“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 filled the current-era ka-tet in on some missing parts of his story, and they’d found six pairs of shoes lined up across the interstate a few miles in front of the glass palace.
Wizard and Glass, “All God’s Chillun Got Shoes”: Chapter 2, Shoes in the Road, Section 1
Our wanderers reach the shoes and get a better look at the glass palace, which is a shimmery green, with red banners snapping from its towers. And the shoes are red. As they get closer, Susannah realizes there aren’t six pairs, but four pairs plus four little Oy-sized booties.
Roland “didn’t know how many bumblers had worn shoes in the history of the world, but he was willing to guess that none had ever been gifted with a set of silk-lined leather booties.” Susannah’s are feminine and covered in rhinestones (or maybe diamond chips), but made to fit over the stumps of her legs. Jake gets red oxfords—and he recognizes handmade shoes when he sees them because his father had worn expensive handmade shoes. Eddie’s are low boots with Cuban heels and pointy toes.
Roland, of course, gets red cowboy boots, of the sort that a famous cowboy like, oh, Liberace might wear.
While Roland still shares enough mojo with the others to be part of the ka-tet, he does not understand the current of thought running between them—“because it’s of their world,” he thinks. “They come from different whens of that world, but they see something here that’s common to all three of them.”
Roland asks them what the shoes mean, and they really don’t know. But Jake picks up his oxfords and claps them together three times, and Eddie and Susannah understand that motion well enough. Eddie asks Roland if he traveled inside the ball after killing Jonas. Roland thinks he wants to rehash it and tries to stop him, but Eddie says it’s a relevant question—a riddle. The shoes are a riddle. That things turned up in the pink storm Roland flew through that he later encountered—Sheb and the redhaired hut dweller…and a wicked witch…and shoes.
All of them (sans Roland and Oy) start throwing out references to flying monkeys and little dogs and wicked witches. Roland wants to know what the heck they’re talking about. “I would share your khef,” he says. “And I would share it now.” Shut up and tell me, in other words.
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland’s an admirable character. A noble character. An arrogant character. A heroic character. He’s not a silly character. So I’m with him as we frown at this bizarre assortment of fine footwear and have to wonder where the Man in Black is, because seems to me this has his name written all over it.
Oh dear God no. Anything but this. Okay. I should claim extreme prejudice here. I did not enjoy reading The Wizard of Oz as child or adult. I did not like the movie, which I thought silly and boring even as a kid and found myself mostly fascinated by Judy Garland’s slight lisp and thought Toto deserved better. So my ability to endure this is going to be accomplished with mumbled curses uttered through gritted teeth. Consider yourself warned. There is probably extreme smartassery ahead.
Wizard and Glass, “All God’s Chillun Got Shoes”: Chapter 1, Shoes in the Road, Section 2
The others explain The Wizard of Oz to Roland, and we’re told all of them identify with Dorothy’s fondest wish (bird and bear and hare and fish), which is to find her way back home. But first her ka-tet must go to the Emerald Palace and see the great Oz. Roland assumes Oz is a “powerful dinh…a baron…perhaps a king,” but instead Jake explains the wizard is a “humbug,” or, as Roland misconstrues it, a “bumhug.”
At the mention of a wizard, of course, Roland is on instant alert. After Jake explains further, Roland quickly grasps the moral of the story—that everyone already had within him the means to obtain his fondest wish. They also explain the deal about Dorothy clicking the heels of the red shoes together to return home.
Roland asks if they think everyone should put on the red shoes, but the others all agree that maybe the time hasn’t yet come. “If we’re supposed to put em on, I think we’ll know when the time comes,” Eddie says. “In the meantime, I think we ought to beware of bumhugs bearing gifts.”
What Constant Reader Learns: I remember the Emerald City. Was the wizard’s palace in Oz called the Emerald Palace?
My new favorite epithet: bumhug! I do like the play on wizards, and fake wizards, but….bumhug.
Wizard and Glass, “All God’s Chillun Got Shoes”: Chapter 1, Shoes in the Road, Section 3
As they approach the Green Palace, Jake realizes how beautiful it is—but he still doesn’t trust it. “It was like a drawing in a fairy-tale book, one so good it had become real, somehow. And, like the thinny, it hummed…except that this sound was far fainter, and not unpleasant.”
