“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.
When we last left our fivesome (including Oy), four of them were awaiting their fates with dying hope of being saved from joining Blaine’s suicide run. He’d easily answered their riddles except for the ones in Jake’s book. But Eddie Dean’s been lost in thought…
Wizard and Glass, “Riddles”: The Fair-Day Goose, Section 1
Eddie is still, in the immortal words of Henry, “zonin’, drawn continually to the image of Jake trying to strike the flint and steel to start a campfire. He thinks of a time when Henry, acting out of character, had actually praised Eddie, saying if he had to choose who to back him in a fight, it would be his younger brother. “Because when Eddie’s in that f’ing zone, he could talk the devil into setting himself on fire.”
Eddie teases the memory out of himself, finally recalling that Roland asked Jake a riddle to calm his nerves.
What Constant Reader Learns: We’re told that Eddie doesn’t know Roland sometimes thinks of him as “ka-mai, ka’s fool.” But that’s not the impression I’ve gotten. He does think Roland belittles him or is condescending toward him at times. So he might not realize Roland uses those exact words, but I think he does know Roland doesn’t respect him.
Wizard and Glass, “Riddles”: The Fair-Day Goose, Section 2
The route map shows Blaine and his passengers zeroing in on Topeka, and Jake feels vibration underneath him as Blaine pushes his engines to the limit. “Twenty-five minutes,” Blaine says. “Would you try me again, Gunslinger?” But Roland says no, that Blaine has beaten him. He turns the show over to Jake, who gets to his feet and begins to ask the hardest riddles from the back of Riddle-de-Dum. Again, Blaine answers them easily and he believes it inevitable that he, the Mono, will win the Fair-Day Goose, with fewer than twenty minutes to go.
Jake returns to his seat with Oy, and Blaine asks Roland and Susannah if they have more riddles, to which they say no. Only then does Eddie speak. “Blaine,” he says, “I have a couple of riddles.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Jake feels a heart-tugging wave of homesickness as he stands before Blaine’s route map, reading riddles: “He would have sold his soul for a look at New York; hell, he would have sold it for one deep lung-filling breath of Forty-second Street at rush hour.” And yet, I think given the choice to go back, he wouldn’t leave Roland. He’s just tired of Blaine and his games and, like the others (except Eddie in la-la-ville), doesn’t hold out much hope of winning. Hm. I seem to be contradicting Stephen King a lot. This is probably not good.
Wizard and Glass, “Riddles”: The Fair-Day Goose, Section 3
Eddie finally makes the connection—the night Roland had helped Jake with the fire, he’d asked a riddle. Then Eddie remembers making a joke, and Roland had belittled him for it. But what Eddie realizes is that Roland thinks of riddles logically, as Blaine does in his computerized way. Silly jokes that Roland doesn’t get, Blaine might not get either—or might find annoying, even if he does get them. Eddie remembers “trying to tell Roland that jokes were riddles designed to help you build up the often overlooked talent” of thinking around corners, but Roland had ignored him.
What Constant Reader Learns: I said earlier that in some ways, with his silly mimickry of old movie actors, Blaine reminded me of Eddie. Yet it’s Eddie’s pure goofiness, not a learned process but that which he comes by naturally, that trips Blaine up. So I guess they’re more opposites than anything.
Wizard and Glass, “Riddles”: The Fair-Day Goose, Section 4
“Speak, Eddie of New York,” Blaine says. Eddie repeats his first riddle: “What has four wheels and flies?” (The town garbage truck.) “I found it exceedingly stupid,” Blaine says of that riddle. “Perhaps that’s why you asked it again. Like calls to like, Eddie of New York, is it not so.”
Eddie’s having fun now. He’s intentionally angering Blaine, which will tax the computer brain even more as it tries to solve nonsensical riddles. When Little Blaine warns him that Big Blaine is getting mad, Eddie tells him to get lost. Finally, he asks a riddle that ticks Blaine off to the point he doesn’t want to answer.
Finally, Roland’s catching on. “Are you saying that you cry off?” he asks Blaine. “Answer now or I declare the contest over and our ka-tet the winner.” Blaine answers, but he’s not happy.
The lights in the coach begin to flicker, and the walls of the Barony Coach fade in and out.
By this point, Eddie’s confident of winning the contest, but he isn’t confident Blaine will save them. He keeps asking his riddles, though, and Blaine’s answers grow increasingly uncertain. The further they go, the more unstable Blaine—and the mono itself—become, and Little Blaine warns that they’re killing Big Blaine.
Now the mono is lurching and stalling for time: “No temporal limits for answering were set, Roland of Gilead, hateful gunslinger out of a past that should have stayed dead.” But Roland tells him he can’t crash them with a riddle left unanswered. “Answer or give up the goose, Blaine.”
