“Cast your nets, wanderers! Try me with your questions, and let the contest begin.”
— Blaine the Mono, to Roland and the Ka-Tet, at the end of The Waste Lands
Welcome to A Read of the Dark Tower series. Join me each week as I, Constant Reader, tackle the magnum opus of Stephen King’s career for the first time. If you want to discuss in general terms or talk about these first sections, join me by commenting here.
Today, we begin volume four in the Dark Tower series, Wizard and Glass. It was published in 1997, six years after The Waste Lands, and begins where book three ended, with an agreement between Roland and Blaine the Mono: If Roland or one of his companions can stump Blaine with a riddle, the suicidal train-brain will allow them to live; if they do not, they’ll go down with as one.
Wizard and Glass, “Riddles”: Beneath the Demon Moon, Section 1
Before we pick back up with Roland and the gang, we get a quick view of the land around the town of Candleton as Blaine the Mono roars past at more than 800 miles per hour. “After all the centuries it still twitched with tenebrous life” such as turtle-sized beetles and “posse robots,” one of which is stuck in a corner warning travelers about elevated radiation levels south and east of town.
When Blaine speeds past, buildings disintegrate and the hitching post in front of the Elegant Beef and Pork Restaurant is sucked into the updraft. Blaine speeds away beneath a moon whose face was that of a skull. “In Gilead, before the world had moved on, the full moon of Year’s End had been called the Demon moon, and it was considered ill luck to look at it directly. Now, however, such did not matter. Now there were demons everywhere.”
What Constant Reader Learns: As was hinted at earlier when the buffalo were spotted, parts of this land seem to be regenerating after the Great Cataclysmic Whatever happened all those years ago. “The world — this part of it, at any rate — had begun to heal itself.” A doe is dragging a fifth leg around, but she’s had a couple of viable, normal offspring. (Although she won’t have any more since Blaine’s wake tore her hide from her body.)
Wizard and Glass, “Riddles”: Beneath the Demon Moon, Section 2
Susannah is studying the route-map at the front of the Barony Coach and sees that they’re about halfway between Candleton and Rilea. She isn’t convinced that Blaine is trustworthy — she suspects that even if they manage to stump him with a riddle, he won’t hold up his end of the deal.
Jake tries to give Roland the book of riddles, Riddle-De-Dum!, but he isn’t ready for it yet. He’s preoccupied. Finally, he asks Blaine if he can “leave the room” so he and his friends can confer. Though the others have their doubts, Blaine agrees to turn off all his sensors in the coach until they summon him by touching the route map. Roland is troubled, but he says the are “forces at work here, big ones, and not all of them are working to keep us away from the Tower.” Which isn’t a ringing endorsement that they will succeed in riddling with Blaine. Ro’s theory — his only hope — is that his great intelligence plus his loneliness might have made Blaine more human — and by their opening riddles he might be able to spot Blaine’s weakness. He suggests they has four riddles — one easy, increasing in difficulty.
And then he warns Eddie: “You’ll go last, Eddie…but none of your foolishness. This is life and death. The time for foolishness is past.” Eddie’s feelings are hurt and he hears the voice of Henry feeding his self-doubt again for the first time in a while. But he catches himself before he spouts out a smart-mouthed response. “Maybe long, tall, and ugly was right; maybe it was time to put away the one-liners and dead baby jokes. Maybe it was finally time to grow up.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Susannah notices a hatch in the top of Blaine’s compartment and has an image of climbing out that hatch as the train barrels along, fast enough to rip the head off her shoulders and send it bouncing off into the darkness. I suspect that hatch is going to be someone’s bad dreams pretty soon.
When Jake offers the riddle book to Roland, Oy gets fierce and tries to foist the book on Roland himself. Oy is very protective of Jake, and I suspect if Roland were to betray Jake again, he’d have to deal with Oy first.
Another odd little saying from our world: “Olive oil, but not Castoria.” Fletcher’s Castoria was a laxative marketed for use in kids back before the world moved on.
I keep thinking Eddie is having a turning point from his tendency to be silly, but the old Eddie always seems to come back. So I’m not quite trusting this new, mature Eddie. It’s easy to forget while reading this how young he is.
Wizard and Glass, “Riddles”: Beneath the Demon Moon, Section 3
After a few more minutes of palaver, Roland goes to the front of the coach to let Blaine know they’re ready. He’d already given the others proper etiquette on addressing Blaine before and after the riddling.
After a fumbling start, Susannah asks her riddle, but it was an easy one, and Blaine ridicules it. From the overhead speaker, she hears the voice of Little Blaine begging her not to make Big Blaine angry. “He’s already got the mono in the red, speedwise, and the track compensators can barely keep up. The trackage has degenerated terribly since the last time we came out this way.”
When she thanks Blaine for riddling with her, Susannah mimicks a hand motion she’d seen Roland use with Aunt Talitha in River Crossing, which amuses Blaine — apparently the show of courtesy is different for women and men, and she’d given Blaine the one normally used for women.
