The Wastelands: An Illogical Quest for the Demonic Thomas the Train
The Wastelands by Stephen King
The Wastelands by Stephen King
So I’ve been losing myself in the world of dark fantasy lately. And in this case, I don’t mean the paranormal hard boiled cop dramas I can’t get enough of. I mean hard core high fantasies that are dark and a little twisted. Today it is a little book from a dark fantasy series called The Dark Tower and the book is The Wastelands by Stephen King
So what is the story about? Well it picks up not long after The Drawing of Three drops off. following Roland, Susannah, and Eddie as they travel to the dark tower. The book is divided into two big story lines that take up one half of the book each. The first half focuses on a time paradox, where Roland remembers dual timelines. He remembers the one in the first book where he befriends a boy named Jake and traveled with him. He also has memories of when he never met Jake. This is due to a convoluted event in book two where he traveled through a door way that bends space and time, and incidentally stopped Jake from coming to his world. So Roland is going mad as Jake simultaneously is going mad in his world. It seems Jake was meant to be part of their group all along during the drawing of three from the second book, So Eddie and Susannah work together to find a way to get Jake to cross over to end the madness and the paradox.
Then the second half involves their quest for a talking demon train named Blain. It’s the only way to cross the wastelands. But they must travel through the decaying city of crazies called Lud to get there. But that is no easy task as locals decide to kidnaps Jake, and Roland must go on a quest to get him back as Eddie and Susannah try to find Blaine.
Well now onto the good and the bad. Let’s start with the good first. It is a continuation of the dark tower series and it’s nice to see where the characters go from where they took off. Also the characters are enjoyable. To see post junkie Eddie Dean was great. Eddie is an incredible screen stealer from Roland in the series. And there is also the scene where this raggedy house turns into this demonic monster with teeth made of rotten wood and splinters. It was amazingly imaginative and creepy.
Now the bad? Well there’s a number of things. Let’s start with the paradox. The paradox itself is fine. The problem I have is how they fix it. Jake falls into a dreamscape at an industrial yard to find a key. Yet in Roland’s world Eddie starts whittling wood and happens to build the same key that Jake has. When they both Roland and Jake hold the key insanity ends. And oddly enough with this strange ability to carve the key, Eddie can connect the two worlds. And Jake is guided to this door by a dream kid version of Eddie’s dead brother. It doesn’t make any sense. What I just explained is about is detailed as the book is. Yes. I know ambiguity is how Roland’s dying world works. It is a staple of the series but this is ridiculous. It was like the book kept on telling me ‘Don’t try to think about it. Just go with it.’ It removes any grounded properties this book has. Just saying fate meant it to be does not justify the choices made in this book. Also I had similar problems with Jakes random fascination with a children’s book Charlie the Choo Choo and riddles for no apparent reason, but it ends to help them deal with Blain at the end. The connection was never explained. The book has silly scenes with Jake running through a maze with traps that brought back memories of Bug’s Bunny. One bad guy seems to serve no purpose at all. After the confrontation, I was still super confused as to what his purpose was and how in the world would he know Jake was from a different world. The character of Blaine was a demonic Thomas the Train that spoke in the voice of John Wayne seemed silly. Science fiction elements played heavy on this tale, which did not fit with the rest of the series. To have everything feel gritty and dirty western and then suddenly, and clumsily revealing that it is modern world long gone was not done well. Also it seemed incredibly out of place and random to introduce a cyborg bear.
Overall, I don’t know what to say. I know there’s a point where Stephen King books begin to derail. (I always felt his earliest novels were the best.) And I think this book might have been released in the derailment. It does not feel like it was written by the same author, at many points in the novel. It lost its grittiness and edge, trading out monsters of the wasteland for Thomas the Train. The convoluted story lines appeared to be explained by incoherent ramblings of a madman. I want to like this. I want to even love it so bad because everything up to this point in the series was so great. But I can’t. It doesn’t just work for me and I’m sure this book may have been disappointed to a number of fans. It makes promises it can’t keep. It has plot holes, story lines that go nowhere, and shift from scary to silly too many times throughout the book. The grade has to be low. Only die hard King fans would love this.
1 ½ smoothies out of four.
Overall Rating: An Illogical Quest for the Demonic Thomas the Train