Part 1: Jack Lights Out
The Alhambra Inn And Gardens/The Funnel Opens
Jack Sawyer is the twelve-year-old son of Lily Cavanaugh, a former B-movie actress who picked up and left with Jack, moving him from Los Angeles to New York to Arcadia Beach, a resort town somewhere on New Hampshire’s coast. She’s running from something, but Jack doesn’t really know what. A guy named Morgan Sloat is trying to track her down, which sounds sinister and all, except he’s also Jack’s uncle. Jack’s other uncle, Uncle Tommy, is dead. Jack’s dad, Phil Sawyer, is also dead.
Pat: This is probably dumb to say, but: Jack Sawyer and Lily Cavanaugh Sawyer, too unbelievable a setup? I say ” probably dumb” because we’re talking about a book where people can shift into an alternate world by drinking green juice at a New England version of Ocean City’s WONDERLAND PIER.
Andrea: In what way is it too unbelievable a setup?
Pat: She’s a B-movie queen? Dying of cancer and on the run?
Andrea: I mean, somebody has to be the child of a B-movie queen. I didn’t find that unbelievable at all. And I assumed there was a reason she was on the run that would be revealed as the book unfolded.
Pat: Where you getting a Shining vibe from the hotel?
Andrea: I didn’t notice.
Pat: There was. USE YOUR EYES, WOMAN.
Pat: There is something intensely unsettling about a summer town in New England that’s been abandoned by tourists for the season.
Andrea: Any abandoned shore town/amusement place is automatically creepy
Plus, clowns. And carnies. And dead carny clowns.
And Lily probably has cancer, at least according to the voice that came out of the sand vortex on the beach, the one that sounded suspiciously like Uncle Morgan.
Pat: By the way, that dead-voice talking thing he finds on the beach, the little vortex of sand with the gum wrapper in it? The one that speaks in his dead father or uncle’s voice?
Andrea: UGH FUCK THAT DEAD VOICE
Pat: It made me realize that “voice of a dead person telling you the future” is pretty much a mechanism of every King book.
Andrea: You think so? I can’t remember another instance, besides Pet Sematary, of course.
Pat: The jawbone at the Way Station in Gunslinger. Pascow in Pet Sematary. Roadwork he’s talking to his dead kid in his head. The Stand is pretty much dead people talking all the live-long fucking day. The Shining speaks for itself.
Andrea: I think this is a common device in all genre fiction.
Pat: A good half to two-thirds employ it.
Andrea: Right. I mean, I don’t really see it as lazy storytelling except when it’s poorly done. Your beef with Pascow is already well-established.
Pat: I guess part one doesn’t have much a whole lot going on in it, discussion-wise. We’re just getting started.
Jack doesn’t go to school—his mother has moved him around too much—and he’s got no kids his own age to play with, so he just wanders around the hotel and the beach and the amusement park.
Pat: I don’t know if you get this, because you’re A. not a boy, and B. not an only child, but Jack’s whole interior voice is startling accurate.
Andrea: I mean, it definitely rings true, but since I’m not a boy I don’t know for sure. I like him as a character so far. The mom was pretty formless, too.
Pat: She doesn’t seem to have a whole lot to her on purpose. She wants to be left alone all the time. The only real sense of her we get is when Jack says he’s got to fuck off to the Territories.
Andrea: Right. And by being bullied by Morgan Sloat. Which is not the greatest villain name if you ask me.
Pat: His name is better on the other side, I think, but I’m not there yet.
Andrea: And she doesn’t really put up any kind of true fight. Whether because neglectful or she is just exhausted from cancer? IDK
Pat: I think it was what Jack said: she knows on some level that he has to go, that his father went all the time and always came back safely. And probably even that it might save her and her twinner, if she even knows what a twinner is.
Andrea: So I got that he was going to save her, but I didn’t really get how/why? And I kinda got the sense that he didn’t really know either, but he’d know when he saw it.
Pat: Well, he has to go west and get the Talisman. That was as specific as Speedy got.
