“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, Roland had been heading back to the Bar K ranch in the early morning when he saw Depape riding back toward town to reunite with the other Big Coffin Hunters—and probably information on Roland and Cuthbert and Alain. The game of Castles is about to get ramped up.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter X, Bird and Bear and Hare and Fish, Section 1
In a bit of authorial foreshadowing, we’re told that “the most important day of Susan Delgado’s life—the day upon which her life turned like a stone upon a pivot” came two weeks after her nighttime rendezvous with Roland in the Citgo oilpatch. In the ensuing time, they’d seen each other a few times and greeted each other casually, but each meeting was painful.
“Then, on a day between the passing of the Peddler’s Moon and the rise of the Huntress, ka finally came and blew her away.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Okay, bring ka on. We’re ready.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter X, Bird and Bear and Hare and Fish, Section 2
Susan is washing clothes when someone comes to the door—Maria, her maid from Seafront, who is in a swivet because the second dress Susan is supposed to wear on Reaping Day has been ruined and she is going to be in trouble. She wants Susan to come with her.
So off the girls ride to Seafront, and Susan realizes quickly that Maria is being a bit of a drama queen. The dress, which Susan thinks of as “Blue Dress with Beads,” is really just a fancy daytime dress and can be easily replaced in two months. Susan is horrified to realize it’s only two months before she’ll be called on to fulfill her bargain with the mayor.
What Constant Reader Learns: At first, I thought Maria was a messenger from one of the boys somehow, but apparently not. I’m just waiting for the winds of ka to blow her over, you know?
There’s a strange bit of dialogue between Susan and Maria about how the dress got chewed up—Maria smelled dog farts when she found it, and realized it was the mayor’s own dog, Wolf, who did the deed. And they both get the giggles. I guess the purpose of that whole bit is as a kind of reminder of how young Susan still is. She seems older than sixteen most of the time, and Roland certainly older than fourteen, so it’s a worthy reminder.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter X, Bird and Bear and Hare and Fish, Section 3
We switch point of view to that of Cordelia when Susan arrives home from Seafront, and the girl is no longer laughing—she’s in a fair temper, enough so that Cord recognizes the signs and is nervous.
What Constant Reader Learns: Clearly, Aunt Cord realizes the whole agreement is in danger of collapse—she doesn’t know how close it is, but doesn’t trust Susan to follow through with it as it drags on so long.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter X, Bird and Bear and Hare and Fish, Section 4
After Susan stables her horse, she comes inside—by which time, Aunt Cord has gotten her anxiety and anger under control. She’s cold and emotionless as she watches Susan wash her face, and finally asks her “what’s fashed thee so.”
Susan wants to claw her aunt’s eyes out and tell her it’s all her fault that she feels so filthy. But all she says is, “It shows?”
So, here’s what happened, she finally says. She’d had to go downstairs to have the chief seamstress do some fitting. She undresses and finds that Blue Dress with Beads is being replaced by Pink Dress with Applique. During the fitting, while Susan is daydreaming about kissing Roland, the seamstress leaves and the Mayor himself slips in, feels her up, gets himself off, and then stumbles off on his merry way, wet spot and all. The seamstress comes back in and Susan is in tears but instead of saying something nasty, she just says “Life’s hard, missy…best get used to it.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Grrrr-osss. Stephen King does a good job of upping the ick factor in this section, down to the empty-eyed look of Hizzoner as he leaves.
And Susan realizes that she’s in her own game of Castles, and that now the Mayor has done it once, he’ll do it again, and often.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter X, Bird and Bear and Hare and Fish, Section 5
Aunt Cord is her usual wealth of kindness and sympathy, pretty much telling her to get over it: “Nothing to be so upset over. Certainly nothing to lose sleep over.” And Susan comes back with: “How would you know?”
Well, that gets old spinster Aunt Cord where it hurts. The scene quickly degenerates into a cat fight, where Aunt Cord reassures “Miss Oh So Young and Pretty” that she had a lover or two back in the day. “Mayhap one was the great Fran Lengyll.”
Susan’s not buying it, and she tries to push Aunt Cord further, but instead of getting angrier, Aunt Cord just gets an empty-eyed look much like the one Susan had seen on the mayor’s face. “Deed’s done, Susan,” she says.
Susan wants to cry out, “I’ve met someone I love…Don’t you understand how that changes things?” but she doesn’t. She simply turns and leaves the house in tears.
What Constant Reader Learns: Susan’s father is a big sticking point with her. She knows, on the one hand, how he’d hate the bargain she’d made. And yet (as Aunt Cord points out), he’d also expect Susan to honor her agreement.
