The Dark Tower Reread pt. 6: "Low Men in Yellow Coats"

"LOW MEN! (ben-brrn-nrr, nnn-nrn-nrrnw
"THEY IN YELLOW COATS!" (ben-brrn-nrr, nnn-nrn-nrrnw)

Had to get that out of the way. See last time - and "Slow Ride" by Foghat - for details. Or don't. All things serve the Beam. 

I'll trust you know the plot and characters, so let's just jump into it. 


One of my faves from King. I think it struck me as awkward at first but it grew one me and now I love the way it sounds/ the mood it envokes/ as conceptual envelope for the story. Ted leaves a note for Bobby in Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men that speaks to the title's effectiveness for the themes in play:

"'Guys like us?' George says when he tells Lennie the story Lennie always wants to hear. Who are guys like us? Who were they to Steinbeck? Who are they to us? Ask yourself this." 

Without hitting it too hard on the head, who are the low men in yellow coats? Mr. Biderman and the St. Gabe boys? Who are they to Liz Garfield? Who are they to you? 

While we're here, I don't really like the title Hearts in Atlantis. It's okay, it's just kind of awkward and that one did the opposite of grow on me. Every time I turn it over in mind, it gets worse and not better. I'll save my thoughts on the movie until the very end, but it commits two avoidable offenses by keeping both titles/ ideas in play but jettisoning all the context that King gives them in the book. So, you have low men in yellow coats who are turned into mere g-men, despite no g-men in the history either wearing flashy yellow coats or parading around in loud cars that ate people, and "Atlantis" is turned into a term for childhood, instead of the 60s/Donovan context King meant to evoke with the title. 


I love how Ted uses examples from literature to impart lessons and useful metaphors to Bobby. This is why canon matters, people! Given King's obvious views on the subject - or at least Ted Brautigan's, former editor of the Harvard Crimson, class of 1920 - I wish he'd be as vocal about the decimation of canon in English Literature courses (talk about Beam Breaking!) as he is about all the other crap he tweets about. 

Anyway, the Low Men/ Taheen never come off as sensible to me elsewhere. I just don't get what they are or what they do. They started off in King's imagination, somewhat obviously, as the sort of orc/ goblin hybrid Sarumon makes for Sauron in LOTR, but they grow in their own, weird, pimple-pop-and-eating direction in the Dark Tower books. Here, though, they're handled exactly as they should be: malevolent, mysterious, but graspable. They give great ambiance. All the stuff with the missing cat posters and the town whistle going off and the envelopes slid under the door and voices like throats-full-of-crickets was great. And that scene toward the end of this one where Bobby's desire to save Ted is turned into painful knowledge of his own overriding self-preservation is just great drama. Kudos all around. 

I'm not quite sure I really understand how the posters work, but I'm sure it's on the same unconscious level as the whirly mirks and sankofites from "Everything's Eventual." I like how their touch - sort of like the Black Riders from LOTRimparts a little psionic sight, too, just as Ted's does. "But who would want to look through such a window? Who would want to see the tall, red-lipped scissor shapes as they really were?" 

Me, that's who. In print anyway. I'm not complaining, just saying: bring on the red-lipped scissor-shape men. Then let Roland shoot them. (This Doom Patrol issue has nothing to do with "Low Men in Yellow Coats" or the Dark Tower, it just came to mind.)


The story is told from the POV of childhood, so a lack of thorough explanations and sudden swings from safety to terror to confusion to bliss are part of that landscape. The adults have their own lives which are impenetrable to Bobby; the mysteries that he registers - both from the adults and his peers (and from beyond time and space, not to mention from literature) - are always just beyond the edge of childhood understanding. (Just as the mysteries of older Carol and Stokely Jones work on the main character's unconscious in the novella "Hearts in Atlantis.")

I saw a few reviews on Goodreads saying King pumped up the nostalgia a little too much.

I think they might've been referring more to the movie than the novella, but okay. 

