“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 cast, Jonas was on his way to meet up with Farson’s mysterious man and Bert had intercepted Sheemie with the damning letter from Rhea to Cordelia.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Roland and Cuthbert, Section 13
Jonas arrives at Seafront feeling a bit unsettled since it obviously wasn’t the expected man Latigo who’s arrived from Farson. He sees Olive Thorin when he goes inside, “sitting in the front parlor like a forlorn ghost.” She starts to give him a message for the mayor, but Jonas cuts her short, saying he’s there to see Kimba Rimer.
He reaches Rimer’s room, knocks on the door, and a voice bids him enter, followed by a “tittery laugh that made Jonas’s flesh creep.” He remembers Roy saying it sounded like the laugh of a dead person. Later, Jonas thinks the man’s laugh is the “sort of sound one might expect to hear drifting through the barred windows of a lunatic asylum.”
So in Jonas goes. The drapes are open, the windows are open, there’s incense burning..and no sign of anyone. He looks around but sees no one, so he draws his gun. “Come now. No need for that, we’re all friends here,” the voice says, and this time when Jonas whirls around he sees a “man of medium height, powerfully built… with bright blue eyes and the rosy cheeks of either good health or good wine. His parted, smiling lips revealed cunning little teeth which must have been filed to points.” The man’s wearing a black robe with the hood pushed back. When Jonas looks back at him a second time, his teeth are normal.
The man asks Jonas to tell him everything about “the three troublesome boys” and what he has planned. Jonas asked to see his sigul, and the man pulls a square of silver out of his robe and tosses it on the table—the “hideous staring eye” was engraved on it. When the man tells Jonas to slide it back across the table to him, Jonas doesn’t want to touch it: “Suddenly, he knew that if he touched it, the engraved silver eye would roll…and look directly at him.”
Finally, Jonas asks the man’s name.
“Call me Walter,” he says. “Let us…palaver.”
What Constant Reader Learns: And here is our old friend the Man in Black, complete with his black robe and his “palsy-walsy” talk. Love this: “We’ll speak of many things—oxen and oil-tankers and whether or not Frank Sinatra really was a better crooner than Der Bingle.” Jonas has no clue what he’s talking about.
Jonas has a flash of insight about his initial inability to see the man: “You couldn’t see him until he was ready to be seen,” he thinks. “I don’t know if he’s a wizard, but he’s a glamor-man, all right. Mayhap even Farson’s sorcerer.”
The man’s ability to change his appearance is fascinating. First he’s not there, then he is. His teeth are pointed, then they aren’t. Jonas at one time thinks he looks like Fardo, Cort’s father, and he reaches again for his gun—but then it’s just our palsy Walter again.
Uh oh. Last time we sat down to a palaver with Walter, it took, like, decades and Roland ended up eating lobstrosities.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Roland and Cuthbert, Section 14
Cuthbert arrives back at the bunkhouse and finds Roland and Alain playing cards after cleaning up the mess Jonas had made.
Roland looks up calmly, but inside, he’s “in a turmoil of pain and indecision.” Alain had shared Cuthbert’s comments, and the thing that haunts Roland are the words, “You’ve called your carelessness love and made a virtue of irresponsibility.” He wonders if it’s possible Bert is right. Cuthbert looks happy, but Roland doesn’t trust it—the color in his cheeks could just as easily be from anger.
And, indeed, Bert immediately asks Roland to come outside so he can show him something. As he walks toward Cuthbert “the friend who no longer looked like a friend,” Roland realizes he’s been making decisions “in a state close akin to drunkenness.”
Cuthbert is reckless and furious as he goes outside first. Alain urges Roland not to follow him, but he has to. “If our fellowship is broken, any chance we might have of getting out of Mejis alive is gone. That being the case, I’d rather die at the hands of a friend than an enemy.”
What Constant Reader Learns: This is a new card game for us, “Casa Fuerte,” or Hotpatch—a two-man version of Watch Me. It had, we are told, been played in bars and bunkhouses since the world was young.
