“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 sections, join me by commenting here.
When we last left our ka-tet, Roland had retold the story of his test of manhood against Cort, and of his father finding him at the whorehouse. Steven Deschain says he’s sending his son east, with companions, to keep him safe from Marten.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Beneath the Kissing Moon, Section 1
We’re back in the past now, with a decrepit old crone and her snake and her mutant cat Musty, who has a couple of extra legs growing out his side and a forked tail. There’s a full moon, or a “Kissing Moon, as it was called in Full Earth.”
Three visitors have just left the woman’s house—actually, a two-room hut—on horseback. They called themselves “The Big Coffin Hunters,” and left some “marvel” with her for safekeeping that they’ve warned her not to lose.
The old crone doesn’t have much use for men, who she sees as “swaggering, belt-hitching” blowhards who blame everything on women.
The Old Crone thinks about “her night’s second bit of business,” which has to do with Thorin, Mayor of Hambry, who seems to have become enamored of a girl in town (Susan, maybe?). Old Crone has ordered the girl to walk to her house from town, which buys her some time to explore the “marvel” left by the Big Coffin Hunters, whose names are Jonas (“the gimp”), Depape, and Reynolds.
Since she has some time before the girl arrives, she pulls out this marvel left by the Big Coffin Hunters. It’s stored in a hidden spot in the earthen floor underneath her bed (which we’re assured is hidden in such a place that no one without the touch would ever be able to uncover it). She pulls out an ironwood box, on top of which rests a “slim green snake,” whose name is Ermot, and she enjoys a nice little affectionate interlude with the snake where she “pokes the yellowish, bad-smelling mat of her tongue” out to catch some of his venom. (Nice.)
The box is locked and Jonas hadn’t left her with a key, but she has her own magic. We’re told she had “lived long and studied much and trafficked with creatures that most men…would run from as if on fire had they caught even the smallest glimpse of them.”
On top of the box is the shape of an eye and a motto in the High Speech: “I see who opens me.” She decides it needs to be opened outside, under the light of the Kissing Moon.
What Constant Reader Learns: Full Earth. First time we’ve seen reference to that. Not sure if it’s a place in and of itself, or if it’s the collective name for Mid-World, End-World, etc. Old Crone, as I’ll call her until I have another name to use, is located “atop the Coos,” described as a ragged hill located five miles east of Hambry and ten miles south of Eyebolt Canyon.
So at the time of Old Crone—I’m assuming this is the place toward which young Roland of Gilead and his companions will be headed—there are mutant animals and among the men, “a good many of them could shoot nothing but strange, bent seed that produced children fit only to be drowned in the nearest well.” So the moving on that has advanced so far in Roland’s “Now” has already begun. Whether from some cataclysmic event or from a general degradation of time and space because of the Tower, I’m still not sure.
Thorin is an interesting name, perhaps a nod toward Thorin Oakenshield, who led the company of dwarves in Tolkien’s The Hobbit?
So, why did the Big Coffin Hunters leave this valuable thing with her for safekeeping? Since she has “the touch” she is perhaps a witch of some sort? Also, touching the box seems to increase her senses.
Even thinking of this mysterious marvel makes the Old Crone all hot and bothered—something she doesn’t feel these days “in that place where her ancient bowlegs came together.” (Which we must hear about a dozen times in excruciating detail. Sweet, SK, especially after giving her an almost orgasmic experience with her six-legged, milky-eyed cat. Gah!)
Okay, finally, at the end of the section, we learn Old Crone’s name is Rhea.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Beneath the Kissing Moon, Section 2
Rhea takes the box to the highest part of the hill and, sounding very Smeagol-ish, opens it. Rose-colored light spills out, and (very Smeagol-ish) she is jealous when Musty the cat gets too close to it, and swats him away. “My preciousssss,” she croons. No, wait… “My beautyyyyy,” she croons as she looks into the box, where there is a ring, uh, I mean, glass globe nestled in a velvet drawstring bag. The rosy light is coming from the globe, pulsing “like the beat of a satisfied heart.”
As she holds the globe up, its light darkens to scarlet and falls on her. For a moment she appears young again. Then that fades and an image of three riders is shown in the globe. At first, Rhea thinks it’s the image of the Coffin Hunters who left the box with her, but then she realizes they are younger. One, the one on the left, has a bird’s skull mounted on the pommel of his saddle. Then two of the riders fade away and she’s left looking at the one in the middle. Her first thought, with some alarm, is “Gunslinger! Come east from the Inner Baronies, aye, perhaps from Gilead itself!” But then she realizes the rider is but a boy, and unarmed but for a quiver of arrows on his back, a shortbow on his saddle’s pommel, and a lance to the right of the saddle. “He was not one of the Old People…yet she did not think he was of the Outer Arc, either.”
