I have to be grateful. If I were reading the Dark Tower series twenty years ago, I would probably lose my mind. Or renounce Stephen King for the betrayal of not writing the next book for twenty-six years. Or personally blacklist him.
I mean I hate to say it, but that minivan that hit him really did all of his fans a service. Ka, perhaps?
Luckily, I’m not one of those poor unfortunate souls and I have the whole Dark Tower series at my disposal all nice and neat on my bookshelf ready to be picked up at a moment’s notice. I’m probably going to get some ka of my own after saying that minivan bit out loud.
In King’s forward or afterward (whichever ward he may be in), he explains that he received hundred of letters from fans begging for the end of Dark Tower tale to be revealed before they died. I’ve thought about that a lot lately, about all the art, songs, and stories that will never be mine after I die. It’s a truly terrible thought. I also have to agree with King’s admission that he’s better at suspense than he is at romance. You’ll know why soon enough.
In the fear of getting off track, the fourth Dark Tower Wizard and Glass was good, but unfortunately does not overpower the incredible hold The Drawing of Three and The Waste Land has on my heart.
When I started Wizard and Glass, I didn’t think this would be the case. I gobbled it up obsessively. Picking up right where The Waste Land ended, our ka-tet faced Blaine the Painful Train as they raced toward certain destruction. Roland whipped up every riddle from the days of Gilead and Eddie (oh, Favorite Character!) managed to save the day with his wisecrack insensible jokes that had Roland realizing yet again that he can be blind to a certain kind of attitude and humor. If the first section of Wizard and Glass was cake, then I was that fat kid literally scooping handfuls of frosting and moist baked goods into my mouth. My eyes couldn’t read fast enough. You’d be so proud of me, Reader. I didn’t read spoilers or read ahead.
Our victorious ka-tet abandoned the crashed and conquered Blaine and walked into a parallel universe of Kansas, only deserted and wrecked from a deadly plague. Slowly, as the New Yorkers pry Roland to tell his story, we learn about the thinny, a young woman named Susan, and suddenly our lovely characters are settling in for the night for the revelation of Roland’s past.
It must be hard and exciting for King to stretch his story on for so long over his lifetime. I picture him writing just as we are reading: setting out hints he doesn’t quite understand either, but hoping that in time he’ll understand just where his Muse is taking him.
Roland has a pretty basic (in my mind) backstory. He’s a youth of fourteen, sentenced to a fake exile while the terrors of Gilead die down and he falls in love with a young woman who is promised to another, they say fuck it and literally do fuck, and then as things are revealed to not be as they seem and danger truly is afoot, Roland must make a decision between the Tower and his one true love, choses the Tower and Susan is burned at the stake.
I guess it’s not that basic. It’s probably the fact that we all know Susan must die tragically and woefully to shape Roland into the man we know today that makes me feel a muted sympathy for their plight. It’s a kind of doomed love affair by two far too young people who make promises to each other that wouldn’t hold up in the coming years anyway. Fourteen year old Roland fathering a child was almost unfathomable, but I have to remember that Roland’s living in a time of a cowboy Arthurian legend and that time moves differently there.
Oh and side note? If Stephen King thinks he can make me read Salem’s Lot by inserting random mentions of a Father Callahan that I only got because I had to look it up on Wikipedia, he is sorely mistaken, dear Reader. Stephen King can’t make me do anything. I won’t be persuaded to read that just because it will make me understand the woven connections of King’s world. Nope. Not going to happen. Might read The Stand, but that’s because I want to, not because it too resides in the beloved Dark Tower series. Back to our scheduled program.
Unfortunately, I have little interest in Roland as a sole character without his ka-tet, be it Cuthbert and Alain or Eddie, Susannah and Jake. I think that’s the crux of why I didn’t enjoy The Gunslinger. I don’t like Roland, but I do admire him. He’s that kind of guy that puts the world above everything else and damns all those that blindly follow and love him. I don’t trust him. He’s fully willing to sacrifice his friends for his quest and since Favorite Character is within that possible sacrificial pool, I can’t find myself to trust Roland’s motives. Every time he insists his friends should abandon him and therefore the quest, it seems like another ploy to make them believe they need the quest and a chance to reinforce their commitment to him, and by extension, to the Tower. It’s like Roland gives them a choice but knows deep down that the outcome will be in his favor. Always.
