The Wastelands Journal #2: Choo Chooo

I think I last read this about 3,000 years ago.  The flow of the story is familiar, but the details feel all new.  I'm spotting things I would swear I never read before -- yet, I'm also sure I read this  book more than once.  King gives this edition of the Dark Tower a wonderful layer of details and intricacy. Not only is the plot thick,but the characters are rich.

Many things I missed the first time through because I was simply trying to keep up with the plot.  But now that I've read the entire series, I am able to go back and read it again, watching for the details instead of just trying to stay on the road to the Dark Tower.

Things I'd almost forgotten!
1. Midworld is mirrored in our world in strange ways.  John Tower / Dark Tower. Jake refers to midworld instead of midtown.  Blane is Charlie, Charlie is Blane.  The man in black moves between both worlds.

2. Does this book remind anyone else of Star Trek 3, the Search for Spock ?  It's the third volume oft he story -- (the Gunslinger reminds me of Star Trek One !) -- the innocent was lost in episode two, but the search is on in part 3.  Like McCoy, who carried Spock's Katra, Roland carries the memory of the boy Jake.  It's not the Search for Spock, it's the Search for Jake.  I'm sure that was very enlightening y'all!

3. Charlie the Choo Choo is a great read! I knew that Charlie was important to the story, but could not remember why.  What I've discovered is not only is Charlie important to the plot, it's a great children's story. It's so good, I think I'll read it to my kids.  I wonder if anyone has published

Jake buys his copy of Charlie at The Manhattan Restaurant of the Mind; a bookstore as committed to the art of playing chess and offering riddles as it is selling books.  What's funny -- that's how some used bookstores really are! More social gathering places than happy reading haunts.

Charlie the Choo Choo as simply a children's book stand alone.  By the way, Charlie the Choo-Choo is by Beryl Evans, also known as Claudia y Inez Bachman.  (Check out this cool list of fictional authors and books inside the world of Stpehen King List_of_fictional_books_in_the_works_of_Stephen_King)

The Dark Tower wikipedia explains further, "Beryl Evans is the name of the author who wrote Charlie the Choo-Choo. In Wolves of the Calla, Beryl Evans' name is changed to Claudia y Inez Bachman when Eddie Dean and Jake Chambers go todash and visit The Manhattan Restaurant of the Mind."  Notice that Claudia y Inez Bachman is 19 characters.

"Charlie The Choo-Choo" by Beryl Evans

Don't ask me silly questions
I won't play silly games
I'm just a simple choo choo train
And I'll always be the same.
I only want to race along
Beneath the bright blue sky
And be a happy choo choo train
Until the day I die.

Notice the art work for Charlie the Choo Choo. Jake doesn't trust that smile, thinking that it looks evil.  I have the same feeling when I look at the picture.  Of course, King saw it in his mind first.

4. Roland doesn't like people.  Stoic is not quite the word for Roland.  I don't get the feeling he likes his new companions, Eddie and Susanna, so much as he puts up with them.  I really think he would prefer to go the journey alone, but ka has required he gather a ka-tet and so he does what he must.  Is he worried he might also betray these friends on his journey to the tower?  Probably.  I know from reading on that Roland will warm up with time, but boy this guy is pretty cold!

5. Samson's Riddles.  The issue of riddles, one that will continue quite a ways through this series, is first introduced to Jake at the bookstore.  The riddle  mulled over is a Biblical one that Samson asked the Philistines.  The riddle is: Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet. (Judges 14:14, NIV)

. . . . . . . . .
Here's the context: 
(From my book, Judges, The Wild West of the Bible)

