“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 the action, the first part of Roland’s plans had gone like clockwork, Jonas was dead, and the boys had possession of the wizard’s glass… except Susan had fallen into enemy hands, something Roland hadn’t foreseen.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 10, Beneath the Demon Moon, Section 1
Clay Reynolds has delivered Susan to Coral Thorin, who takes her under guard to the cold pantry. She tells Susan when Jonas gets back he can decide what’s to be done with her. Susan tells her she won’t ever see Jonas again, which Coral doesn’t appreciate hearing—she backhands Susan and cuts her face (again).
What Constant Reader Learns: Kind of sad, really, that sai Jonas and Coral found each other at this point in their lives and now he’s dead. And even though she claims to know Susan doesn’t speak the truth, the words haunt her. In a warped way, theirs is a more interesting love story than the the awkward teenage angst of Roland and Susan.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 10, Beneath the Demon Moon, Section 2
Again we’re told of the “unaccustomed silence” that hangs over Hambry as the town clock strikes noon. Everyone’s getting hammered. “Reaping Fair had been stolen from them, and they didn’t know what to do about it….These folk, sullen-drunk and as potentially dangerous as stormclouds filled with lightning, wanted someone to focus on, someone to tell them what to do. And, of course, someone to toss on the fire, as in the days of Eld.”
Who should walk into the Travellers’ Rest but Rhea and Cordelia. Rhea’s full of blood, and Cordelia’s looking kind of bloodless (for reasons we know too well). The old witch tells them Susan freed the three “murderers” the night before and killed both the sheriff and the deputy. She manages to whip the drunken crowd into quite a black-hearted frenzy. They shouldn’t expect any better of strangers, she says, but Susan is one of them.
Cordelia puts in her testimony: “[Susan] said she wouldn’t be the Mayor’s gilly. He wasn’t good enough for such as her, she said. And then she seduced Will Dearborn. The price of her body was a fine position in Gilead as his consort…and the murder of Hart Thorin. His friends…may have had the use of her as well, for all I know. Chancellor Rimer must have gotten in their way.”
Spurred on by Rhea, Cordelia says: “take her…Paint her hands…Charyou tree.”
What Constant Reader Learns: The image of “better than two hundred souls” crammed into the Travellers’ Rest, drinking in total silence with moods described as “confused and sullen,” is awesome.
How much does Cordelia realize what she’s saying and doing, or is she totally under the influence of Rhea? I suspect the latter, but I might be giving her too much credit and it’s a combination of her own bitter soul plus Rhea’s influence. Poor Susan. I haven’t always liked Susan throughout this book. I think SK was going for noble victim with her and she didn’t always quite measure up. But this pretty much sucks.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 10, Beneath the Demon Moon, Section 3
Sheemie has been chasing Susan and Reynolds on foot, and is exhausted. He rests a few minutes and is about to take off again when Capi the mule shows up again and bites him (again) on the butt. So, calling Capi an “old sonovabitch,” which apparently gets the mule moving, Sheemie rides after Susan and her captor.
What Constant Reader Learns: This made me laugh aloud: “[Sheemie] lay where he was, lifting his head to look at the tracks left by Susan-sai and the bad Coffin Hunter, and he was just about ready to try his feet when Caprichoso bit him. Not a nip, mind you, but a good healthy comp Capi had had a difficult twenty-four hours, and he hadn’t much liked to see the author of all his misery lying on the grass, apparently taking a nap….There was nothing so magical as a good bite on the ass, a man of more philosophic bent might have reflected; it made all other concerns, no matter how heavy or sorrowful, disappear like smoke.”
Sheemie, ever full of naive wisdom, notes that saying his first curse word was hard, but that it comes ever more easily, and sometimes does the soul good. I concur.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 10, Beneath the Demon Moon, Section 4
When Sheemie follows the trail all the way to Seafront, he isn’t sure what to do. He knows that Miguel, who works at Seafront, might raise an alarm if he sees the inn boy and his mule milling around, and Sheemie has “reached a point where he was willing to die for his friends, but not unless it served a purpose.”
He hangs around, undecided, for a couple of hours, until Miguel himself finally stumbles drunk into the street. He sits against the side of the building and falls asleep, which gives Sheemie an opening. He leads Capi into the courtyard, ties him up, then goes inside the house, which is too quiet. “This was a house of murder now, a bad place. There were likely ghosts.”