Andrea: I got a kid-from- Gunslinger vibe from Jack. Like immediately.
Pat: Jake Chambers. “Agreed.” And there’s a reason for that.
I’m basically the Speedy Parker of Constant Readers. I vaguely know what’s going on in the larger King universe, and you ain’t know shit. Also, I am just as down-home as you like.
Pat: Yeah, but The Talisman is deeply connected to the Dark Tower. At best, you might know the creepy guys in cars who tried to abduct Jack. But you probably haven’t realized they’re the low men from Hearts In Atlantis.
Andrea: I haven’t. Because I am not a total nerd.
Pat: You’re most of one.
Andrea: The two books have a really similar tone/vibe.
Pat: There is no book more closely related to the Dark Tower series than this one. Which you might have had inklings of since you’ve already read Black House, because you are a dumb. But not so much because you haven’t read Wastelands and Drawing Of The Three yet, where the connections are made to this and Black House.
Andrea: I had no idea the two were connected. I also read that the summer I worked at Eastern State, so I have warm nice memories of that book even though it made no sense.
Pat: Well, you’ll see.
Speedy Parker/Jack Goes Over/Jack And Lily
Jack is bored as fuck in his hotel existence until he meets Speedy Parker, a Magical Negro who does maintenance on the amusement park pier near the hotel. Jack finds nothing odd about hanging out with a strange dude in a closed amusement park, even though it is a Dateline episode waiting to happen.
Pat: Speedy may be the worst Magical Negro yet. I don’t understand why, to a person, these characters always have to have homespun accents.
Andrea: SK LOVES to write dialect. It’s his major weakness.
Pat: It’s as if black people just didn’t speak normally before 1995.
Andrea: Well, he is from Maine. I wonder if he has ever met a black person?
Pat: Hold on, let me look under the “Did You Seriously Just Ask That Question?” heading in his Wikipedia page.
Andrea: I liked Speedy, though.
Pat: Of course you did. You are a sucker for all of his Magicals.
Andrea: I hate that his name is Speedy. I like that later, Jack sees another black guy and assumes he is Speedy, and dude is like “I don’t know no Speedy, you racist.”
Pat: I’m fine with Speedy, he’s just a bit caricaturish.
Well, yeah. I feel like the more fantasy a SK book is, the more cartoonish the characters. Like, he feels like he can go balls-out when he’s slightly outside genre.
Pat: The whole setup of the shadowy, unknown business with the Territories is great. The whole magic/physics thing, trying to sell them electricity.
Andrea: Yeah, I really like that. And when he actually gets to the Territories which I know is in the next part, holy shit. So cool. And the butterfly effect type deal of what happens in the territories having a directly relationship with what happens in the real world
Pat: Although, for fuck’s sake, the Uncle Tommy, Uncle Morgan thing got fucking confusing. Richard Sloat is Jack’s friend, but then there’s Uncle Morgan Sloat, so are they actually cousins? No, it’s that weird friends-of-your-parents thing, then Uncle Tommy’s dead, but you don’t immediately associate him with the Tommy Woodbine that comes up in the phone conversation between Lily and Uncle Morgan.
Andrea: I found this very confusing. I think I need a character chart but I haven’t been able to find one online.
WHERE ARE YOU, HELPFUL NERDS?
Pat: There’s Lily and Jack. Jack’s father, Phil, is dead. His business partner, Uncle Morgan Sloat, who is father to Jack’s best friend Richard Sloat, is a money-hungry business man and real estate mogul, and is chasing after Lily for her controlling stake in Sloat and Phil’s business. Uncle Tommy Woodbine was their lawyer and also went to Yale with Phil and Morgan. Meanwhile, Speedy Parker rams poles up carousel horses’ b-holes.
Also: Tommy dead. Tommy real dead and probs gay.
Andrea: Got it.
Pat: That’s it for characters on this side, for the most part. Leaving out creepy desk clerk, who Jack has that Gordie LaChance exchange with halfway through the first part.
