Wizard and Glass


Stephen King


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

August 26, 2007

izard and Glass is the best of the Dark Tower novels so far, this is the epic style that I expected to find in the entire series. The book checks in at 750 pages, so it takes a while to get through, but it is an absorbing read. The first section of the story describes the gunslingers (Roland, Susannah and Eddie, along with the boy Jake) outwitting the Blaine the Insane Train with a riddling game. The riddling game itself seems goofy (I can't help but think it is a ripoff of Biblo's encounter with Gollum, even though I know that is an unfair criticism - is every sword fight a ripoff of Alexander Dumas?) but the landscape the train crosses through is sufficiently spooky and epic. At last, this series takes on the feel of an epic scope! Finally we are getting somewhere!

But actually, the quest for the Dark Tower hardly advances at all. Instead, Roland tells the story of the events of his youth to his companions, when he was new to gunslinging. This history of Roland fills up almost the entire book - and its a big book - but the tale is so good that the extended flashback is a great story.

When Roland was young, just a youth 14 years old, his father sent him away from the city, because it was too dangerous, there were evil plots and traitors around. Roland and two friends (Alain and Cuthbert, both young, freshly-minted gunslingers like Roland) are sent to the tame western lands, were they will be spared the coming conflict. The lads chafe at being sent to safety, but they intend to honor their promises to their fathers. As they ride into the town of Hambry, the gunslingers discover that rather than being sent to a place of refuge, the town has switched alligiance and is a place of great peril for them. Outside the town are oil wells that are left over from older days - and tanker trucks full of the fuel. The bad guys apparently have resurrected some ancient fighting machines, and with this crucial fuel, they will easily crush the defenses of Gilead. In Hambry is Jonas, an ex-gunslinger, who is hanging out with his murderous band of Big Coffin Hunters to make sure the village folk don't get cold feet about delivering the fuel oil. Roland and his inexperienced friends are clearly outnumbered and outgunned, their only hope is let Jonas and his companions believe that they are just as young and naive as they appear to be. Let the Big Coffin Hunters underestimate them, while they concoct a desperate plan to stop the tanker trucks.

Outside of Hambry lives the witch Rhea, a classic King character - she is evil and vile and cruel, with a mangy cat and a poisonous snake for a familar. Rhea possesses a magic crystal ball that allows her to spy on people, but the glass is corrupting, it only shows evil and nasty deeds, it doesn't show truth. Remember how gazing into the palantir in Lord of the Rings corrupted Denthor, the King of Gondor? This crystal ball works the same way, sucking the life force out of Rhea until the old witch is nothing but a wizen husk of hate. Rhea is a great character.

Susan Delgado is a 16 year old girl being raised by her aunt on a farm outside of Hambry. She has promised to marry the mayor, because she has no choice (the mayor is about 60 years old and is already married, but he has no heir and lusts after Susan.) Susan has beautiful golden hair and honest, straightforward personality. She regrets her fate, but is honor bound to marry the mayor and she will keep her promise - until her path crosses that of Roland. It is love at first sight. Roland has an ally in the town, but any sign of friendship with him imperils Susan.

What follows is a long love story of these precocious teenagers. Plus, there is a western gun fighter story as Roland and his two friends try to develop a plan to outwit the numerous bad guys. And best of all is the story of horror triggered by Rhea and the corrupted townsfolk. The harvest moon is a creepy climax. This is a long book, but it is a good story and the pages keep turning.

After about 600 pages of Roland-as-a-youth, the story resumes in an alternate Kansas, with Roland, Susannah, Eddie and Jake back on the beam to the Dark Tower. This last part of the book is goofy and senseless - the gunslingers encounter an imitation of the Emerald City from the land of Oz. Now why would any villain bother constructing such an illusion? Roland doesn't even know the story of the Wizard of Oz, though of course Eddie and Susannah do. It doesn't make any sense, it just feels like King is indulging in a whim to write about Oz. I don't understand it, King obviously has tons of imagination and creativity to dream up his own stuff, why copy another authors work? I was disappointed with this part of the book.

Most of this book is pretty good. Looks like King has our heroes on the way to the Dark Tower. On to book 5!