The Dark Tower:
& Part Five
Well folks, we are almost there. The Dark Tower lies less than a hundred miles (and a hundred pages) down the path of the beam. Roland will be there in less than a week, and so will we. The final week’s reading will be posted not on Tuesday morning but Sunday, 9/19, the same date we began this journey last year.
Until then however, our gunslingers still have to overcome a few final obstacles, make a new friend, and say goodbye to a few old ones. In this week’s chapters, the remnants of our broken ka-tet encountered two beings of incredible power: the psychic vampire known as Dandelo, and the prisoner locked in his basement, Patrick Danville. These two characters could not be more different: one is a captive, the other the captor; one is mute while the other talks quite a lot; one is a human boy, while the other is… whatever Dandelo really is.
And yet there is one crucial thing they have in common: they are both artists. They are working in completely different media—Patrick Danville is a prodigy with a pencil, while Dandelo performs stand-up comedy under the alias of Joe Collins—but they are both artists, each representing very different kinds of creative personalities.
Roland, Susannah, and Oy meet Joe Collins first. He claims to be a former comedian and as soon as he starts getting into his act it becomes clear what sort of comedian he is: a bad one. Setting aside how outdated his material is, it just isn’t that funny. He is a complete hack. Yes, he manages to get Roland and Susannah roaring with laughter, but only because they are under his glam, the same way a laugh track on a bad sitcom can trick us into chuckling along.
“Hey, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Jango’s, I’m Joe Collins and you’re not.” Roland chuckled and Susannah smiled, mostly to be polite—that was a pretty old one.– The Dark Tower, p. 546
Dandelo represents the kind of artist who fakes it till they make it, creating the illusion of talent and success just as he uses magic to make his house look much nicer than it actually is. He is the kind of artist who creates less than mediocre material that appeals to the lowest common denominator. Meanwhile, the success of artists like this, and the lauding of the poor work they produce, comes at a cost. For every talentless Joe Collins who undeservedly makes it into the spotlight, there’s another far more talented artist out there, starving in the dark.
Which brings us to Patrick Danville. Unlike Dandelo, Patrick is extremely good at what he does. “Patrick Danville’s drawing ability was nothing short of amazing,” King writes (p. 571). So amazing, in fact, that Dandelo keeps him locked in the basement and removes the erasers on all the pencils. He knows that the boy is more talented, and therefore more powerful. Dandelo is threatened by Patrick just as an insecure artist might feel threatened by a rival they know is capable of outshining them.
While Dandelo uses his talent (or the illusion of talent) strictly for personal gain, feeding off of his audience, Patrick uses his artistic powers to help those he is drawing for. Next week he will heal Susannah’s sore, reunite her with Eddie and Jake, and defeat the Crimson King for Roland.
Patrick represents the kind of genius starving artist whose work has the power to save people’s lives or topple despots, if only someone would help him rise up out of the basement of obscurity. He is the type of person who might never be discovered, might have no hope of being discovered, yet still needs to create, the same way they need to breathe or eat. (Dandelo notably keeps Patrick’s sketch pads and pencils in the pantry with his food.) He is the opposite of a hack: he is a real artist, a true prophet of Gan.
No writer is Gan—no painter, no sculptor, no maker of music. We are kas-ka Gan. Not ka-Gan but kas-ka Gan. Do you understand? Do you . . . do you ken?”– The Dark Tower, p. 371
“Yes,” Roland said. The prophets of Gan or the singers of Gan: it could signify either or both.
The difference between these two types of artist is perfectly summed up by the images of the Tower associated with each of them. Long before reaching Empathica, while searching Richard P. Sayre’s office, Roland and Susannah find a painting of the Tower hanging on the wall. “‘The person who painted it must have been there,’ Roland mused. ‘Must have set up his easel in the very roses.’” (p. 446). The painter, of course, was Patrick Danville. Later, Roland and Susannah see a similar picture hanging in Dandelo’s house, showing the Dark Tower and the fields off Can’-Ka No Rey. The difference is that Dandelo’s picture is not a painting, but a Polaroid. There is no craft or talent behind it, no art, just point-and-click.
So, which type of artist is Stephen King? I think there are many out there who think he’s just a hack, using cheap thrills to appeal to the masses. Considering the sheer volume of material he cranks out every year, it’s easy for people to believe that. In this book King was actually saved by one of these people, Irene Tassenbaum, who can’t believe the destiny of the world depends on the life of “a writer who’s not even very good,” and who “has a tin ear for language.” (p. 424). Like Irene, the people who dismiss King’s talent have usually only read a very small portion of the writer’s bibliography. Constant Readers like us, we know the truth. We understand that while King might enjoy his cheap thrills, there is real artistry and craftsmanship underneath them. We know he is no hack. We know that he is the type of artist who isn’t satisfied with a cheap Polaroid, but uses his skill and talent and time to paint a painting. We know he is a Danville, and not a Dandelo.
The final week’s reading will be posted not on Tuesday morning but Sunday, 9/19, the same date we began this journey last year.