But the 50s (that "last June of the Eisenhower administration") WERE different. Undeniably, in so many fundamental ways. Movie theaters WERE palaces, soda pop WAS creamier and tastier, dollars DID go further - much, much farther. Accentuating these things isn't an exaggeration, any more than accentuating the darker elements is an exaggeration (all the Liz Garfields and Mr. Biderman-and-his-friends' out there, protected by the decade's pillar-of-trust in men in positions of authority, or their offspring, who might beat a girl with baseball bats for the hell of it and get away with it - well, WOULD have gotten away with it - scot free) is ill-considered. It's the mix of the two that gives "Low Men in Yellow Coats" much of its power. 

And here's Ted, a man out of his time in so many ways, who sees things others cannot, who knows things he cannot impart to Bobby outside of hints and recommended windows of approach to movies and literature. What part does such a character play in this nostalgia? His clairvoyance and empathy give him a unique view into the events (and decade) around him. Fascinating stuff.


In The Gunslinger, when Roland first meets Jake at the way station, he takes him inside and lays him down on the bed and removes his shirt and then hypnotizes him. There's nothing sexually suggestive about this, but King wrote it in a less looking-for-such-optics age, and there's a bit of a creepy factor reading it in 2019. I want to stress: I don't think there is a creepy factor, just the optics of one. There's a similar scene in Salem's Lot and a few other places. My point: King did not seem aware or concerned about such optics when he wrote these scenes in the 70s.

By the 90s, though - and especially amidst the "feminist phase" from which Hearts in Atlantis sprang -  King was not just aware of them, he was wielding them such as he does here. The optics of Ted's whole relationship with Bobby and Carol are of course terrible. When Liz comes home (after everything she's been through) and finds Carol in Ted's lap with her shirt removed and Bobby's belt in his mouth, I mean, good lord. It ain't good. Yet we the reader know how unfair everything that happens is.

Similarly, throughout the story, when Bobby is wondering about Ted's touch and "what if he touches me that way again?" and all the "I love you"s back and forth, we the reader know what it all means and the missing-Dad aspect, etc. But anyone wandering into the room, so to speak, would be like uh, what the hell am I reading here? I bring all this up because King teases these things masterfully. There is no aspect of this text that got away from him or he's unaware of: all things, again, serve the Beam.


Hawaiian Eye gets mentioned a few times. I thought maybe this was an alternate-level-of-the-Tower version of Hawaii 5-0, but nope it's a real show. Never saw or heard of it before. 

I've mentioned how books (and the eternal objects of meditation they are) are used to effectively comment on or provide some unable-to-otherwise-impart guidance (particularly Lord of the Flies and The Inheritors) from Ted to Bobby. Knowing the future, Ted knows Bobby and Carol both have a tough road to walk, and he can only say so much. I like this method.

I threw in the movie Day of the Triffids since it's mentioned in the story. It's a perfectly acceptable example of this kind of early sci-fi, but I couldn't quite find my way into the material. There is, though, one really uncomfortable scene where one of the blind adults blatantly (and lasciviously) tries to kidnap a girl of no older than 12. It's rather shocking, especially for its era: his intent in kidnapping her is absolutely, uncomfortably clear. Considering the symbolic implications of this story and the optics under discussion, I wonder if it stayed in King's mind? Like a sankofite or a whirly mirk.

One last thing: to avoid psionic detection by the Low Men, Ted and Bobby have to "take their minds away," i.e. hide behind some powerful mental image. In one scene after watching Village of the Damned, where the protagonist has to hide behind just such a mental wall, Bobby mentally retreats behind the famous movie poster of Brigitte Bardot that scandalized/ seduced Europe and beyond during the 1950s. Along the lines of the above (though less creepily) I wonder if King can close his eyes and remember every detail of that poster and staring at it as a boy on the precipice of sex/ all the adult mysteries. Possibly. I'm sure for men of his generation, he's not alone. (My own version is probably an Elvira moonbathing poster. Which might be less accessible to a mass audience than King's example. But there again is the difference between the 50s and the 80s: kids growing up later had access to sexual imagery and "the adult mysteries" via thousands of entry points. Kids in the 50s, considerably less.)


Well, there's the Low Men connections, obviously. And all that Dark Tower tie-in dialogue Ted has with them before he's sent back to Thunderclap must have been really something for the contemporaneous Dark Tower reader. It might've seemed kind of opaque to non-DT-readers of the period, but it's kind of cool either way.

