May 7 2012 12:00pm

A Read of The Dark Tower: Constant Reader Tackles Wizard and Glass, Riddles, Chapter 5: “Turnpikin’,” Sections 11-16

“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.”

1. Lsana
This book is the story of Susan, with a small (and at least in my mind, unimportant and kinda lame) frame story around it. The first chapter, the end of the riddle game, is a good conclusion to the cliffhanger Book 3 left, but other than that, you could skip everything that involves Jake, Eddie, and Susannah in this book and not miss anything when you got to Book 5. If you were to skip Roland's story, however, and just jump to the resumption of the trek along the Turnpike, you'd be missing a lot of critical details, both in terms of character background and in terms of foreshadowing what's still going to happen. So forget about the Green Building for the moment. As Roland says, "We’ll get there in time. No need to live in trouble until trouble comes."

It never occurred to me that Steven might not know about Marten and Gabrielle. The impression that I got from listening to Roland's flashbacks was that pretty much everyone knew. Roland, however, being the equivalent of a ninth grader, not only took a while to figure it out, but once he had, assumed with a ninth grader's arrogance that he was the only one who knew.
2. StrongDreams
Opinions may vary, but I found the ending at the glass palace to be a bit of a let down and also overly contrived. The main story (the story of Susan) is King's only explanation (outside of the comic books) of how that bratty 14-year old turned into a man who would murder an entire town and sacrifice a 10 year old boy for the sake of the Tower.
Suzanne Johnson
3. SuzanneJohnson
I'm being open-minded about the upcoming book-long flashback. It's more a reflection of my mindset as a reader than about the story and how SK constructed it. I'm a "skim over prologues and flashbacks" kind of impatient reader, so I'm trying to settle myself into looking at the story of Susan as a book and not a flashback-within-a-book.
4. StrongDreams
Suzanne, it's not "just a flashback." Imagine a retelling of Gawaine and the Green Knight that starts with Gawaine's adventures on the road (which are not described in detail in the original). As he approaches Bertilak's castle, he stops at an inn and tells the story of how the Green Knight shamed Camelot and why he started on this journey. The Susan flashback is that important.

(But the green palace is not the equivalent of Bertilak's castle -- the analogy doesn't go that far)
5. Aeryl
One of the upcoming chapters begins with the line, "True love is boring."

And boy is it ever!

And I am not trying to knock the story at all, it is beautiful and heartbreaking, even though you already know its conclusion. But it is the one I skim past when rereading. Once you know how it all plays out, there just isn't enough stuff to bring me back.

On a related note, question for the crowd, which book is your favorite to reread? For me, Wolves of the Calla is tops. I know a lot of people claim the stories declined after this one, but I thought WotC was great, it got me right back into being invested in these characters after such a hiatus, and it finally mapped out how these hints and foreshadowing that had been laid out where going to affect the story. Plus, one of the things that makes King such a readable writer, is his characters, especially the secondary and tertiary ones, who transcend archetypes and stereotypes and just read as real people. WotC makes up with that where previous books were lacking. W&G has more characters than the previous ones, but few of them are likable. WotC has all sorts of people that I'd like to have over for dinner.
6. JohnnySmith
I love the backstory here. It is well worth the read and makes WaG one of my favorite books in the series, probably only following WotC.

I think you'll enjoy it too Suzanne, its very entertaining in its own right and could stand alone in my opinion.
7. erxbooks
Personally, this book is not only my favorite the series, but one of my favorite books period. I have always been a sucker for coming of age stories, especially a pseudo western like this one.
Tricia Irish
8. Tektonica
I must agree....Susan Delgado's story is the story of this book, and it's wonderful. This book, and Wolves of the Calla have to be my two faves, as well.
Sydo Zandstra
9. Fiddler
I remember waiting and waiting and waiting for a new installment after WaG. This will be the first time I'll be reading them back to back.

The story of Susan Delgado is my favourite part in the series. Not because of the love arc, but because of the political plotting we see happening here. I won't go into detail, but most people know what I mean.

Roland just had his trial for manhood in todays section, but in the Susan story part, we see him slowly becoming a Gunslinger for real...

And it'll be good to meet Alain and Cuthbert :)
Suzanne Johnson
10. SuzanneJohnson
I am looking forward to meeting Alain and especially Cuthbert, who whom Roland so often compares Eddie. Okay, off to read now and figure out who and what the old crone that starts off this next section is up to!
Steven Halter
11. stevenhalter
This is certainly an interesting way to structure a book. I am glad to be reading these straight rather than waiting years in between.
12. Lsana

My favorite is probably this one, closely followed by Waste Lands. I have a hard time comparing them because they are so different and I love them for different reasons.

