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The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass

The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass

The Dark Tower III: The Wastelands ended on kind of a downer for me (you can read about that here). Not a “downer” in the sense that it was a depressing ending, but that the story stopped on a cliffhanger. Even though I knew I had to wait just a few weeks to start Wizard and Glass after having to order it from another library branch, it still seemed like sort of a let down that the book didn’t end conclusively.

But now I see why King broke up the story that way.

Wizard and Glass is primarily a flashback tale, revealing in great detail one of the pivotal moments in Roland the Gunslinger’s life. The book begins at the exact second The Waste Lands ends, with our heroes racing towards an almost certain doom. Suffice it to say, Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake and Oy survive that adventure and find themselves in a modified version of The Stand, where the deadly “Captain Tripps” flu virus has killed off the entire population. However, the terrain is slightly modified to accomadate certain fluctuations of Roland’s Mid-World universe. It’s in this alternate Kansas where Roland sits his companions down to hear the tale of how he met the love of his life.

I haven’t been reading the book flaps of the Dark Tower books, so I had no idea what Wizard and Glass was going to be about before I began it. When the flashback story began (on page 113 of the edition I read), I thought that was fine, but was shocked when I discovered that Roland’s story was to last nearly 500 pages. Since the book grinds the main story of the quest for the Dark Tower to a halt, it’s good that it at least began on a nice action sequence since that’s the only real forward momentum the book has, both figuratively and literally.

The flashback tale of Roland and Susan is a difficult one. On the one hand, it feels as though way too much time is devoted to it, but on the other hand, I wouldn’t know what to cut out of it — and in that regard it’s much like Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. In addition to the love story, which develops gradually and realisticly from a simple physical attraction to a deep emotional bonding, King also spends much time exploring Mid-World in the days leading up to the war against the Good Man, John Farson. We learn as much about Roland as we do the universe he lives in.

What’s most troubling about this flashback tale, though, is that it’s all fairly predictable, even as far as the main characters mapping out a plan of action and then following through with it almost verbatim. There’s a few tense moments when the plan goes momentarily off-course here and there, but the ending is nothing terribly surprising. The only thing I didn’t accurately predict halfway through the book is that there’s far less dead characters at the end than I thought there would be.

Wizard and Glass also bears several of King’s common trademarks, including the shining-esque “touch” and deadly mists. Finally, the book ends with an appearance by Randall Flagg from The Stand. When Randall shows up, I had a flash to my darkest fear at how the entire Dark Tower saga would end. Peeking at a copy of the final book at Target the other week would seem to confirm that fear will play out, but I won’t go into details until I do read the concluding installment.

But I don’t want to be totally harsh on Wizard and Glass because overall I did enjoy it. Like Roland, I was particularly taken with Susan. Her storyline about becoming the Mayor’s concubine and her adverse relationship with her crotchety spinster aunt was especially compelling. King does such a great job developing her conflicted soul, it’s almost a terrible shame she doesn’t appear in the rest of the saga. But, I guess that’s the point of the novel.

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