The coda ties together the other stories of the book. If this were a standalone novella and not one organic part of the Hearts in Atlantis whole, it'd probably have been reworked a bit. Ted's off-camera appearance at the end of "Low Coats" (sending Bobby a Dark-Tower-glitterbomb, i.e. an envelope full of rose pedals) is recalled in the very last story ("Heavenly Shades of Night Are Falling"), which ties up the Bobby and Carol story. Ted sends Carol the baseball glove and the title page of Lord of the Flies with a note for her telling her, essentially, to go for it with Bobby. A matchmaker from beyond, our Ted Brautigan! It's a nice storybook ending for the cast of that book and hope they lived happily ever after. 

Also, amidst the books Ted discusses with Bobby is Clifford Simak's Ring Around the Sun.

“'In this book,' he said, 'Mr. Simak postulates the idea that there are a number of worlds like ours. Not other planets but other Earths, parallel Earths, in a kind of ring around the sun.'"


I've teased a Dark Tower theory a few times - just some thoughts I have about what the series is actually about/ what it really does - and I promise I'll share more on this next time. But an aspect of the series is definitely Roland's needing to come to terms with his matricide. It's handled well in the main books, but it is only truly reconciled (and so heart-renderingly) in The Wind Through The Keyhole.

It's no accident this is such an important part of the series. So much of the subtext of the series is King coming to terms with his past, and part of that past is Ruth King. It's blown up large to matricide in his meta-fictive exploration of his life, but sticking only to the characters and not the author (for now) there's a certain "twinning" aspect here with Bobby and Jake. King makes the connection explicit in bk 7 when Ted appears again, but each child in the series (be it Patrick - easily the least successful of them all - or Tim Stoutheart) deals very pointedly with a child who does not receive the love from their parent/ absent Dad that they need and gets it via another father figure.

I don't suggest that the Liz/ Bobby story perfectly parallels the young Steve King childhood story, only that he might know a little something about the type of childhood Bobby had. Even if only from reading/ projecting/ imagining. "To be loved just a little, and needing to protect the love that remained" is such a big motivating factor, not just for Bobby, but in life, for so many people.

Once more: "Guys like us, Bobby - Who are guys like us?"


- I've often wondered how King's work would be received if he gave his other non-Caucasian characters the same weird verbal tics he give his African-American ones. We get a less-than-thrilling glimpse of that here, with the Latino gang member who saves young Bobby. ("You one dead putino, tio mio...")

- King's weird thing with telepathy, again. I mean, I can't imagine this story without it - it's all used very well/ written very effectively and very much the point of so much Dark Tower stuff. But it is kind of amazing how it just seeps in to everything he writes and unfolds so similarly. I remember a poet I had to read in college and how she eventually was writing about jars of her child's urine around her home and my professor (a radical feminist poet so not someone criticizing from an unsympathetic position) saying "I mean sometimes you have to look beyond the living room for inspiration, you know?" I feel the same with King's telepathy. It fascinates him, he uses it well (if more or less the same exact way each time), but enough should have really been enough long, long ago.

- Given Ted's situation, it goes to show another theme of King's work in general: serving the Beam means serving others. That is salvation; ka-tet is salvation. Those who serve themselves usually end up on the wrong side of a King morality tale, even if they enjoy temporary successes. This is actually a very old theme isn't it? Perhaps the oldest of all: character is downfall. All your plans and scheming come to naught if your character is, ultimately, self-serving. 

Wish this sort of stuff came up at election time. But hey. 


One of the best novellas of King's career, for sure. Might even be the most successful of all the Dark Tower tie-ins, perhaps even including the main books themselves. On a short list of works where King nailed "it" - however you define it - this should be there.


I watched the movie again and boy, what a letdown from the novella. Perfectly cast and the nostalgia is real but sheesh: what a messy translation from page to screen. Robbing it of its Dark Tower content makes it all much less clear (weirdly enough - I can imagine the decision being made to do that to try and make it less confusing to a non-Dark-Tower audience, but it just muddles things). And the ending story already was a stretch with Bobby and Carol reuniting, but excising adult Carol from the end of the movie and having adult Bobby reconcile with Carol's daughter? Terrible. How do these decisions get made? How on earth is that better/ more sensible?

