“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.
Last week, our expanded ka-tet (the boys plus Susan) finally all met, and under hypnosis Susan remembered enough about Rhea to let the boys know the old witch had a piece of Maerlyn’s Rainbow—the pink crystal ball of sorts.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 6: Closing the Year, Section 1
Finally, we come to the closing of the year in Mid-World. The weather’s growing cooler, the harvests are being gathered, the winds are picking up, people are being sexually abstinent, the stuffy men’s hands are being painted red (caught “red-handed”) and they’re thrown more often on the pyres. “Men stand around these fires, not speaking, their faces solemn. No one will say what terrible old ways and unspeakable old gods are being propitiated by the burning of the stuffy-guys, but they all know well enough. From time to time one of these men will whisper two words under his breath: charyou tree.”
The people of Mejis, we are told by our omniscient narrator, or maybe Roland, feel a “wrongness” in the air this year. Fistfights break out. People have nightmares. “There is a sense—inarticulate but very much there—that things have gone amiss this season. It is the closing of the year; it is also the closing of the peace. For it is here, in the sleepy Out-World Barony of Mejis, that Mid-World’s last great conflict will shortly begin; it is from here that the blood will begin to flow. In two years, no more, the world as it has been will be swept away. It starts here. From its field of roses, the Dark Tower cries out in its beast’s voice.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Charyou Tree. We’ve heard this a couple of times before. I’m not sure of its literal meaning, but obviously the bonfires are like some kind of sacrificial pyre, with the stuffy guys (or maybe some ka-tet members, if Sai Jonas has his way) being offered up to nebulous gods for good crops and luck. Fin de año feels like a cross between Halloween and Lent. It underscores the primitive nature of this culture, as if when the Old People left or died out (not clear on that), leaving the detritus of their technology behind, everything devolved back into an earlier culture. Makes me wonder if it’s not some cyclical thing: a world builds up, self-destructs, starts over… Or maybe listening to The Clash’s “Death or Glory” while I write this is making me philosophical.
Normally, I find the omniscient narrator intrusion annoying (whether SK or Roland), but at the end of this section, it kind of gave me chills. Big doings are afoot that will have major consequences beyond what might appear on the surface.
From its field of roses, the Dark Tower cries out in its beast’s voice. As Yeats might say, “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?”
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 6: Closing the Year, Section 2
Coral’s walking along High Street in a cheery mood (since Sai Jonas feels no need to practice sexual abstinence) when she spots Sheemie. He has lots of graf to deliver for Reaping Fair parties. Coral has another reason to be cheery—she knows what’s about to really happen to heat up this year’s fair.
What Constant Reader Learns: Aren’t Coral and Eldred a perfect match?
I like Sheemie’s innocence, which makes him the perfect gofer for the ka-tet’s plans. I hope he doesn’t get slaughtered.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 6: Closing the Year, Section 3
Sheemie arrives at Seafront with two barrels of graf and takes them to the oak tank by the back door, emptying the fresh brew on top of the old. Afterwards, making sure he’s not being watched, he leads the mule to the Seafront storage sheds, where he meets Susan. They dry out the empty graf barrels as best they can and fill them will fireworks. “They won’t be missed,” she says. “There’s enough stuff back there to blow up half the world.” Prophetic, perhaps?
Sheemie’s job is to take the fireworks to the Bar K, to his friend Arthur Heath. His cover story is that he has graf he’s taking to the In-World boys since they won’t be attending the fair.
What Constant Reader Learns: I love Sheemie as this oddly wise little helper bee in this scheme. He’s sweet when he asks Susan for a fin de año kiss, and “floats out to the Bar K” after his wish is granted. Will he survive the bloodbath? I know Cuthbert feels guilty for drawing him into their fight, but he’s been drawn in, so that ship has sailed.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 6: Closing the Year, Section 4
Reynolds rides out to Citgo the next day. He’s ready to leave the dust of Mejis behind, both because of its unpleasant climate but because of the “brooding quality” to the area these days. He calls out the ranchers and townspeople hidden at Citgo, making sure they’re ready. Their guns are antiquated and highly questionable, Reynolds thinks.
We learn that the number of tankers has dropped from almost thirty to six—only two with oil in them.
