“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 lovebirds Roland, aka Will Dearborn, and Susan, they were tossing and turning the night away in their adolescent hormonal frenzies.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter V, Welcome to Town, Section 1
Two nights after arriving in Mejis, Roland, Cuthbert, and Alain ride into town for their “coming out” party at Mayor’s House, arriving beneath an arch into which are inscribed the words “Come in Peace.” Alain is scared, not being very good in social situations, and Roland suspects Cuthbert is as well, although he hides it better. Roland realizes he’s going to have to be the leader, so he quickly tells Cuthbert to “shut up” when he starts making jokes. He reminds the other boys to stick to their stories, be pleasant, and avoid alcohol, especially since they’re pretending to be there as punishment for an alcohol-fueled prank.
What Constant Reader Learns: Mejis has a real “Mexican border town in the Old West” feel to it, with torches, guitar music, cobbled courtyards (despite the fishing village along the bayfront below town). But why do I have a feeling there’s a great deal of irony in the “Come in Peace” greeting?
This is our first look at Alain, “a big boy with a mop of unruly blond hair spilling out from under his stockman’s hat.” The relationship between the boys is revealed more as well. This is the third time Roland has chastised Cuthbert. Once, when Bert was teasing him about the rook’s skull, it was halfhearted. But here and earlier, when Roland warned his friend to not refer to him as “gunslinger,” Bert very quickly shut up. He also hustles to put the rook skull away when Roland tells him to. So the boys recognize Roland as their leader even if he’s only now realizing it himself and, so far at least, there doesn’t seem to be any resentment of him.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter V, Welcome to Town, Section 2
Roland is suspicious because everyone, like the sheriff the day before, has welcomed them a little too happily. He thinks he’s probably overreacting, but figures it’s safer to be cautious than get into trouble because they took everything at face value.
Now we go into a flashback of the previous day, when the boys had ridden into town and met the sheriff, Herk Avery, “a big-bellied man in a lawman’s khaki pants and shirt.” Everything about the sheriff is oversized, from his body to the melodrama with which he greets his visitors. He throws open his arms, bows deeply, taps his throat “like a madman.” There are three deputies with him, who have a “distinctly farmerish look about them.” There seems nothing out of the ordinary about the sheriff’s office—a desk, some ancient “blunderbuss” guns, six jail cells (all empty), and the smell of lye soap. Roland realizes they’ve cleaned up in honor of the boys’ arrival and he finds it both amusing, touching and uncomfortable.
There’s a kind of Laurel and Hardy (or Mayberry RFD) quality to the exchanges between the deputies and the sheriff as they all go through a melodramatic conversation where the older men make a general and self-deprecating fuss over the boys. Well, okay, Mayberry RFD with an uneasy undercurrent.
Finally, they all take seats and the sheriff asks, in his overblown way, to see their identification papers, which the boys “just happened” to have brought with them. The sheriff goes through them thoroughly: William Dearborn, drover’s son, of Hemphill; Richard Stockworth, rancher’s son, of Pennilton; and Arthur Heath, stockline breeder’s son, of Gilead. There also was a letter from Steven Deschain of Gilead, a gunslinger descended from Arthur Eld, asking for the boys to be accommodated as they served the Affiliation in counting resources. According to the letter, the boys expect to be in Mejis for at least three months, and perhaps as much as a year. Steven also asks the sheriff to let him know how the boys conduct themselves—a good means of reinforcing the boys’ stories about being in trouble.
One of the deputies brings in tea, and it has chunks of ice in it despite it being “high summer,” something Roland and Alain find very interesting. The sheriff, no dumb bunny, picks up on their interest and the way he responds tells Roland the sheriff doesn’t like them and what he sees as their “city ways.” And Roland wonders what else there is behind the sheriff’s dislike. Avery says there’s a gas-fired refrigerator and stove in the town hall, and plenty of “earth-gas” at Citgo. Roland notes that he’s surprised they haven’t found use for the oil, and not just the natural gas, but the sheriff says the oil’s too thick—“tarry goo”—and they have no refineries.
Finally, Roland’s had enough of “tea and hypocrisy” and he leads the other boys out. He stops on the way out and says they’ve camped on the Drop without permission—the sheriff immediately knows whose land they’re on even though Roland didn’t describe the spot in any detail. The sheriff describes the empty bunkhouse at the old Bar K ranch where the boys will be more comfortable.
What Constant Reader Learns: We haven’t seen much of Roland’s home life except glimpses of his mother singing to him as a young child, or spying on his parents when his father would come in from travels. But here we’re told Roland is surprised at the size and cleanliness of the sheriff’s digs, which he knows because he’s “been in at least half a dozen over the last three years, accompanying his father on several short trips and one longer patrol-swing.” I liked this little peek into his life—Steven had been mostly absent in our stories so far and Roland seemed to have spent more time with Cort than his family.
Again, we’re told paper is a rare commodity in Mid-World; the sheets on the sheriff’s notice-board have been written on repeatedly.
Ah, perhaps a glimpse of how Cuthbert can be useful, since we know Roland brought him despite Steven’s plea for him not to: Bert’s apparently the one who has a memory for names. So Roland doesn’t bother trying to memorize them because he knows his friend will.
The boys’ arrival is the first “official visit from the Affiliation since a gunslinger passed through on the Great Road four years ago.” No idea if that has any significance but, like Roland, I’m on high alert and don’t want to be surprised by having taken something at face value.
When the sheriff looks at the letter from Steven Deschain, we’re told that a gunslinger is also “a knight, squire, peacemaker, and Baron,” and that Deschain is of the 29th generation descended from Arthur of Eld, albeit on an illegitimate side of the family.
We learn some of the names of the “Affiliation men,” the ranchers in the area, who will be at the big dinner the next evening at Mayor’s House: Francis Lengyll of the Rocking B, John Croydon of the Piano Ranch, Henry Wertner, the Barony’s stockliner, and Hash Renfrew, who owns the biggest horse-ranch in Mejis, the Lazy Susan.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter V, Welcome to Town, Section 3
Now we get inside the ugly head of Sheriff Avery. As soon as the boys ride out of sight, Avery asks his deputy Dave Hollis, who has an annoying habit of chewing on his monocle, what he thinks of the boys. “Soft as eggs just dropped out of a chicken’s ass,” he says. But the sheriff says one of them—Roland—at least doesn’t think he’s soft. “Don’t matter what he thinks,” Hollis says. “He’s in Hambry now. He may have to change his way of thinking to our’n.”
The sheriff thinks he wouldn’t mind a “dustup” with the boys—he’d especially like kicking arrogant Cuthbert and seeing a look of fear on the face of “Will Dearborn.”
What Constant Reader Learns: I suspect if the sheriff and his men underestimate Roland, they might not live to regret it. But we’ll see. This is a very young Roland, after all.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter V, Welcome to Town, Section 4
After leaving the sheriff’s office, the boys ride past the Traveller’s Rest and discuss their meeting. When Roland asks their opinions, Cuthbert says he doesn’t have one, but his rook’s skull thought Avery was a “bag of guts without a trustworthy bone in his body.” Alain thinks about his answer and finally says if the sheriff came upon them burning in the street, “I don’t think he’d piss on us to put us out.”
As for Roland, he says the sheriff doesn’t interest him much, but he was interested in something Avery said: that he knew whose land they were camped on without asking exactly where the camp was. This hadn’t occurred to Cuthbert and Alain, but they realize the import of it: they are being spied upon.
What Constant Reader Learns: After their brief conversation about the sheriff, Roland turns his mind to more pleasant things—namely, Susan Delgado, and whether she might wear her hair down to the Mayor’s House. Methinks Roland doesn’t need to get distracted.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter V, Welcome to Town, Section 5
After our lengthy flashback-within-a-flashback, we’re back to the boys arriving at Mayor’s House, and Roland finds himself thinking, oddly, of the game Castles (at least he thinks it’s odd). They stand outside a few moments, trying to decide if they should knock, when the door opens and two women step out to greet them. The first, friendly and genuine-seeming, is Olive Thorin, the mayor’s wife. The other is his sister Coral Thorin, she of Traveller’s Rest fame. Olive makes them feel welcome, and Roland likes her immediately. If Coral has anything to say, we aren’t told so.
