“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 young ka-tet, they’d (at Roland’s insistence) returned a letter via carrier pigeon to Gilead saying everything was fine in Mejis. And Cuthbert and Alain had discovered Roland’s new “friendship” with Susan.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter VIII, Beneath the Peddler’s Moon, Section 1
We pick up the story again in a town with the improbable (and apparently untrue) name of Ritzy, where Roy Depape has landed after backtracking the boys. He’s holding a grudge for his humiliation and sore finger, and will see them “laid out dead in a row, hand to outstretched hand like a little girl’s paper dolls.” He also has a burning desire to relieve himself on Cuthbert’s face.
As Depape rides back toward Mejis, we learn of his travels. He easily backtracked the boys, because they had been noticed everywhere they’d passed, the sight of well-dressed young men on good horses not being that common a sight in these parts. “Boys that seemed almost to shine. As if they had come from an earlier, better time.”
Finally, in Ritzy, he’d found the information he wanted, from a drunk man who’d seen the boys in the saloon. He was well into his drink and making comments about the boys being “lords,” and one of the boys having “come from the Eld line, for I saw his father in his face.”
The bartender tosses the old guy out, but Depape follows and sees the telltale signs of a devil-grass junkie, so he knows the guy’s about done-for anyway. With the promise of a drink, Depape leads the man into an alley and offers up some money for information. (Well, it’s more a threat of violence than an offer of money.) The drunk says he saw one of the boys’ father, and recognized him for what he was—a gunslinger, wearing big guns with sandalwood grips. He also knew the gunslinger’s name: Steven Deschain of Gilead, son of Henry the Tall.
Depape’s a’twitter over such news, but he wants to make sure, so he asks the old guy if he remembers what name the young man was using, and he can only remember “Deerfield, or Deerstine.” Which is enough for Depape to know it’s Will Dearborn, so he shoots the old guy in the chest and rides back toward Mejis.
Along the ride, a pigeon flies overhead, heading in the opposite direction, and he tries to shoot it, but misses.
What Constant Reader Learns: There’s a store called the Bear and Turtle Mercantile & Sundrie Items store. And I love this “wild west mining” town called Ritzy. What other writer would use such a ridiculous name and yet have it somehow work? We also learn that the Big Coffin Hunters had been a part of the Vi Castis Company’s takeover of all the freehold mines. The coffin hunters’ role in the transaction isn’t told, but I’m assuming they’re mercenaries and that their current “employer” is Farson. Total guess on my part, though, and I could be way off base.
In hindsight, it seems perhaps unwise for the boys to have traveled by such a public road, although they thought the danger they were fleeing was behind them in Gilead. And was Steven actually with them at this point, or had the drunk “seen” him in Roland and recognized him? Kind of says two different things but seems as if he saw the sandlewood grips on the guns, Steven must have been with them.
Depape is trying to remember when he and Jonas and Reynolds were in Ritzy, and when they got their tattoos in the nearby town of Wind (“a mudpen even less ritzy than Ritzy”). But he can’t really say: “When it came to reckoning times past, Depape often felt lost. It was hard even to remember how old he was. Because the world had moved on, and time was different now. Softer.”
Pop culture trivia. Some drunks are weaving down the street singing: “Woman I love is long and tall/She moves her body like a cannonball.” This is from an early 20th century folk song called Dink’s Song (or “Faretheewell”) recorded by, among others, Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan. Now, aren’t you thrilled to know that?
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter VIII, Beneath the Peddler’s Moon, Section 2
Three days after Roy Depape left Ritzy, we join our young ka-tet as they ride into the freeland that lies between the Drop and the bluffs, over which lie the waste lands. And they’re near the thinny. Cuthbert and Alain are relieved to be riding—for three weeks Roland has had them doing busy work and “neither of them quite trusted the dreamy, disconnected air which Roland wore these days.”
They’re confused when Roland says they’re out there to count, however, especially when he rides to Eyebolt Canyon, where the thinny is located. The mouth of the canyon is stopped up with brush, as Susan said it would be, although there’s a narrow path in the middle.
Roland doesn’t plan to ride in, however. For one thing, he doesn’t like the sound, either. Plus, he has only a vague idea what a thinny is. He’s apparently been asking questions in Hamby, but has only been told to stay away from it.
Instead, they ride up the west side of the canyon. Once the Peddler’s Moon rises, they note the silvery (really light green) steamy mist rising up and count: one thinny.
Before they leave, a winged critter, maybe the bird that startled them earlier, skims toward the surface, and an arm of liquid rises from the canyon floor, snatches the bird out of the air, and drags it down. Roland hears the thinny calling to him to “jump in,” and its voice is the voice of his father, and also of Marten, and “most terrible of all,” his own voice.
The other boys hear it too, because Alain begins walking toward the edge and Roland has to grab him and pull him back.
What Constant Reader Learns: Another sign that Roland is the leader here: Cuthbert really, really doesn’t want to ride into the canyon where the thinny is located—“but I’ll offer no mutiny,” he tells Ro. Roland can lead them straight to their deaths, and they’ll follow him.
Also, the boys’ reflexes are still pretty sharp—when a bird flies unexpectedly above the lip of the canyon, all three reach for their guns. Except they aren’t wearing them, of course. The guns are wrapped in oilcloth and stashed beneath the floorboards of the Bar K bunkhouse.
While they’re staring down into the canyon, Roland makes note of a groove running up the steep canyon wall where one might be able to climb out. “There was no real reason for him to note this; he just did, as he would go on noting potential escape-routes his entire life.” So I don’t know if this escape route will come into play or if it’s just showing the cautious nature of the man Roland is becoming.
I wonder if Alain seems more susceptible to the “voice” of the thinny because of his close access to the “touch.” Roland hears it but resists, and Bert is creeped out but neither are affected as much as Alain. Or maybe it’s because Alain is more of a natural follower.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter VIII, Beneath the Peddler’s Moon, Section 3
The boys feel better as soon as they head back toward the ranch and away from the thinny. Alain asks Roland what they should do next, and Roland said he doesn’t know. Bert suggests supper.
But then Bert finally says what he and Alain have both been thinking: that they can’t continue counting nets and boats much longer—“I believe that looking stupid will become a good deal harder once we move to the horse-breeding side of life as it’s lived in Hambry,” he notes.
Roland agrees, but he wants them all to keep looking stupid as long as they can. He’s trying to figure out what’s going on before he plays his hand: “It’s not just about horses,” he says. Sure, Farson needs horses, as does the Affiliation—oxen as well. But there are other places to get horses. So until he figures it out, he wants to continue what they’re doing.
Part of the answer, we’re told, is waiting for them at the ranch: another pigeon, with another message. After reading the message, Roland thinks: “I’ll have to see her again.” And it’s probably not good news, but needing to see Susan again makes him smile.
What Constant Reader Learns: Well, tease us, why don’t you, Stephen King? And yikes, a short chapter followed by a really long chapter, so I’m going to break now. Big column next week, though.
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll continue with the next chapter of Wizard and Glass.