At his wedding party, Samson challenged his new friends to a battle of the minds.  He would tell them a riddle, and they in turn would have the duration of the entire wedding feast (seven days) to try and figure it out.  They could Google, talk, pass notes or phone a friend.  But, to make it even more fun, Samson suggested that the loser pay the winner thirty linen garments and thirty sets of clothes. Not bad – probably equivalent to a several thousand dollar Wal-mart gift card in our culture.
Samson’s new buddies are up for the challenge – until he tells them the riddle!  It makes no sense.  This should be a simple lesson: Hear the riddle before you bet if you can answer it.
The riddle is: Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet. (Judges 14:14, NIV)
The Philistines must have stared at one another in dumbfounded horror.  They had no idea what that meant!  And no one would know what the answer to the riddle is unless they were there when Samson killed the lion and later took honey from his dead carcass.  Then it makes sense! Out the eater – a lion – comes something to eat, honey!
Samson may be testing more than his friends mental powers. I think he is also testing their loyalty.  It might even be possible that he is putting their spiritual nature to the test.  He asks them a question that only God would know the answer to.  This was certainly true of how Daniel  was able to answer the riddle of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2.  Could Samson be testing  these men to see if they will call upon God to get the answer?  Well, they have a way to get the answer – but it doesn’t involve praying to the Lord.
The Philistines are at a total loss! It’s like a suduko puzzle that just doesn’t work.  By the way, the label on Lyle's Golden Syrup pictures bees in the lion that Samson killed, with his riddle under it.  A picture would have helped the Philistines figure this out!  If only these poor men had a bottle of Lyle’s Golden Syrup!  But, since they don’t have syrup, what they do have is Samson’s new wife.
Imagine one of the men quietly pulling the new bride aside, “Listen here, we need your help.  You want to be good to your own people, don’t you?”
She already knows what they want.  “What?” She asks, rolling her eyes.
“Get Samson to tell you the meaning of that riddle.”
She grins a bit, “I don’t think I can do that.”
“Pretty girl like you can do quite a lot,” the Philistine says as another comes and stands beside him.  “We understand if you can’t help us, though.”
The one who just approached leans in and whispers, “We was just tryin’ to be nice, ya see?  Some of our people aren’t too happy about this here union.”
Fear darkens Mrs. Samson eyes.  “What? What are you saying?”
“Not us!  We wouldn’t do anything.  We’ve tried to talk them out of it.  But you know how stubborn men can be.”
She looks around, wondering where Samson is.  “What are they saying?  Tell me!”
“Well, a few folk...”
“A lot of folk,” the other says, nodding toward the party of drunken men.
“Yes ma’am, a lot of folk have talked about maybe doing a bit of cleanin’ up around here. Talked about burnin’ you and your entire family to death.”
Her eyes go wide, “Burning?”
“Not us!   No, not what we said.  But that’s what we’re hearing.  Best to get rid of the whole family than put up with these kinds of shenanigans.”
The first one nods, “Say, what’s with this riddle?  You invite us here to befriend your new husband, or to rob us?”
“We’re just askin’ nice as can be, you see?  Would you maybe help us out a bit and give us the meaning of the riddle?  In return, we would feel very comfortable makin’ sure your family is safe as a lion in the woods.”
She sighs.  “Okay, I’ll see what I can do.”
“Don’t go tellin’ on us now, you understand?”
That night, in the safety of their private quarters, Samson’s wife put on a show that would have impressed Star Trek director J.J. Abrams! She sobbed alligator tears, “You don’t love me at all!”
Samson must have been stunned by this.  Quite the way to start a marriage!  He surely tried to comfort her, but she just sobbed all the more. How could he possibly assure her of his love?  Well, since he asked. . . she suggested that he could tell her the secret of his riddle.  Samson’s response is funny, “I haven’t even told my mother and father, so why should I explain it to you?”  How do you think that went over?  He won’t tell her, his wife, because he hasn’t told his mommy?! Enter Marie Barone – really, I sense an episode of Everyone Loves Samson here.
Well, Samson’s honeymoon turned into seven days of his wife crying her eyes out.  Of course, she didn’t have to manufacture all those waterworks, because she really was scared to death that if she didn’t get the answer to the riddle and prove her faithfulness to the Philistines, they would burn her entire family! On the seventh day Samson cracked and told his wife.
“We got it!” One of the men must have shouted.
“You got what?” Samson asked.
“We got your riddle.  We understand it.”
“Impossible!” Samson sneered.
“Nope – listen close, ‘cause you’re about to be impressed. What’s sweeter than honey?  What’s stronger than a lion?”
Samson’s face probably turned bright read.  “Stronger than a lion, eh?”
“That’s it, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, that’s it,” Samson acknowledged, his eyes searching the room for his wife.  “You got it.  But here’s the thing, you wouldn’t have figured that riddle out if you hadn’t plowed with my heifer.”
Plowed with his heifer?  He’s calling his wife a cow!  This marriage was doomed before the Love Boat could untie from the dock. Samson was now required to come up with thirty sets of clothes.  The Philistines surely think he’s going to hang his head and admit that a poor boy from the hills of Israel can’t afford thirty sets of clothes.  But Samson is not to be so easily out  maneuvered.  Remember, this entire encounter is because God was seeking an opportunity to confront the Philistines.  Samson went out and “struck down” thirty Philistines and took their clothes.  Of course, struck down means he killed them.  So there were thirty naked Philistines laying dead in a field somewhere.
I wonder if the new clothes looked familiar to the Philistines.  They surely didn’t expect him to actually pay up!

. . . . . . . . .

Why did the Philistines have to go to all that trouble to figure out the riddle?  Because it's not logical!  You can't think out the answer, you have to have been in a position to observe a story unfold.  I will simply point out that much of the Dark Tower itself is a riddle that doesn't make sense unless you just sit back and let it unfold.  Once you've seen it once, it makes some sense, but you would never figure it out based simply on the clues.

Back to the Dark Tower. . . 

King takes Samson's riddle serious.  As if the answer makes sense.  But I don't think the answer  works at all.  It's not a riddle at all, because you can't logically work it out.  You had to be there to see Samson kill the lion and know that bees built a hive there in order to know why something sweet comes out of the eater (the lion).

When Jake asks the explanation of one of the riddles, he's told to come back in a few days.  A riddle is not a joke, it's a puzzle.  I never thought about that.  It is something to turn over and work on, chew on, turn over and over  until the answer comes.  

1 comment:

  1. It never occurred to me to think of the Tower story as a riddle before; interesting.

    If it is a riddle then I wonder if the answer to it depends on how you look at the story.

    My take on it is probably different from the majority. It could be summed up as, "A fictional version of a real life author and a priest in Maine both one discover that "The Column of Reality has a Hole in it" when one of the writer's fictional stories (i.e. Dark Tower) somehow come to life on the author."

    That' a pretty mind trippy way of reading the books, I know. Part of it came from suggestions in the books themselves (particularly Song of Susannah) and from two other King stories "Secret Window" and "Unmey's Last Case" (thre if you count Dark Half).

    There's technically a fourth in the form of Joe Hill's N0s402, which is set in the King-verse (reference to Derry) and has a word that I think lends credence to the reading above. The word Hill uses is "Inscape", from the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, who in turn got it from Duns Scotus.

    I don't know if that helps or means anything or not, but at least there's one way of looking at it.

    In terms of Roland and the Tower itself, well, I remembered this parable written by Franz Kafka that seemed to have similarities to the ending of the series. See what you think: