The Dark Tower series is Stephen King’s magnum opus. In his own words, “Roland’s story is my Jupiter- a planet that dwarfs all the others…I think there’s more to it than that, actually. Roland’s world contains all the other worlds of my making..” And what a world it is – Careening through time, space, and dimensions, it concerns itself with nothing less than the likely destruction of the fabric of existence, in our world and all others.
Midway through the series, King takes a break from futuristic hellscapes, pedophile cannibals, demonic trains, and dimension-hopping gunslingers to tell the story of Wizard and Glass. As his characters rest beside Route 70 in some alternate dimension of Kansas, King spins an almost Shakespearean tale of young love, youthful cockiness, greed, betrayal, and human ugliness scarier than any vampire or demon spawned in King’s hyperactive imagination.
No one ever wonders what’s going to happen at the end of Romeo and Juliet. The great tragedies work because of the sword hanging over their characters heads, a sword that will inevitably fall. Likewise, the reader knows there is no good end for King’s characters. Roland, the grizzled and obsessed gunslinger willing to sacrifice anyone and anything in his quest for the Dark Tower, appears in this tale as a fourteen year old boy. Not quite as innocent as his age suggests, he still embodies the youthful idealism and romance of a teenager. Along with his companions, Cuthbert and Alain, he rides into a sleepy seaside village only to quickly become embroiled in intrigue, treachery, and, most tragically for Roland, love. The object of that love, Susan Delgado, returns the young gunslinger’s feelings with the passion that only teenagers can summon.
King’s story is intricate, too much so to neatly summarize here. It’s a web of deceit, honor, nastiness, and virtue. It’s populated by memorable characters who epitomize the best and, more often, the worst of human nature. And, when fate draws the novel to it’s close, the foreknowledge of Roland and Susan’s tragic love make it all the more devastating.
I’ve remembered this middle book as being the best of the Dark Tower series. On a second reading, I really understand why. Roland’s epic journey toward the Tower is a sprawling, chaotic tale with a cast of thousands and plot turns that very nearly defy belief. By it’s very nature and construction (and, from my perspective, knowing how it all turns out in the end), it’s clear that King meant the Dark Tower series as a massive open ended multiverse of stories without real conclusion or resolution.
Wizard and Glass takes a step back. The fantasy/sci-fi elements fade to the background as King focuses on what he does best – writing unforgettable characters and setting them loose upon each other without all the accoutrements which sometimes clutter the rest of the series. And, tragic as it may be, the conclusion brings satisfying closure, something that readers crave after hundreds of pages with such real characters.
One of the plot devices in Wizard and Glass revolves around a glass sphere which enchants with views of humanity at it’s most depraved, pathetic, and tragic. Almost impossible to put down, the ball enslaves and captivates. At one point, the young Roland comes into possession of this charm and it takes a swift blow to the face to tear his gaze away. That’s about how I felt 500 or so pages into the novel when the sword finally fell on its characters, smacking me in the face and allowing me some measure of closure, however horrid.
For any fan of King, I highly recommend the Dark Tower series, Wizard and Glass in particular. While I don’t recommend reading this one without having read the first three books, this is probably the only one which could stand alone independent of the other six.
Any other Dark Tower readers have any thoughts?