He stops and helps himself to a leftover meal in the empty dining room, then begins wandering the halls until he’s finally intercepted by Olive Thorin. She’s wearing jeans and a checked shirt and appears to be younger and more alive now that her old goat of a husband is dead. She asks if he’s there for Susan, and when Sheemie nods, she says Susan’s in the pantry under guard and they need to get her out.
What Constant Reader Learns: Well, well. I had not expected Olive Thorin to show up as Susan’s champion. Nice twist.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 10, Beneath the Demon Moon, Section 5
We leave Sheemie and Olive to their task and return to Roland, who has been staring into the wizard’s glass for the last twenty pages. It’s calling to him in a voice he’ll hear “in uneasy dreams for the rest of his life, never quite remembering what he has dreamed, only knowing that the dreams leave him feeling ill somehow.”
Unlike Jonas and Rhea, we’re told, Roland is not watching what’s in the ball from the outside, but is inside it, “part of its endless pink storm.” He flies along inside the pink storm, and sees much. Sheb flies by singing “Hey Jude.” The Romp flies past along with a redhaired farmer in overalls. An iron wheelchair. A column of darkness—“this is where he must go.” Capi the mule. Rhea quoting the Wicked Witch of the West. A wasteland. The edge of Endworld, which the voices tell him is Thunderclap, where he’ll find the unbreathing, the white faces. A tree with a billy-bumbler impaled on its top branch, crying “oy” as Roland flies past.
He realizes the voice he hears is that of the Turtle, who says “let there be light.” In the light Roland sees a field of blood—only later, with his new ka-tet, he will realize it’s not blood, but roses.
Finally, he reaches the tower, its spiraling windows reflecting blue fire. “He senses both the strength of the place and the wrongness of it; he can feel how it is spooling error across everything, softening the divisions between the worlds, how its potential for mischief is growing stronger even as disease weakens its truth and coherence; this jutting arm of dark gray stone is the world’s great mystery and last awful riddle.”
As he flies toward it in the pink storm, Roland thinks, “I will enter you, me and my friends, if ka wills it so; we will enter you and we will conquer the wrongness within you. It may be years yet, but I swear by bird and bear and hare and fish, by all I love that…”
But the Turtle interrupts him: “You will kill everything and everyone you love, and still the Tower will be pent shut against you.”
“No,” Roland shouts. “It will not stand. When I come here in my body, it will not stand! I swear on my father’s name, it will not stand.”
“Then die,” the voice says, and Roland is hurled against the stone flank of the Tower…
What Constant Reader Learns: Well. This section was like an acid trip, without the acid. Just some pink Kool-Aid. I loved the imagery here even though it did seem to go on and on and on and on.
I loved the red-haired farmer flying past saying “Life for you.” Donald the Trashcan Man, anyone?
This, then, is the genesis of Roland’s lifelong search for the tower. His challenge. Sort of a fast-forward promo of things to come—some of which we’ve already seen, some not.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 10, Beneath the Demon Moon, Section 6
While Roland has been tripping the pink fantastic, Bert and Alain have been watching him. From their standpoint, he “had the piece of Maerlyn’s Rainbow raised to his face, cupped in his hands as a man might cup a ceremonial goblet before making a toast.”
Bert sticks his hand between the ball and Roland’s face, but it makes no difference. Alain tries to reach him with the touch, but can’t. Finally, as Roland’s face contorts, they realize if they don’t get him away from the glass, it’s going to kill him. So Alain punches him in the forehead, sending Roland sprawling. Cuthbert catches the unconscious Roland, and Alain catches the ball.
What Constant Reader Learns: When Gandalf shouts to the Balrog, er, I mean Roland shouts to the Turtle, “It will not stand,” his friends think it sounds like the voice of a man, not a boy. Or, as Alain said, “That was the voice of a king.”
Alain earns his keep for the whole book here. He’s able to resist the call of the glass and stuff it in its drawstring bag, seeing “the pink light wink out, as if it knew it had lost. For the time being, at least.”
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 10, Beneath the Demon Moon, Section 7
Sheemie waits outside the kitchen for Olive Thorin to call him. He has a bad feeling about the place and the day, and wants to be gone from there. She finally comes out and says Susan is there but she’s unable to get anything out of the guards, who are pretending not to speak in her language. She’d tried to get them to leave their posts by telling them men were upstairs trying to steal the silver, but they pretended not to understand.