As awful as it is, I enjoy Roland when he’s emotionally exposed. When he breaks down after retelling how he murdered his mother, I appreciated the man behind the mask beyond all else. It’s a breath of fresh air to see someone beyond the Tower obsession. Even when he was a snotty teenager, it felt beyond good to see Cuthbert punch him in the face.
Even within Roland’s past, I found myself identifying with the side characters, particularly (and I’m ashamed to admit this) Eldred Jonas and Coral Thorin. They were my brand of dirty and rough Bonnie and Clyde. I nearly couldn’t withhold my absolute adoration for Cuthbert, who, if he survived, would certainly be Favorite Character. I must have a thing for smartass characters who can’t shut up. I’d probably strangle them in real life, but on the page they make me laugh.
Roland’s past was necessary to shape Roland and even (sorta kinda maybe) bring light to the Tower, but I took my time through it. There was no cake eating to be seen. I’m not sure if Cuthbert is a reincarnation of Lancelot and Alain of Gallahad, but the Arthurian slant was unmistakable and interesting to say the least. Just not obsessively so.
Coming back to the present left the reader stranded in a pitiful remake of the Wizard of Oz. Something similar happened in The Waste Land when King introduced a bear that actually turned out to be a cyborg. I remember squinting at that passage thinking Okkkkkaaaaay, but let it slide. Random. Out of the blue. Kind of annoyingly random, if I’m going to be truthful.
The Wizard of Oz take felt like King had just watched the film the night before and thought it would be abso-fucking-lutely hilarious to watch the New Yorkers attempt to explain the premise to Roland. Or maybe he just really wanted them all to tromp around wearing red footwear and click their heels three times. Which they did. I’m not being a sarcastic shit. They really did.
King has much more to offer than a reboot of an old story that seems to be everywhere. Or maybe that’s because Wicked hadn’t come out and our lives weren’t filled with that Popular ditty.
(Popular! I wanna be Popu-UU-lar!)
To say the least, while I downright disliked the Oz setting, the content within the setting (the progress of the book, one of a literary mind might say) worked to a point by introducing Randall Flagg (aka the Wizard aka Walter aka Maerlyn aka Merlin I THINK) and watching Roland fail yet again to kill him. A little bit of progress made. Roland is a reincarnation of King Arthur (ergo THE CHOSEN ONE!) and Merlin isn’t the bearded teacher as portrayed in the Black Cauldron. Got it. Whatever the case, our group ended up walking away from the Emerald City in their sleep (go figure), but at least we’ve put that little bit of dabbling fan fiction behind us and can move on to the next adventure.
While King managed to smooth the time discrepancies of when he wrote the novel (over twenty-six years, it sounds like), it became obvious as his writing changed and matured. For example, The Drop and Mejis evolved from tangy Mexican flavor to extreme South of the Border infused with increased Spanish lingo. Obviously this is nit picking, but it’s almost a fascinating insight into what happens to a story and an author who have been together for years and when that story remains unwritten and waiting for so long. Things get forgotten, ideas get lost, and the remembered feeling/idea become over exaggerated to rectify this situation.
All in all, Wizard and Glass didn’t have that immediate hold that its two predecessors maintained. It was well written (except for that Oz bit, Jesus), but didn’t hold the exciting element of the unknown (or the unexpected) for me. I enjoy the Dark Tower because it’s unlike anything I’ve read before, but the Romeo and Juliet love story is wearing on my spinstery soul. My passion cannot be slaked despite the mediocrity I experienced and while I will be returning to Gail Carriger’s last and final Alexia Tarabotti novel, I will be finishing the Dark Tower series tout suite.
On other notes of life, my new job is working out wonderfully and I’m happily back doing science and being employed by evolution. It’s good to be back in the saddle again and while my writing and reading activities will take a hit, at least I’m saving some cash and working in a field of interest. Go Team Ambition. Go Team Go.