Roland has an interesting conversation with himself. I’d been wondering last week why he didn’t just tell Cuthbert and Alain what was going on, but had decided Bert was too emotional and likely to react without thinking. Now, Roland’s asking himself that question: Why can’t he tell Bert it’ll all be over in three weeks? “He realized he didn’t know. Why had he been holding back, keeping his own counsel? For what purpose? Had he been blind? Gods, had he?” We surely aren’t used to seeing this kind of inner turmoil and indecision from Roland.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Roland and Cuthbert, Section 15
It’s dark, but there’s enough moonlight for visibility. Roland asks what it is Cuthbert wants him to see, and Bert clocks him a good one on the chin. “It was the first time, except in play (and as very small boys), that Bert had ever struck him.” Roland doesn’t lose consciousness, but Bert hits him hard enough to knock him to his back, limbs flailing.
Alain, horrified, is screaming at Cuthbert, and Roland realizes he has to get up before Alain loses it and something worse happens. “That’s what I wanted to show you, Roland,” Bert says as Roland struggles to get up. “That particular piece of ground…Get a good taste of it. Mayhap it’ll wake you up.”
Well, now Roland’s getting ticked, and his anger is a coldness that he can’t fight off. “I love you, Cuthbert, but I’ll have no more insubordination and jealous tantrums,” he says. He’s about to get up and rip Bert a new one, so to speak, when Cuthbert throws down the note.
Roland’s so angry he can barely unfold the paper, but he does. And in Rhea’s elegant speech it says: “Pure no more! He’s had every hole of her has Will Dearborn! How do ye like it?”
Roland starts trembling, realizing that while he and Susan thought they were being so clever, there was someone watching them. “I’ve put everything at risk,” he thinks. “Her life as well as ours.”
But what he says is, “I’ve been a fool.”
That’s all Cuthbert needs to hear. He drops to his knees and tells Roland to hit him “hard as you want and as many as you can manage.” Then (apparently without getting up, or SK just forgot that part) he puts his hands on Roland’s shoulders and kisses his cheek. Roland cries—part gratitude, but mostly shame and confusion and, in a dark corner of his heart, even hate for Cuthbert for basically being a more noble man than Roland has been.
Roland goes on his knees this time, and Cuthbert is horrified. He wanted Roland to realize he’d been wrong, but he doesn’t want this. “I have forgotten the face of my father, and cry your pardon,” Roland says. Bert’s mortified. “Yes, all right, for gods’ sake, yes! Just…please get up!”
Finally, that awkwardness past, Bert tells them about getting the letter from Sheemie. What Roland can’t figure out is how Rhea knew. Bert is worried about making sure Sheemie isn’t hurt, and about whether Rhea will try to tell anyone else. Roland smiles and says of Rhea, “Troublemakers must be put on notice.”
Roland goes off to put Cuthbert’s horse away and Bert and Alain go back to play the card game. When Ro returns, he tells Bert they have a “spot of business” up on the Coos the next morning. When Bert asks if they’re going to kill Rhea, Roland says no. “Later he would regret this decision…bitterly,” we’re told, but he is, after all, still a kid and kids don’t turn to murder easily or naturally.
What Constant Reader Learns: I love-love-love the scene with Cuthbert and Roland in the dirt outside the bunkhouse. It has so many nuances. Cuthbert’s journey from anger to self-righteousness to horror at what seeing Roland abase himself really feels and looks like. And Roland’s self-doubt turning to surprise, then anger, then shame (and anger and hatred all rolled together). It was a very powerful scene, as was the little makeup scene with Alain and Cuthbert while Roland tends to the horse. It’s a nice reminder of how beautifully Stephen King writes friendships among kids, especially boys on the cusp of manhood, just learning who they are.
Oh boys, boys, boys. You really should knock of that nasty old piece of work Rhea while you can.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Roland and Cuthbert, Section 16
Early in the morning, Roland and Cuthbert head up the Coos. For the first time they are wearing holstered revolvers—“for the first time in their lives they went into the world as gunslingers.”
Cuthbert is uncharacteristically silent, realizing if he ever starts talking, he’ll babble. Roland reminds him that on the night before, he’d said he made one very bad mistake, and Cuthbert is quick to say he knows the mistake wasn’t loving Susan—that was ka.