I hope for the sake of symmetry, though, someone makes a movie of the title novella and transcribes it bafflingly, as well. Like, set it in the 80s or something, and end with Peter looking back in 2019 with a MAGA hat or something. 

"Peace + Love = INFORMATION."

~ "Bobby didn't like the world much after a really good movie in any case; for a little while it felt like an unfair joke, full of people with dull eyes, small plans, and facial blemishes. He sometimes thought if the world had a plot, it would be so much better."


The Dark Tower Reread pt. 5: "The Little Sisters of Eluria" and "Everything's Eventual"

When I first made my way through the Dark Towers, I followed the trail guide to the series over at The Truth Inside the Lie. This involved all the officially peripheral material King himself listed on the inside cover to Wolves of the Calla, as well as several additional works. This time I didn't want to reread everything (although that expanded trail guide at the bottom of that TTITL post will one day be hiked, say true) but I did want to look at a few of the related novellas.

Both of the two discussed below can be found in:

"The Little Sisters of Eluria"

After he's viciously beaten by a group of fast-moving Slow Mutants, Roland awakens in a strange hospital, attended by eerie, happy-ending nuns. The only other patient is covered in bandages in a hammock near his, and from hushed palaver between them, Roland confirms his own suspicions: the nuns are vampires. While the doctors - tiny vampire bugs who swarm over wounds and secrete healing juices or nibbling healingly or some disgusting thing - heal his wounds, the nurses keep him drugged. With aid from Sister Jenna, who has fallen for him, Roland escapes. She is still one of the Sisters, though, and when the morning sun rises, Sister Jenna disintegrates. 

"When the sun was fully up the gunslinger moved on west. He would find another horse eventually, or a mule, but for now he was content to walk. All that day he was haunted by a ringing, singing sound in his ears, a sound like bells. Several times he stopped and looked around, sure he would see a dark following shape flowing over the ground, chasing after as the shadows of our best and worst memories chase after, but no shape was there. He was alone in the low hill country west of Eluria.

Quite alone."

Roland resumes his quest for the tower.

I liked this the first time I read it; I loved it on this reread. I could read a million of these standalone straight-fantasy side adventures. And not because that's how I prefer my Dark Tower reading, but because they're all the more interesting against that big epic backdrop to come. There's a lot of time to fill in between the flashback events we know of in Roland's life and when we meet him in The Gunslinger. And while too much of it - say, several seasons of some kind of Young Roland After the Fall of Gilead * and Before the Following of the Man in Black Into the Desert show - might be too much (and I say might be) there could be several more novellas like this and nothing would feel crowded. 

* This is predicated, of course, on the fall of Gilead happening relatively soon after Roland's adventures in Mejis and Debaria (Wind Through the Keyhole). I kind of assume it did. John Farson was gathering his forces in Wizard and Glass, and though blowing up his tanker trucks undoubtedly set him back considerably, it couldn't have been for more than a year or two. And we know from Roland's telling Eddie and Susannah that the time between then and the beginning of the Gunslinger was 22 years (give or take, time's a little slippery in Roland's world). Still, maybe Roland had a few more years in Gilead than I'm accounting for. If it's nailed down anywhere, I can't place it. 

There's some great voice in this one. Roland is both recognizably himself and not-himself, which fits the timeframe of the larger story perfectly. Not much to say on this one - all of King's strengths are on display here and no gristle. Those looking for revelations about the mysteries of the main series will find none, but those looking for an evocative and eerie tale situated perfectly among them, told for the simple telling of a good story, will be well met along the Path. 

Some bits I wrote down:

"As far as Roland was concerned, God o'the cross was just another religion which taught that love and murder were inextricably bound together - that in the end, God always drank blood."
(Father Callahan might disagree! Then again, he might not.)

"If there's to be damnation, she had said, let it be of my choosing, not theirs."
(Something of a theme in Roland's love life.) 

"Roland of Gilead responded as he ever had and ever would when such useless, mystifying questions were raised. 'Ka. Come on.'" 

(At least he didn't do the finger-twirl thing.)

"Time belongs to the Tower."

