“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, they were pretty much absent. We had moved into the epic flashback to Susan Delgado in Mejis, who’d traveled to the witch Rhea to be proven a virgin so she’d be ready to bear a child and provide a little slap’n’tickle to the aged Mayor Hart Thorn. We left Susan walking back toward the village late at night after her meeting with Rhea, who’d left her with mysterious instructions.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: A Meeting on the Road, Section 1
Susan’s on her walk back, deep in thought, when a rider comes upon her before she realizes it. She’s thinking about her new understanding of the bargain she’s made with the mayor—that bearing a child means she has to not only have sex with him, but likely far more than once. Since’s he’s “a skinny, twitchy man with fluffy white hair rising like a cloud around the bald spot on top of his head,” and Susan’s only sixteen, she doesn’t find this a pleasant prospect.
Susan seems to be able to look at a situation and see the truth of it—maybe not immediately, but at least after the fact. She realizes now that her Aunt Cord used a couple of arguments sure to appeal to her. First, rather than money changing hands (or in addition to), the family (or at least Aunt Cord) has been promised land of their own in the Drop—they’re currently indentured. They’ve also been promised three horses—“three more than we have now.” Against such prospects, Aunt Cord says, Susan only has to “lie with him a a time or two, and to bear a child.” But Susan realizes that what Rhea told her was true—old Thorin wants more than a child. He wants his fill of a young, pretty girl and “a time or two” probably isn’t going to cut it.
Susan also realizes Aunt Cord capitalized on the idea that Susan would like the idea of having her own baby—“the dolls of her own childhood put aside not all that long ago.” But Rhea’s observation that a female child would be taken away and killed, and a male taken and raised by someone else, is probably true. Not to mention what would happen if the child were deformed. AND Rhea has to “prove” her yet again, the fourth month of a pregnancy.
Suddenly, Susan’s wondering what she got herself into.
So finally, when the horse and rider slip up on her, it’s too late for her to hide. She hopes it’s not one of the “new men always lounging about the Mayor’s house or in the Travellers’ Rest.” She’s referring to Jonas, Depape, and Reynolds, the “big coffin hunters” who left the glowing ball with Rhea earlier.
By his flat-brimmed hat and his odd speech, Susan identifies the rider as someone from the Inner Baronies, which she knew from “back before John Farson came—the Good Man—and the blood-letting began.” She thinks of his formal manners as “absurd courtliness out here in the middle of nowhere, with the acrid smell of the oilpatch on the edge of town already in her nostrils.”
When the stranger rides up beside her, she can’t see a gun, just a bow on the pommel of his saddle and a lance in the scabbard. She first thought he might be a gunslinger but not only does he have no visible guns, but he’s very young—near her own age. His horse’s name is Rusher.
They do a lot…a LOT…of back and forth over whether they will or won’t talk, whether she will or won’t ride her horse, whether someone might or might not see them, how much leg she should or shouldn’t show on said horse, ad nauseum. Susan doesn’t like that he calls her “sai” as if she were “a schoolteacher or his doddery old great aunt” and wants him to find her attractive even though nothing can come of it.
What Constant Reader Learns: The mayor is portrayed as kind of a cartoonish politician who isn’t the brightest bulb in the electronics store: “a man who laughed uproariously when a company of players put on an entertainment involving head-knocking or pretend punching or rotten fruit-throwing but who only looked puzzled at a story which was pathetic or tragical.” This is the kind of behavior with which Susan is familiar since her father was in charge of the Barony’s horses, and we get the impression Hart Thorn has watched her grow up—he’s about 65 years old.
Aunt Cord…Teacher Cort. Each of them has sort of prepared his/her charges for what their future might hold, only Aunt Cord’s motives appear far more selfish.
Okay, so the young rider introduces himself as Will Dearborn, but I’m thinking he must be one of Roland’s group, and that maybe they’re using false names and hometowns and a cover story. Maybe it’s really Cuthbert or Alain, but not Roland since “Will” is too suave for what I think of Ro being at this age. Of course I also could be completely off base and this is a whole other set of young travelers.
Sadly, I have to admit I got bored in this section as Susan and the young man’s halting conversation went on. And on. And on. And on. Just talk to him or don’t. Just get on the horse or don’t, already. I guess the point was to show that she is, again, both impulsive and practical. That guys find her attractive. That the experience at Rhea’s has made her a little horny herself and this stranger fascinates her. But good grief, it took a long time to get those points made!
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: A Meeting on the Road, Section 2
Finally, after pages of back and forth, it’s decided that both Susan and Will will walk, and he’ll hold the reins of Rusher. Susan is surprised that Will is silent, since boys usually chatter nervously around her. She keeps waiting for him to ask if she has a “steady fellow.”
They pass Citgo, an oilfield, which Susan finds spooky. Most of the “steel towers,” or derricks, have stopped pumping — except nineteen (an important number) out of about two hundred “could not be stopped. They just pumped and pumped, the supplies of oil beneath them seemingly inexhaustible.”
She’s feeling kind of creeped out by Citgo when Rusher noses her hand and startles her. So she decides she’ll ride after all, rendering all the exhausting push and pull of the last section meaningless.
What Constant Reader Learns: Citgo! So, interesting that there’s an “oilpatch” in Mid-World, and some of the oil pumps are still working even though very little oil is used anymore. Most of the oil, we’re told, “simply ran back down into the wells beneath the dead pumping stations. The world had moved on, and this place reminded [Susan] of a strange mechanical graveyard.”
Woman, get on the horse, already!
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: A Meeting on the Road, Section 3
Will Dearborn is fascinated by Citgo and its rusty oil derricks. He has his back to Susan as she laboriously arranges herself on Rusher’s back. Susan reflects on how “fair” she thinks both the horse and his rider are, then Will startles her by starting to whistle “Careless Love,” the same song she was singing on her way to Rhea’s.