Wolves wasn't bad, but there are a number of factors which keep it from being a favorite: the shift in the narrative that happened for the last three books, the extended flashback covering the back story (or more accurately the midstory) of a character I didn't care about, and a couple other things I can't figure out a way to discuss without spoilers.
13. Gentleman Farmer
This is the point in the re-read where I'm kind of joining for the first time. I've been closely following along on Suzanne's re-read, but this is the point where I become a first time reader.

Like Suzanne, when I got to this point on my first attempted read of this series, I rolled my eyes over the flashback thing, put the book aside and never got back to it.

I had, back when this book was released, been waiting for years on the cliffhanger ending of The Wastelands. At the time, I considered this series quite a mishmash and didn't understand how it could be considered a series, when the first book was a heavily symbolic poetic style fantasy, the second some kind of time travelling sci-fi lite and the third steam punk, none of which were quite the Stephen King I was used to reading. I also liked each book of the series progressively less, so after reading the resolution of the cliffhanger, and seeing the group embarking on more wanderings through post-apocolyptic North America, while also re-treading portions of the Stand I gave up on the series, and felt somewhat justified in my decision with the next great length of time between Wizard & Glass and Wolves of the Calla.

I think what also bothered me at the time is that this book, and the Wastelands before seemed to me to be King's attempt to re-write The Talisman his own way, without Peter Straub. Since that (to this point) had been by far my least favourite King novel, I had little interest in seeing the outcome.

I have since read The Little Sisters of Eluria as part of Legends, and thought that's a world I'd be interested in reading more about... where did that stuff come into the series? I also consider myself a King fan, and have read pretty much everything else of his (except Black House, again with Straub... although I've re-read the Talisman and found more to like in it since my original read), so seeing that the series was complete, and how much enjoyment people seem to get out of it, I decided to try to join on the re-read as well.

I also think, in terms of my comment above, it's pretty courageous and amazing for King to write a series where each of the first three/four books are in slightly different genres, and to trust that readers will follow along and enjoy the story and characters as they travel through those genres.
Risha Jorgensen
14. RishaBree
*sigh* And here we go. TBH, I've never been able to read two thirds of this book. Maybe I'll enjoy more in summary form?

I very much like Wolves of Calla, actually. It's probably my favorite of the second half of the series.
15. StrongDreams
@RishaBree and everyone who says, "I've never been able to read two thirds of this book."

It seems to me* that Wizard and Wolves are two sides of the same story. Roland and his ka-tet spend some time in town, make friends (and enemies) with the locals, and have a show-down with the book's Big Bad. The nature and participants in the show-down itself are dictated by events that occur largely off-screen but which play a big role in the overall story. There is a coming of age of a main character. And many more similarities. Certainly, many things are different as well, one of which (maybe the most important) is Roland's maturity level and the way he as dinh treats the rest of his ka-tet.

I guess we'll have to wait 1-3/4 more books to really talk about this.

But it is amusing to me that people love Wolves but hate Wizards.

*this is a very recent revelation so it may be suspect...
16. StrongDreams
One other thing to chew on...

Wolves was written after King's accident, and contains a massive narrative shift -- a change in the fundamental structure of the universe that is central to books 5, 6 and 7 and is not even hinted at in books 1-4. As part of that shift, Wolves is a deliberate homage to an earlier work of fiction. It is a ripping yarn, but so was its source material.

Wizard is, as far as I can tell, a unique creation of King's (or as unique as anything King writes).

In the original book one, Roland, the last guardian of the white, murdered an entire town (including his lover who was begging for mercy) and sacrificed an innocent boy. Wolves shows part of his redemption, and is a great story. But Wizard shows how this guardian of the white got to that bad place to begin with.
Chuk Goodin
17. Chuk
Wizard and Glass is my favourite Dark Tower book, mostly for the 'flashback' section.
18. Kadere
Wizard and Glass and The Dark Tower are my favorite books in the series. Wolves is my least. Wolves was to me just another flash back book like Wizard but this time about a character I didn't care about and a flashback that was more then boring.

