The Wastelands ended with Roland and his ka-tet in terrible jeopardy, riding through the waste lands in a maniacal riddle-obsessed train called Blaine. I suppose, since the series has seven books, it’s no great surprise to learn that the next book, Wizard and Glass, begins with the group making its escape from Blaine and continuing along the path of the beam toward the Dark Tower.
For Eddie, Susannah, and Jake, the Topeka they disembark into is unnervingly familiar. As far as they can tell, they’ve stepped right back into their own world. But then they start finding bodies, followed by newspapers with headlines about the “Captain Trips” Superflu. Even more startling, the newspapers are dated 1986, a year before Eddie was drawn into Gilead, but Eddie knew nothing about this. Perhaps the presence of what Roland calls a “thinny”—a portal between worlds—explains it.
Questions continue to pile up as the ka-tet continues on its journey, but the bulk of this book looks back into Roland’s own past as he tells his friends what happened after he first earned his guns at age 14, becoming the youngest gunslinger in history. For his own safety, his father, Stephen, sends him with his friends Cuthbert and Alain out east to the Barony called Mejis. Their mission is to find out what the Outer Baronies can do to support the Alliance in its war against the “Good Man” John Farson, but they actually find a conspiracy—and Roland finds his first love in Susan Delgado, the “girl at the window.”
Teresa: There may have been vague hints of it in the previous books, but I think this is first time it’s made clear that the Dark Tower books are at all connected to Stephen King’s other books. The Stand is one of my favorite Kings novels, and the scenes showing the aftermath of the superflu, probably years later, were so poignant. Susannah’s comment about how they tried so hard to honor the dead, right through to the end, has gotten to me every time I’ve read this book.
Jenny: And if that didn’t seal it, the appearance of Randall Flagg would have done the deal, since he shows up in many of King’s books. It’s frightening, puzzling, and exciting all at the same time. If that can happen, is there anything that can’t happen?
It’s been a long time since I’ve read this book, and I had forgotten how much of the book is devoted to Roland’s past. “Will it be a Western?” asks Jake as Roland begins to tell his story, and of course it is a Western, in Roland’s particular way. A Western that’s sprinkled with magic, fantasy, and odd artifacts from our world, but a Western just the same.
Teresa: Oh, yes, it’s definitely a Western, with good guys and bad guys, the wise-cracking bar matron, and the fair damsel. But it’s a Western set in what’s already a ghost town, where the Citgo oil derricks keep pumping, even though no one really understands how to operate them. What would be the future in a Western is now the past, and the past—witches and spells and tests of purity—is now the present. But in so many ways, this is a traditional story of boy meets girl.
Jenny: In earlier books, we get told that Roland is a romantic — that his quest for the Tower is at its base romantic — but this is the first book where we really see that for ourselves. Susan sees it almost immediately:
His eyes never left hers, and in them she saw some of Roland’s truth: the deep romance of his nature, buried like a fabulous streak of alien metal in the granite of his practicality. He accepted love as a fact rather than a flower, and it rendered her genial contempt powerless over both of them.
Romance is part of Roland’s nature, and it comes very much to the fore here (including the romance of the Tower) — but so do his natural gunslinger skills, his killer instincts, his honor, and his loyalty.
As I read this time, I couldn’t help comparing his former ka-tet to his new one. I especially loved getting to know Cuthbert and Alain.
Teresa: I loved getting to know them, too. I remember when I first read this book, I was overwhelmed with curiosity about them by the time I got to this book, because Roland had thought of them so much. And now I want to know the details of what happened to them after this book. I feel like King let readers down a little when it comes to Cuthbert and Alain. We only get hints at their fate, and I want more. I understand that the graphic novel series covers that story (and it will soon be available in an omnibus edition, if you’re looking to drop a lot of cash), but I wish it were in the main series.
The comparison between the ka-tets is fascinating. I was especially struck with the difference in how Roland relates to them. He’s a secretive and independent man, and always has been, even back to his youth. I get the impression that he learned a lot about what not to do back then, but he struggles against his nature all the time.
Jenny: Yes, good point. The way Cuthbert and Eddie (who have been compared) relate to him is a case in point. Cuthbert almost loses his faith in Roland entirely because Roland won’t share his thoughts with his friends. Roland has to force himself to share himself with Eddie, so as not to make that mistake again.
And of course, we have to compare this ka-tet to a third one, don’t we? Because at the end, we’re off to see the Wizard! I have to say, the idea that Dorothy’s “rainbow” was made up of balls like the one in this book is fairly creepy, and it also makes the Wicked Witch of the East far, far more menacing.
Teresa: If the Wicked Witch of the East is anything like Rhea of the Cöos, I’d want nothing at all to do with her. She’s one of the foulest witches I’ve encountered in literature.
I found it interesting that the Wizard of Oz references were all related to the movie and not to the book, which makes me think about the way worlds are bleeding together and what’s behind it all. The movie is what Eddie, Susannah, and Jake know, so that’s what they see. I continue to find this interaction between the worlds, and the stories of our worlds, to be one of the most intriguing elements of this series.
Jenny: That’s such a great point. Eddie says he’s read the books, all of them, so he should know that Dorothy’s shoes are silver, not ruby (but that’s not Technicolor enough.) But it’s the movie that makes the most impact. Again, the stories in books and films, the riddles we tell, the Westerns and the love stories, all swirl around here, and they all seem to be leading to one place. But it’s going to be a long, hard path before we get there.