Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

“If you love me, then love me.” The Dark Tower Book IV: Wizard and Glass

November 12th, 2010
,

So here we come, at last.  Since first discovering the world of The Dark Tower with Marvel Comics’ The Gunslinger Born series of mini-series, I have been eager to reach this fouth volume.  That’s because I knew that the Gunslinger Born comics were mostly adapted from material found in Wizard and Glass, the novel that, from what I’d heard and read, finally revealed much about Roland’s past and the devastating events that set him on the path of his lonely journey towards the Dark Tower. 

Though I was familiar with the basic thrust of those events from having read the Gunslinger Born comics, I was excited to read the original source material which, I was sure, contained a lot more detail than the abbreviated (though still entertaining) Marvel comics.  I must confess that I was also, though, a bit anxious to begin, not only because of my high hopes but also because Wizard and Glass is a fairly lengthy tome.  It’s been looming on my bookshelf for quite a while now (as I’ve recounted before, I bought the first four Dark Tower novels after beginning the Gunslinger Born comic-books, but it took me about two years to actually begin reading them), and I knew it’d be something of an undertaking to begin.

Luckily for me, The Dark Tower Book III: The Waste Lands, ended on a ferocious devil of a cliffhanger — the likes of which I’ve seldom encountered in a series of novels.  (I wrote “luckily for me,” because I can only imagine the torturous wait that fans at the time had to go through, as they watched the long years pass before the publication of Book IV.)  Luckily for me, I barely had to wait a day between finishing Book III and diving into Book IV. 

The beginning of Book IV: Wizard and Glass picks up exactly where Book III left off, with Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake, and Oy trapped in a deadly game of riddles with the insane Blaine the Mono.  It only takes about fifty pages, though, before that story is concluded, and Mr. King moves on to the real meat of Wizard and Glass, the narrative that will occupy the bulk of the novel’s page count.  This is the story that Roland finally tells to his friends: of how he became a gunslinger at the young age of 14; of how he and his ka-tet of younger days were sent off to the sea-side village of Hambry so that they’d be away from the danger that Roland’s father sensed was coming to their home of Gilead; of how the three young men encountered even greater danger in Hambry — the first waves of the coming onslaught that would destroy Gilead and wipe away their civilization in less than two years; of how young Roland fell in love; and of the horrible fate that befell his true love, thus destroying the young boy named Roland and creating the hardened man we met in Book I called the Gunslinger. 

At the moment, my feeling is that Wizard and Glass is my favorite novel of The Dark Tower series that I’ve read so far.  I’ve written before that I craved more details on the world of Gilead where Roland grew up.  Characters have repeatedly stated that the world has “moved on,” but I was eager to know what that world was like BEFORE it moved on — what happened that destroyed the kingdom of Gilead, and what events had occured to Roland to shape him into the man we’ve seen in the novels so far.

In those respects, Wizard and Glass succeeds wonderfully.  This is a long book, and that’s because Mr. King takes his time to develop the world in which Roland lives, and the situation in which he and his friends Colbert and Alain find themselves.  Mr. King also utilizes the story’s length to really milk the tension.  Roland and Susan Delgado’s doomed love-affair is the very definition of a slow burn.  We have time to deeply invest in both characters, and in their relationship, which only makes it even more wrenching when things go terribly wrong, as of course we know is eventually going to happen.

In Wizard and Glass, we meet a large cast of characters, many of whom have been referred to previously in the first three novels, and it’s enormous fun getting to see how all the pieces of the story fit together.  As I’d suspected, there’s far more to the tale than was able to be covered in the Gunslinger Born comics, and I was thrilled to discover all the deeper layers.  In particular, I really enjoyed the character of Sheemie in a way that I didn’t in the Marvel comics.  In the comics, Sheemie came off as annoying to me — the story and his dialogue seemed to over-emphasize his idiocy — whereas here in Wizard and Glass, Sheemie comes off as, in many ways, the most noble hero of the story.  That was a really pleasant surprise. 

