“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, Cuthbert and Roland are in a bad place, as Bert struggles to cope with his anger and jealousy. And the game of Castles continues.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 2: Playing Castles, Section 1
As this chapter begins, Hambry is in a period of rainy, gloomy weather, with everything turning to mud underfoot and decorations for the Reaping Fair coming to a halt. It is also bad weather for the two young apprentices whose job it is to count herds, which should have made it good weather for Roland and Susan, whose work consists of sex, but we’re told they’d only met twice during these rainy times as the “danger of what they were doing was now almost palpable.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Yawn. We’re told the weather in Hambry is such that it “makes folks apt to crawl back into bed after lunch, take long naps, and wake feeling stupid and disoriented.” And this interminable game of Castles is feeling that way to me as we move fraction by tiny fraction toward a big showdown. Things seemed to really be building for a while, but now… we’re just counting nets and waiting.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 2: Playing Castles, Section 2
Finally, the sun comes out and fall arrives. People wake up and begin their harvest and their planning and their Reap decorating. Roland has joined Bert and Alain in counting horses. In town, Eldred Jonas has sent his flunkies Depape and Reynolds off to look for a sign of Latigo, and is on his way to have a drink. The pain in his hip has improved, and his thoughts have turned to romance—perhaps an hour or two of recreation with a fresh-faced teenaged flower girl, he thinks.
What he gets, however, is Cordelia, looking far from fresh anything—“a skinny woman edging into late middle age—flat chest, flat bum, tight pale lips, hair scooped so tight against her skull that it fair screamed.”
“How lovely you look this morning,” he exclaims, taking her arm. He’s quite delighted that she wishes to talk of her troubles to him.
What Constant Reader Learns: Oh, Cordelia, you pathetic, pathetic woman. I’d feel sorry for you if you weren’t so annoying.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 2: Playing Castles, Section 3
Jonas realizes that “with women of a certain age and temperament, tea was more effective than wine when it came to loosening the tongue,” so he abandons his plans for beer and instead takes “sai Delgado” to the park and orders tea and cakes.
Cordelia makes small talk about the upcoming fair and the bonfire when everyone throws their scarecrows, or “stuffy men” onto the fire. Jonas wonders what she’d think if she knew three of the “stuffy guys” thrown on the fire this year will “smell like pork and scream like harpies as they burned. If his luck was in, the one that screamed the longest would be the one with the pale blue eyes.”
Finally, he pours Cordelia more tea and urges her to tell her “friend Eldred” what’s bothering her. She makes him promise not to tell Mayor Thorin or Kimba Rimer, and when he promises she says one word that makes his heart skip a beat: “Dearborn.” She says she fears Dearborn “has been with my Susan,” and Jonas can scarcely believe his ears. “Tell me everything, Cordelia,” he says. And she does.
What Constant Reader Learns: I’m glad I apparently haven’t reached that “certain age and temperament” point, since if I have to spend an afternoon spilling my guts to sai Jonas I want wine and lots of it.
The whole “stuffy men” thing brings to my mind voodoo dolls more than scarecrows for some reason. Too many years in Louisiana, perhaps….
Ooh, a tiny glimpse into what Jonas has planned finally.
Jonas is such a smarm-bucket with his “tender” talk and hand-patting. Said the spider to the fly. What will he do with this bit of information, I wonder?
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 2: Playing Castles, Section 4
We’re back with Rhea now, who’s really digging it with the glass ball, which accommodates her by showing her only the bad things happening in town: “acts of incest, mothers beating children, husbands beating wives…boys enticing stray dogs with a bone and then cutting off their tails for a lark.”
She also sees Cord and Jonas sitting in the Green Heart. She can tell that Cord has “gone all hot and sweet over a backshooter and failed gunslinger.” Seeing Cordelia has reminded Rhea that she has valuable information about Susan, so she calls Musty, the Mutant Carrier Cat to run an errand and deliver a message.
What Constant Reader Learns: “I’ve an errand for ye,” Rhea tells Musty, “bending over to lick the cat. The entrancing taste of Musty’s fur filled her mouth and throat.” Grrrross. Ick. A nice Stephen King moment. Who thinks of stuff like this? Seriously.
This is clearly a fantasy since no cat, mutant or magic or otherwise, has ever fetched or delivered messages on command.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 2: Playing Castles, Section 5
Jonas ditches Cordelia with an assurance that he will investigate the matter of Dearborn and Susan. He’s thinking hard when he comes upon a group of boys waving severed dog tails and pretending to be Big Coffin Hunters. He pulls a gun on them, “and for a moment the terrified boys saw him as he really was: with his eyes blazing and his lips peeled back from his teeth, Jonas looked like a white-haired wolf in man’s clothes.”
Afterward, he realizes he overreacted because he is worried. Cordelia’s suspicions have upset him—not because the Mayor is being fooled but because, if Cord’s suspicions are true, then Will Dearborn has fooled Jonas again. He thinks, “Crept up behind you once, he did, and you swore it’d never happen again. But if he’s been diddling that girl, it has happened again. Hasn’t it?”