“Not loving her,” Roland says, “but thinking that love could somehow be apart from everything else. That I could live two lives—one with you and Al and our job here, one with her. I thought that love could lift me above ka.”
“It made you blind,” Cuthbert says, and Roland agrees. “But now I see.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Cuthbert is anxious to reassure Roland that he accepts the love between Ro and Susan as ka, and when he says it he realizes he really does believe it. It helps him be gentle and forgiving with Roland instead of angry, and it’s quite sweet… although I’m not convinced it’s going to be all unicorns and bluebonnets between the two from here on out.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Roland and Cuthbert, Section 17
They ride up the mountain and stop at the edge of Rhea’s yard. The garden is full of “unpicked mutie vegetables,” the tree is sickly, and even the stuffy-guy is a mutant. Roland feels a presence here, a wrongness.
Bert feels it too and asks if they have to go inside—the door is standing open. Roland tells Bert to wait and cover his back while he rides closer. “If I need to go inside, the old woman who lives here will breathe no more,” he says in his best gunslinger voice. The closer he gets, the worse the place smells, and the more uneasy he grows.
He stops about twenty paces from the door. He doesn’t see her—“she’s used her art to make herself dim”—but he can feel her eyes “crawling on him like loathsome bugs.” He finds he can turn his head a certain way and kind of see her shimmery image.
He calls to her in “the harsh tones of old, stern and commanding.” Then he takes the letter out and tosses it on the ground, telling her she’s lucky she’s still alive.
Roland gives her his Gandalf “You Shall Not Pass” speech: “Here me well, Rhea, daughter of none, and understand me well. I have come here under the name of Will Dearborn, but Dearborn is not my name and it is the Affiliation I serve. More, ‘tis all which lies behind the Affiliation—‘tis the power of the White. You have crossed the way of our ka, and I warn you only this once: do not cross it again.”
No answer, so he goes on to tell her that she’s not to harm Sheemie, nor to tell anyone else, or he’ll kill her.
Still no answer. Finally, saying “silence gives consent,” Roland turns his horse to leave, but from the corner of his eye he sees a shift of green among the dying yellow leaves in the tree above him. Before Cuthbert even has the word “Snake!” out of his mouth, Roland has drawn his gun, hung sideways in the saddle, and fired up, shooting Ermot into two pieces and minus a head.
Rhea screams from the cottage, but Roland just tells her, “Remember.” And he and Cuthbert head back down the mountain.
What Constant Reader Learns: I’d forgotten that Susan was singing “Careless Love” on her way up the Coos at the beginning of the book. Nice touch.
So we have Roland the White, the pink glass, the man in black, a field of red roses, a pink sombrero…and a partridge in a pear tree.
Kind of cool that Roland is shaky after the snake attack, and realizes his hand “had taken matters over.”
Fancy-schmancy bit of shooting there, Roland. I think I saw that move in Rio Bravo… or was it Red River? Nice nod to the cowboy shoot-em-up.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Roland and Cuthbert, Section 18
On the way down, Roland says the four of them—the boys and Susan—need to meet. “Susan can help us,” Roland says, almost to himself. “Susan was meant to help us. Why didn’t I see that?” And Cuthbert jokes, “because love is blind.”
What Constant Reader Learns: I suspect Bert finds that joke funnier than Roland. And boy is Rhea going to be mad that her love-snake is dead. What, oh what, will she do?
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Roland and Cuthbert, Section 19
Once the boys have gone, Rhea hobbles outside and cries over Ermot. She picks up the pieces of him, “kissed the scaly mouth, licked the last of the venom from the exposed needles, crooning and weeping all the while.” She tries to put Ermot back together again, but he’s beyond her magic, and she vows revenge on the boys. “When ye least expect it, there Rhea will be, and your screams will break your throats.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Did I mention that Rhea just creeps me out with that snake? Well, okay, she just creeps me out period.
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll continue our read of Wizard and Glass, Chapter 5, “Wizard’s Rainbow.”