With this entry, I overtake Suzanne Johnson's (very entertaining) read of the Dark Tower novels. Both it and The Guardian's ongoing overall-SK re-read are a lot of fun. Both began in May, just like mine, but whereas I am thirty-four-books-and-accompanying-media in, they're on, what? Three-and-three-quarters and eight books, respectively? What a couple of slowpokes...
Just kidding, of course. (And they're getting paid, I can only assume/ hope, so the joke, if there is one here is even-more on me.) Nevertheless, at this rate, the only King's Highway entries on the ol' Dog Star Omnibus in 2013 will be Doctor Sleep and Joyland, (both due for publication next year) as I just may finish reading/ seeing everything-SK by New Year's.
What happens at the end? Invitations to tea and Gargoyles viewings at the King Compound? Pow-wows with Mark Pavia and Frank Darabont about all upcoming King projects? 007-status at Discordia, the online interactive Dark Tower experience? V.I.P. table at the local Ponderosa? All of the above, I'm sure.
(Does Ponderosa even exist anymore? Googling... Yes, apparently so. Haven't been to one or seen one in years and years.)
WHAT YOU'LL SEE
After some heroic riddling, Eddie overcomes Blaine the Mono in a manner familiar to many a Star Trek episode (particularly 'I, Mudd,' 'The Changeling,'
|and, of course, 'Return of the Archons.')|
I admit some disappointment here, although I was certainly amused by the Trek parallels. But an artificial intelligence that has corrupted/ evolved enough as Blaine's has can't handle the introduction of a simple joke sub-routine? I thought it'd have been more fun to see Little Blaine pipe in, gleefully answer or recognize the jokes, and then perhaps the two Blaines fighting would result in overload. Ah well. It's not illogical, just seemed a bit lazy. But perhaps my beef is with the genre-trope and not King's employ of it. Well done, Eddie, just the same.
|See you later alligator, in awhile crocodile, and don't forget to write.|
Many different "whens," we discover, lie along the path of the Bear/ Turtle beam. Our ka-tet disembarks in a Kansas ravaged by Captain Trips, i.e. the superflu from The Stand, but it's a different "when." In this one, the Kansas City Royals do not exist, nor does Coca-Cola. They are, according to the papers fluttering by in this deserted landscape strewn with graffiti denoting the Walking Dude and the Crimson King, the Kansas City Monarchs and Nozz-a-la, respectively.
The Monarchs were a Negro Leagues team, perhaps the most famous of all Negro Leagues teams
|and that was the name of the league, folks. I'll take this space to renew a many-years-going complaint: Hollywood, you are way overdue/ thoughtlessly overlooking not just one but a dozen movies about this unique and noteworthy chapter of 20th century Americana. There's Soul of the Game, and that's about it. Come on, now.|
and Nozz-a-la... I smirked at that. Cocaine was both an ingredient in early Coca-Cola and also a personal-onetime-bugbear of Mr King's.
|Nozz = nose and well, har de har.|
|Incidentally, Lost picked up on this.|
They hear the phaser-pedal warbling of a "thinny," i.e. an ulcer or a hernia on the stomach lining of inter-dimensional reality, and the maddening sound provokes a memory from Roland. Most of the rest of the novel is a flashback from Roland, as he recalls the first thinny he experienced, the adventure that accompanied it, and the great cost on his soul that both extracted.
To put it mildly.
I once again struggled with spoilers when thinking of how to do this blog. I don't want to revisit the topic every week, so I'll just say once and for all - from this point until the end of this Dark Tower overview, there will be spoilers. If you prefer to experience the Dark Tower story on your own, I not only recommend that approach, but I also humbly beseech you to re-join the King's Highway around pt. 48 or so.
All aboard? Departing? Good.
In Hambry (where Roland and his two companions, Alain and Cuthbert, are dispatched after the events with Cort described in The Gunslinger's flashback, i.e. when Roland became, officially, the youngest gunslinger) Roland falls in love with a girl named Susan. He and his compatriots uncover a plot against the ruling order (i.e. them); the people of Hambry have thrown in with the Good Man, John Farson, who under guise of popular-democratic-revolt, seeks to rule all of Mid-World. His plan is to refine the vast oil deposits of "the Citgo fields" outside Hambry and use it to power the machines against Gilead et al. Roland and his companions are framed for the murder of Hambry's leaders, but they escape. They thwart the Good Man's plan, but not without great sacrifice: Susan is burned at the stake for her part in aiding them.
As a final touch of tragedy, Roland, twisted with grief and shock and junk-sick from too much time with the Pink Bend, a mysterious "crystal ball" recovered in Hambry, enters his mother's chamber and mistakenly shoots her.
These "Bends" are the "glass" of the title. We don't learn too, too much about them, only that they reveal hidden things to those who gaze into them - often things people don't want to know - and they are addictive.
What happened to the ball?' Jake asked.
'I don't know. I fainted. When I awoke, my mother and I were still alone, one dead and one alive. No one had come to the sound of the shots - the walls of that place were thick stone, and that wing mostly empty as well. Her blood had dried. The belt she'd made me was covered it, but I took it, and I put it on. I wore that bloodstained gift for many years, and how I lost it is a tale for another day - I'll tell you before we have done, for it bears on my quest for the Tower.