What Constant Reader Learns: Glad Roland likes the mayor’s wife because, we’re told, “it was perhaps well he met someone of that sort early on, for, with the problematic exception of Susan Delgado, he met no one else he liked, no one else he trusted, all that night.” Oh boy, sounds like things will get interesting!
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter V, Welcome to Town, Section 6
Deputy Dave is in the foyer of the “haci,” collecting coats and cloaks, then they’re met by Sheriff Avery and a tall gaunt man—Kimba Rimer, Thorin’s “Chancellor and Minister of Inventory,” a title Roland suspects was invented for their visit. As with the visit earlier in the day, there’s much overdoing-it of the welcomes and laughter. Olive Thorin timidly offers to introduce them, but she’s dismissed by Rimer. She’s still smiling, but Roland instinctively knows she’s unhappy about something—“desperately so, I think.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Well, I think we can guess why Olive Thorin is desperately unhappy, and it probably has to do with a tall pretty blonde named Susan.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter V, Welcome to Town, Section 7
Roland isn’t too impressed with Mayor’s House—he is, after all, a citizen of Gilead and has been in its Great Hall, the Hall of the Grandfathers. At the same time, Roland recognizes a “robustness” here that he hadn’t felt in Gilead. It was the sort of quality, he thinks, that “you didn’t entirely miss when it was gone, because it slipped away quietly and painlessly, like blood from a vein cut in a tub filled with hot water.”
All of the people are dressed in varying wealths and styles of dark-colored clothing—except one, of course, “shimmering and almost too beautiful to look at in a blue silk dress.” Susan is wearing a sapphire pendant that “made Olive Thorin’s earrings look like paste.”
Susan is standing next to the mayor, and Roland “wanted her...with a desperate depth of feeling that felt like sickness. Everything he was and everything he had come for, it seemed, was secondary to her.” They have a moment of shared recognition before her attention is drawn back to the tall man with the long white hair standing next to the mayor, who we know has to be Eldred Jonas. All but Jonas laugh at some joke, including Susan.
Kimba Rimer leads the boys over and makes the introductions. The mayor, Roland decides, looks like a crane or stork. He asks if their travels were filled with adventures, and if they encountered the patrols of John Farson. Roland says no. Thorin introduces Jones, the “chief of my newly installed security staff.” As they shake hands, Roland notices the coffin tattoo on the back of Jonas’ right hand. Roland automatically says, “Long days, pleasant nights,” and only then realizes it was a slip—the type of saying associated with Gilead.
Next, the mayor introduces Cordelia Delgado, in whom Roland can see the resemblance to Susan, and “our especial friend, Miss Susan Delgado.” Roland and Susan have enough of an eye-lock moment that he’s aware of Cordelia watching them “with a mixture of curiosity and alarm.” Finally, they move on, and Susan greets Cuthbert, who makes some silly comment about her beauty that breaks the tension.
They’re next joined by a rancher, Fran Lengyll, owner of the Rocking B. He proposes a toast, and Roland asks him—with a “force of command” in his voice that the rancher seems to acknowledge—to serve them from the “soft punch” instead of that laced with alcohol. This not only keeps their wits sharp but reinforces the story that they’ve been sent on this mission after their alcohol-fueled misdeeds. The mayor launches into a long, flowery welcome speech. As everyone raises their drink in welcome, Roland again catches Susan’s eye and thinks “what was done might be undone, and what was spoken might be unspoken.” Except that, at this point, he doesn’t know what has been done or spoken.
What Constant Reader Learns: The people of Gilead, who had great parties and electricity and rich clothing, are of “noble lines which grew closer and closer together as they stretched back toward Arthur Eld, he of the white horse and unifying sword.” So, are all the upper crust of In-World descended of King Arthur and his abundance of legitimate and illegitimate offspring?