What Constant Reader Learns: More entertaining glimpses into the world we know: Reynolds ties his horse to the “bumper of a rusty old hulk with the mystery-word CHEVROLET barely readable on its tailboard.”
I’m thinking the ineptness of the Hambry guys might ultimately help our ka-tet’s plans. Although one never knows. I also have to wonder how far Reynolds is willing to stick his neck out for this venture. All the Big Coffin Hunters have wished they could just ride away from it all.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 6: Closing the Year, Section 5
We’re on Mount Doom, a.k.a. the Coos, with Rhea and the glass. She’s getting an eyeful to “all the Barony’s meanness, all its petty cruelties, all its cozening and lying.”
A look at what the preciousssss glass does to its victims: “Rhea dreamed in the ball and lost herself in her dreams, as others had done before her; deep in the petty pleasures of far-seeing, she was unaware that the pink ball was stealing the wrinkled remains of her anima.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Love the details Stephen King throws in: Rhea has sewn Ermot’s head back on his body with black thread and has the rotting snake corpse wrapped around her neck, “not noticing the stench that began to arise from the reptile as time passed.” Eventually she doesn’t even move away from the glass to go to the privy. Sweet. Even Musty’s not hanging around by this point—she’s too mean and too aromatic.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 6: Closing the Year, Section 6
Here we get a glimpse of some of the nice boys of Hambry, wrapping a chunk of liver around a firecracker, lighting it, and then throwing it to a scrawny starving dog, who promptly explodes.
What Constant Reader Learns: Hm, a parallel here? But who is the scrawny dog—our ka-tet or the Big Coffin Hunters? Who first takes the deadly bait?
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 6: Closing the Year, Section 7
Cuthbert and Alain are sitting at the mouth of Eyebolt Canyon, cringing at the sound of the thinny. Even the horses don’t like it.
As before, Cuthbert hears that infernal internal dialogue the thinny seems to inspire: “Leave all this foolishness behind,” it tells him… “And the girl, leave her, too. You love her, don’t you? And even if you don’t, you want her. It’s sad that she loves your friend instead of you, but if you come to me, all that will stop bothering you.”
He shakes it off, and they pull out bags of gunpowder taken from the firecrackers. They dig trenches underneath the brush that blocks the canyon entrance and fill them with the powder. Afterward, they see the tankers moved from Citgo visible at Hanging Rock, the sunlight clearly glinting off them in the distance. “They must think we’re blind,” Alain says. “It’s stupid they think we are,” Cuthbert replies. Riders are visible in the distance, heading to the rock, changing guard.
What Constant Reader Learns: The boys are developing quite the sense of gallows humor as the big day approaches. “Do you think we’ll get away with it Bert?” Alain asks. Bert says: “Dunno. But I’ll tell you one thing, Al: they’ll know we were here.”
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 6: Closing the Year, Section 8
The days before Fair-Day roll around, and we’re told this is a time when important people from the far corners of the Barony come to town to help celebrate. There are many “Conversationals,” probably receptions of sorts, during the day, leading to the main “Conversational” on Reaping Day itself. Susan is expected to attend all of these “as a decorative testimony to the Mayor’s continuing puissance.”
Susan finally manages some free time and rides out to her father’s stable, and goes into his office. Not much has been moved since his death, so she sits at his desk and has a good cry. Then she starts going through the desk drawers; she finds the spurs he was wearing at his death—one broken. Next she goes through his ledgers, particularly the last one, and discovers the last dozen pages have been torn out. With this, she realizes she does believe her father was killed, betrayed by a friend.
Cordelia shows up. She’s grown even thinner, and with a flash of insight, Susan realizes Cordelia was complicit in the scheme to kill her father. Maybe she didn’t help plan it, but she knew about it. Cordelia doesn’t realize Susan’s growing rage and rags on her, saying she’s the one who’s forgotten her father and asking if she’s been with Will Dearborn that day.
Cordelia advances on her and Susan pushes her against the wall. “I’ve slept my last night here,” she says, and her aunt screams at her to go.
Susan leads Pylon from the stable and rides away in tears.
What Constant Reader Learns: Poor Olive Thorin. She is really quite the sad character, expected to attend all the events of Reaping while Susan’s presence mocks her as they sit “on either side of the aging cockatoo.”
