A Read of The Dark Tower

A Read of The Dark Tower: Constant Reader Tackles Wizard and Glass, All God’s Chillun Got Shoes, Chapters 4 and 5: “The Glass” and “The Path of the Beam”

“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 sections, join me by commenting here.

Last week, our ka-tet had a strange encounter with Flagg-Marten playing the real wizard, with the Tick-Tock Man as Oz. There was much posturing but not a lot of danger, it seemed, but at the end, Roland realized that in order for them to truly be one, he had to finish his story and tell the others about the last time he looked in the Wizard’s Glass.


Wizard and Glass, “All God’s Chillun Got Shoes”: Chapter 4, The Glass

The section begins with this: “Jake of New York stands in an upper corridor of the Great Hall of Gilead…” Eddie and Susannah are nearby, and Susannah has her legs back. Jake realizes it’s not a dream, however—they (and Oy) are in the glass, or in the world contained within the glass. And Roland isn’t with them.

He realizes they are going to see the “sad comedy” and “its sad and preordained course in front of their eyes.” Jake thinks he’s too young to see what’s coming, but then realizes Roland in this story is only three years older than himself.

Initially, Jake thinks he’ll see Roland as he realized Marten and his mother were having an affair, but then he understands it’s what happened after Roland returned from Mejis. The young Roland walks past, wearing the pistols with the sandlewood grips, a serape…and the red cowboy boots. He&rsquos unaware of their presence.

The 14-year-old Roland goes down the hall and knocks on a door, and the ka-tet follows him, although Jake doesn’t want to. They all know this is going to be bad, and keep calling out advice even knowing he can’t hear them. Roland’s mother doesn’t answer, so he tries her door and finds it unlocked. Standing behind Roland, Eddie spots a pair of shoes—someone hiding behind the curtain.

Roland calls to his mother, but no one answers, so he walks down the hall to her bedroom. Now, Jake can see the woman who’d been hiding behind the drapes is standing in the hallway, watching. Jake realizes Roland had seen his mother in the wizard’s glass and had seen that she planned to kill Steven Deschain in this very bed, using a knife laced with poison. Roland hadn’t come here to kill her, but to give her a last chance to stand and be true, “one last chance to repent of Marten Broadcloak.” Finally, Jake realizes, Roland plans to give her an ultimatum if she won’t change her mind—he’ll help her escape or he’ll turn her over to the authorities.

As Roland looks further around the room, the woman comes up behind him with something that has “a snaky look” in her hands. Jake realizes the Wizard’s Glass is on the dressing table, and that Roland’s mother had stolen it to take to Marten. When Susannah screams, the wizard’s glass fills the room with pink light, Roland turns, and sees not his mother but the witch Rhea—or so the glass makes it seem. And Roland fires his fast guns before realizing it really is his mother, and what she holds isn’t a snake but a belt she made for him.

Jake turns and sees Rhea’s face—or, an Ozlike green-faced woman in a pointed black witch’s hat, the Wicked Witch of the Oz story—in the glass. Then she turns to the ka-tet and urges them to “cry it off! Renounce the Tower…Ye see what a monster he is!..He never had a friend he didn’t kill, never had a lover who’s not dust in the wind.”

Jake, Eddie, and Susannah are resolute however, and as Jake reaches to take the Wizard’s Glass and break it, they’re thrown back into the present.

What Constant Reader Learns: If this were Harry Potter, the ka-tet would be in the pensieve.

I hadn’t thought about Roland’s age in this story in relation to Jake before, but he was only three years older when the events of this book took place. Makes him seem even younger.

We were told back in the first book that Roland committed matricide but I can’t think of any way the others would have found that out. I guess they’re just aware that if Roland avoided telling this part after telling all the rest, it must be really awful.

Hopefully, we’re leaving Oz.


Wizard and Glass, “All God’s Chillun Got Shoes”: Chapter 4, The Path of the Beam, Section 1

Eddie comes back to his senses lying in a small clearing near a grove of trees—the grass and tree leaves are albino-white. Susannah’s wheelchair is sitting nearby with mud on its tires. He realizes that “time has slipped again… Roland’s world was like a transmission with its gear-teeth all but stripped away; you never knew when time was going to pop into neutral or race you away in overdrive.”

But is this Roland’s world? The others are laid out nearby, Susannah snoring. Eddie turns and looks around and finally sees the Green Palace about thirty miles behind them. Susannah’s wheelchair tracks stretch back through the mud.

“Where’s the turnpike?” Jake asks, and when he says, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore,” he isn’t making a Wizard of Oz joke. He means it literally. They’re back on the Path of the Beam.

What Constant Reader Learns: The “sudden” thirty-mile distance is pretty cool, and the wheelchair tracks a nice touch. So I assume we’re back in Roland’s world and out of the world of Randall Flagg again. At least for now.


Wizard and Glass, “All God’s Chillun Got Shoes”: Chapter 4, The Path of the Beam, Section 2

Eddie realizes they’re all still wearing their red shoes (well, Oy has lost one of his), but the shoes are dull and no longer shiny and new. He takes his off and realizes they’re scuffed and muddy—and that, somehow, they’ve walked all this way without being conscious of it.

Roland’s been sitting and staring off into space, but now he begins to sob. Susannah comforts him: “Be easy and let it go. This part is over.” Eddie tries to tell him he was killing Rhea, not his mother, but Roland isn’t ready to let himself off the hook. But Eddie’s not blaming Rhea; he’s blaming ka.

