Wizard and Glass

November 27, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

glassWizard and Glass by Stephen King


A few years ago, I saw a comment online where someone asked why there had been so much outrage over the ending of The Waste Lands. Sure, it was a cliffhanger ending, he said, but the next book picks right up from that point. What’s the big deal? What he didn’t know, reading the books so long after their original publication date, was that Constant Readers had to wait six years to have that cliffhanger resolved. I would have been okay with the ending had King started the next book ASAP, and we got the answer in a year, but six years? Just no.

Wizard and Glass does resolve that ending, and then gives us another glimpse at what’s happening due to the Tower failing, and introducing a (sorta) new villain to the mix through Randall Flagg, but the bulk of the story is Roland’s first task as a gunslinger, which not only defines his character, but also introduces him to the idea of the Tower itself. It’s also a love story framed around an investigation, and both parts of the story are intriguing and compelling (much more so than the framing story that is actually about the Tower). The usual King traits are there — the characterization, the easy-going style, and the plot slowly developing over the course of hundreds of pages — and if the outer bits are a bit ridiculous (The Wizard of Oz? Seriously?), the inner parts are worth the read.

The central problem here, though, is something I can’t address without spoiling this book (and the whole series), so turn away now if you’re still new to the stories.

The entire series ends by coming full circle, with Roland stepping through the door at the top of the Tower and starting his journey again, with the famous line: “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” It suggests Roland’s story is infinite, with him reliving the journey over and over again. Does it change? Does he go through the same process every time, or does he find new people to draw into Mid-World on his journey? Has it happened since the beginning of time, or is this his first time reliving the journey? Does he always complete it, or does he sometimes fail, and if he does fail, does it stop the cycle, or does it begin again, regardless? When word came down that The Dark Tower (the movie) would be a sequel to the series, I was giddy with the idea that we would finally get answers to these questions.

The important part of all that, though, is: Where does Roland’s story begin? Is he limited to this loop, or did he live a life previous to that opening line and the the loop begins when he pursues the man in black across the desert? If the loop is everything Roland experiences directly, then are the events of Wizard and Glass an implanted memory to make him the person he is? If so, then how much of the entire series is true, including the question: Is the Tower even under threat to begin with? If not, then what’s the point of the series and all its interconnected works, other than to support Roland’s own manias?

It seems like a ridiculous waste of energy and pages to say that this is all something that never happened outside of Roland’s memories, but at the same time, King was still two years away from his near-fatal accident that inspired him to finish the series and insert himself into the book. Had he been entertaining the idea of making the series cyclical by then, or did that only come to mind after his accident? That the story comes full circle feels like a direct response to King being a character in the series, but who knows other than King? I’m not asking this rhetorically; has he ever said whether the cyclical nature of the story was always his intention?

(All of this speculation is based on my not remembering all the details of the seventh book, just the broad stroke of how it ends. Maybe these questions will all get answered along the way.)

When I first read this book, I rated it five stars because it felt so powerful. I rated it based on the central story (e.g., not the Dark Tower part of it), but I also rated it out of context with the entire series. I still find the story of Roland and Susan and Alain and Cuthbert to be the best part of the book, though I also see that readers are divided on which volumes they prefer, the personal ones or the ones that advance the mythology. I’m firmly on the personal side of that divide, so Wizard and Glass is still among my favorites of the series.

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