What happens to the medallion he gets, I wonder? At the end he puts it around his neck. Is it ever mentioned again? It probably is - at some pivotal moment I've already read and should have noted. That's my ka, I guess. (Can I use that, too?)


I get these song associations with the titles of things I'm reading. Here are a few of the more recent ones. 

- "Little Sisters of Eluria" became stuck in mind as some tricky-syllable version of Tesla's "Little Suzi." I wish I had time to sit down an attempt a full-on rewrite of that one with plot details from the novella. 

- "Low Men in Yellow Coats" became somewhat improbably Foghat's "Slow Ride." I'll assume no link necessary and the riff and howling vocals are already in your head. But man, I'd love to hear this one. ("LOW MEN! (ben-brn-nrw, nnn-nrn-nrrnw) Wearing  YELLOW COATS!" Or, if you prefer, "they in yellow coats.")

- "Song of Susannah" became "Roseanna" by Toto, and I'm not proud of this one because it started as me singing "I wake up in New York and all of a sudden I've got white legs! / Susannah, Fo-fannah!" Which is kind of not the best peg to hang your hat on, particularly the "fo-fanna" part, which sounds like I'm having a stroke. One wonders why I'd even bring it up. Answer: because I give you the full truth. 

I never developed it from there. But everytime I see the cover of the book, so it goes.

While we're here, I watched that whole "Roseanna" video just now. Holy moley. Steve Lokather is as committed to rocking this guitar solo - visually, emotively, and instrumentally - as anyone or thing I've ever seen. 

Roland would have this guy killing with his heart in no time at all. 

And this next one, which became "Everyday I Write the Book" by Elvis Costello and the Attractions. A song I don't even fancy that much, truth be told, but the syllables matched up. I don't control or get to pick which associations happen, anyway - would that I could.

If there's a Dark Tower themed covers band out there, or any junior high or camp kids out there looking to rock their talent show, I humbly offer these as avenues of exploration. 

Enough of that. On to:

"Everything's Eventual"

Dinky Earnshaw has a unique ability he doesn't understand. And as the story is told from his point of view, the reader doesn't get to understand it either. But neither Dinky nor the reader needs to - it's murky and weird but perfectly clear: if he adds the right incomprehensible symbols with names like mirks, fouders, and sankofites to any email, letter, picture, or other visual image, it creates an unstoppable suicidal feedback loop in the unconscious of the recipient. He discovers this by doing so to a dog that intimidated him in youth and to a bullying co-worker more recently.

He is recruited into the Trans Corporation, one of the Crimson King's many corporate tentacles in our world (the "real" timeline) by one Mr. Sharpton, a man with a King Arthur tie who searches the worlds for those with Dinky's abilities. After a week's training in Peoria, IL (a realistic choice for a training centers of the damned to be tucked away in plain sight and never discovered) Dinky's given a house and limited expense account / internet access. All he has to do is: (a) dispose of any money he has left over, paycheck-to-paycheck, and (b) send one of his magic-kill-grams to supplied targets as the mood strikes him. 

Dinky begins to doubt the ethics of his situation and his participation in it. He sends Mr. Sharpton his resignation - with lots of whirly mirks and sankofites and personalized "Excalibur."

Still from the Dollar Baby by J.P. Scott.

I'm not completely sold on the the title or its use a catchphrase. It might even be a comment on the sort of dumb catchphrase someone like Dinky might find mega-rad and is supposed to sound dumb, I don't know. Anyway it's not a dealbreaker. The name "Dinky" almost is. (And by extension the unbelievable proliferation and alliteration that goes with it: Dinky's Dayboard, Dinkymail, etc.) He's a well-sketched character, though - King bringing to life from the ground up another psionic outsider whose social outcast status is exploited by those men who do such things professionally. Yet he has his own voice, his own unique place in the King lore, dinky-dau name or familiar background aside.  

King sometimes to be almost in contempt of naming characters, like the idea has come to offend him. And yet for each example I can think of (John Smith, Mike Anderson, Dinky Earnhart) they're all great and memorable characters, names be damned. Joke's on me, I guess; you outlawyered me, Sai.