The route map blows up, but Eddie can’t stop talking (and remembers Roland once telling him he’d probably die talking). “The battle-fire had dropped over him, burning him everywhere with its righteous heat, sizzling his sight, frying his synapses and roasting his heart in its holy glow. He had Blaine in his sights, and although the thing behind the voice was already mortally wounded, he was unable to stop squeezing the trigger: I shoot with my mind.” But not just his mind. He pulls Roland’s gun and puts all six rounds into the hole where the route map had been. And as Blaine dies, he says in a childlike voice, a childlike curse: “I’ll hate you forever.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Gotta cheer Eddie on this one after he’s been so belittled by not only Roland but Blaine.
As Blaine suffers his final meltdown (or at least I hope it’s his final meltdown but one can never be sure), he lapses into infant-speak, then French, then into a rousing rendition of ZZ Top’s “Velcro Fly.” Wonder why Stephen King chose this song, of all songs, to fixate on? I’m itching to hear “LaGrange” now.
Wizard and Glass, “Riddles”: The Fair-Day Goose, Section 5
As the sounds fade, Roland realizes Blaine’s engines have quit and they’re now gliding along the monorail track—and possibly close enough to the end to crash. He leads them to the back of the coach and warns them to stay clear of the piano-slash-harpsichord that sits on its pedestal. They all lie down and wrap their arms over their heads.
Finally, Roland apologizes to Eddie. “How the wheel of ka turns,” he says. “Once I had to ask the same of my friend Cuthbert, and for the same reason. There’s a kind of blindness in me. An arrogant blindness.” Eddie could be crowing over this, but he’s uncomfortable having Roland apologize. “You can’t help your nature, Roland,” he says. Ro considers this and realizes this is an idea that has never, ever occurred to him. That not just him but his very nature is a captive of ka.
Before there can be singing of “Kumbaya,” Blaine the Mono crashes. Roland hits the front wall and Jake barely escapes the piano/harpsichord, but no one is seriously injured, and a hatch pops open above them, letting in hazy daylight.
What Constant Reader Learns: As soon as Blaine dies, his healing of Jake’s injured hand from Oy’s bite is dead as well. But never fear, Roland notes, they have enough “astin” left to treat it. I can think of no other speech impediment Roland has that would prevent him from actually pronouncing “asperin,” but it’s a funny quirk.
Blaine’s demise was great, with Eddie firing bad jokes at him so fast it fried his circuits. The final crash seemed a little anticlimactic in comparison. But never fear, this is Stephen King. New horrors will await, I have no doubt.
Wizard and Glass, “Riddles”: The Fair-Day Goose, Section 6
“First aid can wait,” Eddie says, referring to Jake’s hand—they need to get moving. With Roland carrying Oy inside his shirt, they climb the ladder out of the hatch. Eddie hangs behind a moment, and imagines Henry telling him “good job.”
What Constant Reader Learns: I’ve thought this before, but I’ll think it again. Maybe Eddie has finally put the bad Henry stuff behind him. Now…what awaits us outside???
Wizard and Glass, “Riddles”: Topeka, Section 1
Jake stands on the roof of Blaine and is shocked at what he sees—not a smaller version of Lud, as he expected, but a green highway road sign: Highway 70. “Holy sh*t,” Eddie says. “Are we back home?” Then Susannah spots another sign: “Kansas Turnpike.”
Roland says they’re far beyond the boundaries of the world he knows. He stops mid-sentence when he hears something, and urges them to listen. Jake thinks the sound is the “auditory version of biting a lemon.” But he realizes he has heard the sound before—in Central Park, where a crazy guy was playing a saw—“a wavery, trembly, metallic sound that made you feel like your sinuses were filling up and your eyes would shortly begin to gush water.”
But something’s wrong in the way Roland reacts—his face goes white, eyes wide and blank, mouth twitching. “Jonas and Reynolds and Depape,” he says. “The Big Coffin Hunters. And her. The Coos. They were the ones. They were the ones who…Oh Susan. Oh, my dear.” And then he almost falls off the top of the mono.
What Constant Reader Learns: Funny exchange here where Eddie wonders why, if Blaine has been stopping in his Topeka, nothing has been on “Sixty Minutes.” Susannah wonders what “Sixty Minutes is.” “TV show,” Eddie says. “Old white guys in ties.”
What fresh hell is this? Do we finally learn more about Susan?
Wizard and Glass, “Riddles”: Topeka, Section 2
The others catch Roland and form a protective ring around him, and Roland feels guilty. He wants to tell them he’s okay but he can’t get the words out. The sound has transported him back to a box canyon west of Hambry. He recalls having a broken heart and, all these years later, reflects that the most horrible fact of human existence was that broken hearts mended. He recalls lines from a poem but can’t remember their origin: “My first thought was, he lied in every word/That hoary cripple, with malicious eye…”
Niether Eldred Jonas nor the crone on the hill had been of Marten’s stature—nor even of Walter’s—when it came to evil, he thinks.
Finally, he emerges from his funk. “I’m all right,” he tells the others. “But hear me well: this is very close to where Mid-World ends, very close to where End-World begins. The first great course of our quest is finished. We have done well; we have remembered the faces of our fathers; we have stood together and been true to one another. But now we have come to a thinny. We must be very careful.”