Interesting that, perhaps because of its distance from the Good Man and his doings, Hambry has more life to it, and that Roland compares the draining of life and heart from Gilead to an image of suicide/death.
So Susan’s gotten herself a new dress and fancy piece of jewelry for the occasion? Earlier we were told she had only two gowns. And her jewelry, which had to come from the mayor, is much nicer than that worn by the mayor’s wife. Poor Olive.
Roland’s very aware of the mayor touching Susan—a hand on her back at one point, holding her hand at another, and is jealous. But Roland’s naïve enough to decide that Mayor Thorin is obviously Susan’s uncle or cousin.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter V, Welcome to Town, Section 8
As the group crowds into the dining hall, Cordelia pulls Susan aside and demands to know why she’s looking at Roland. She wants to know if she’s seen “that fine-turned row of pins” before, and reminds her that money has changed hands, vows have been made, and she’s given her promise. Susan denies any wrongdoing, and they enter the hall.
What Constant Reader Learns: Greedy old Aunt Cord doesn’t miss much, does she?
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter V, Welcome to Town, Section 9
At dinner, Roland is seated between the rancher Hash Renfrew and the mayor’s sister, Coral. Renfrew is drinking hard and running on about fishing, farming and ranching. Roland confirms that he and his friends are there to know numbers of things—he asks how many riding horses they have, and Renfrew estimates about 420 head, plus individuals who own a few head themselves. He makes reference to Susan’s late father, and Roland reflects that it’s odd for Thorin to have his pretty young niece sitting next to him at the head of the table while his wife, Olive, sits at the far end.
Finally, Roland asks if the mayor is Susan’s uncle or cousin. “Her uncle!” Coral Thorin says—her first words of the evening. “Ye may be from the In-World, but oh goodness, whoever tended to your education of the real world—the one outside of books ‘n maps—stopped a mite short, I’d say.” She says Susan is…a word Roland doesn’t understand. He asks Coral to repeat it, but inside, he’s starting to understand. At the head of the table, they’re all laughing at some joke, and Susan is laughing heartily with them.
The word means “side-wife,” Coral tells him. “In the time of my great-grandmother, it meant whore…but one of a certain kind.” But it’s not yet consummated, she volunteers. Roland feels a great deal of pity for the mayor’s wife, who’s watching the whole scene with sad eyes. He thinks that, “had he been wearing his guns, he might well have drawn one and put a bullet in Susan Delgado’s cold and whoring little heart.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Renfrew affirms that the bloodlines of their animals are “clarifying” now, with fewer mutants being born—and Roland notes that this is true in Gilead as well.
As with the mayor and sheriff, Roland suspects Renfrew isn’t as jolly and drunk as he’s letting on, and there’s much exchanging of glances among the ranchers during this part of the conversation.
Poor young Roland. After finding out about his mother’s infidelity, he doesn’t take to the news of Susan’s “gilly-hood” very well. Then again, the part about it not having been consummated yet hasn’t seemed to sink in yet. It will, I’m betting.
Wizard and Glass, “Susan”: Chapter V, Welcome to Town, Section 10
Dinner goes on forever, and then the dancing begins. It’s some type of old-fashioned reel in which dancers change partners when the music stops and starts, so of course Roland ends up with Susan at some point. She thanks him for his discretion and propriety. And just like a scorned and emotional 14-year-old, he says, “I can be discreet, sai. As for propriety? I’m amazed you even know the word.” He sees both hurt and anger on her face before she asks him why he said it. But the music stops before he can answer, and they go back to their places.
What Constant Reader Learns: Despite what he knows, Roland wants to get Susan alone in the dark, where he “could put his false face aside before the real one beneath could grow hot enough to set it afire.”
I’d been thinking all the action in Mejis would happen quickly but since the boys are expected to be there for at least three months, or up to a year, I’m now wondering if things will proceed more slowly so that whatever horrific thing is going to happen takes place toward the reaping. We shall see….
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll continue with the next chapter of Wizard and Glass.