“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 story, Roland had seen inside the wizard’s glass and his priorities changed from Susan to Tower. Meanwhile, Sheemie and Olive Thorin are trying to rescue Susan from the clutches of the Reap Fever that’s overtaken the town.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 10, Beneath the Demon Moon, Section 11
Susan, Olive, and Sheemie ride north. When Susan questions their route, Olive explains her rationale—she’s given this some thought. She wants to go a way their pursuers won’t expect, and thinks they’ll spend the night in some of the sea-cliff caves, which she knows well from her childhood as a fisherman’s daughter.
Olive sends Sheemie back to Seafront so that he can steer riders in a different direction if necessary, then meet them at a particular signpost after dark. Sheemie says goodbye to Susan and, we’re told, “it was the last Sheemie ever saw of her, and in many ways, that was a blessing.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Freed from her idiot of a husband, Olive’s come into her own: “She cast an eye on Susan that was not much like the dithery, slightly confabulated Olive Thorin that folks in Hambry knew…or thought they knew.”
Another bit of wisdom from Sheemie. Susan kisses him before he leaves and thanks him for all his help. “’Twas only ka,” he says. “I know that…but I love you Susan-sai.”
I sure hope Sheemie survives all this. We’ve been told from back in the days of The Gunslinger that Susan won’t, and I wish I didn’t know that. The suspense would have been greater had I been wondering if she’d survive and not just a confirmation of how she’ll die, which we’ve also pretty much been told. Foreshadowing is not always a good thing.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 10, Beneath the Demon Moon, Section 12
Roland, Cuthbert, and Alain encounter one of Latigo’s lookouts a mile from Hanging Rock, but it’s a young, confused boy who doesn’t question it when they greet him with the Good Man’s “sigul.”
As they ride on toward Hanging Rock, Roland gives them some last-minute instructions: “Remember that it’s hit-and-run. Slow down for nothing. What we don’t get must be left—there’ll be no second pass.”
And then “the gunslingers rode down on Hanging Rock like furies.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Nice look at a skill of Cuthbert’s as he’s able to mimick the lookout’s deep In-World accent flawlessly and thus reduce any suspicion about them. He’s proven beautifully useful so far with his slingshot, too.
And we’re off!
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 10, Beneath the Demon Moon, Section 13
Susan and Olive ride around a bend and have the buzzard’s luck of running into Clay Reynolds and two other riders, one of whom Susan doesn’t know and the other of whom is Kimba Rimer’s brother Laso.
Susan tells Reynolds his friends are dead, but he doesn’t much care. He’s decided to ride on without them anyway. Olive tells them they should let Susan ride on, that she’s done nothing wrong. When Rimer says she helped Dearborn escape, the man who murdered Olive’s husband and his own brother, Olive stands up to him. Kimba Rimer had “looted” half the town’s treasury, she tells him, keeping a lot of it for himself. … and, besides that, Clay Reynolds was probably the one who killed Kimba Rimer.
When the men refuse to let the women pass, Olive pulls a “huge and ancient” pistol—the sight of which astounds the men, “Reynolds as much as the other two; he sat his horse with his jaw hanging slack. Jonas would have wept.”
Olive gets off a shot but the gun jams, and Reynolds kills her with a single shot. Only then does Rhea come forward in her evil little black cart. She admits that even though the boys have taken her glass ball, she saw much in it beforehand, including which way Olive and Susan would be trying to escape.
Rhea orders Reynolds to bind Susan’s hands and stand her in the back of the cart so they can parade her through town.
What Constant Reader Learns: Susan realizes Reynolds might claim to not need Jonas but “he’s less without Jonas. A lot less. He knows it, too.”
The image of Olive with the big gun is pretty hilarious. Well, until Reynolds kills her with a shot to the heart. I hate to see her die this way, but at least she died after regaining some of her dignity. And not because she’d reasoned wrong in how to help Susan escape. One can’t fight ka.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 10, Beneath the Demon Moon, Section 14
As the boys ride toward Hanging Rock, Alain keeps thinking they should have just gone around Latigo’s group since they have the glass. Except that “a hundred generations of gunslinger blood argued against it.” So Alain rides on, threatening to knock his horse’s brains out if it gets skittish when the shooting starts.