I’m getting a really bad feeling about this. It feels as if we’re building up to Doing Something Stupid.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter X, Bird and Bear and Hare and Fish, Section 6
Susan rides “with no conscious idea of where she was going,” but she ends up, forty minutes later, at a grove of willows. This is the grove she’d been daydreaming about being with Roland in when the mayor so rudely interrupted. She parks the horse and sits beside the stream to cry.
Of course, who should show up but Roland. He’d seen her riding across the drop and since she was riding bareback he knew something was wrong. There’s more kissing, and he refers back to her offer at their last meeting, to take her: “Say it again and I will, Susan.”
She knows what he’s referring to, and “later she would think that for the first and only time in her life, she had actually felt ka…My ka, for good or ill.” So she gropes him a bit in a most un-virginlike way and then we’re off.
What Constant Reader Learns: Had to laugh when Susan thinks of the Mayor’s sudden appearance in the fitting room: “Thorin had crept up behind her like some bad elf out of a gammer’s story.”
Oh. My. Cow. We’re going to have a Stephen King love scene, I just know it. I’m fearful of being scarred for life. *Takes a deep breath.*
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter X, Bird and Bear and Hare and Fish, Section 7
Roland and Susan make love on the moss. “They made love in the willow grove, questions of honor put aside, promises broken without so much as a look back.”
But the ending to the scene is chilling: “So were lovers joined in the Barony of Mejis, near the end of the last great age, and the green moss beneath the place where her thighs joined turned a pretty red as her virginity passed; so were they joined and so were they doomed. Ka.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Well. Susan gets the Big O on her very first outing. You go, Roland.
The scene was short (thank you, God) and tastefully handled if a bit flowery (thank you, Stephen King).
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter X, Bird and Bear and Hare and Fish, Section 8
Susan gets practical in a hurry, asking Roland if he will take care of her. “I can’t go to him when the time comes…I don’t know if I’ve forgotten the face of my father or not, but I cannot go to Hart Thorin’s bed.” Roland’s down with that idea.
Susan is startled to realize she could already be carrying Roland’s child. Roland kind of likes that idea: “A child. Another link in the chain stretching back into the dimness where Arthur Eld had led his gunslingers into battle with the great sword Excalibur raised above his head and the crown of All-World on his brow.”
She asks Roland his age, knowing he’s younger than her but at the same time hard in some of his expressions. “Older than I was when I came here. Older by far,” he says, and makes a rare joke about having to hobble to his horse like an old-timer if he has to watch Eldred Jonas & Co. for another six months.
Roland tells Susan that, for now, she must continue on as if nothing has changed. “There’s more time yet to pass,” he says, noting that there’s been time for Depape to tell his tale but Jonas hasn’t yet moved against them. “For now, it’s still Castles.”
There’s more sex, then Roland asks Susan if she feels she’s being watched again. She doesn’t think so, but Roland realizes he had felt watched earlier.
What Constant Reader Learns: More authorial loaded statements: “Roland felt himself drowsing. This was understandable—the strain on him that summer had been enormous, and he had been sleeping badly. Although he didn’t know it then, he would sleep badly for the rest of his life.”
Although he agrees with Susan that they are barely more than kids themselves and too young to be parents, Roland thinks it doesn’t matter. “Truth was sometimes not the same as reality,” he thinks. “This was one of the certainties that lived in the hollow, cavey place at the center of his divided nature. That he could rise above both and willingly embrace the insanity of romance was a gift from his mother. All else in his nature was humorless..and, perhaps more important, without metaphor.”
Ah, Rhea, you evil old voyeur.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter X, Bird and Bear and Hare and Fish, Section 9
And here’s Rhea, watching in the glass. She’s old enough not to be much interested in the “hokey-pokey” going on, but she is very interested in what comes afterward. “Let’s see how sexy you feel in a few minutes, you snippy bitch,” she thinks.
She watches as Roland falls asleep and Susan rises as if sleepwalking…but Musty the cat jumps into Rhea’s lap, startles her, and the glass goes dark—“puffed out like a candleflame in a gust of wind.” In anger, Rhea slings the cat into the fireplace and magically lights a fire. But she can’t get the image to reappear in the glass.
What Constant Reader Learns: Damn it, Musty, we were about to learn what Rhea had told Susan to do. You deserve to have your forked tale set on fire.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter X, Bird and Bear and Hare and Fish, Section 10
Roland, ever alert, realizes in his half-sleep that something is wrong and fights back to full consciousness. He gets up, hears Cort in his head telling him “no time, maggot” when he considers pulling on his pants, and walks to the bank. Susan is at the edge of the water, reaching into the stream and searching for something.
Roland thinks, “She’s been infested by a demon.” Yet he realizes that’s probably not true, only something is wrong with her. He calls to her but she doesn’t answer.
Susan pulls a series of stones from the stream until she finds one that’s sharp. Roland freezes at first, thinking she means to cut her own throat and he won’t be able to get to her in time to stop her. But his paralysis breaks and he rushes to her as she takes the stone and saws off a chunk of hair.