Next up is Jake, accompanied by Oy. His riddle is a little harder, but is still a breeze for Blaine to answer.
Third to ask a riddle is Roland, and Blaine declares his riddle “simple but handsome just the same.” He answers it easily, and Susannah realizes that even though Blaine is a machine, she loathes the “self-satisfied, murderous thing.”
Finally, Eddie steps up. He still tries to be flip, and Blaine says he’s “in no mood for frivolity, Eddie of New York.” And Susannah realizes Blaine knows exactly what they’re doing.
What Constant Reader Learns: Susannah has an interesting observation about Blaine, especially in light of his occasionally childish behavior and the presence of “Little Blaine.” She thinks, “Blaine could be charming when he got what he wanted. Like certain spoiled children she had known.”
Roland greets Blaine with the word “Hile,” which Susannah and I think is interesting in light of “Heil Hitler” and the German airplane they’d found earlier.
Wizard and Glass, “Riddles”: Beneath the Demon Moon, Section 4
Eddie asks Blaine a riddle from the back of Riddle-de-Dum! And Blaine answers it immediately. Eddie’s disappointed, for he’d hoped to bring Blaine down with his first riddle. And, like Susannah, Eddie realizes he hates Blaine — and yet is also amazed that Blaine has such a range of emotions.
Blaine offers to leave again so they can consult, to which Roland agrees. And when Eddie turns around to look at Roland, he sees a “brief look of complete hopelessness” cross Ro’s face. Roland points out that even though Blaine claimed it took him almost nine hours to do the run to Topeka, they’ve only been underway an hour and according to the route map they’re almost halfway there. So Blaine is probably lying about the time they have available.
Roland proposes that he riddle Blaine for a while using some of the best riddles he remembers from his Fair Days in Gilead — even though he still feels the answers must lie with Jake’s book.
At this point, Eddie says, “I do not shoot with my hand,” and has a strange vision of Roland teaching Jake to start a fire.
Roland asks several riddles of Blaine, and the Mono pops out the answers without so much as a pause. And with a very smug tone.
What Constant Reader Learns: Eddie seems to be on the cusp of remembering something that will help them, but can’t quite grasp it. He’s not willing to say anything to Roland yet, and urges him to start riddling. Meanwhile, his mind is spinning over and over the vision of Roland and Jake and the flint. I wonder why, unlike Susannah, he doesn’t ask Roland for help in remembering. Then again, he might not fully trust Roland not to ridicule him. Roland seems to realize he’s having some kind of “ka-experience” and leaves him alone.
A bit of wisdom/ observation from the Mind of the Mono: “It is remarkable how human beings pitch their minds on love. Yet it is constant from one level of the Tower to the next, even in these degenerate days.”
Wizard and Glass, “Riddles”: The Falls of the Hounds, Section 1
Jake is pondering the riddle problem. He figures if the last ten puzzles in Riddle-de-Dum are too easy for Blaine, he can trot out Aaron Deepneau’s Samson riddle. Then he doesn’t know what he’ll do. He’s been filled with a sense of doom ever since Roland began riddling with Blaine. He’s getting it from Roland and Susannah both. Only Eddie isn’t sending out black vibes, because Eddie’s gone off into his own head.
Roland continues to ask riddles for which Blaine has easy answers, but Jake finally interrupts him. The hand Oy had bitten trying to save himself on the bridge had suddenly healed and he wants to tell Roland this. Blaine says he healed him. The armrests of the seats had a scanning function and the ability to administer first aid. When he offers Jake a simulation of his first sexual experience and doesn’t realize Edith Bunker is a real person, Susannah and Roland realize Blaine has made a mistake.
What Constant Reader Learns: Even though it’s Roland asking the riddles, Jake seems to be taking mental responsibility for finding the riddle to trip up Blaine. Not sure why he thinks it should be him, except that he was the one that Blaine and the riddle book were both introduced to.
Nice that Blaine healed Jake’s “forepaw” for him, since I have a feeling Jake will need it.
Hilarious bit with Blaine explaining his hand-scan technology. It can do first aid, deliver nutrients, record brain patterns, analyze stress, and enhance emotions to stimulate endorphin production. It also can create believable illusions and hallucinations, so Blaine offers to give Jake his first sexual experience with a “noted sex-goddess from your level of the Tower”: Marilyn Monroe, Raquel Welch, or Edith Bunker. When Jake laughs at him and points out that a) Edith Bunker isn’t a real person and B) the actress Jean Stapleton isn’t a sex-goddess, Blaine is offended and withdraws his offer.
So Jake’s When is a level of the Tower…
Wizard and Glass, “Riddles”: The Falls of the Hounds, Section 2
Roland turns back, ready to continue riddling, but then Jake feels himself being pushed forward as Blaine decelerates. He says he has to stop and switch to battery power, which means pre-charging.
