“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 and Susan had given in to their attraction, Cuthbert and Alain were worried about Roland’s ability to tend to business, the Big Coffin Hunters were reunited, and Aunt Cord had grown suspicious of Susan’s sudden good humor.
Wizard and Glass, “Interlude: Kansas, Somewhere, Somewhen
We’re jerked back to the present—well, to some version of Kansas—where our other ka-tet is still gathered around the fire in a night that must have lasted forever. The thinny is still whining nearby. “Roland,” Eddie asks, “How can you know every corner of this story?”
“I don’t think that’s what you really want to know, Eddie,” Roland answers—which annoys Eddie, because, as usual, Roland is right. What he really wants to know is how long Roland has been talking. He isn’t tired, nor are the others, but his impression is that Ro has been talking “for days.”
“Time is different here,” Roland says. “Not all nights are the same length just recently.”
But he can’t expand on this subject because Susannah and Jake want Roland to continue with his story. Yet Eddie looks around and realizes time is also thin here: “He felt that Mejis and those people he had never seen—Cordelia and Jonas and Brian Hookey and Sheemie and Pettie the Trotter and Cuthbert Allgood—were very close now. That Roland’s lost Susan was very close now.”
Eddie realizes that “the dark would hold for as long as Roland needed it to hold…Eddie thought it had been night inside of Roland’s mind for a long, long time and dawn was still nowhere near.” He reaches out and touches Roland’s hand, and urges him to continue.
“True love is boring,” Roland finally says. “As boring as any other strong and addicting drug.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Ha. I find myself annoyed that we’ve broken up our flashback by this little bit of the present, although the notion that the night would last as long as Roland needs it to in order to tell his story is interesting.
Eddie’s unanswered question is a good one…how DOES Roland know every corner of this story? The conversations of the Big Coffin Hunters to which he was not privy, for example.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 1, Beneath the Huntress Moon, Section 1
“True love is boring,” the thought continues into a return to the flashback. “Once the tale of encounter and discovery is told, kisses quickly grow stale and caresses tiresome…except, of course, to those who share the kisses… As with any other strong drug, true first love is really only interesting to those who have become its prisoners. And, as is true of any other strong and addicting drug, true first love is dangerous.”
What Constant Reader Learns: In other words, Stephen King is not going to subject us to every sexual encounter between Roland and Susan. Thank God for small favors.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 1, Beneath the Huntress Moon, Section 2
Fall has arrived in the Barony. The weather’s turning cooler, the orchards are ready for harvesting, and the cider-houses are back in business.
What Constant Reader Learns: Love the details of fall in Mejis, with the pastoral view of harvesting and cider-making and farming and dead rattlers hanging from the hitching posts. Sort of a combination of the Shire and the Old West. Except, of course, we know there’s this ugliness bubbling underneath, plus the whole world-moving-on problems.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 1, Beneath the Huntress Moon, Section 3
“Those in the grip of a strong drug—heroin, devil grass, true love—often find themselves trying to maintain a precarious balance between secrecy and ecstasy as they walk the tightrope of their lives. Keeping one’s balance on a tightrope is difficult under the soberest of circumstances; doing so while in a state of delirium is all but impossible. Completely impossible, in the long run.”
Roland and Susan’s secret will only have to be kept until Reaping Day, Roland thinks—unless the Big Coffin Hunters “broke cover.” Although Roland thinks one of the other players might make the first move.
The lovers are careful, never meeting in the same place or at the same time. Susan didn’t try to hide her afternoon or evening rides—and while Aunt Cord is “increasingly uneasy,” she doesn’t question it, not yet anyway. Roland and Susan left notes in the pavilion a couple of times, but Roland’s inner voice told him that was too dangerous—both the hiding place and the writing down of notes. Sheemie seemed safer. But eventually, though Ro’s inner voice didn’t warn him about Sheemie, he began feeling guilty about putting Sheemie in the middle of their “coming trouble.” So he and Susan develop a system whereby Susan would hang a red shirt over the sill of her window if she couldn’t meet, and he’d leave a white stone in the yard by the town pump.
Cuthbert and Alain are agog at Roland’s behavior, watching his “descent into addiction first with disbelief, envy, and uneasy amusement, then with a species of silent horror.” They feel equal to the task of their suddenly dangerous mission as long as Roland, who’s reached “near mythic status” in their minds, is on-task. But now “he’s like a revolver cast into water,” Cuthbert says.
Of course, Bert’s also in a temper because he’s lost the Rook’s skull. Alain tries to assure Bert that Roland will be all right, but Bert says, “I don’t feel I know him now….I hate her a little for what she’s done. Perhaps more than a little….She must know she’s become part of the problem herself. She must know that.” Alain realizes it’s not fear driving Bert’s temper; it’s jealousy—both because Susan has stolen his best friend and because Roland got the pretty girl.
It’s ka, Alain tells him, but Cuthbert isn’t buying it. Finally, Alain has to make his point: “Blame is what we two can’t afford—don’t you see that? And if it’s ka that’s swept them away, we needn’t blame. We can’t blame. We must rise above it. We need him. And we may need her, too.” Cuthbert finally gives in—for now, but he is bitter.
They relax on the porch, and Alain reflects that “these days he smelled blood on the wind. Possibly some of it would be their own. He wasn’t exactly frightened—not yet, at least—but he was very, very worried.”
