“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 ka-tet, Eddie was dreaming again as they approach some mysterious building in the distance along I-70 in a 1980s Captain Trips version of Kansas.
Wizard and Glass, “Riddles”: Turnpikin’, Section 11
After a long night of dreams, Eddie awakens to again look at the building ahead of them that seems to be blocking the highway. Susannah and Jake are also curious, but Roland is busy packing up their “gunna”—i.e., his bottomless man-purse, his name for it probably a variation of “gunny sack”—and figures they’ll learn what it is soon enough.
Eddie calls Roland over to ask if he thinks the building is made of glass, and Roland takes a quick look and says, “I wot,” which Eddie translates as “Reckon so.” When asked why he doesn’t want to look at it, Roland says, “Because it’s trouble and it’s in our road. We’ll get there in time. No need to live in trouble until trouble comes.” When Jake asks if they’ll reach it that day, Roland the sage replies, “There’ll be water if God wills it.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Eddie spends a good bit of time trying to figure out the building ahead. He isn’t sure how far it is, or whether they’re seeing it through the thinny (sorry, but I hate that name…couldn’t we have a better name for a thin patch between worlds?). He realizes he should just be like Roland and forget it until they get to it, but it calls to him. To Eddie, it looks like “an airy Arabian Nights confection of blue and gold,“ or something from Disneyland.
The building is made of glass, and the book is “Wizard and Glass.” Hmmm…I think this building might be an interesting development.
Had to laugh when Eddie calls Ro over to look at the building and Roland grumbles about nobody helping him around the camp. I think I saw that same scene on an episode of “Survivor” last week.
RE: Roland’s sage sayings about the building ahead. Eddie tells him he could have made a fortune writing fortune cookies, but it’s all very biblical, isn’t it? There’s a verse in the book of Matthew toward the end of the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” And is this the first mention Roland has made of a “God”? It seemed odd coming from him even if he isn’t referring to any Judeo-Christian version of an omniscient deity. I think he might have said ”gods," plural, at one time or another, which makes this doubly odd.
Wizard and Glass, “Riddles”: Turnpikin’, Section 12
Roland has been quiet and withdrawn for a while, and Susannah finally realizes that it isn’t because he’s worried about the building or what lies ahead of them, but about the story he’d promised to tell them about Susan.
Meanwhile, they draw nearer the building—a “many-turreted palace which appeared to be made entirely of reflective glass. The thinny lay close around it, but the palace rose serenely above all, its turrets trying for the sky.” The building seems to draw them. In the last section, Eddie was almost entranced by it, and here we see it impacting Susannah in much the same way. She finds it difficult to look away from.
What Constant Reader Learns: So the glass palace appears to be outside the thinny. Does that mean it’s something that naturally existed in the post-Captain Trips version of Kansas? Or has it slipped there through the thinny from another When and Where? Or is it really even there, or some illusion of power from another When or Where?
Wizard and Glass, “Riddles”: Turnpikin’, Section 13
Everyone’s subdued as they make their camp for the night. They watch the sunset and the stars appear, and Susannah finds herself longing again for Roland’s world instead of this alternate, later version of her own. The thinny’s still warbling but they’re far enough from it that they don’t have to stick bullets in their ears.
Roland is tending the fire, and hands out the nightly allotment of gunslinger burritos, but eats little himself
What Constant Reader Learns: I’m growing VERY curious about this Susan business since Roland’s gotten so out of sorts just at the idea of telling it. Eddie finally even tells him he doesn’t have to tell the story, but Roland doesn’t answer. He sips from the waterskin and spits out the last mouthful. Eddie responds, “Life for your crop”—which has to be something that ka just handed him because he wouldn’t know it otherwise—and Roland pales as if he’s heard a ghost.
Wizard and Glass, “Riddles”: Turnpikin’, Section 14
As they sit around the fire, Roland turns first to Jake and asks if he remembers the little bit he’d told of him his trial of manhood at age 14. Jake doesn’t remember much but Roland says he’ll tell him more now because he’s older.
So he tells again of finding Marten in his mother’s apartment—as Marten had intended, which caused him to take his trial of manhood early. Marten had expected Roland to lose, but he’d won by using an unexpected weapon, his hawk David. As Cort slipped toward his coma, he advised Roland to stay away from Marten for a while, to “let the story of our battle grow into a legend…to wait until my shadow had grown hair on its face and haunted Marten in his dreams.”
But Roland admits he never got the chance to take Cort’s advice. He’d left his trial, buried David, then procured some apprentice guns (i.e., I think he stole them, or at least helped himself), and went into town, where he found a prostitute and had sex for the first time.
As before in River Crossing and in the outskirts of Lud, Susannah seems to be gifted with a backward-looking second sight, as she can envision young Roland in the “drinking-dive in the lower town of Gilead, Barony seat of New Canaan, one small mote of land located in the western regions of Mid-World.”
Then she sees the door crash open, “ending Gilead’s last troubled dream.”
What Constant Reader Learns: So Jake is older….physically older? Or just metaphysically older? We don’t have much feel for time passing except that Jake’s hair is long.
This is, to my knowledge, the first time we’ve seen Marten referred to as “Marten Broadcloak.”