As soon as Blane comes to a stop, he also gets rid of the visible walls and floor of the coach car. Everyone — except Eddie — marvels at the view, but Eddie’s still preoccupied. They’re halfway across a chasm, near a raging, boiling river that seems to be running in different directions at different points in its course. Rising from the river at the bottom of the falls were two enormous stones that looked like the heads of enormous dogs. “The Falls of the Hounds,” he thinks — after which, along Blaine’s route, there was only one more stop before Topeka. They’re running out of time.
Blaine sends some enhanced waterfall noise into the coach, so loud that it hurts their ears. Then, as suddenly as the noise had begun, it stops. “I thought you would enjoy hearing the sound of the falls at full volume,” Blaine tells them. “I thought it might help you to forget my regrettable mistake in the matter of Edith Bunker.” Jake realizes that Blaine doesn’t like to be laughed at.
Roland asks him another riddle — one he says came from Cort. Again, Blaine answers it immediately and easily, plus informs them that it originated with Jonathan Swift of London — “a city in the world your friends come from.”
As Roland’s about to ask him another riddle, Blaine interrupts and tells them to cover their eyes: “The force of the Beam gathers. Look not directly at the Hounds, my interesting new friends! And shield your eyes.” Before Jake can look away, in his peripheral vision he sees the big dog heads glow blue, and lightning shoots from them to the mono.
Once the cabin reappears around them, they all start peppering Blaine with questions. How is the power of the Beam stored in the dogs? Who carved the dogs?
“Better not to ask him,” says Little Blaine.
“Don’t ask him silly questions, he won’t play silly games,” Eddie says — still halfways in his own trance.
What Constant Reader Learns: We see the huge waterfall and the chasm from Jake’s eyes, colored by his experiences. The trees look like they could be in the mountains of Colorado of Wyoming, while the falls are bigger than Niagara, where Jake had visited once with his parents, with mist rising from the bottom in moonbow gleams that looked like the overlapping rings of the Olympics.
Wizard and Glass, “Riddles”: The Falls of the Hounds, Section 3
Roland says he’s running out of riddles, which startles Jake. Roland tells Jake to be ready with the riddles from his book.
Finally, Blaine pronounces his batteries fed. He wishes to keep riddling while he has to perform some switching functions, from his regular engines to his battery power.
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland admits he should know a lot more riddles than he’s been able to remember. “It’s not like forgetting. It’s as if they were never there in the first place. What’s happening to the rest of the world is happening to me, I reckon.” At which Susannah looks at him and says, “You’re moving on.” WTH? Roland can’t move on!
Eddie’s still off in his own world, but when he makes some offhand comment, Blaine says “Never mind Eddie of New York. He knows no good riddles, but you know many, Roland of Gilead.” So I certainly get the feeling Eddie is going to come up with the right riddle at some point.
Wizard and Glass, “Riddles”: The Falls of the Hounds, Section 4
Blaine is on the go again, and Susannah notes with dread that they approach and pass Dasherville, the last stop before they’ll reach Topeka. Blaine seems to be moving more slowly now that he’s switched to batteries. She feels a “reluctant love” for Roland — a mixture of admiration, fear, and pity — as he continues to come up with riddles for Blaine. She thinks she might never actually like Roland — if for no other reason than how he dragged Detta Walker into the sun — but she loves him for saving Eddie and for never giving up.
Roland keeps riddling until Blaine finally stops him and announces that they are sixty minutes out of Topeka. “If we’ve been riding for seven hours or more, I grew up with the Brady Bunch,” Jake says. Blaine answers in his Humphrey Bogart voice: “Time’s different here, shweetheart.” Then he laughs his crazy clown laugh until Susannah begs him to stop and Jimmy Stewart’s voice drawls, “Ah’m right sorry if I ruint your ears with my risability.”
At this point, Blaine announces — back in his normal voice — he plans to begin his “kamikaze run,” which will quickly drain his batteries but have him running at nine hundred mph when he reaches the end of his track. If they have been holding back on their good riddles, Blaine warns, they better trot them out now. Ever calm and collected, Roland says, “I might not have time even so to pose you all my very best ones. That would be a shame, wouldn’t it?”
Blaine’s not buying. “I’ll not be drawn on by the promise of more riddles,” Blaine replies. “We vie for the goose. Come Topeka, it shall be awarded, one way or another.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Susannah’s looking at Eddie, who’s still out of it, and is tempted to elbow him — but she remembers Roland stopping her from interrupting him earlier. Roland knows Eddie’s working out something and seems to be buying time for Eddie to come up with…whatever it is. But it worries her that Blaine doesn’t even have to stop and think of the answers to Roland’s riddles. He answers them immediately.
And so the contest continues…
That’s it for this week! Next week — same time, same place — we’ll continue our read of Wizard and Glass, beginning with “The Fair-Day Goose.”