I also think that the critical events that transpired on Roland’s final day in Hambry were handled much more effectively in the novel.  This is no surprise — in the novel Mr. King had all the room he needed to tell his story as he saw fit, while of course the comics adaptation had to dramatically condense the events.  In the comics, I never really understood why, at a key moment on that final day, Roland makes the decision to leave Susan Delgado.  In the novel, this is much more clearly explained, and that strengthens the tragedy. 

As always, Mr. King’s skills at world-building are incredible.  The world of Roland’s youth was brought to vivid life in the pages of the novel — so much so that I dreaded the story’s end and the narrative’s return to the future days when “the world had moved on”!  I loved the glimpses into the court of Gilead, into the lives of the gunslingers, and into the machinations of John Farson, Marten, and the other agents of evil who would soon destroy the gunslingers and their society.  I loved the characterizations of the three Big Coffin Hunters.  I loved getting to know Susan’s ultimately horrible aunt Cordelia, and the ultimately noble Olive Thorin.  I loved the weird but in-the-end poignant focus in the novel on the phases of the moon.  I loved the glimpses into the further back-story of Roland’s world given with what we learned about Maerlyn’s grapefruit.

My only teensy, tiny, niggling complaint about the story has to do with, to me, some unexplained holes in Roland’s decision-making.  In my mind, the very best tragedies are the ones in which all of the characters make exactly the RIGHT DECISIONS — and yet are still unable to escape a tragic fate.  In those stories, one is unable to find a single instance in which the doomed character(s) could have done a single thing differently which would have enabled him/her/them to escape their fate. 

But I didn’t exactly find that to be the case in Wizard and Glass.  I can sort-of understand why Roland and his ka-tet chose to remain in Hambry, despite the dangers they’d discovered (both Roland’s personal desire to remain with Susan and the more heroic instinct of all three members of his ka-tet that gunslingers never run from danger), but I am unable to grasp why Roland refused to use their carrier-pigeons to inform his father and the other gunslingers of what they’d learned.  What if all three boys had been killed?  Then their knowledge would have died with them, which seems remarkably foolhardy.  In particular, there’s a critical point about half-way through the story when Roland, Susan, and his friends make a startling discovery at the oil-patch outside of Hambry.  What they learn seems so important that I can’t quite understand why they didn’t leave Hambry that instant to ride to Gilead — or, at the very least, send word to Gilead immediately of what they’d learned.  Would not events have unfolded differently had they done so?  This somewhat weakens, in my mind, the dramatic inevitability of the tragedy to come.   

I’m dwelling on the story of Roland’s youth — and rightly so, since that story takes up the vast majority of Wizard and Glass.  But there’s plenty of fun to be had in the “present-day” framing sequences, too.  I’d read that Mr. King’s Dark Tower stories crosed over to several of his other novels (and that, in some ways, the Dark Tower story encompasses ALL of Mr. King’s other stories!).  I was a little nervous for that to happen — I was worried the references would go over my head, since I haven’t read many of Mr. King’s other novels.  But when Roland and his friends somehow find themselves in the world of The Stand, I was pleased that what little I knew of that novel was more than enough to carry me through.  There may have been some references that I missed, but it in no way impacted my enjoyment of the story.

What I was not prepared for was for Roland and his friends to, at the end of the novel, suddenly find themselves in Oz!  But I’ll say no more about that here, so as not to ruin one’s enjoyment of the out-of-left-field surprises that come at the novel’s end.

(Except only to mention my only other bit of disappointment with Wizard and Glass: the quick and anti-climactic way in which the Tick-Tock Man — so intriguingly saved by the Man in Black at the end of Book III — meets his fate.  I thought there was going to be a lot more to the Tick-Tock Man’s story than that.  Oh well.)

Here in the pages of Wizard and Glass, Stephen King’s Dark Tower story unquestionably earns it’s characterization as an epic.  This is a huge story being told, and I am deliriously happy that, here at the story’s mid-point, I still have absolutely no idea where all this is going.

But I can’t wait to find out.

Josh’s Dark Tower Reviews: Entering The Dark TowerThe Dark Tower Book I: The Gunslinger The Dark Tower Book II: The Drawing of the Three The Dark Tower Book III: The Waste Lands

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone