The Dark Tower Book IV: Wizard and Glass
Author: Stephen King
Now that I’m four books in to Stephen King’s The Dark Towerseries, I can reflect my enjoyment of this series as a bell curve. I read the first book, didn’t really care for it, but realized it was laying the ground work for this extensive undertaking and was willing to go along for the ride. The second book was more my taste. Despite my dislike of the Odetta Walker character, once King got out of his fantasy landscape the stakes for the characters felt much higher. Book three was the best one in the series, mixing the fantasy elements with the quartet of protagonists and ending on a thrilling train ride. Book four goes back to mainly just Roland in the midworld and for the bulk of the book I did not care about anything or anyone.
The beginning and ending of this book (minimally) advance the story of Eddie, Susannah, Jake, Oy, and Roland. The group begins on the train from hell, riddling for their lives. The method of their salvation felt hackneyed, like something out of a kid’s tv show although that could have been the intent of King. Afterward I got excited because the group wanders through the setting of my favorite King book (so far) The Stand. Quickly though the group sits down and Roland begins telling the story of his teenage love with Susan Delgado.
This is done via the bulk of the book. Rather than telling it in first person flashback, it’s basically a whole separate book complete with sections that don’t even involve Roland. While traveling with his companions Cuthbert and Alain, he falls in love with Susan who is promised to the local mayor and must be a virgin to fulfill the promise. Shocker, she and Roland end up doing the beast with two backs and shit hits the fan. Complicating things are the presence of a witch named Rhea who has a piece of glass or rainbow or crystal ball or something that allows her to see everything. There is also additional backstory of how Roland left Gilead a gunslinger, the wizard Martin’s involvement with his mother, and the secret guilt that Roland carries.
After story time, we get another brief story of the ka-tet, this time visiting the Land of Oz (which was surprising to me, as I thought these books primarily just traveled the world of King’s bibliography). Roland teases that he’s got another story to tell and we realize that Martin and Rhea will be back as well (oh joy). The revelations as to what happened to Susan and to Roland’s mother were what I predicted as soon as each was revealed to be characters in Roland’s story. The page numbers for these Dark Tower books have been booming, and this book in particular had Tommyknockers-itis where the page count actively subtracted from my enjoyment.
I’m not entirely sure why this series isn’t working for me. I actually enjoyed King’s Eyes of the Dragon fantasy work. With these books though, I knowing going into each one that they’ll make some incremental progress toward their elusive goal, that terrible things will happen to the non-essential core characters, and that characters like Martin/Walter/Rhea etc. will have just enough magic power to appear and disappear whenever they want and escape any mortal peril. At this point most of the allure for the Dark Tower series is just seeing how other books and characters get integrated to it. It makes it fun as an Easter egg hunt but less satisfying as a lengthy series of novels.