As they get closer, they see the open eye symbol on the banners. “It’s the mark of the Crimson King,” Jake thinks. “It’s really his sigul, not John Farson’s.”
They all agree it’s not necessarily a bad place, but not a nice place, either. When Roland asks if it’s a copy of the Emerald Palace in the story, the former New Yorkers have a silent consultation and agree that it probably is. Roland thinks the strange name of Oz “had a sound that belonged in this business; a sound more of his world than of Jake’s, Susannah’s, and Eddie’s.”
What Constant Reader Learns: It’s interesting to watch Roland consulting the others, recognizing that they know more about this new thing they’re about to encounter than he does. And he respects their instincts. Ka and khef.
The mysterious Crimson King again. Is he our endgame? And are our other villains encountered thus far his minions?
So okay, Jake doesn’t know how he knows about the Crimson King because, really, he only knows about the University of Alabama Crimson Tide. So, on behalf of my alma mater, Roll Tide! Sorry. I’m over it now. Back to business.
Wizard and Glass, “All God’s Chillun Got Shoes”: Chapter 1, Shoes in the Road, Section 4
As the palace draws closer, some other details become clear. There’s an inner redoubt of dark blue glass, and the way inside is blocked by a barred gate—like wrought iron turned to glass. Each stake is a different color, and seems lit from within and containing some kind of liquid. To the left is a guardhouse of cream-colored glass with a red-striped glass door. There are purple gargoyles.
When they look closer, there are creatures imprisoned inside the glass bars of the gate: tiny mermaids in one—“living myths no bigger than grains of sand.” Another has tiny birds.
Roland doesn’t know if the creatures are real, but he does know—and so does Eddie—that there are twelve colored bars, with a thirteenth bar—black—in the middle. “It’s a Wizard’s Gate,” Eddie says. “Each bar has been made to look like one of the balls in Maerlyn’s Rainbow.” Inside the pink one, like Roland’s glass, are teeny-tiny galloping horses.
Eddie reaches out and grasps the black bar, scaring the crap out of the others, but nothing happens. The gate doesn’t give. Roland reaches out to try, but Jake stops him. “That’s not the way,” he says, sitting down and pulling on his red shoes. The others follow suit.
What Constant Reader Learns: The palace has been “drawing closer” for about four-hundred pages now, so I’m ready for us to get there already. Although I will admit the endless detail of the glass palace’s façade is pretty cool, especially the tiny creatures in the bars.
So, glass. *channels inner English major* Strong, yet fragile. Reflective, capable of false image and illusion. Cold. Something that can be seen through. That is all.
I want some red shoes.
Wizard and Glass, “All God’s Chillun Got Shoes”: Chapter 1, Shoes in the Road, Section 5
Now that they all are wearing their red shoes, Jake thinks they all look “extraordinarily stupid.” Jake is a wise boy.
Eddie says he’ll click his heels together but he’s not singing “Over the Rainbow.” But, as Roland points out, “the rainbow is here.” So they all click their heels together, and…nothing happens. They’ve forgotten Oy.
So while Eddie and I wallow in our horrified disbelief, Jake puts the red leather booties on the bumbler, making him a bootied bumbler.
A smart creature, Oy. He “rolled over on his back like a dog playing dead, then simply looked at his own feet with a kind of disgusted bewilderment.” They recount, and reclick, helping Oy along, and this time the black bar in the middle of the gate shatters. Roland gets ready to enter: “Let’s go in and see what the Wizard of Oz has to say for himself.”
What Constant Reader Learns: And now I have that damned song in my head. I shall banish Judy Garland’s lispy version with the Iz Kamakawiwo’ole version, which I kind of love, so I’ll share it.
Ha ha ha, Stephen King. As they click their heels together, the sound is written as tock, tock, tock. And I’m betting that’s no coincidence. We’ve been waiting for Tick-Tock to show up again. I’d almost forgotten him. So maybe not Man in Black, but Ticky.
Oh yes, Eddie! This: “Oh Christ. I left the world I knew to watch a kid try to put booties on a fucked-up weasel. Shoot me, Roland, before I breed.” Pour toi, Stephen King.
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll continue our read of Wizard and Glass, beginning Part Four, Chapter 3, “The Wizard.”