Roland shoots first, but then the riders put up a defensive line and everyone starts shooting. Alain’s got the machine gun that Fran Lengyll had been carrying, shooting for the oil tankers. Once the tankers start to blow, Alain adjusts his aim and begins shooting the fleeing men. When the machine gun falters, he throws it aside and pulls his revolver. Cuthbert’s using his slingshot to shoot firecrackers at the tankers Alain has perforated.
What Constant Reader Learns: Great description of the tankers blowing: “The sound it made was like no explosion Alain had ever heard: a guttural, muscular ripping sound accompanied by a brilliant flash of orange-red fire. The steel shell rose in two halves. One of these spun thirty yards through the air and landed on the desert floor in a furiously burning hulk; the other rose straight up into a column of greasy black smoke. A burning wooden wheel spun across the sky like a plate and came back down trailing sparks and burning splinters….Black smoke rose in the air like the fumes of a funeral pyre; it darkened the day and drew an oily veil across the sun.”
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 10, Beneath the Demon Moon, Section 15
Roland recognizes George Latigo since all the gunslingers in training had learned who Farson’s chief lieutenants were.
There was an elaborate plan for Alain to perforate the tankers and then Bert to shoot the steady stream of fireworks to ignite the spilling oil, but once the fire starts, it spreads by itself. “The ease with which the gunslingers had gotten inside the enemy’s perimeter and the confusion which greeted their original charge could have been chalked up to inexperience and exhaustion, but the placing of the tankers had been Latigo’s mistake, and his alone.”
Their work at Hanging Rock done, the boys ride toward Eyebolt Canyon.
What Constant Reader Learns: This is the first time, mentioning Farson’s lieutenants as being figures the gunslingers learned about during their training, that it directly ties the baby gunslingers’ training to what’s going on in the bigger world. We knew the adult gunslingers were involved in the fighting but this is the first mention I can remember of anything beyond the business of gunslinger skills being taught to the boys.
Love this: “Even before Roland raised his left arm and circled it in the air, signaling for Alain and Cuthbert to break off, the work was done. Latigo’s encampment was an oily inferno, and John Farson’s plans for a motorized assault were so much black smoke being tattered apart by the fin de año wind.”
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 10, Beneath the Demon Moon, Section 16
Latigo is not a happy camper. Actually, he’s in a “brain-bursting rage.” He has to order one of his men to shoot another just to get their attention as they stand watching the fire with “gaping mouths and stupid young sheep faces.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Latigo sees the boys heading for the box canyon and thinks he’s going to follow them and “turn it into a shooting gallery.” Um…I’m thinking that’s not going to work out so well for him.
Roland has planned this all perfectly, ka or not. Except for the little detail about the human sacrifice about to be made back in town.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 10, Beneath the Demon Moon, Section 17
The boys get close enough to the canyon to hear the thinny ahead. They slow down so Latigo can get his men together and in pursuit, and draw even closer.
What Constant Reader Learns: Even Roland is amazed at how well this is working.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 10, Beneath the Demon Moon, Section 18
Now, Latigo is amazed at how well his plan is working. Those stupid boys are heading right into the canyon!
What Constant Reader Learns: Okay, so it might not be quite as satisfying as seeing sai Jonas go out in a blaze of ignomy, but Latigo’s end will be pretty sweet. Not that I’m violent or anything.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 10, Beneath the Demon Moon, Section 19
At the entrance to the canyon, the boys dismount and Alain takes the wizard’s glass and they let the horses go. Cuthbert wants to light the fire under the brush blocking the canyon entrance, but Roland wants that job for himself.
Cuthbert and Alain head off to the chimney-cut in the canyon while Roland waits. When Latigo and his men are about three-hundred yards from the canyon’s mouth, he lights the powder the boys had spread beneath the branches earlier.
What Constant Reader Learns: It occurs to me that Roland’s taking a lot better care of Rusher than he did Susan, but maybe I’m being unfair. But it still occurs to me that Roland’s taking a lot better care of Rusher than he did Susan. He even thinks at one point he’s glad Sheemie will keep her safe.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 10, Beneath the Demon Moon, Section 20
As Roland runs toward Cuthbert and Alain, he has a vision/hallucination of being with his parents at Lake Saroni in the northern part of the barony. He was very young, on a beach, and he remembered looking up and seeing his parents with their arms around each others’ waists. “How his heart had filled with love for them! How infinite was love, twining in and out of hope and memory like a braid with three strong strands, so much the Bright Tower of every human’s life and soul.”