Okay, not to sound like an old fussbudget here, but really. Susannah-as-Detta’s gonna talk about “store-bought pussy” in front of Jake? Roland’s going to poke the fire with a stick and grin over the symbolism of it? What are we, twelve? How did Eddie miss the chance to get in on juvenile sex humor? Okay, it’s out of my system. I shall proceed.
Is Susannah’s ability to envision places during times gone past with a greater clarity and sense of detail that she would seem to possess, knowledge-wise, a gift she’s been given as part of this ka-tet? Since she doesn’t seem to share Jake and Eddie’s ability to dream lucidly?
Wizard and Glass, “Riddles”: Turnpikin’, Section 15
Uh-oh. Who should come striding in the whore’s “crib” but daddy—Steven Deschain himself. He barrels in and is not happy to see his naked 14-year-old rolling off the whore’s bed and scrambling for his apprentice guns. Steven stomps on Roland’s fingers before he can get to the guns. Only then does Roland realize the intruder is his father. Steven drags the apprentice guns out, and the whore, deciding this is a business she wants no part of, wisely decides to flee the premises.
As 14-year-olds will do, Roland starts stammering about thinking Steven was in the west, but he doesn’t get much out before his father slaps him upside the head. Again, Roland considers going for his gun, but gets himself under control enough to push the gun away, repeating the idea of Roland’s well-trained hands acting independently of his mind: “All at once he wanted his fingers nowhere near the trigger of a gun. They were no longer fully under his control, those fingers. He had discovered that yesterday, right around the time he had broken Cort’s nose.”
Roland next tries to explain that he was tested and is now a man, to which Steven replies, “You’re a fool. You’re a fourteen-year-old fool, and that’s the worst, most desperate kind…I’ve known since you toddled that you were no genius, but I never believed until yestereve that you were an idiot…You have forgotten the face of your father! Say it!”
But again Roland tries to explain—that it was FOR Steven’s honor that he went to his trial. “I saw the mark of his mouth on her neck! On my mother’s neck! Today I end his treacherous, seducer’s life with this, and if you aren’t man enough to help me, at least you can stand aside.” He picks up his gun in his outrage, although he’s careful not to put his fingers near the trigger.
Well, Steven doesn’t think much of this little speech, which would sound arrogant coming from an adult much less a teenager, so he pulls his gun and shoots the apprentice gun out of Roland’s hand. What’s left of it flies out the open window.
But when he speaks, Steven is calm, and once again the father Roland knows: “I was wrong in what I said, and I apologize. You did not forget my face, Roland. But still you were foolish.” He explains that Marten was trying to goad him into doing exactly what he did—except that “by the grace of the gods and the working of ka” Roland was not sent west.
Father and son hug, then, after Steven tells Roland “if I had lost you, I should have died.” Then he whispers six words in Roland’s ear.
What Constant Reader Learns: Other than a couple of brief scenes in the first book, this is our first look at the cuckolded Steven Deschain. He’s described as “tall, slim, dressed in faded jeans and a dusty shirt of blue chambray. On his head was a dark gray hat with a snakeskin band. Lying low on his hips were two old leather holsters. Jutting from them were the sandalwood grips of the pistols the boy would someday bear to lands of which this scowling man with the furious blue eyes would never dream.”
When Steven first bursts in, and later, when he hits Roland, Roland’s first instinct is to go for his gun. “Shoot me if you will,” his father tells him. “Why not. Make this abortion complete. Ah, gods, I’d welcome it!”
I like the dignified weariness of Steven in this scene. Though sparing in description, it shows his sorrow and humiliation and fatigue and dignity and fear for his son all rolled up together.
Uh, don’t stop there. Susannah and I need to know what those six words were! Cruel, cruel Stephen King.
Wizard and Glass, “Riddles”: Turnpikin’, Section 16
The words Steven whispers to Roland are: “I have known for two years.”
Steven tells Roland he cannot go back to the palace or he’d be killed. “You must leave Gilead anyway,” he says. “But…you’ll go east instead of west. I’d not send you alone, either, or without a purpose. Or with a pair of sorry ‘prentice revolvers.”
“What purpose,” Jake asks—he’s been silent up till now. “And which friends?”
Roland sighs deeply. “Those things you must now hear,” he says, “and how you will judge me will come in time.”
And then he begins to talk “all that queerly long night…not finishing the story of Susan Delgado until the sun was rising in the east and painting the glass castle yonder with all the bright hues of a fresh day, and a strange green cast of light which was its own true color.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Well, at first, Eddie and Susannah and I were quite surprised that Steven knew all along what was going on with his wife and Marten. But then again, Steven was a gunslinger—a great one—and one should expect him to be aware of the things going on around him, even those behind his back. Roland, even though he’s no genius, has this kind of sensitivity to his surroundings.
Okay, so here comes the story of Susan. I have mixed feelings about it. Part of me wants to hear it, but another doesn’t want a long flashback—that part of me wants our travelers back on the road to see what the glass palace holds. But maybe the story of Susan will be able to hold its own.
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll begin our read of part two of Wizard and Glass, called, simply, “Susan.”