What Constant Reader Learns: Roland cries. I wish we’d experienced this short section from Roland’s point of view rather than Eddie’s, because I think it could have been emotionally powerful. As it is, it’s kind of detached and it feels like an opportunity to wallow in some emotional angst was lost. Then again, that could be an awfully girly observation.


Wizard and Glass, “All God’s Chillun Got Shoes”: Chapter 4, The Path of the Beam, Section 3

The travelers open their packs and find an odd assortment of food—Keebler cookies, Saran-wrapped sandwiches that look like vending-machine food, and a brand of Cola, Nozz-A-La that tastes like Coke. They eat facing the Green Palace.

Eddie makes a silly toast with his soda but as he’s sitting down, he sees what he’d thought was a white leaf but is really a scrap of paper. Columns of “blah blah blah” fill one side, but the other side holds a message: “Next time I won’t leave. Renounce the Tower. This is your last warning. And have a great day!—R.F.” Smiley faces appear on each side of the text; below it is a drawing of a storm cloud with a bolt of lightning descending from it.

They all look at the paper. Jake wonders how Tick-Tock and Randall Flag got ahead of them, but Eddie thinks he knows: “A Door. Maybe they came through one of those special doors.”

Roland has been quiet till now, but finally tells them the advice on the paper is sound. “I urge you to consider it most seriously. And if you want to go back to your world, I will allow you to go….I did what I did before I learned to know you as friends. Before I learned to love you as I loved Alain and Cuthbert….There was a part of me that hadn’t moved or spoken in a good many years. I thought it was dead. It isn’t. I have learned to love again, and I’m aware that this is probably my last chance to love…I get my friends killed. And I’m not sure I can even risk doing that again…For the first time since I turned around in a dark room and killed my mother, I may have found something more important than the Tower. Leave it at that.”

But Susannah tells him that if they are all being directed by ka, then it means they stay. “As scary as ka might be—the idea of fate with eagle eyes and bloodhound’s nose—I find the idea of no ka even scarier,” she tells him.

Finally, Eddie speaks up: “You’re missing the biggest part of this,” he tells Roland. “You can’t send us back…Even if there was a door, we wouldn’t go through it…We’ve changed.” He struggles to explain himself, then finally can only say, “It’s ka.”

To which Roland says, “Kaka.”

What Constant Reader Learns: Um…I’d be kind of fearful of eating that food, personally, but since all the gunslinger burritos are gone, I guess hunger trumps paranoia.

I keep wondering…if the Power in the Tower is so anxious for them to abandon their quest, and if the power is so all-powerful (and not, in fact, a bumhug), why not just squash them like bugs and be done with it instead of making threat after threat?

Eddie tells Roland he’s as “contrary as a hog on ice-skates,” which made me laugh.

Roland’s speech is really pretty amazing—what he admits is amazing. And then he makes a joke! I have to wonder how liberating getting all his secrets out will be for him.


Wizard and Glass, “All God’s Chillun Got Shoes”: Chapter 4, The Path of the Beam, Section 4

Susannah has a question about the whole mom-killing scene: why was Roland’s mother hiding behind the curtains? Roland thinks the fact she’d made him a present (the belt) meant she was planning to ask for forgiveness. Eddie thinks maybe Roland is lying to himself about that, but doesn’t say so. Also, Roland says his mother had stolen the Wizard’s Glass from his father—although he isn’t so sure about that..his father knew some things that indicated Steven himself might have looked in the glass. And maybe he saw that Roland would kill his mother and allowed “ka to run its course.” Ro doesn’t want to believe his father would intentionally set it all in motion, basically setting him up to kill his mother…but he isn’t sure, and it appears to haunt him.

Roland tells the others he fainted after he killed his mother. When he came to, he was still alone with her body. He put on the bloody belt—“and how I lost it is a tale for another day…I’ll tell it to you before we have done, for it bears on my quest for the Tower.” But the Wizard’s Glass was gone.

Jake asks Roland about the stormcloud drawing on the note, and he thinks it’s the “sigul” of a place called Thunderclap. “I think that’s where we’ll meet this man—this thing—named Flagg again…The Kansas we came through was his Kansas, and the plague that emptied out that land was his plague.”

But the plague could travel, they realize—to their world, or any world. Except, as Eddie thinks, Roland’s world is now their world too.

Finally, Susannah asks the million-dollar question: “Who’s the Crimson King?” But Roland says he doesn’t know.

What Constant Reader Learns: Steven’s lack of action, if that’s what happened, is worse than Roland’s mother’s sins, at least in terms of letting his young son do the dirty work. It seems very un-gunslinger-like, although if he had, indeed, been keeping track of things in the Wizard’s Glass, it could have corrupted him. And if Steven at one time had the Glass, how did he lose it? Maybe we were told that when Steven sent Roland and his friends to Mejis, but I don&rsquot recall it.

Roland says he saw Rhea again later, but doesn’t explain. He implies that he put an end to her.


Wizard and Glass, “All God’s Chillun Got Shoes”: Chapter 4, The Path of the Beam, Section 4

“They clustered near the grove, five wanderers on the face of an empty land.” They all held hands. “We are ka-tet,” Eddie says. “We are one from many.” The others repeat it, and they all set off again for the Dark Tower, walking along the Yellow Brick Road Path of the Beam.

What Constant Reader Learns: There’s an interesting afterword from Stephen King in which he points out that twenty-six years had passed between when he wrote the scene of Roland besting Cort and visiting the whore’s bed and when Steven Deschain shows up “the next morning” to confront him. This, he says, “sums up the essential weirdness of the Dark Tower experience.”

That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll put Wizard and Glass behind us and venture into the world of Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla.


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