This gets him wondering how much he’d underestimated the three boys, how much they might have seen and learned, and what they might do about it. He’s tempted to ride away from it all, but he’s promised himself vengeance on the boys, plus there is John Farson to consider (a man “reputed to be whimsically, dangerously insane”), and Farson’s man Latigo has promised a large cash advance on top of “war-spoil” after the Affiliation’s forces have been wiped out—a detail he hasn’t shared with his “partners” Depape and Reynolds.
Jonas considers making his overdue trip to the Bar K ranch, but instead, on instinct, rides for Citgo.
What Constant Reader Learns: When Jonas gets his horse and rides out of town, he has an urge to “simply kick his horse into a gallop and leave all this foolishness behind him: Thorin the graying goat-boy, Roland and Susan with their no-doubt mawkish teenage love, Roy and Clay with their fast hands and slow wits, Rimer with his ambitions, Cordelia Delgado with her ghastly visions of the two of them in some bosky dell, him likely reciting poetry while she wove a garland of flowers for his brow.” LOL. When put that way, it almost makes me feel sorry for Jonas. Almost. It ain’t easy being duplicitous.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 2: Playing Castles, Section 6
Jonas checks the tankers, which are just as they should be. He climbs the hill beside the pipeline, then strolls around the derricks. He finds a lot of tracks but can’t tie them to the In-World boys. He gets halfway to the gate, ready to leave and get his long-delayed drink, when he finds Cuthbert’s missing rook’s skull on the ground. He picks it up and something rattles inside it, so he shakes out a fragment of gold chain, which “Arthur Heath” had used to fasten it around his neck.
“Jonas’s face remained calm as he knelt there examining the bird’s skull, but behind the unlined brow he was as furious as he had ever been in his life. They had been out here, all right.” He realizes he has badly underestimated the boys and takes the skull with him.
What Constant Reader Learns: Does this loss of the rook’s skull constitute an unwitting sticking of one’s skull around a hillock in a game of castles, perhaps? It should ratchet up Jonas’s plans, or at least make him realizes the stakes are higher than he thought.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 2: Playing Castles, Section 7
Coral Thorin is on her way to the Travellers’ Rest with a raging hangover. She thinks she’s been very clever at hiding her dependence on alcohol, but needs it thanks to her “idiotic brother” and “the knowledge that all of the ranchers in the Horsemen’s Association and at least half of the large landowners were traitors.”
She waves at Sheemie on the way inside, and finds Pettie the Trotter tending bar—a job Pettie would like to have since “her whoring days were almost at an end.” Pettie pours her a drink before Coral can say anything, which dismays her—do they all know of her drinking problem? So she chastises Pettie and tells her to get out and take Sheb with her. The only others in the bar are a couple of card players and Reynolds in the corner, watching them.
Coral’s about to pour herself a private little drink when Musty the Mutant Cat jumps on the bar and almost gives her a heart attack, prompting her to drink directly from the bottle. Jonas comes in and offers to shoot the cat.
Better not, Coral says—it belongs to Rhea. She pulls a note from beneath Musty’s collar: “I’m dry, send the boy.” Jonas reads the note and realizes he’d almost forgotten about the old witch on the mountain. Lately, he thinks, “he felt less like a hired gun than a cook trying to make all nine courses of a state dinner come out at the same time.”
Coral puts an answering note back under the cat’s collar—“tomorrow.” Then she asks Jonas if he wants to join her upstairs. Before they can leave, he goes to Reynolds and tells him to have Lyngyll the rancher put at least a dozen men out at the oilpatch. He says the “brats” have already been out there at least once. If they’re seen again, they’re to be “knocked down dead. At once and with no warning.” He plans to try and stir the boys up tomorrow. “I want them angry, and I want them confused.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Coral is quite realistic when she considers her fellow townsmen and their planned overthrow of the Affiliation on behalf of John Farson. She figures Kimba Rimer and the man Latigo will forget their promises as soon as they have what they want. She figures people will always need a bar, no matter who’s in charge.
We learn that Coral has been having an affair with Rimer, although she has none of Cordelia’s emotional attachment—quite the opposite. “Her chief goal upon arising these days was getting to the hair of the dog that bit her as soon as possible.”
Interesting parallel… Coral laughs as she thinks how much she sounds “like the wandering preacher-woman that had come through town the year before—Pittston, her name had been, Sylvia Pittston.” Well, there’s a name I hoped not to see again.
Coral’s also realistic about her appeal to Jonas: “I’m not much in the looks department, but I can still spread em all the way to the edge of the bed, and I don’t just lie there.” LOL, well that’s an offer he can’t pass up, apparently. Coral at least stacks up well against Cordelia Delgado for him. “Fair warning,” she tells him. “I’ve been know to say some nasty things.” Jonas wants her to talk dirty to him, apparently, and off they go.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 2: Playing Castles, Section 8
Coral wakes when Jonas gets out of bed to look out the window the next morning. He tells her he needs some paint and a dog and, after that, she really doesn’t want to know. She accepts this without question.
By way of pillow talk, he tells her he’s “never had better.” And Coral replies, “Nor I.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Coral notices that Jonas’s back is crisscrossed with scars and considers asking who administered such a flogging, but decides it’s better not to.
Sigh. A little more happening but it’s all still buildup and Castles.
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll continue with the next chapters of Wizard and Glass.