Andrea: Does he come up later?
Pat: The desk clerk? I have no memory. Maybe when Jack has to come back to the Alhambra, if he even has to do that.
Speedy calls him “Ol’ Travellin’ Jack.” This is FORESHADOWING because Speedy is about to set Jack to travelling. But first, he has to tell Jack some things. First off, there’s this place called the Territories, an alternate world which Jack had and has dreams about.
Pat: Are you okay with the whole Territories shpiel? That seems like something that would annoy you.
Andrea: No I like it
Second, the Territories have a queen. Third, Jack has to save both his mother and this queen because they’re TWINNERS, doubles from both worlds that are essentially the same person. Queen Laura DeLoessian and Lily Cavanaugh are twinners. And ol’ Morgan Sloat and Phil Sawyer, they had twinners too!
Pat: The beginning kind of lags for me. He gets to the Territories, and it’s slow going. Necessarily, I guess, since we have to get comfy there, but still and all.
Andrea: Yeah, it really picked up during the parts I read yesterday.
Pat: Forgetting, of course, the fact that Jack could’ve just asked him mom to buy him a plane ticket to California.
But then he wouldn’t have FOUND HIMSELF and BECOME SORTA JASON.
Andrea: I don’t know if it because I have been kind of dragging on reading this, but I feel like it needs more stuff with him and his mom interspersed. Like, flashback memories or something. Cause as it stands I keep forgetting why he’s on this damn journey
Pat: He does call her. And Sloat is constantly bringing up his mom.
Andrea: Sloat doesn’t even pop up that often.
Pat: He’s constantly calling. Didn’t you get to the part at the rest stop where he forcibly rips through the worlds?
Andrea: No, not yet.
Pat: So you probably ALSO don’t know how twinners actually work, which was a big mistake they made, not explaining it earlier. That it’s not two separate people; when Sloat goes over to the Territories, he’s possessing Morgan of Orris’s body, while the twinner’s mind just kind of hangs back.
Andrea: OH! That makes so much more sense.
Pat: Yeah, it’s crucial information you just don’t get. Phil Sawyer and Phil Sawtelle aren’t the same people.
Andrea: Soooo… what do the people around the left behind twinner think when he’s just sitting there without consciousness
Pat: That’s a great fucking question to which we never get an answer.
And they also don’t bother telling us until WAY WAY later that, when someone goes into their twinner, they flip to wherever the twinner is. If Morgan Sloat is in California, and Morgan of Orris is in equivalent of New York, Sloat will flip into the New York of the Territories.
Unlike Jack, who is singular, and can just flip from one place to the geographically consistent place in the other.
Andrea: You would think that SK is just making this book up as he goes along.
Since things aren’t yet creepy enough, Speedy gives Jack a bottle of skunked wine, and Jack drinks from it. He wavers right on into the Territories, where a gull tells him his mother’s dying. You can’t make this shit up!
Pat: Should I be reading into the fact that, at first, Jack needs booze to shift himself into the spectacular, magical world of the Territories? And later, he realizes the MAGIC WAS IN HIM ALL ALONG?
Or am I just looking for excuses to find allegories for alcoholism?
Andrea: Is this pre- or post-SK rehab? I think pre, since he was supposedly all coked up when he wrote The Tommyknockers.
Pat: I’m talking booze here.
Andrea: Yes. I think this is an allegory. Although I think the “in him all along” is kind of weak. I mean, it’s so “there’s no place like home.”
Jack discovers one of the most important distinctions between the Territories and Our World when he returns: a hundred and fifty feet over there translates to about a half a mile here. He heads off to tell his mom he’s got to go. She’s oddly okay with it, but maybe that’s just good acting. Probably not! Jack fucks off to the Territories again.
Pat: And not for fucking nothing, but the scale we get between the two worlds is roughly 1/20. Do you know how wide, coast to coast, that makes the Territories?
Pat: 160 miles.
Andrea: So which is bigger, our world or the Territories?
Pat: Our world.
Andrea: Oh, got it. Wow.