“Mayhaps it’s ka, girl,” she hears her father’s voice saying. But she convinces herself it’s not ka at all, but coincidence. “Not ka; she would not be seduced by the dark and the shadows and the grim shapes of the oil derricks into believing it was. Not ka, but only a chance meeting with a nice young man on the lonely road back to town.”
She finally announces to Will that she’s “decent,” and is pleased when he turns away from the oilpatch and gives her the admiring look she’s been seeking.
He leads the horse with her riding, and asks her about Citgo. She tells him the name, but he doesn’t reveal why he’s interested.
What Constant Reader Learns: Susan’s a little annoyed that Will is paying attention to the oil derricks instead of seeing how much leg she is flashing as she gets on the horse. Puh-leeze. *Suz beats herself on the head before reminding herself that Susan is only a self-absorbed sixteen-year-old.*
As they trod on down the road, a meteor flashes overhead and Susan thinks to make a wish on it…and then realizes she has no idea what to wish for. Earlier in this chapter she’s realized that she pretty much sealed her future by her deal with the mayor (or her aunt’s deal with the mayor). Which is all kind of sad, and if I hadn’t been so annoyed by her for the past thirty pages, I would probably feel sorry for her.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: A Meeting on the Road, Section 4
When they get a mile from town, Susan finally gives up on Will starting a conversation (even though he was respecting her wishes not to have one), and asks where he’s from and why he’s come to Mid-World.
He says he came from In-World, from the Barony of New Canaan. “Center of the Affiliation!” Susan thinks, and asks, “Not Gilead?”
Nothing so grand as Gilead, he says, but Hemphill, a village 40 wheels west of Gilead. He’s arrived with two friends, Richard Stockworth of Pennilton, New Canaan, and Arthur Heath, a “hilarious young man” who does come from Gilead. He claims they’re visiting on orders of the Affiliation to count resources because the situation between the Affiliation and the supporters of the “Good Man” have reached such a dire state. Susan listens to his news eagerly. It’s serious, she acknowledges, but it’s so far from Mejis that she feels more excited than fearful.
Will and Susan do a little flirting before agreeing to call each other by their given names and, of course, Rusher becomes a pawn of ka and rears a little when Will trips so Susan can flash some leg in Will’s face.
Will asks about Susan’s father, saying his name was the one he and his friends were told to speak with about livestock.
Will says, “Let me be honest with you,” which puts Susan on alert that perhaps he’s going to be dishonest. He says the Affiliation doesn’t have much “affiliation” anymore, which is one reason Farson has been so successful. “He’s come a far way from the harrier who began as a stage-robber in Garlan and Desoy, and he’ll come farther yet if the Affiliation isn’t revitalized. Maybe all the way to Mejis.” So he admits it wasn’t actually the Affiliation that sent him to count resources, but that the three were sent by their fathers.
Which Susan decides meant they were “bad boys, sent out on a make-work quest that wasn’t quite exile…She guessed their real job in Hambry might be to rehabilitate their reputations.” He claims they were riding around drunk and caused a valuable horse to step in a gopher-hole and snap his leg.
Will admits they aren’t yet arrived in town “officially,” so Susan predicts they will likely be invited to dinner with the Mayor—and she beseeches him that if that happens, and they meet again, he will not let on that they’ve met before. He asks a few questions, which she won’t answer. But he agrees to keep the secret.
Just before they reach the outskirts of town, they hear the thinny. Will doesn’t know what it is—he’s heard of one but never heard one, and thinks it sounds alive. Susan tells him in the fall, the men burn brush to the mouth of the canyon where the thinny is, and the smoke fills it and quiets it somewhat. The thinny, we’re told, has been there since before Susan was born, but not before her father was born. Some say an earthquake brought it, and others disagree. She says she’s seen it from above once or twice, and describes it as “like a slow-burning peat fire, and a little like a swamp full of scummy green water. There’s a mist that rises off it. Sometimes it looks like long, skinny arms. With hands at the end.”
Finally, Will and Susan come to the outskirts of town, and it’s time to part. On impulse, Susan steps forward and kisses Will on the mouth—“the kiss was brief but not sisterly.”
What Constant Reader Learns: When she got on the horse, Susan felt something rolled in the blanket behind the saddle, and thought it was a gun, which makes her wonder even more about “Will.”
Interesting section. The Affiliation appears to be those who have banded against the “Good Man” John Farson, whose portrayed as sort of a Robin Hook Run Amok. And things seem to have gotten dire since “Will” and his friends have been sent so far off the beaten path. “Mejis has been ever loyal to the Affiliation, and if supplies need to be drawn from this part of the Outers, they’ll be sent…”
Susan comments that they consider the Good Man as no more than a bandit who “frosts” his thefts and murders “with talk of democracy and equality.” But Will says times have changed. “At some point the bandit became a general, and now the general would become a ruler in the name of the people. The Northern and West’rd Baronies are in flames.”
He asks quite a few questions about Citgo—how many derricks are still working, and how much oil those nineteen working machines can pump out. Still, he says his land doesn’t have that many working machines, although there are still some electrical “filament-lights” in the Great Hall at Gilead.
So if Will is, maybe, Cuthbert or Alain, I wonder if Roland is “Arthur,” since he is descended from Arthur Eld, and “Arthur”’s father is the one who came up with the idea of the quest.
Susan warns Will about the “new folk” who will be at the Mayor’s table, who Thorin “has hired to serve as private guards o’ the house.” These would be our big coffin hunters. Susan warns Will that the men are dangerous, especially their leader, Jonas. They agree that bodyguards in a small little town like Hambry are strange things indeed.
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll continue our read of book four in the Dark Tower series, Wizard and Glass.