What Constant Reader Learns: The juxtaposition of the dangers of heroin (Eddie and Henry), devil grass (Nort, the guy in Tull), and true love (Roland) is interesting. Just in case we don’t know something awful is going to happen soon.
At this point, everyone seems to be poised on the edge of some great canyon, waiting to see who jumps first.
Love Bert’s comparison of Roland to a revolver cast into water. We know exactly how unreliable at least bullets cast into water are, from Roland’s experiences in The Drawing of the Three.
This is the second time Bert has said he hates Susan, a feeling that seems to be growing. Where will that lead? Nowhere good, I reckon.
At the end of this scene, Alain rolls himself a smoke, and we’re told, “By the time the following year’s Huntress came around, all three of them would be confirmed smokers, tanned young men with most of the boyhood slapped out of their eyes.” I had assumed—wrongly, apparently—that either Cuthbert or Alain, or both of them, would die in this book, as a result of this Reaping Fair/Coffin Hunter business. Guess not.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 1, Beneath the Huntress Moon, Section 4
We’re told that even though our baby gunslingers and almost-gunslingers had been trained toward guns at an early age, Cuthbert and Alain still believe their elders are their betters and that grownups know what they’re doing. So they would have been surprised to learn that Reynolds and Depape had “grown extremely nervous about the three young men from In-World, and extremely tired of the waiting game both sides had been playing.”
Reynolds and Depape come downstairs to the bar of the Travelers’ Rest, where Jonas is playing “Chancellors’ Patience,” a poker-like card game, with Kimba Rimer. It’s clear Rimer doesn’t care for Reynolds and Depape—or anyone else. “To find such low culls as these two in positions of importance proved (that the world had moved on). Jonas himself was only a little better.”
But Reynolds and Depape have something on their little minds and Jonas tells them they can speak in front of Rimer since he’s their chief employer—a fact that surprises the two coffin hunters. They thought they worked for the Mayor. “Hart Thorin wants to know none of the details of our arrangement with the Good Man,” Rimer says.
Finally, Depape tells what they want: to go out to the Bar K ranch and look around to see what the boys have out there. Jonas says he’ll think about it and dismisses them. On his way out, Reynolds reminds Jonas: “We underestimated ’em once and they made us look like monkeys.”
Jonas assures him he hasn’t forgotten. “They’ll pay for what they did. I have the bill ready, and when the time comes, I’ll present it to them, with all interest duly noted. In the meantime, they aren’t going to spook me into making the first move.”
Once they’re gone, Jones has a palaver with Rimer. And what Rimer wants to discuss is the same thing—taking a look at the Bar K. “What’s there to find?” Jonas asks. Rimer answers: “They’re from Gilead, they’re likely from the line of Eld or from folk who like to think they’re from it, and they’re likely ‘prentices to the trade who’ve been sent on with guns they haven’t earned yet. I wonder a bit about the tall one with the I-don’t-give-a-shit look in his eyes—he might already be a gunslinger, I suppose—but is it likely? I don’t think so.”
Jonas isn’t buying Rimer’s professed allegiance to the Good Man, and calls him a traitor. Rimer’s in it for what he can get.
Jonas says the people in Gilead know their world is falling apart and still think of Mejis as a place far-removed from the dangers. “They didn’t send these brats here to discover your secrets, Rimer…They sent em here to get ’em out of the way, that’s all. That doesn’t make em blind or stupid, but for the sake of the gods, let’s be sane. They’re kiddies.”
Rimer points out, however, that the boys should be on the cowboy side of town by now—they’ve spent too long counting nets and fish. “They should have been there two weeks ago…unless they already know what they’d find.”
Jones has had that thought himself, but he can’t believe it—“not such a depth of slyness from boys who only had to shave once a week.”
Finally, though, there’s enough doubt that Jonas says he’ll have a look around at the ranch—but by himself, without Reynolds and Depape.
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland, who has achieved gunslinger status, is not included among his friends who still believe their elders are their betters. Not surprising. Roland’s seen a lot more adult duplicity than the other boys, I suspect.
So, the Chancellor’s card game. The chancellor cards are named Paul, Luke, Peter, Matthew. Disciples of “Man Jesus” all, if one counts Saul/Paul’s Road-to-Damascus conversion. Haven’t had any biblical references in a while. But I guess in a sense, Rimer and the others are “disciples” of the Good Man Farson, although they’re apparently more the Judas brand of disciple.
Rimer has figured things out pretty well, except, perhaps, for underestimating Roland. As has Jonas…maybe. He’s pretending, at least, to think of the boys as “kiddies.” It surprises me that he doesn’t take them more seriously after the earlier showdown.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 1, Beneath the Huntress Moon, Section 5
Rhea’s in a temper. She is still ticked at Musty the Mutant Cat for interrupting her watching of how Roland got Susan to stop cutting her hair. “Who was he really?” she wonders.
But the glass continues to only swirl with pink light and show her nothing. She’s determined to make Susan suffer before she dies, even as she realizes her own anger is what’s keeping her from having the proper focus and will to make the glass work again.
What Constant Reader Learns: I’m not liking Rhea at all. Just sayin’. Maybe she’s the one who makes the first move.
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll continue with the next chapters of Wizard and Glass.