But what he’s really seeing is Bert and Alain, hand in hand, walking toward the edge of the thinny. Panicked, Roland fires into the air to get their attention, and shouts, “Gunslingers! To me!” After three shots, Alain finally turns toward Roland but Cuthbert continues toward the thinny until Alain jerks him back. When Cuthbert looks down, the toes of his boots, which had gone into the edge of the thinny, are clipped off.
There’s no time to talk about the thinny, however. It’s time to climb out of the canyon.
What Constant Reader Learns: If the thinny could eat away the end of Cuthbert’s shoes so that his toes are sticking out, why didn’t it hurt his toes? I mean it would have been inconvenient for climbing out of the canyon, but seems like he should have come away with at least a streak of white hair or something. (Yes, tongue firmly in cheek.)
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 10, Beneath the Demon Moon, Section 21
Here come Latigo’s hapless men, riding into the canyon so intent on their targets that they don’t notice the line of burning brush they have to ride through. Latigo’s in a fever of his anticipated victory, although he gradually becomes aware of all the bones lying in the canyon, and the whine, “insectile and insistent,” of the thinny.
Latigo rounds the bend in the canyon and his horse screams and rears, then goes down. Latigo realizes the buzzing sound is much louder now. The horses pile in behind and around him while he tries to get to his feet, a horse’s hoof gashing the back of his neck. The horses ride in, then freak out, turn, and try to ride back out—running into the ones who’re still riding forward. It’s an equine traffic jam with the thinny reaching closer.
Only now, as he’s choking and trying to get the riders to turn back, does Latigo realize there is smoke pouring into the canyon from behind them. Latigo’s number-two guy, Hendricks, goes into the thinny: “It came alive, somehow, as he struck it; grew green hands and a green, shifty mouth; pawed his cheek and melted away the flesh, pawed his nose and tore it off, pawed at his eyes and stripped them from their sockets. It pulled Hendricks under, but before it did, Latigo saw his denuded jawbone, a bloody piston to drive his screaming teeth.”
Not surprisingly, the riders behind Hendricks are quite anxious to NOT follow him but they can’t stop.
Latigo jerks a rider from his horse and mounts the animal. But the mouth of the canyon is blocked by fire, and he’s thrown from the horse again. He raises his gun to shoot the thinny as it beckons him toward it, but in the end, he drops the gun and walks into the green.
What Constant Reader Learns: Latigo’s thinking a little about covering his assets. “He would have to face Walter when this was over, perhaps Farson himself, and he had no idea what his punishment would be for losing the tankers…but all that was for later.” Mostly he wants to get the boys. Methinks he will do neither.
The whole scene with Latigo and company riding into the canyon and the thinny is just awesomeness. The end of Jonas might have been a letdown, but this one wasn’t.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 10, Beneath the Demon Moon, Section 22
Roland and friends watch the chaos from the notch, seeing what the men on the ground can’t: “The thinny was growing, reaching out, crawling eagerly toward them like an incoming tide.” “We killed them,” he thinks. “No, not we. I. I killed them.”
From above him, Cuthbert calls for Roland to look at the moon, and he’s startled when he looks up to see it’s dark. “How can it be almost dark? he cried inside himself, but he knew…Time had slipped back together, that was all, like layers of ground embracing once more after the argument of an earthquake.” Terror strikes Roland as he wonders if the pink ball has lied to him about Susan being safe—or at least misdirected him. He remembers the farmer’s words: “Life for you and life for your crop,” but Roland realizes what he really said was, “Death for you, life for my crop, Charyou tree. Come, Reap.” In his head, he hears Rhea taunting him.
He screams for Cuthbert and Alain to climb faster, hoping there’s still time to save Susan but knowing, inside, that it’s too late.
What Constant Reader Learns: Well, okay. Roland was bamboozled by the wizard’s glass. I’ll cut him some slack about Susan and the horse thing.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 10, Beneath the Demon Moon, Section 23
Susan doesn’t realize what’s in store until she finally sees a man with long red hair and a straw hat holding cornshucks, standing at the crossroads into town. He throws the shucks into the cart as she passes, and says “Charyou tree.”