The bends are part of "Maerlyn's Rainbow." This is the second King Arthur reference we've seen so far, as "Arthur Eld," the progenitor of Roland's royal line, is referred to as wielding Excalibur... I'll be interested to see where this goes.
After Roland tells most of his story, (the last part of which Eddie, Susannah, and Jake can interact with by watching it in the glass) our ka-tet enters the Emerald City, draws back the curtain on the great and all-powerful wizard, revealing the Tick-Tock Man, who is rather comically immediately blown away, and Flagg, who less-comically escapes. The Pink Bend is left behind.
(A quick internet search implies it's not mentioned again in the series; can that be right? If so, that seems like a major loose end.)
They find themselves back on the path of the beam, assisted by some unseen force.
WHOM YOU'LL MEET
Alain and Cuthbert, Roland's original ka-tet. Well, we met them before in The Gunslinger, but here we get a sense of their personalities. They get several chances to shine, particularly during the scene in the bar where Alain and Cuthbert first interact/ get-on-the-bad-side of the Coffin Hunters and towards the end, when they set about their plan to take down the bad guys. (And blow everything to kingdom come. Gunslingers seem to end their plans with a lot of explosions and death.)
Susan Delgado, first and presumably-greatest love of Roland's life. Committed to being the "gilly," sort of a second-wife/ official mistress, of the mayor of Hambry in the province of Mejis (there will be a quiz later, so brush up on your geography), she and Roland fall in love, and tragic hi-jinks ensue.
The Coffin Hunters, the bounty hunters/ muscle/ antagonists of Roland's flashback. Led by Jonas, a failed gunslinger.
Rhea of the Cöos, the witch-crone who first falls under the spell of the pink glass (i.e. the piece of Maerlyn's Rainbow) and causes hateful trouble for our ka-tet and all involved. She's mentioned but does not appear in Eyes of the Dragon, though I didn't notice. What becomes of her?
The Crimson King: This is the main baddie of the whole series. We don't meet him here, but we see his sigul
and hear his name. (Roland doesn't recognize it.)
I read Wizard and Glass simultaneously with Insomnia, where the Crimson King makes his first official appearance (I think), so we'll get to him more substantially a bit down the road.
This story lives or dies on whether you believe the love story between Roland and Susan. King writes in the afterword that he doubted his ability as an older man to detail a young romance but received help from his eighteen-year-old self, who started this tale long ago.
I for one had no difficulty buying it at all. Of all the King-romances I've read, this one is easily the best. (It even ends with tragedy and a burning-at-the-stake and matricide, as well; paging Dr. Freud.) But as the main support for 787 pages of story, it more than does its job. I cared about the characters, and we really learn a lot about Roland's motivation for reaching the Tower and the somberness of his personality.
Additionally, King has used the one-character-recounts-long-story approach before, but it comes off most successfully here. (vs. "Ballad of the Flexible Bullet" or "Dedication," for example) The addition of the glass - which reveals all perspectives and allows the listener/ viewer to share in the mists of memory - does the trick nicely.
Beyond that, though, I'm kind of mystified by the Wizard of Oz-ness of the ending. It feels almost tacked-on, or, rather, like the characters suddenly become Lit students commenting explicitly on what maybe should have remained symbolism/ subtext. When our ka-tet enters "the Emerald City," draws back the curtain and shoots the Tick Tock Man, then Flagg takes off... I kind of wondered what was the point of Flagg's rescuing the Tick Tock Man at all? Or staging this elaborate ruse? Perhaps I missed something.
It also reminded me again of the Elric stories, how Elrich's deity Arioch would show up periodically, just to remind Elric he was keeping an eye on things. I'm curious as hell as to whether King's read the Elric stories/ to what degree they influenced his Dark Tower mythos.
|A(lmost)ll images by Dave McKean. For the entirety of his Dark Tower work, click here.|
At one point, Eddie refers to the way Roland listens to stories (such as the Wizard of Oz) the way an anthropologist would, as if he's searching for cultural revelation in each twist and turn/ plot development. That reminded me of this bit from Grant Morrison's Supergods and the difference between being a missionary or an anthropologist:
"Missionaries humiliated the natives by pointing out their gauche customs and colorfully frank traditional dress. They bullied defenseless fantasy characters into leather trench coats and nervous breakdowns and left formerly carefree fictional communities in a state of crushing self-doubt and dereliction. Anthropologists on the other hand, surrendered themselves to foreign cultures. They weren’t afraid to go native or look foolish. They came and they departed with respect and in the interests of mutual understanding. Naturally, I wanted to be an anthropologist."
Elsewhere in Supergods, Morrison refers to constructing a "two-dimensional diving suit" for himself, to be donned when writing/ immersing himself in the world/ culture of superheroes. This also struck me as having parallels here, as King, I'm told, appears as himself, writing the Dark Tower, in the books yet to come.
|REVISITING: 'Salem's Lot, The Mist, Mrs. Todd's Shortcut. AND: The Reploids!|