Wizard and Glass's flashback is about Roland and it's tragic and awful and totally awesome. There's lots of BA stuff going on, mystery, and it reads like Clint Eastwood movie. Wolves flashback is guy I didn't know (hadn't read Salem's Lot) trying to stay a step ahead of vampires. I didn't skim it (I never skim a book I'm reading for the first time) but I didn't enjoy it.
Risha Jorgensen
19. RishaBree
@StrongDreams - I kind of regret saying anything, actually, since I'm already on record about how I feel about this book. :) After a certain point, saying that I hate flashbacks and prequels is like telling people I loathe chicken. Many people find that so incomprehensible that they start to argue with you, insisting that you just haven't had the right chicken yet. Your mother's fried chicken might be fantastic, and have been judged by an impartial jury to be the best in the state - but I'm still going to find it disgusting, because it's chicken.

I don't doubt that King did a fantastic job with the story, objectively speaking!
Risha Jorgensen
20. RishaBree
@Kadere - Eh, I'm not too fond of him either, but it's maybe 50 pages in two separate parts, and at least a third of that is plot-advancing discussion by the ka-tet in the modern day. It's much less irritating and a much smaller percentage of the book. Small enough that it doesn't outweigh my enjoyment of Calla Bryn Sturgis as a whole.
And is this the first mention Roland has made of a “God”?
Nice point. It's my considered opinion that it's a misprint for "Dog". Either that or Roland is dyslexic ... dysphonic?
ISCOT - International Secret Conspiracy for the Oppression of Teddy-bears
22. Aeryl
#13, I completely agree with you on The Talisman, but I will tell you, IMO, Black House is SO MUCH BETTER.

The Talisman was boring, Black House moves, Jack was kinda boring in TT, in BH he's got all kinds of new characters to play off of that are easy to relate.

In many ways, BH is really similar in structure to Under the Dome, taking a birds eye view of an entire town and the relationships that create that town, all the while tying it back into the Dark Tower series in a much stronger fashion.

There was only one part of TT that I liked, and that was the scene where Jack runs over the werewolves while driving the forklift with the section of fence mounted on it, and he shears a wolf off at the ankles. He looks back at the feet on the ground, and there is still hair growing our of them. At that part I was finally like "There's Uncle Steve!" The rest is meh.
23. Jenny C.
I think Wolves is my favorite like so many others'. Mostly because it's a straightforward story of Gunslingers being Gunslingers; the only glimpse we see of how they were supposed to work back before the world moved on. And it's a glorious thing to see. (Despite all the smiling, lying and murder that comes with it.)

A note about the word Cöos: I was quite confused at first when I saw it without the umlauts. If you want to avoid that small amount of reader headache and/or show greater fidelity to the text, I recommend copying and pasting an ö in when you want it.

Also if anyone's curious, in the Norse languages I'm familiar with Ö is pronounced a lot like the EA in "earth". It occurs to me now "Cöos" is probably a mutation of "Chaos".

And while we're on pronounciation, what's everyone's take on "Deschain"? I want to believe it's said Des-chain, cause it sounds cool. Although it would be a bitterly ironic name to be carried by the man trying to put the chains back on the world.
Suzanne Johnson
24. SuzanneJohnson
In my head I pronounce it "des-chain." Anyone heard an audio CD of any of these books to see how the reader pronounces it? I know SK reads quite a few of his audiobooks, but I checked and it doesn't look like he's the reader on these, or at least not on Gunslinger or W&G.
Tricia Irish
25. Tektonica
I assumed Deschain was a French pronunciation, as it's spelled in a French way. We had plenty of city names with "Des" in front of them in the midwest, where I grew up. (French Fur traders were often the first settlers.)

Some times it was pronounced with the "s", and sometimes not. In French I believe it would be, Deh-shane. Without an "e" on the end of Chain, it might be Deh-shan. But then's been years since I took French....anyone else?
Suzanne Johnson
26. SuzanneJohnson
@Tektonica...I speak French and you're right on those pronunciations. "Deh-shane" with the s or "Deh-shahn" without.
Tricia Irish
27. Tektonica
Thanks Suzanne....It's nice to know my brain hasn't gone completely soft.
28. Oldwizard
Just a thought about Deschain... Dunno what King had in mind, but the last four times I "read" the DT novels was in audio book form. The reader is great and it is defenitly worth a listening. Anyway, he pronounces it as
Des-chain, wheter it is correct or not is not for me to say.
(Read Susan's story one time, in my re-reads I usualy just skim through it
or skip it completely. Wanna go on with the "real" story, dont'ya know :) )
Wolves is a good story, and I have not watched the movie story (Magnificant sever or the Samuray thingy it was supposed to be based on so for me it is just a good King gig. :)
29. Nik_the_heratik
I enjoyed the whole book, but then I grew up in Topeka, work with computers for a living and read the Oz books thoroughly as a kid. I have a hard time rereading the Susan stuff though because of how sad it is.

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