The Waste Lands:
A New Hope
“I hope I can make it across the border,” Red narrates in the final lines of Rita Hayworth And Shawshank Redemption. “I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.”
That novella was published in 1982 (with no ‘the’ in the title yet) as part of Different Seasons, almost a full decade before The Waste Lands and reading this week’s chapters, it would seem that after all that time, King is still drawn to stories about hope. But where the younger King saw redemption in acts of unwavering hope, the older King—the one writing this third Dark Tower book—seems to view hope as a liability. For Red, inspired by his friendship with Andy Dufresne, hope is a suit of armor that nobody can strip away; in The Waste Lands, we watch as Eddie’s hope, despite his best efforts, gets the better of him n these chapters.
Roland sighed. “Don’t hope for too much, Eddie…There was a saying when I was growing up” ‘Only a fool believes he’s dreaming before he wakes up.’ Do you understand?”– The Waste Lands, p. 363
Ever since the Ka-tet first saw the New York-esque skyline of Lud peeking up from the horizon, Eddie has been holding out hope that they would find civilization there, that they would find help. Even though Roland keeps saying—as he has seen for himself—that this world has moved on, Eddie can’t help but fantasize about an oasis of good luck along the bleak road ahead. “The idea was intoxicating, all the same, an enclave of civilization in this dangerous, mostly empty world; wise old elf-men who would tell them just what the fuck it was they were supposed to be doing. And the fabulous shapes of the city disclosed in that hazy skyline made the idea seem at least possible.” (p. 241).
But as soon as they actually reach the bridge and Eddie gets a good look at the city of Lud up close, he realizes that the hope he’d been kindling inside him against Roland’s warning was only a delusion, a glam. On page 411, “Eddie’s dreams of wise old elves who had preserved a working technology on which the pilgrims could draw were disappearing.”
The reality of the situation turns out to be even worse, for in a way Eddie’s hopes are realized. There actually is a surviving civilization living in Lud, but the “elves” are far from wise and far from civilized. The only shred of human life remaining in this place—the Grays and the Pubes—have managed to maintain a society, but it’s an abhorrent one, based on blood-lust and a belief in ignorant superstitions.
”Bring on those wise fuckin elves!” Eddie said, and the laugh that followed sounded suspiciously like a sob. He thought he was at last beginning to fully understand what that innocuous phrase—the world has moved on—really meant. What a breadth of ignorance and evil it covered. And what a depth.”– The Waste Lands, p, 442
The Pubes’ way of life is monstrous and horrifying, publicly executing their own loved ones every time they hear the drum track of a ZZ-Top song Susannah is reminded of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” when she discovers what they’re doing. But unlike the townsfolk in the short story, the Pubes “have to participate in such a grisly drawing not once a year, as in the story, but two or three times each day.” (p. 461). The result is a “degenerate” community of psychopaths that emotionlessly murder each other on a daily basis.
The remnants of humanity are so repulsive in this rotting city, we can’t help but wonder if maybe it would be better if they had all died a long time ago with everyone else. Maybe Blaine is right to want to destroy them all and just end their miserable existence. Had Eddie merely found lifeless ruins in Lud, he would have been disappointed, but to find what he was hoping for in such a hideous form is like salt in the wound.
So what are we to make of the lesson Ka taught Eddie this week? Are we to understand that he should have followed Roland’s warning? That Eddie never should have gotten his hopes up at all? We know from last week’s chapters that Roland isn’t always right, so are we really to believe, just because Eddie got his hopes up and was let down this one time, that hope is worthless?
This week, we are finally saying goodbye to 2020 and starting a new year. It’s a highly anticipated holiday this year, as everyone is eager to leave this horrible year in their rearview mirror. The internet is awash with tweets and memes about how awful 2020 was, and how we can’t wait for it to be over. In fact, I seem to remember the past four or five New Years going that way, and every year the champagne pops, the fireworks go off, and nothing changes, because of course the year we write on our rent checks is completely irrelevant to our problems. The ball dropping in Times Square does not reset anything in the real world.
So are we getting our hopes up when we celebrate a new year? Are we being as delusional as Eddie, hoping for elves and ending up with Pubes? Or is our collective hope for a better 2021 more like Red’s hope of seeing Andy again? Who’s lead should we follow, the 1982 King who believes hope will redeem us, or the 1991 King who’s telling us it will betray us? I’d like to know what the 2020 King would advise, but something tells me he doesn’t read my blog.
I hope he would tell me Eddie was right to wish for a better world. I hope he would say that this is another instance where Roland is wrong.