clown spirit they would never have figured out how to stump Blaine, and that is the truth. And so The Waste Lands shows us that free independent thought is always superior to blind fealty to any authority, whether it’s an institution, our Dinh, or even Ka.

Next Week’s Reading
The Waste Lands:
Chapters 5.xiv-5.xxviii

Published by Joe Rechtman

Screenwriter/watcher. Constant Reader & Dark Tower Junkie.

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