Another not-a-dealbreaker-but-didn't-care-for: the whole "you're a tranny now" stuff, in reference to the Trans Corp. Sometimes I think King's lack of mental circuit breakers when it comes to these things is some kind of something. 

King talks about how he got the central image of someone pouring change down a sewer drain and the story grew from there. I love these little glimpses into the process, even when they baffle me. I was interested in why Dinky was disallowed to save money and didn't think enough was provided to justify it. But I think beyond the story's obvious connections to the Dark Tower, it's mostly a satire on the American Dream, a conceptual cousin to Needful Things. Not as good as that one, but broad strokes are allowed in the name of metaphor.

As for that metaphor, it's a tad clumsy: the class and political arguments informing the heroes and villains of the saga are kind of cartoony. I did chuckle at how the Fake News mantra is put over so succinctly by Mr. Sharpton: "This is something you'll have to decide on the basis of what you feel, not what you know." 

Long story short: whatever else it is, it's very readable and very well put-together. I like stories where the reader is one step ahead of the protagonist but both are swept along in the same narrative. It's a pleasant blend of narrative momentum. 

Both it and "Eluria" are strong examples of King humming along in the vicinity of his best. 


The Dark Tower Reread Pt. 4: Wizard and Glass

The first time I read this I really loved it. As is becoming something of a pattern * though, this time around I was conflicted. There's around a 70/30 split on loved-it-to-indifferent on Goodreads. The ones who love it really love it. I counted myself among those until this reread. ** I didn't read anything in the negative-to-indifferent reviews that really resonated with me, though, so away we go. ***

I refer here to my last post, but I write these words after having finished Wolves of the Calla and spoiler alert, same deal there. Hopefully by the time I get to that post, I'll come up with new opening remarks.

** Ray Benson was among the indifferent, with a 2-star rating. Not to call him out for it or anything, just I'd love to hear his take on it, wish he'd left a review.

*** Well, I was going to away-we-go either way, wasn't I? Even had I found one that I agreed with 100%, can't just link to a review and say "ditto." Not on a King's Highway Todash Tunnel Big Dig Reread.


The novel picks up where it left off, with the ka-tet screaming along in Blaine the Mono on a suicide run to Kansas, winner of the riddling take all. And... Eddie Star Treks it? Blaine would really be vulnerable to this? I get that his circuits have deteriorated and all but sheesh. He mentions some 60s TV, even - there's not one running file in all his dipolar-gazillion-load of circuits that grokked the not especially complex lessons of "I, Mudd"? (You can't tell me whomever programmed him wasn't a TOS fan. And Blaine's exceeded his original programming, to boot; you telling me a psychotic eternal train isn't going to watch TOS start to finish to wile away its time? No way, little pard.

I wish King had developed the getting-some-details-wrong path, such as when Blaine scrambles some details about his 60s shows and gets miffed at Jake innocently correcting him. But hell, even that's "The Changeling." I'd have preferred it had he opted for "Return of the Archons," if TOS was really the only option.


Beyond that, though, it just didn't land with me. Eddie tells some lame jokes, and Blaine goes "AAAAAAAA!!" And before that he was just laughing and laughing (ahem, "Wolf in the Fold") which grew irritating. It was a real let-down from the Blaine we see at the end of The Waste Lands.

I'm leaving out the resonance of Charlie the Choo Choo in the above, it's true. The twinning/ka/vague-multidimensional-clues thing is very much part of the Dark Tower experience. On that score, I'd have preferred it had Blaine and Jake discussed Beryl Evans instead of Bewitched or whatever it was. I'm reading these sentences over and wishing I'd taken better notes because (a) do Jake and Blaine discuss Beryl Evans? Am I totally blanking on that? and (b) what the hell was it that Blaine gets wrong, was it the Mike Hammer/ Bewitched connection? If my copy of this wasn't way the hell over there, I'd check.

Before Blaine's improbable breakdown, Jake wonders why the monorail felt "such despair, such bitterness, such anger? Because he's a pain, that's why. Blaine is a really BIG pain." FFS Jake. This little mantra keeps getting offered as if it's some kind of profound thing to say. I fixed it.