Roland grabs her and they struggle as she tries to continue cutting off her hair, “striving together like arm-wrestlers in a barroom contest.” And Susan is stronger than him—not physically, but driven by the enchantment.
Finally, Roland sticks his mouth to her ear and clicks—doing this on instinct—and twists her wrist hard enough to make it swell. The sound and pain bring her out of her trance, but she has no memory of how she got to the water. At first, she thinks Roland has hurt her.
What Constant Reader Learns: Ah, so this was Rhea’s instruction. What would have been the repercussions had Susan emerged from Hart Thorin’s bed after Reap Night with shorn locks? Probably just her own humiliation, and the Mayor’s as well. So more than anything, was this just a petty prank on Rhea’s part to humiliate a girl maybe too aware of her own beauty?
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter X, Bird and Bear and Hare and Fish, Section 11
Roland goes back to Rusher and pulls out a steel pot, but then reconsiders and digs into his pack for a small box. Inside is a small square locket (containing a drawing of his mother) on a silver chain and a handful of extra shells. He takes one and returns to Susan.
She’s freaked out because she doesn’t remember why she came to the water and cut her hair. He gives her the pan to fill with water and use as a looking glass. She is relieved, because it’s something she can hide with her hair braided. She still doesn’t understand why, but Roland has an idea: “If hair was a woman’s vanity, then hair-chopping would likely be a woman’s bit of nastiness—a man would hardly think of it at all.” He goes through the possibilities and decides it was probably Rhea: “Mayor Thorin had been meant to wake up on the morning after the Reap with a hangover and a bald-headed gilly.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Interesting that Roland has the ability to hypnotize this early. And that, inside, he knows there are other things he wants to learn from Susan. He only says he learned the skill “at home,” but doesn’t elaborate.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter X, Bird and Bear and Hare and Fish, Section 12
Susan goes under hypnosis easily, “confirming this had happened to her before, and recently,” but her memory is blocked after a certain point. She remembers Rhea’s examination, remembers them walking to the door, remembers Rhea touching her hair, but she can’t remember what Rhea told her. She only remembers “pink.”
Roland tries other ways to coax the memory from her but she can remember nothing but a pink moon. He considers taking her deeper into hypnosis but is afraid he can’t bring her back. “And he had been told there were demons in the below-mind as well.”
Finally, he tells her he’ll say a rhyme and when he’s done, she’ll wake up and remember everything: “Bird and bear and hare and fish/Give my love her fondest wish.”
Her fondest wish is, of course, more sex. So he accommodates her.
What Constant Reader Learns: Pink. So the glass, like the thinny, is not only a thing of power but perhaps it—or whatever’s behind it—has a sentience as well? I’m anxious to see the story behind it, and don’t think it begins and ends with Farson.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter X, Bird and Bear and Hare and Fish, Section 13
Later, Roland helps Susan onto her horse. They agree to be careful, and Roland says it’s safe to use Sheemie to send messages as long as they don’t do so too often. Susan also tells him about a red rock in the Green Heart, a park with a pavilion where she and her friends use to leave each other notes. They can leave messages for each other there if they are careful.
He rides away, “knowing that a new and dangerous phase of the game had begun.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland, even as he says goodbye and be careful, is aware of the dangers. “No matter how careful they were, they would slip eventually, because the Big Coffin Hunters now probably knew more about Roland and his friends than Roland ever would have wished.”
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter X, Bird and Bear and Hare and Fish, Section 13
A short time later, Cordelia comes out of the Hambry Mercantile with her groceries, worried about Susan and what stupid thing she might do (not realizing she’d already done it). Eldred Jonas, “his hair long and white (and beautiful, in her opinion),” grabs her parcels to help her carry them. They walk along together, and Cord looks around to see who might be observing her beside “the handsome sai Jonas.” She finds a “satisfying number of onlookers.”
They exchange small talk—with Jonas asking about Susan and clearly playing Cordelia like a fiddle. She even finds his thin, reedy voice “endearing.” Jonas says he’s helping out the sheriff after the deputy Frank Claypool fell out of his boat and broke his leg.
Jonas goes on his way, and Cord makes her way home, arriving at the same time as Susan. She is suspicious of Susan’s demeanor, which is calm and pleasant—“not this year’s moaning, moody breast-beater.” She also notices Susan’s hair is damp, but the girl only says she ducked her head under the pump behind Hookey’s barn to cool off. Cord still doesn’t quite buy it, but can’t figure out what’s different. But she thinks Susan bears extra watching until Reap Night.
What Constant Reader Learns: Poor Aunt Cord. She’s kind of pathetic, or, as Stephen King notes, “It did not occur to her that perhaps Susan was not the only silly goose in the Delgado family.”
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll continue with the next chapters of Wizard and Glass.