9.17.2012

King's Highway pt. 34: Wizard and Glass (Dark Tower pt. 4)


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?

From the wiki: 'Roland implies at the end of Wizard and Glass that he did indeed meet up again with her on his travels and kill her, but King has never elaborated beyond this brief mention.' Another loose end? Then again, there's probably still a few Dark Tower books coming our way, sooner or later.
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.

Not to be confused with this character from King Crimson's classic debut In the Court of the Crimson King. Given how protective Robert Fripp is about all-things-Crimson, (even something like this, which no one can really copyright; I mean, it's just a color and a rank, not like a specific character) I'm surprised he hasn't feuded with King over this.
TRAIL DIFFICULTY

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.

SCENIC VIEW




A(lmost)ll images by Dave McKean. For the entirety of his Dark Tower work, click here.
TRAIL NOTES

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.

NEXT!
REVISITING: 'Salem's Lot, The Mist, Mrs. Todd's Shortcut. AND: The Reploids!

7 comments:

  1. Good writeup. While there hasn't been a great film about the Negro League, the chapter of Ken Burns' Baseball that discussed the league was quite good. And I liked Buck O'Neill as the Shelby Foote of the story.

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    1. Ken Burns' Baseball is excellent, overall, and I agree, until something better comes along, it is the placeholder for Negro Leagues epics. There are just so many great stories/ personalities/ crossroads-of-twentieth-century-ness in there... granted, I love baseball, but it just seems like this undiscovered country for Oscar winners of the future.

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  2. One way to look at Eddie's victory over Blaine is as a reflection of his relationship with Roland: like Blaine, Roland is a bit on the humorless side, and needs to lighten up. As I recall, this is right about the point where Roland begins to do so, at least enough to begin telling tales of his younger days.

    On the subject of the Pink Bend: not only is it never mentioned again, I may as well go ahead and tell you now that Rhea never pops up again, nor does -- unless I've somehow forgotten it (and I don't think I have) -- the tale of how Roland lost his mother's belt ever actually get told. These are some of the numerous reasons King needs to follow through on his desire to revise the series with an eye toward consistency.

    On the subject of Dave McKean's art: I have never liked his work for this novel. I was VERY disappointed with them when the book came out, and my annoyance hasn't really gone away over the years at all.

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    1. I feared that was the case re: Rhea/ Pink Bend/ the belt! But there's still time, I guess, and he certainly still seems willing to revisit the series. So, I'll just keep my fingers crossed and be patient.

      Dave McKean is beloved by many, but I've never been a big fan. There is something mysterious about his work, and I admire his sense of color/ skewed perspective. But if it wasn't for his gallery of Sandman covers - which got in the McBrains while the getting was good, before the window closed on such art, so to speak - I'd be much less favorably disposed. In general, the only artist I an look at who does McKean-esque work (tho he precedes him by several years, so I guess it's the other way around) is Bill Sienkiewicz. And even HE might not get a second glance from me if I hadn't grown up with Moon Knight, Elektra: Assassin, The Shadow, and New Mutants.

      Bottom line - I'm very impressionable, haha. If you get in while the getting's good, I'll be an apologist / loyal customer for life. Gene Simmons, Gene Roddenberry, and Bill and Dave have been cashing in on this proclivity of mine for years and years...

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  3. Greg Proops regularly discusses the Negro Leagues, in particular Satchel Page, on his Smartest Man in the World podcast.

    I was struck by the Arthurian connection you mention, especially given that "Roland" is the name of one of Charlemagne's vassals, aka Orlando, as in Orlando Furioso. Arthur and Charlemagne were two of the Nine Worthies. No clue if this has anything to do with these books, but it leaped to mind for me.

    A King Crimson reference is amusing. Another one I enjoyed was S.M. Stirling's In the Courts of the Crimson Kings, ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_the_Courts_of_the_Crimson_Kings ), which is a wonderful alternate history/Burroughs pastiche.

    Given King's use of a multiverse, it sure seems he must have read either Moorcock or Zelazny, and likely both. In fact, what you describe reminds me more of Zelazny's "Amber" books, with their "Shadows" of parallel universes.

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    1. Good stuff, there, thank you.

      I'm glad Proops is covering it; it's a fascinating piece of history. (And if you like baseball, well, damn, it's fun, to boot.) But where are the blockbusters? The Oscar winners? The epic musicals? The parades, the pageantry? Yadda yadda. How many Major Leagues have they made, for Ka's sake... We've had angels in the outfield, chimp-pitchers (God bless them; I'm all for chimps replacing most actors in most roles), let's get the ball rolling, Hollywood. Just seems a no-brainer to me, but perhaps I'm overestimating its bigtime-impact.

      I'm curious as hell to see how the King Arthur stuff plays out/ what the story is.

      I almost hate to admit it, having come this far, but although I've linked to it, I've never read the Browning poem that inspired King to begin with. I will rectify that momentarily.

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