"Because he's a pain, that's why." Silence filled the car, except for the very light hum of Blaine's air circulations. "Blaine is a really BIG -"
Roland's gun flashed from its holster so fast that even Blaine's internal sensors had trouble tracking it. The sound of the hand cannon was deafening in the Barony couch. Jake's chest exploded against the translucent windows, and a disinfectant/ brain-and-bone-matter-splatter program automatically kicked in. The rest of his body fell to the floor, and his leg kicked out the god-drums of "Velcro Fly." Roland holstered his weapon.
 "I mean, really, he just should have stopped saying it," said Eddie. He shook his head. Susannah reached over to squeeze his hand.
"You said it, sug," said Susanna.
"Tim-may!" said Oy. 
"TIM-MAY!" said them all.

As for the Captain Trips sideways-level of The Stand part of things, and the introduction of the thinny, I liked all of that. I chuckled when I saw the Kansas City Monarchs part. I'm developing a theory about this whole Dark Tower series and King's metafiction in general. It's still in the oven, but it's coming along and I'll share it in good time, say true. But these little author's-surname/allusions he makes throughout his career (most notably, I guess, in Castle Rock, but also here in this series with the big screaming red baddie waiting for Roland at the Tower) are fun. Here, of course, there actually was a Kansas City Monarchs team, and it's a perfectly legit and non-metafictional way of distinguishing this level of the Tower from the one we saw in The Stand. But: all things serve the Beam. 


The bulk of the book is Roland's telling his ka-tet of when he was a young gunslinger and sent to Hambry, the Barony seat of Mejis, and of the intrigue he found there: the town's leaders in cahoots with John Farson, the Good Man, that insurgent promising justice and an end to Gilead's oppression, etc. but who is really stacking heads on pikes and rolling up oil tankers from the still-active pumps at "Citgo," just outside town) and his tragic love affair with Susan Delgado, a comely young lass set to be the Mayor's side-wife come Reaping, the big barn dance of the Mejis social calendar.

I still found this part of the novel to be quite strong. It's more than Roland's story - it's also Susan's, and she's a good and well-sketched out character in King's catalog. And not just her but her aunt and - especially - Rhea, the old crone witch who plays a pivotal role in Roland's mother's sorrowful end. Wizard and Glass was written in the midst of King's feminist phase (so-called, i.e. compact-for-women's-flesh, ownership-vs-appropriation-of-vaginas, snake-dildoes, you name it), and he clearly took pains to sketch out the inner worlds of all the female characters of the tale. He succeeds well - you even sympathize with Rhea and Susan's aunt, for thy father's sake, and they're awful people who do awful things. Well done.

Does the series need a Peyton Place smack dab in the middle of it? Maybe not. Or maybe not as much of one as what we get. The story - not just Wizard and Glass but the Dark Tower series - might have been better served by excising just some of it (100 pages of cuts, maybe, though don't ask me which.) This is a very mild objection; I still quite like all the Mejis stuff. (Is there a bit too much about lady bits? Especially Rhea's? OMG yes. Animal abuse added to her crimes! )

These images are all by Dave McKean. Pretty weird stuff.

King gives himself the storytelling 'out' of Roland's time in the glass, which I'll get to momentarily, but that allows King-the-writer to ditch the Roland's POV restraint and spend several hundred pages on things Roland never saw or in the minds of characters Roland could not ordinarily peek.

While this invention (Roland's time in the Pink Glass as they escape Mejis) is both perfectly Dark-Tower-y and also pretty cool, it does metaphorically serve as a drug binge. Which is an ever so slightly off note for me, for Roland. King sometimes has trouble resisting inserting himself into his stories. This is ironic considering what's coming in the series; King's story is inextricably linked with Roland's, and not just metaphorically. The writer's experiences are reciprocal to Roland's and vice versa.

"Those in the grip of a strong drug - heroin, devil grass, true love - often find themselves trying to maintain a precarious balance between secrecy and ecstasy as they walk the tightrope of their lives. Keeping one's balance on a tightrope is difficult under the soberest of circumstances; doing so while in a state of delirium is all but impossible. Cuthbert and Alain watched Roland's descent into addiction first with disbelief, envy, and uneasy amusement, then with a species of silent horror."

