Off the Shelf

The Dark Tower IV - "Wizard and Glass"

By Marcus Pan

Wizard and Glass"Ask me a riddle." Blaine the somewhat-sentient monorail has challenged our heroes to a riddling match and now, at the start of the fourth book in the Dark Tower series, Roland and the rest of his ka-tet face off against the computer in a battle of wits. I'm not one for riddles, though - I didn't enjoy this part too much. I respect a man who can end a book with a cliff hanger involving a children's game; riddling. But I kind of breezed through this portion of "Wizard and Glass" for one reason - I suck at riddles. The way the gunslinger ka-tet beat the computer was interesting however - they used humor. It was Eddie who figured it out and started testing Blaine with those silly type of riddles that we used when we were young. "Why did the chicken cross the road?" It was the spontaneous emotion of humor that Blaine could not summon up and use to answer the riddles. Sure he may act human, talk human, answer riddles and questions like a human; but he's not human. Blaine doesn't have the experience of growing up that we do - and that's what Eddie took advantage of. Of course we ALL know why the chicken crossed the road…and all the derivatives of that riddle there could be. But Blaine doesn't know it - and doesn't get it. So Eddie forced him to think and delve into his memory banks hard and far enough that he suffered what I figure is akin to an electronic stroke. Huzzah! Remember that for the day our computers try to kill us all a'la Maximum Overdrive. Maybe it'll save our bacon.

King has always had a tendency to link all his stories together. I spoke of this earlier in this column when I discussed his novel Needful Things. How he has built up a "well-done yet not over-wrought history for a small town that exists only in a man's head." This trend is amazingly apparent in "Wizard and Glass." It seems like one of his goals when creating this long series of the Dark Tower was to build a multiverse where he can somehow fit every story he's ever written - and others as well. In the last book we mentioned how the Tick-Tock Man was helped up by a man who called himself "Maerlyn." In this one we actually visit the emerald city of Oz. No, really - red shoes included. The subtle implications of a Merlinesque character that can tie King's fantasy to that of Le Morte de Arthur is one thing - but to come across the emerald tower from the "Wizard of Oz?" Methinks King is getting presumptuous.

Much of this novel focuses on Roland's past. King takes us to the time when he and his two childhood friends, Cuthbert and Alain, go on their first adventure just after Roland earned his guns by besting his teacher Cort in battle. The boys are sent away to be kept out of trouble as John Farson, the "Good Man" he is called, is about to embark on the final leg of his war with the Affiliation of which the gunslingers are a part. They find their own trouble, of course.

A lot of Roland's past is wrapped up in the story of his first love - Susan Delgado of Mejis barony. King spends a lot of time with these two - through the center of the book I thought I was reading a western romance. Too much time on Roland's experiences with Susan? Maybe - the book began to drag. And the dragging made it ever more difficult to read as this is the largest of the Dark Tower series thus far (the trend for this series is they get larger each book). Finally near the end you are treated to a great epic battle, western style, complete with exploding tankers, blazing guns and a great strategy by the three boys (and Roland was a boy at this time - this was far in his past) to lead the chasing dozens into a box canyon where they met their doom in a "thinny," a place where time and space has broken down and swallows things. Where these things go you never find out - you can run your imagination on this one for a long time.

Added to this mix is a glass ball that is from a group known as the "Wizard's Rainbow." This ball shows you things that happen in far-off places - a type of scrying device. But it eats into your mind, becomes an addiction and eventually dooms you. Keeper of this ball for most of the story is the archetypal crone, Rhea, an old witch of Mejis. Her addiction to the pink light of this piece of the rainbow drives her to cross Roland and his party at every turn - including the taking of Susan Delgado.

The book was long. That's the summary. It was a long, somewhat dragging read. The inclusion of the Emerald City from Oz turns out to be more of a "duh" than anything else. They even had the "Ignore the man behind the curtain" scene. Puh-leeze! But even though the book was drawn and long, it is necessary. It is a needed piece of the puzzle that makes up Roland the gunslinger because it helps you to see deep inside his character. Sure his history as shown in "Wizard and Glass" may have been a bit too sappily romantic, but it is a necessary piece that you must trudge through. Kudos to King for one of the most well done examples of character creation and development that I've ever read. And he can cross this development across his other novels as well, as we've seen. Our man who once introduced himself as "Maerlyn" has also introduced himself as "Flagg" (remember Eye of the Dragon, King's first foray into fantasy land?). And Roland also knows him as "Marten," the wizard who seduced his mother many years ago.

The next piece of the Dark Tower hasn't arrived yet. King says in his Afterword that he expects it to end with seven books. I'm hoping the last three won't be as long and dragging to read. Let it flow like the first three. Onward down the path of the beam!

"The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass" by Stephen King
Published by Plume
Copyright © 1997 by Stephen King
ISBN 0-452-27917-8

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