Finally she understands. “There would be no baby for her, no wedding for her in the fairy-distant land of Gilead, no hall in which she and Roland would be joined and then saluted beneath the electric lights, no husband, no more nights of sweet love; all that was over. The world had moved on and all that was over, done before fairly begun.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Interesting. Another farmer with long red hair.
Well, isn’t Susan the stoic martyr. Sorry, but I’d be calling Roland and Aunt Crazypads and Rhea the Bruja some pretty nasty names. I would not go gently into that good fire. Instead, she prays for Roland’s safety while Rhea cackles, “the straggling remains of her broomstraw hair flying out orange in the light of the bloated moon.”
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 10, Beneath the Demon Moon, Section 24
The horses are back, but Roland’s fixated on the ball. He demands it from Alain, who hands it over very reluctantly. When Roland pulls it from the bag, it’s glowing, “a pink Demon Moon instead of an orange one.”
In the glass he sees Susan standing the cart, being pelted with cornhusks, rotten tomatoes, potatoes and apples by the good people of Hambry. Roland sees people he’d met and mostly liked while he was in Mejis, chanting for her death.
Roland begins screaming as he sees Aunt Cord come forward with the paint. Cuthbert and Alain hit Roland, trying to get the glass away from him, but they can’t as it “flashed faster and faster, eating its way into him through the wound it had opened, sucking up his grief like blood.”
What Constant Reader Learns: I’m speechless. And horrified. I knew it was coming and I wasn’t a big Susan fan, but it’s still…awful.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 10, Beneath the Demon Moon, Section 25
Cordelia dances the crazy dance and screams after splashing Susan with paint. The crowd is in a frenzy, and they place Susan in the stacked wood and set it alight. She thinks of Roland, even as Rhea and Cordelia light the fire, and shouts, “Roland, I love thee.”
The crowd grows a little uneasy, as if something in their old nature peeks out and is horrified at what they’re doing, killing one of their own.
What Constant Reader Learns: I have really mixed feelings about this scene that we’ve been marching toward for hundreds and hundreds of pages. I appreciate the buildup to the mob craze, but feel strangely uninvested in Susan herself. I think I would have been more emotionally invested in it if I’d stayed with Roland, looking into the glass. As it was, it felt overly dramatic with the shouted declaration of love and longing over Roland, with a sentimentality that most romance novels wouldn’t even allow.
Or maybe I’m just a cold, heartless witch. It’s a possibility.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 10, Beneath the Demon Moon, Section 26
Roland watches, howling “like a gutted animal, his hands welded to the ball, which beat like a runaway heart.”
Desperate when he can’t rip the ball from Roland’s hands, Cuthbert pulls out his revolver and aims it at the glass. The ball immediately goes black, and Roland drops like a rock. The glass rolls to the ground unharmed.
Frightened and angry, Alain steps forward, meaning to crush it, but Cuthbert stops him. “Don’t you dare, after all the misery and death we’ve gone through to get it.” Bert tells Alain to put the glass back in the drawstring bag and then help him toss the unconscious Roland over the horse’s back. “And that was how they left Eyebolt Canyon, and the seacoast side of Mejis; riding west beneath the Demon Moon, with Roland laid across his saddle like a corpse.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Hm. Interesting. Alan “thought of ka and drew back [after not crushing the glass]. Later he would bitterly regret doing so.” Also interesting that Cuthbert is the one taking charge, telling Alain what to do, and getting them moving again.
Wizard and Glass, “Come Reap”: Chapter 10, Beneath the Demon Moon, Section 27
Roland still hadn’t awakened by the next afternoon, so Alain tries to use the touch to bring him around. It doesn’t work, so they make a travois and travel another day. When they finally go to bed that night, they wake up and find Roland sitting up, holding the blackened glass and looking at it with dead eyes. Day after day they ride, and Roland will eat and drink but not talk. Alain tries to use the touch on him again, but “there was nothing to touch…The thing which rode west with them toward Gilead was not Roland, or even a ghost of Roland. Like the moon at the close of its cycle, Roland had gone.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Lovely ending to this long flashback section, with Roland’s stunned heartbreak much more effective than Susan’s dramatic declarations.
I’m strangely ambivalent about being jerked back to the “real” story. But that’s where we’re headed!
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll continue our read of Wizard and Glass, beginning Part Four: All God’s Chillun Got Shoes.”