Regarding Susan’s riding away… What will the repercussions of this be, or is it too late to matter? If nothing else, it’s the first tiny crack in the ka-tet’s carefully laid plan. Because we knew there would be cracks.
Cordelia’s physical decline is interesting. She doesn’t have the glass draining her anima but something seems to be doing so. Worry over the Susan situation? Sadness that Sai Jonas has moved on to Coral? Ka?
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 6: Closing the Year, Section 9
In the early hours of the next morning, Olive Thorin—kind of a ghostlike figure in her own home now—creeps to her husband’s bedroom and climbs in his bed. We’re told it took all of her courage to do this. She’d had a dream of a cruel golden-eyed bird flying over the Barony with wings dripping blood. “Wherever its shadow fell, there was blood, and its shadow fell everywhere. The Barony ran with it, from Hambry all the way out to Eyebolt. And I smelled big fire in the wind. I ran to tell you and you were dead in your study, sitting by the hearth with your eyes gouged out and a skull in your lap.”
Before dawn, before the mayor can wake, she goes back to her own room.
What Constant Reader Learns: Mayhap Olive has a bit of the Touch herself, since this sounds much like the scenario that seems to be coming.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 6: Closing the Year, Section 10
Two days before Reaping-Fair, and the midway booths have opened. Roy Depape heads to the sheriff’s office, where Avery, Deputy Dave and Frank Claypool are cleaning “an odd and fantastical assortment of guns.” He asks if they’re ready, and Avery assures them everything’s taken care of. Depape figures “things would work out if the three boys were as fooled as Jonas thought they were.” And if they don’t, he doesn’t much care.
What Constant Reader Learns: Oh yeah, this book is a flashback. Just in case we forgot we have a little interjection of the older ka-tet at their campfire when Roland mentions the pony-train at the Green Heart. “Was the pony named Charlie?” asks Eddie.
Like Reynolds, Depape doesn’t really have a dog in this hunt, so I have to wonder how loyal he’s going to be when things go south.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 6: Closing the Year, Section 11
Susan and Roland meet later that day in the hut in the Bad Grass. Roland shows her his guns, which he’s hidden beneath skins in the corner. “If things go badly—and they could—you’re the one most likely to get away clean,” he tells her. “You and Sheemie. If that happens … you must come here and take my guns. Take them west to Gilead. Find my father.” He makes her promise, and then they make a sad kind of love, both of them feeling that things ahead aren’t likely to go as they hope. “He would think later: She knew. Some part of her knew” it would be their last time together.
The plan is that Susan will claim to be indisposed at lunch, slip out, ride to the cabin and look for the guns. If they’re gone, everything’s fine and she’s to meet them in the place above the canyon. If the guns are there, she’s to take them and head to Gilead.
What Constant Reader Learns: Susan catches a frightening glimpse of the gunslinger Roland will become—the cold side. He knows it and says he can’t help what he is. Still, he’s tempted to take her and leave immediately, a theme we’re seeing among all the players. Haven’t they all at one time—even Jonas—wished to just ride away from whatever’s about to happen? Yet ka holds them to its plan.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 6: Closing the Year, Section 12
Cordelia, that evening, goes to the garden and reconstructs her stuffy guy as Susan, wearing the girl’s clothes and one of her spring bonnets. Cord is haunted by images of Coral Thorin and Eldred Jones. Then she sets the stuffy-Susan on fire. “So let it be done! Charyou tree! Aye, just so!” she shouts. Once it burns, she goes back inside and sleeps “like the dead.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Aunt Cord has totally flipped. What role, if any, will she play in what’s to come?
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 6: Closing the Year, Section 13
At 3:30 AM on the day before Reaping, Stanley is getting ready to close up the Travelers’ Rest when he hears a scream behind the building. He doesn’t really want to find out what it is, but he goes out anyway, armed with a heavy club. Out back, he finds Pettie the Trotter looking up at the sky. She bids him look at the moon, and when he does, he tries to explain away what he sees but doesn’t believe it himself.
“Above them, Demon Moon grinned and winked one eye through what appeared to be a shifting scrim of blood.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Okay, we’ve been building and building and building and building. Next week, I want to see some heads roll and blood flow, already!
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll continue with the next chapter of Wizard and Glass.