(The Eyes of the Dragon)
Delain is not Gilead, and most of the characters and places in The Dark Tower series aren’t mentioned here in The Eyes of the Dragon. But I still think they exist on the same plane, or level of the tower. Or at most, their levels are right next to each other. There’s so much in here that will relate to The Dark Tower, I think.
I mean, there’s Flagg, for one. He’s a bright connecting line between The Dark Tower, The Stand, and this book. I also notice that The Eyes of The Dragon speaks of inner and outer and Eastern and Western Baronies, which is language that’s also used in The Dark Tower and gives me the feeling that this is happening in Roland’s world, or very near it.
This is definitely one of my favorites, if only for nostalgia purposes — I’m fairly certain this is the first King book I ever read. I’m amazed that there’s no adaptation, because I think you could make a good one. Apparently there have been a couple of attempts, but nothing has panned out. Which is weird.
The story goes that King wrote this for his daughter. She wasn’t into his horror stories, not because she was frightened of them, but because she had a medical condition that made her deficient in adrenaline, making that horror feeling a difficult one for her to experience. So he asked what she did like, and she named fantasy elements like dragons, and royalty, and magic. And this was the result. A character is even named for his daughter (Naomi). Another (Ben) is, I believe, named for one of Peter Straub’s children.
Where some fantasy authors seem to need a whole book or two to set the scenes before getting into the actual plot of the thing, this book admirably both sets the scenes and leads us to the plot and gives us a believable, if far-fetched, resolution. All in one book. If more fantasy worked like this, I would read more fantasy. I did notice some allusions to both previous King stories and to other work in this re-read. Peter couldn’t see what Ben, Naomi, and Dennis were doing while he was going down the rope, but when the rope broke, he landed in a large pile of linen napkins. That’s clever. But doesn’t it make you think of the brother piling up hay beneath his suspended sister in “The Last Rung on the Ladder”? That’s what it makes me think of. And really, they could have done this with hay, although the napkins are much more fun.
Just the way that Peter makes his escape makes me think of “Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption”. Yes, making a rope out of threads from a napkin is very different from knocking a hole in the wall with a rock hammer. But they’re also very similar. They’re both using something smaller than would seem to be workable in an extremely long game to eventually escape.
This may be nothing at all, but I also flashed on 1984 when Flagg screams, “Here I come, dear Peter, to chop off your head.” I read that, and at the same time I heard “Here comes a chopper to chop off your head.” Are these things related? Maybe not — but it occurs to me that Flagg manipulates Roland and Tom and by extension Delain generally by messing with their minds in a similar way to how the government messes with the minds of its citizens in 1984. Flagg also disapproves of people who read too much, study history, and who are intelligent. Wonder why?
I like that while Delain is a fantasy place with medieval-ish overtones, one of the early things that the narrator tells us about the place is that the people there aren’t so backward as to think that women don’t want sex. It’s kind of funny and I’m not that sure that it matters — the sexual relationship it’s talking about is the one between 50ish Roland and 17-year-old Sasha, and that’s gross in any time or place — but considering that this was written in the 80s, and that it’s now 2021 and there are still men out here arguing on social media that women don’t really enjoy sex and we should just have to deal with it, it is nice to see a famous male author just dismiss that whole argument with a wave of the hand. “Pfft, of course women enjoy sex too. And their partners should make the effort to please them. Moving on.”
Sasha is one of the so far relatively rare good mother figures we’ve encountered. It’s too bad she has to die like she did, but she had an outsized influence on the course of events in the book anyway, and it was a positive effect. In quite a lot of the books I’ve been through so far, women and mothers are crazy, are bitches, are so insignificant as to be barely worth a mention. So this story, where Peter and Tom’s mother matters, comes as a welcome change of pace.
I also notice that several of Delain’s good rulers were queens instead of kings. Maybe Delain should consider a matriarchy. Kyla, in fact, seems to have instituted a New Deal WPA-style work program to get the country back on track financially. Which strikes me as super progressive for a fantasy monarchy realm.
The narrator’s insistence that Tom was never really a bad boy got on my nerves a bit. Maybe just because we’ve seen so closely in real life how certain types of people can commit atrocities and still be excused and thought of as “not really bad” while other people can be villainized to the point of being blamed for their own deaths for crimes like walking on the sidewalk, wearing a hoodie, playing loud music, playing with toy guns, driving a car that smells like pot, or possibly paying with a counterfeit bill. There can be a big difference between who is seen as “not really a bad boy” and who is seen as better off dead, and it doesn’t have much to do with what they actually did. And Tom, the son of the king, strikes me as the type who would never be asked to face being considered a “real bad boy” and make real reparations for it. I know what King meant — Tom was just a child, and there were mitigating circumstances. I agree with that. I actually think that’s usually, if not always true for children especially. But the fact remains that Tom did hurt people, and I feel like he got let off the hook for that. Including by the narrator’s continued insistence that he wasn’t a bad boy. He was, mitigating circumstances or not.
I would like to return to Delain someday. I don’t think King is ever going back — but then again, he did a sequel to The Shining decades later, so who knows? Either way, The Eyes of the Dragon remains one of my favorites after this re-read, and I’m excited to go on to the next thing.