Jonas, DePape, Reynolds, aka "The Big Coffins Hunters," are all fine. You've seen all of these villains before in King's work, as well as Rimer (another 'impossibly tall' man in King's Rogue's Gallery) but they're all effective. Jonas, the failed gunslinger, is that shadowy reflection of the protagonist that every good adventure story needs. (Roland makes pretty quick work of him, all told.)

I know that developments in the next book kind of negate this a little, but is it a little too much to have both Sauron's Eye (the CK's sigil) AND the "my precioussssss'ness" of the glass? It's just interesting to me that he set out to deliberately distance himself from Tolkien but so specifically evoke these two things here.

As with the Guardians it would be cool if there were other tales of the Glass. "Some colors of the Wizard's Rainbow are reputed to look into the future. Others look into the other worlds - those where the demons live, those where the Old People are supposed to have gone when they left our world. These may also show the location of the secret doors which pass between the worlds. Other colors, they say, can look far in our own world, and see things people would as soon keep secret. They never see the good: only the ill." 


I'm afraid I was pretty negative on all the post-Mejis stuff. Not the stuff in Gilead, with the tragic end of Roland's mother. I didn't quite care for Roland's flying "in the gale" stuff inside the glass, but the Gilead stuff was the twist that deepened Roland's story and justified its place here in the series.

The same cannot be said of the Wizard of Oz stuff, though. It works for a minute, when they point out the similarities or Roland's tale/ their surroundings to Oz. And then, starting with the shoes and getting worse once Oy has to don them - and sinking ever tediously further once the Tick Tock Man is playing the part of the wizard, apparently indulging that inner theater nerd he never got to indulge underneath Lud - it doesn't work at all. For me anyway. The novel takes such a committed and in my eyes improbable turn into this Wizard of Oz stuff and then comments on itself doing it, for far too many pages.

The MIB mentions - after the Tick Tock Man's acting the part of the Wizard and after the ka-tet shoots him - that he probably made a mistake to rescue him for Lud. Truth. It made no sense at the end of The Waste Lands and goes nowhere here. Nor does it make sense - what the hell is Wizard of Oz to the Tick Tock Man? Or to the MIB for that matter? If he's creating tangible emerald castles that straddle both worlds (for the people of the Calla see it too, in the next book), he can't create something more formidable to stop Roland's quest? 

And why drop them back down on the Path of the Beam on their way to Thunderclap, with a picnic basket no less? FFS he could've just left them in Stand-variant Kansas, likely to die of Captain's Trips. Was he worried they'd make their way to Mother Abigail's? I could use the hey-that’s-what-they-tried-this-time excuse i.e. maybe Walter and the CK have tried to strand them all a thousand times and they thought hey, this time, how about a nice gift basket and a polite note? But like challenge flags or timeouts (or a reader's patience) there's only so many times one can draw from that well. 

All told, the MIB is conveniently stupid (or helpful) when he needs to be.

And what the hell happens to the glass? Why didn't they just destroy it and that's how they get back to Mid-World (somehow)? King keeps its fate ambiguous, but it never shows up again. And neither does Rhea. Seems like there's some tale, there, King was keeping for a rainy day but as of this writing, we haven't gotten it.


A solid sci-fi western fantasy coming of age story, with many characters masterfully blended, bookended by stuff I didn't much care for. 

Let's take some quick stock of things. Reading-wise, I've finished Wolves of the Calla, "The Little Sisters of Eluria," "Everything's Eventual," "Low Men in Yellow Coats," "Heavenly Shades of Night Are Falling," and I'm about halfway through The Wind Through the Keyhole. I'm procrastinating starting the last two books, as they're long-ass books, my memory of them was negative, and I'm just dragging my feet. I'm also circling Insomnia. That one's long, too, though. But very rewarding if memory serves.

Anyway it'll all materialize sooner or later. Of the books we've looked at so far, my first attempt at ranking the Dark Tower books had Wizard and Glass at number one, The Waste Lands at five, Drawing of the Three at six, and The Gunslinger at three. This time around it looks like this: (4) The Waste Lands, (3) Wizard and Glass, (2) The Drawing of the Three, and (1) The Gunslinger. 

Who knows what re-rankings await on when I read these books for a third time? Tune in come 2025 to find out!