Musty comes up and disrupts her vision, and once she’s kicked him away, she looks back and the image of the young rider is gone, as is the light. Now the glass globe is simply a ball of glass.
Before she can go inside, she hears a sound from the cart track below, and it’s the girl, who has arrived early and is singing “Careless Love.” Rhea is not a happy camper that the girl, the “virgin bitch,” has shown up early. It’s still not clear what the relationship between the two is, although she has to remind herself not to “do anything too awful” to the girl, who’s there because of Thorin the Mayor.
Rhea passes her hand over the box’s lock again, but it doesn’t lock back, and she has some pause again at the motto—“I see who opens me”—but she doesn’t have time before the girl arrives to work with the lock further. She runs back to her hut to hide it.
What Constant Reader Learns: Now, in addition to Full Earth, we have reference to Wide Earth. For whatever that’s worth.
Ah…very interesting that Rhea can hear a thinny from atop the hill, and she loves the sound, which she thinks sounds like a lullabye. The thinny has “eaten its way into the far end of Eyebolt Canyon.” Which makes the whole When and Where of this place as a potential destination for Roland up for grabs, seems to me.
The people of Full Earth call the full moon the kissing moon because they believe they can see a pair of kissing profiles in the moon, but Rhea knows that the only face in the moon is “the face of the Demon; the face of death.”
Rhea is troubled by the sight of who we must assume is Roland in the glass, but she can’t see his eyes, and she isn’t sure why he troubles her. [I can tell her; because where Ro goes, mayhap there be violence.]
“Careless Love” is an interesting song for the girl (Susan, I assume) to be singing. It’s apparently an old blues song from Kentucky early in the century, written about the tragic death of a young man. (A love song version of it was penned in the 1920s called “Loveless Love.”) A bit of foreshadowing, perhaps?
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Proving Honesty, Section 1
Rhea runs into the hut only to find her magical “hidey-hole” under the bed had closed itself up without the box. All Rhea can do before the girl arrives is to shove the box under the bed—that will do until “Susy Greengown” is gone.
What Constant Reader Learns: Rhea refers to “Susy” as her “second appointment of the night,” the first, I assume, being the three Coffin Hunters. Still no feeling for what the relationship between the women and Susan is.
It seems, with first Rhea’s inability to relock the box, the warning on top of it, and now her inability to hide it again, that the box is acting against her.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Proving Honesty, Section 2
Behind Rhea, the unlocked lid of the box clicks open on its own, just enough for a sliver of pulsing rose-colored light to shine out.
What Constant Reader Learns: This section is just long enough (two sentences) for me to congratulate myself on my insightfulness. Except the significance of the ROSE-colored light didn’t occur to me earlier.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Proving Honesty, Section 3
Susan Delgado—the girl—stops about forty yards from the hut belonging to the witch—Rhea of Coos—wondering if she’d really seen the old woman running down the hill.
She is scared to be out in the moonlight, “when werewolves were said to walk,” and she is scared of the errand she’s running. She’s nervous enough that she has run a great deal of the way from town, which is why she arrived early. So obviously, there’s no previous relationship between Susan and Rhea.
As she arrives at the hut, Rhea shouts for her to stop singing, and Susan stops, “abashed.” She is wearing an apron over her second-best dress (she only has two, we’re told), and is creeped out when the “mutie” cat comes out and observes her with contempt before running away.
Susan tries to be friendly even though the witch—and she somehow knows Rhea is a real witch and not a fraud—scares the bejesus out of her, at the same time disgusting her. Susan makes an excuse for her early arrival, saying her father (her “da,” for a bit of Celtic charm) would’ve said the moon got into her blood. Rhea refers to him as “Pat Delgado” of the red hair and beard, dead five years after being crushed by his own horse. Susan wants to cry at the crude description of her father’s death but refuses to do so in front of “this heartless old crow.” So Susan’s not only impulsive, but she has some backbone. “She was Pat Delgado’s child, daughter of the best drover ever to work the Western Drop, and she remembered his face very well; she could rise to a stronger nature if required.”
Susan says she came at the wish of “My Lord Mayor of Mejis, and at that of my Aunt Cordelia.” It’s clear as their one-upmanship continues that Susan is reluctantly being sent for her first romantic assignation at the hands of the mayor, and she expects it to be “painful and shameful.”
Trying to mend fences, Susan asks Rhea if they can start over. Rhea touches her outstretched hand, and says no, but “mayhap we’ll go on better than we’ve begun.” Rhea admits that Susan has a “powerful friend” in the Mayor and she has no wish to make an enemy of him.