So how is everything all crammed together? This is stupid.
I assumed they were the same size
Pat: Just to give you a bit of perspective on that number, 160 miles from the part of New Hampshire that’s on the Atlantic coast, going due west, would barely get you across the Vermont border and into New York.
That’s about 50 hours of walking.
Andrea: So, why doesn’t he just do the walk in the Territories and then spirit himself over to save all that walking?
Pat: Great question! HERE’S A MORE FUN FUCKING FACT: he only covers about 50 miles of Territory by walking.
Pat: So, basically, it takes him like three months to get 50 Territory miles.
Andrea: Did you do all these calculations?
Pat: Yes. 3,100 miles from the New Hampshire coast to Mendocino, California, which is as close to the non-existent Point Venuti as I’m going to get.
That’s about 155 miles, figuring that each mile in the Territories is twenty here.
Andrea: Does the nonsensical nature of the logistics of the two worlds dampen your enjoyment of the book?
Pat: I didn’t bother with the real calculations until just now. But I did always SUSPECT.
Andrea: Sooooo does it dampen your enjoyment?
Pat: I suppose not. 155 miles in a world as thrown-back as the Territories would probably be huge.
Sloat In This World (I)
Here’s an ongoing series of interludes to help us understand What The Fuck Is Going On, since this shit is cray. Morgan Sloat is a powerful, rich man who was college friends with Phil Sawyer. The two went into business together after Yale, and Morgan was always kind of a sneaky, evil shit, while Phil was basically James Potter, Coolest Kid Around. We learn about them discovering the Territories and Phil showing Morgan how to “flip” and Phil meeting Lily, which helped start their soon-to-be-booming talent agency. The long as short of it: the Morgan of Now is after Jack and Lily for control of the company.
Pat: The first Sloat interlude answered some questions about Jack’s father and the business, at least. We already knew he was kind of a shitheel, but that solidified it.
Andrea: Right. It lays the groundwork. Which I enjoyed, but when I got to part 2, I couldn’t put it down.
Pat: It does ramble, but this is one of those instances where I don’t think it’s wasted, spending all that time in Jack’s head.
Andrea: Yeah, I think that was important.
Part 2: The Road Of Trials
The Queen’s Pavillion (sic)/Farren
Jack reappears in the Territories. His clothes have changed, and he’s basically walking through a living Renaissance Fair, only without as many virgins and basement-dwellers. He has to find Captain Farren, notable Dude With A Scar. He does! He hands over a guitar pick Speedy gave him, but in the Territories, it has turned into a fucking tooth, of all things, and Captain Farren doesn’t know any Parker—he just knows a Parkus. And anyhow, Jack has to feign being Farren’s bastard to escape any suspicion in the palace. They get in, have a good look at the Queen, who is the spitting image of Lily, and get out with no problems. Until the head of the Outer Guards, a weasley fuck named Osmond, stops them. He ain’t buying the act, but Jack is the son of an actress, and turns in a hell of a performance, so Osmond just gives him a slight whipping that is interrupted by a crisis on the Outpost Road that causes Osmond to call one of the guards a “dripping penis.” AND MORGAN IS ON HIS WAY
Pat: Osmond has got to be the fucking most batshit character ever. It was torture being introduced to him.
Farren gets Jack out of town and sends him on his way along the Western Road ahead of Morgan’s arrival—that is, Morgan of Orris, Sloat’s twinner. He jukes into the Living Fucking Woods to escape Morgan’s “diligence” when it passes, but man oh man does Morgan know Jack’s out there somewhere. Jack flips back home.
The Oatley Tunnel/Jack In The Pitcher Planet/Elroy
Jack approaches a tunnel that seems the only way to pass along to where he’s heading. He has never read The Stand, apparently, and there is something in there with him, it seems—something FUCKING EVIL.
Pat: The Oatley tunnel was pretty badass. And spooky.
And very Larry-Underwood-escaping-New-York in The Stand.
Andrea: Um, yeah. SK borrowed from himself a lot in this book it seems.