A thinny, we’re told, is a place where the “fabric of existence” is worn away. The waste lands beyond Lud had been one of those places. Susannah wants to hear about Susan, but Roland tells her she has to wait—they need to get off Blaine.
What Constant Reader Learns: Susannah remembers Jake’s guy with the saw in Central Park, but in her When, the guy was young. Another interesting glimpse of ka at work early?
A lot of names and references from Roland, but none of them mean anything at this point.
Wizard and Glass, “Riddles”: Topeka, Section 3
Getting off the husk of Blaine isn’t so easy since it’s 25 feet from their perch to the cement. Roland rummages in his man-purse and finds the deerskin harness he used to carry Susannah earlier, then reties it into a rope seat of sorts. He and Eddie lower Jake and Oy down to the train terminal, which says “Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe.”
Roland’s mind keeps going back to Susan, and Eddie has to repeat himself to bring Ro back to the present. Eddie goes next, with Roland and Susannah lowering him.
Next it’s Susannah’s turn, and she hesitates, rubbing her stomach. Roland asks if she’s hurt but she tells him—as he’d told her earlier—they’d talk about it later. But Roland is secretly suspicious and hopes he’s wrong about her being pregnant—because she’d been with the demon in the speaking ring, and often, “demonic contact changed things.” And never for the better.
Once Suze is down, Roland ties the end of the rope around one of the piers at the end of the monorail and lowers himself. He’s able to snap the rope—a trick learned from Cort—and retrieve it.
What Constant Reader Learns: We haven’t seen many references until now of how the travelers have changed. But early in the chapter we see that Jake’s hair has grown long, and that Eddie, without his drugs, has put on ten or fifteen pounds of muscle.
Just before lowering her, Roland smiles at Susannah and we’re told “it felt more natural to smile these days.” Because Ro’s feeling more at ease with his companions? Because they’re learning to trust each other?
Wizard and Glass, “Riddles”: Topeka, Section 4
The saw-playing sound of the thinny is heard again, and they decide to go around it. Roland likens it to swamps with quicksand and “saligs,” or alligators. Susannah wonders if Beryl Evans, the woman who wrote Charlie the Choo-Choo is part of this When and if they might meet her. Roland doesn’t think so. “My world is like a huge ship that sank near enough shore for most of the wreckage to wash up on the beach. Much of what we find is fascinating…but it is still wreckage.”
Eddie notes that the train station isn’t really wreckage—the glass isn’t broken and even the dust would indicate that it was maintained as recently as early in the summer. The true ka-tet shares a joke about “The Twilight Zone.” Eddie points out that he thinks they’ve crossed into another world from Lud, although he isn’t sure where it happened.
Jake looks in the window and suddenly says, “Uh-oh.” Roland comes to look but he’d already deduced that while this was a train station, it wasn’t a Blaine station, and that it was Eddie’s, Jake’s, and Susannah’s world, but not necessarily their When.
Two corpses lean on a bench. Over their skulls is a departure board, naming Denver, Wichita, and Omaha. There is also a big four-sided clock whose hands had stopped at 4:14.
They find a single newspaper and read the headline:
Captain Trips Superflu Rages Unchecked: Govt. Leaders May Have Fled Country; Topeka Hospitals Jammed with Sick, Dying Millions. Pray for Cure.
Roland wants them to read the paper to him since it is in their language, so they unfold the paper and see a “fottergraf” of Cleveland in flames. Jake begins to read.
What Constant Reader Learns: Odd little scene where Jake sees a newspaper box and wants a quarter to buy a paper. Eddie’s lost his change, and Susannah’s digging in her purse when Ro pulls out his gun and just shoots the thing. Thank you. Who’s going to arrest them for breaking into a newspaper box?
Woo-hoo! Captain Trips. I feel as if the ka-tet has entered my When.
Wizard and Glass, “Riddles”: Topeka, Section 5
Jake reads the story, which says the Captain Trips superflu is spreading. From 20 to 30 million people are dead in the U.S. alone. Bodies are being burned. There’s instructions on where Topekans should take their dead. Train and air travel has been canceled. Schools are closed. National leaders have fled to underground retreats. Vice-president Bush and key members of the Reagan cabinet have not been seen, nor has Reagan himself.
In addition to slipping into another time, the ka-tet realizes they’ve also slipped off the path of the Beam, which doesn’t seem visible in their current When. And so they set off in search of it again.
What Constant Reader Learns: Um…Okay. Here’s a sign of the breakdown of time as we know it. The Stand’s uncut version takes place in 1990. Wizard and Glass places Captain Trips in 1986. The events in the original version of The Stand took place in 1985. And Eddie came into Roland’s world a year after the paper was printed, yet he doesn’t know anything about Captain Trips. Roland figures they’re in the When of Captain Trips. “There are many possible worlds, and an infinity of doors leading into them. This is one of those worlds; the thinny we can hear is one of those doors, only one much bigger than the ones we found on the beach.” *Suzanne scratches head.*
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll continue our read of Wizard and Glass, beginning with “Turnpikin’.”