Monday, January 06, 2014

Stephen King: The Dark Tower IV: Wizard And Glass (1997)

For fans of The Dark Tower, it had been six long years since The Wastelands (the third book of Stephen King's epic series). In September 1996, King included a gift in the combined sets of Desperation and The Regulators: a 59-page paperback containing the first two chapters of the next Dark Tower novel. Then, in November 1997, the 787-page hardback Wizard and Glass appeared.

At the end of The Wastelands, Roland of Gilead and his ka-tet (Eddie Dean, Susannah Dean, Jake Chambers) were aboard Blaine the Monorail, travelling along the Path of the Beam, towards the Dark Tower. Blaine is insane, however, and was threatening to crash itself, killing everyone on board, unless Roland et al. could stump it with a riddle.

As W&G begins, they do, naturally; otherwise, there would be far fewer than 787 pages in this volume! Blaine lets them off in what appears to be a deserted railroad station in Topeka, Kansas. A discarded newspaper (dated June 1986) reports that an epic flu nicknamed "Captain Trips" is currently decimating the country's - and the world's - population.

This is, of course, the world of Stephen King's The Stand. However, since Eddie is from New York City in 1987 and has no knowledge of a deadly super flu, this must have happened in another world, or a parallel reality. Roland explains that as the Dark Tower weakens, boundaries between these different worlds are breaking down.

Henrik Fåhraeus:
In King's epic tale, the world has "moved on"(2), and the whole multiverse is in danger of collapsing. [Roland Deschain] is on a quest to find the Dark Tower, which supposedly exists at the very center of creation. ... [H]is purpose is not primarily to save the world, but to ascend the tower in order to find out if the room at the top is inhabited by God or if God has abandoned his creation.

(2) A term frequently used throughout the seven novels, meaning that the world has changed in fundamental ways. Civilization is crumbling, science is a lost art, and even the laws of physics seem different.
Since I did not enjoy The Drawing of the Three and The Wastelands - the second and third books of the series - I was looking forward to Wizard and Glass about as much as a heaping plate of liver and spinach. However, W&G was pretty good, certainly the best of the series, so far.

The novel does not move Roland's journey forward very much. It is mostly a long flashback that tells in great detail Roland's first test as a young gunslinger. As his ka-tet travels along I-70 in Kansas, Roland tells them his story during one long night beside the fire. Roland also recounts the heartbreaking story of finding, and then losing forever, the love of his life, Susan Delgado.

Wizard and Glass recounts what Joseph Campbell called the "monomyth" or the "hero's journey". In Campbell's 1949 book, The Hero With A Thousand Faces, he described the monomyth:
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
Wizard and Glass contains a myth within a myth. Roland and his two friends, Cuthbert Allgood and Alain Johns, are sent from Gilead to the small town of Mejis. While there, they uncover a conspiracy, led by John Farson, in opposition to the baronies of the Affiliation. Farson's men are stockpiling horses, oil, and weapons for a possible revolution that threatens to lead to all-out war. The three young gunslingers must foil these plans.

Along the way, Roland falls in love with Susan Delgado and, towards the end of his adventure, realizes he must make a choice:
Susan, and my life as a husband and father of the child she now carries ... or the Tower. [...] I would choose Susan in an instant, if not for one thing: the Tower is crumbling, and if it falls, everything we know will be swept away. There will be chaos beyond our imagining. We must go ... and we will go. [...] I choose the Tower. I must. Let her live a good life and long with someone else - she will, in time. As for me, I choose the Tower.
Henrik Fåhraeus:
Believing Susan to be safely on her way to Gilead, the ka-tet proceeds to deal with the rest of Farson's men. ... Afterwards, when the blood red moon rises, Roland realizes that Susan is far from safe. In the Wizard's glass, he watches how the frenzied and superstitious townspeople of Hambry "celebrate" the reaping festival by burning Susan at the stake. ... Though Roland is not directly responsible, he did abandon Susan for his "greater quest" ... Fate teaches him a horrible lesson, but it is one that still does not heed, for he will keep sacrificing friends and companions in order to reach the Tower.
Despite the foiling of Farson's plot, things look bleak for Mid-World:
There is a sense - inarticulate but very much there - that things have gone amiss ... For it is here, in the sleepy Out-World Barony of Mejis, that Mid-World's last great conflict will shortly begin; it is from here that the blood will begin to flow. In two years, no more, the world as it has been will be swept away. It starts here.
Unfortunately, it would be another six years before King's fans would learn of Roland's next steps. Spurred on by his 1999 accident (which nearly killed him), King would publish the final three volumes of the series in rapid-fire succession in 2003 and 2004.

Next: Bag of Bones.

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