Pat: To be fair, this is as related to the Dark Tower as The Stand is, so it makes sense that the journeys would be similar.
Jack is almost the Jake Chambers of this world. And he thinks about the Territories’ Territories, and all the way through, just like the worlds held together by the Dark Tower. Which, fuck off and say thank-ye, The Talisman has an analogue in, I believe, The Wastelands, the third Dark Tower book.
of all worlds.
And GUESS WHAT ELSE?
An electric train and radioactive wastelands. But you’re not there yet.
Pat: Doesn’t really ruin anything.
The tunnel lets him pass into the town of Oatley, where he becomes the beleaguered keg-monkey of one Smokey Updike, inveterate asshole and beater of women and children.
Pat: I don’t know if I bought that Jack would just not fucking book on out of there. Also: IT’S A BAR. MAGIC SPEEDY JUICE EVERYWHERE, JACK-O.
Andrea: Yeah what was keeping him there? As far as I could tell, nothing.
Pat: I mean, there’s the fear of Smokey ratting him out to the local cops, who, I believe it was intimated, would probably do him in the butt.
Andrea: I felt bad for the barmaid chick. Donna?
Pat: Yeah, she’s the first sort of female cypher that you’re like, “Oh, yeah, this works.”
Andrea: Because you don’t really need her for much except to be beaten down.
Pat: Because she’s in the background, with her he-hit-me-and-it-felt-like-a-kiss crap.
Some evil person keeps calling for Jack on the payphone at the bar and a cowboy dude named Elroy is menacing him with mouthed entreaties to GO ON HOME, and Jack is like, uh, fuck all this noise, I better run, even if Smokey is threatening to have the local constable—Digger, his name is—bugger me into another dimension.
Pat: But those phone calls Jack keeps getting from the payphone are chilling.
In conjunction with the guy who Jack refers to by the name of the cowboy he looks like.
Andrea: OH YEAH
That creeped me out so much. Do you think phone-related horror/creepdom will die down in this age of caller ID?
Pat: There will still be payphones, I imagine. Or something.
Nothing will ever be as scary as the mouthpiece of a payphone.
When was the last time you saw a payphone?
Pat: I live in a city, I see payphones.
Andrea: I saw a news article the other day with a picture of this dumping ground in Manhattan where they send all the old payphones.
Pat: “Buy a piece of New York history! Also, get hepatitis!”
Fair enough, Jack, but the second you burst out of that emergency exit, Elroy is going to turn into whatever beast he really is and HAVE AT YOU. That’s what happens!
Pat: The thing with Elroy though: whew.
Andrea: Who was Elroy again?
Pat: Elroy is the Territories name of the guy who looks like the cowboy, the dude Jack is scared of running into when he’s about to bolt.
Pat: The guy who turns into what I gathered was a were-goat and chased him through the parking lot.
Andrea: Oh yeah! That was gross.
Were-goat might be my #1 DO NOT WANT
The Death Of Jerry Bledsoe/Jack Goes To The Market/The Men In The Sky/Buddy Parkins
Jerry Bledsoe is a dude. WAS a dude. He is now dead. Back when Jack was six, his father and Uncle Morgan were discussing trade with the Territories—Morgan wanted to send all kinds of modern-world stuff over, and Phil was like, dude, remember that small war that started with an assassination over there? Yeah, that was the same day Hitler invaded Poland. So the Territories have an exaggerated effect on the real world! COOL. Back to Jerry Bledsoe, though: he died in a freak electrical accident. OR DID HE????
Pat: We unfortunately did not discuss Jerry Bledsoe at all, apparently.
Andrea: I don’t remember who that even is.
Pat: He was the maintenance guy who gets mysterious electrocuted in the lobby of the talent agency. Because of Morgan’s key/lightning rod?
I can’t tell you how much it annoyed me that they kept calling it a lightning rod.
Pat: THAT’S NOT WHAT LIGHTNING RODS DO. THEY ATTRACT AND CHANNEL LIGHTNING TO THE GROUND. MORGAN’S KEY SHOOTS IT OUT
Andrea: You get annoyed by really weirdthings
Pat: You mean “science” and the “correct use of words and phrases”?
GUILTY AS CHARGED
Andrea: No, I mean “nitpicky details in fictional stories.”
Pat: Here’s a detail: I hate you.
Back in present time, having escaped from Elroy by flipping into the Territories, Jack gets a ride from a family that is all like OH SHIT WAS YOUR FATHER A POLITICAL DUDE? BYE and visits a market town where things are RUSTIC but also MAGICAL.
Pat: I think that’s when he starts doing a lot of traveling in the Territories and sees the dudes flying around the tower with birdsuits or what-have-you
Andrea: What was that all about? I felt like it was just to show exactly how different the Territories are. In the earlier part with the stick money and the meat carving guys, they just seemed like the renaissance faire
Pat: I think that’s the same part. He gets the ride into town from that family who asks where his parents are, and then they’re like, WERE THEY POLITICAL? GTFO!
And he gets himself a nice mirror in the market that makes him look like various cuddly were-creatures.
Andrea: OH yeah. Imagine what acool toy that would have been to have
Pat: Also, all the food is better there, don’tchaknow.
Andrea: I thought they were implying that it was human meat but then they didn’t quite go there.
Pat: I didn’t get that at all, but I suppose that’s possible
Then he saunters off down the road a ways and sees a tower where a bunch of flight-suited dudes fly around.
Pat: He goes along until Morgan of Orris’s diligence or whatever they call it roars by. And apparently, that destroys a place called the Rainbird Towers with an earthquake, which I assumed was the US analogue to the flying birdman tower.
Andrea: OH, I didn’t even catch that clever SK play on words.
He flips back Home and meets Buddy Parkins, a guitar-playing bum who Jack thinks is basically Speedy. Jack figures out that every time he flips shit to another world, an earthquake or some other freak catastrophe strikes. He calls his mom, and Morgan cuts into the conversation. Jack has a bad time at the mall, then has several Adventures With Guys Who Give Rides And Maybe Are A Little Bi-Curious.
Andrea: I liked that one farmer dude who wanted to take him home.
Pat: And the pedophiles.
Andrea: Refresh me about the pedophiles.
Pat: There’s the guy who makes a pass at Jack, and Jack says he’s “strictly AC.”
Then the guy FLIPS SHIT and starts calling Jack a queer.
Andrea: Oh yeah!!! UGH nasty dudes.
Why are they everywhere?
Wolf/Sloat In This World (II)/Wolf And The Herd
Back in the Territories, Jack meets a six-five-and-change humanoid husky who knows Jack by his scent: he apparently had known Phil Sawyer back in the days. The Days When Phil Was Not Dead A Lot. This wolf’s name is Wolf.
Pat: So you hate Wolf. Because he is Tom Cullin.
Andrea: I appreciate the idea of him and his selfless nature and blah blah blah, but as a character, he is the pits.
Pat: He’s a hole in the ground filled with fire and bad Wolfs whipping people that were stolen from the real world?
Oh, you meant he is the pits, not he is the Pits.
Andrea: Ugh yes. Because we live in a dictatorship where figures of speech are not allowed
Pat: They describe Wolf as a sort of friendly looking husky
Andrea: I could not get a clear mental picture of him at all
Pat: King is fucking bonkers, he makes the most evil creatures out of the most friendly looking things.
Andrea: All I could picture was Michael J. Fox in Teen Wolf
Meanwhile, Sloat is still chasing after Jack while fiddling with this key he has that turns into a lightning wand in the Territories, which totally definitely is what fried Jerry Bledsoe! THERE IS A TERRIBLE RIPPING SOUND AND MORGAN SLOAT/OF ORRIS APPEARS IN A RIFT IN THE WORLD, FIRING OFF LIGHTNING BOLTS.
Jack flips, bringing Wolf back with him into the Real World: Talisman.