When Olive asks what Sheemie has in his pockets, he turns out a pocketknife, a half-eaten cookie, a few firecrackers, and some matches. Olive has a plan.
What Constant Reader Learns: Still liking Olive and Sheemie as the most unlikely black-ops rescue squad in history, although I don’t think they will be ultimately successful.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 10, Beneath the Demon Moon, Section 8
Cuthbert and Alain haven’t succeeded in waking Roland after his magical mystery tour and his punch in the head, so Alain finally resorts to using the touch. He finally wakens and as they help him to his feet, they notice there are strands of white in his hair.
Roland wants to know if the glass is safe, then says it’s best for one of them to carry it for a while.
“What did you see?” Cuthbert finally asks. “Much,” Roland says. “I saw much, but most of it is already fading out of my mind, the way dreams do when you wake up. What I do remember I’ll tell you as we ride. You must know, because it changes everything. We’re going back to Gilead, but not for long…” They’ll go West, he says, in search of the Dark Tower.
What Constant Reader Learns: Another nod to The Stand, where, like Nadine after her close encounter with Randall Flag, strands of Roland’s hair turn white after encountering the Turtle or the Tower or the Pink Light, or whatever he encountered.
Time to ride again, boys! There are tankers to destroy, canyons to burn, Susans to sacrifice.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 10, Beneath the Demon Moon, Section 9
Susan’s guards are finally roused by a loud bang from upstairs, plus a woman screaming. The maid Maria tells them thieves have set Seafront on fire. Sheemie sets off more fireworks, and when the guards finally run to see what’s going on, Olive and Maria pull Susan from the pantry. She’s not looking too good after being knocked upside the head several times, but she’s lucid. The women don serapes and slip out to meet Sheemie, who is supposed to be waiting with horses.
What Constant Reader Learns: One has to wonder how these women might have accomplished all their sneaking around and jail-breaking in this book without the convenience of lots of serapes sitting around for the taking.
I feel pretty certain they are not going to succeed in rescuing Susan, but haven’t figured out how it will play out.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 10, Beneath the Demon Moon, Section 10
Susan’s been taken prisoner, Roland tells the others as they ride. She’s been hurt, but “she’ll heal…and she’ll live. I’d turn around in a second if I thought her life was in any real danger.”
Cuthbert is alarmed at this new Roland. Where was that young man…”so deeply in love that Bert had needed to knock him into the dust of the courtyard in order to wake him up to his responsibilities?”
He’s even more alarmed as he asks if Susan will meet them up on the road later and Roland says he almost hopes she doesn’t, “because we can never be as we were….The Tower is our ka; mine especially. But it isn’t hers, nor she mine.” So if she were to somehow survive this fiasco (but I don’t think she will), he’ll dump her like last year’s meatloaf.
Cuthbert insists there is no Tower, except in some symbolic way—“like Arthur’s Cup or the Cross of the man-Jesus.” But Roland knows better. “It’s real, and our fathers know…Its existence is the great secret our fathers keep; it’s what has held them together as ka-tet across all the years of the world’s decline.”
In the ball, Roland says, he was given a choice: Susan or the Tower. “I would choose Susan in an instant, if not for one thing: the Tower is crumbling, and if it falls, everything we know will be swept away. There will be chaos beyond our imagining. We must go…and we will go.”
What Constant Reader Learns: How quickly a gunslinger’s heart hardens. Roland knows Susan’s been taken—it was the first thing he saw. But his mind is now bent toward the Tower and Susan’s only the first in a long list of people who’ll take second place, or third, or fourth.
Roland’s certainty that Susan will survive seems odd. He admits the glass didn’t really show him much beyond that Sheemie is helping her. He’s also pretty certain they’re going to succeed at Eyebolt. He will probably live to regret this assumption, although he’s already, in his mind, chosen the Tower over her. “I choose the Tower,” he says. “I must. Let her live a good life and long with someone else—she will, in time. As for me, I choose the Tower.” Um…not thinking that long life is going to happen, Ro, and how are you going to feel then? Probably a precursor of when you let Jake drop into the canyon.
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll continue our read of Wizard and Glass, Chapter 10, “Beneath the Demon Moon (II).”