Rhea asks if Susan has something for her, and Susan reaches beneath her apron for a small bag, which the witch opens to find two gold coins. While Rhea bites the coin to gauge its authenticity, Susan looks behind her into the bedroom and sees a pink pulsing light coming from a box under the bed.
Rhea asks Susan to bring in some wood, tripping over the cat along the way. Musty hisses at her, and on impulse, Susan hisses back.
What Constant Reader Learns: Susan, who’s only sixteen, is established as smarter than Rhea immediately—she realizes that if she stops singing, Rhea will know she was spotted. This is true, as Rhea decided Susan hadn’t seen her precisely for that reason—she hadn’t stopped singing.
We’re told that Susan’s heart has always gone its own way without much interest in what her head wants—so she’s impulsive, which I imagine will come to bear later on.
Nice bit of power-testing among the two women, with Rhea trying to gain the upper hand by her cruel description of Susan’s father dying to the sound of his own bones breaking, and Susan refusing to show emotion even though it hurts her. I’d give Round One to Susan. Susan also refuses to drop her gaze when Rhea stares at her.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Proving Honesty, Section 4
Susan escapes the hut and catches a breath of fresh air before looking around the outside of the house for Rhea’s firewood. She goes to the wrong side, but glances in the witch’s bedroom window, against her better judgment. The woman is on her knees, holding the drawstring pouch with Susan’s gold pieces in her mouth while she reaches under the bed for the ironwood box. As she pulls it out, her face is flooded with pink light, and for a moment, Susan can see Rhea’s younger self.
Rhea croons over the box a few moments before closing it and using her matic to lock it. She uses her magic also to find the hiding spot in the earthen floor. At this point, Susan realizes she’s been watching too long and needs to find the wood, so she hikes her skirt up to ensure Rhea won’t know she’s been to that side of the house. She finds the wood and takes it inside.
Finally, the purpose of Susan’s visit is clear. She’s there for the witch to verify her virginity—“proving her honesty”—before the girl presents herself to Mayor Thorin for his pleasure and, perhaps, to bear the son his wife has been unable to give him. Money appears to have changed hands between the mayor and Susan’s aunt. Susan undresses and submits to a disgustingly thorough inspection that would do the TSA proud. Finally, after Rhea starts enjoying her inspection a bit too much, Susan reminds her (following a bit of blustery threats) that the mayor would be unhappy if she is harmed.
If nothing else, Rhea is practical, so she finally proclaims Susan “proved,” and pulls out a pad upon which she writes “onnest”—honest—and makes a mark that looks vague pitchforkish, which is her mark, “known for six Baronies around, it is, and can’t be copied.” She tells Susan to show it to her aunt, but not to let her have it, and then show it to Thorin.
Before Susan can leave, Rhea grabs her arm and tells her to inform the mayor that he is not to have her until Demon Moon rises full in the sky—not until Fair Night, three months away, the last night of Reaping, after the bonfire. “When the fire in Green Heart burns low and the last of the red-handed men are ashes. Then and not until then.” Susan’s pretty pleased by this development since it delays her humiliation.
Finally, Rhea says they have one more piece of business, and she lifts a small silver medallion in front of Susan’s eyes, and the girl is instantly hypnotized.
What Constant Reader Learns: Rhea was apparently a witch, so to speak, from youth, as her younger version is seen by Susan as “a self-willed child…filled with cruelty.”
Again, we see Susan being both impulsive (looking in the window) and smart (hiking her skirts so it won’t be obvious to Rhea where she’s been, and making up the story about kneeling to pray when the witch spots dirt on her knees). She’s also only sixteen and a bit naïve, as shown by her shock when Rhea points out that the mayor might want a son, but mostly he wants sex with a pretty girl and if Susan gets pregnant the mayor will take the son away from her and have any daughter killed.
Hm….the old pad of paper Rhea pulls out to write her note about Susan’s proving is stamped with “CITGO in ancient gold letters.” So this is either a later When in our world or maybe a CITGO pad fell through the thinny. Who knows.
Uh-oh. What is this nasty witch up to?
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Proving Honesty, Section 5
Susan is asleep on her feet, and Rhea is pleased with herself. She tells Susan to remember “in the deep cave where yer waking mind never goes” to do something after the mayor takes her virginity.
What Constant Reader Learns: Well, crap! He’s gonna leave us hanging here. This is all setting up to be something really nasty that Roland and his buddies are riding into. That much, I can tell, because I’m perceptive like that. Yeah, and SK has beaten us over the head with foreshadowing. But I’m enjoying the flashback more than I thought I would.
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll continue our read of book four in the Dark Tower series, Wizard and Glass.