Wizard & Glass
Part One: 4.iii-5.xvi
& Part Two: 1.i-2.v
Wizard & Glass is my favorite Dark Tower book. It’s my favorite Stephen King book, and it may very well be my favorite book. I have read it many times. Every time I read it, I become swept up in the romance and the tragedy and it always leaves me hollow and heartbroken for Roland. All his past trauma is laid bare in the nested story of the girl in the window, and by the end of each reading I find myself filled with sympathy for a protagonist who started the story performing forced abortions and shooting children in the head.
On this reading, however, as Roland has just begun telling his story and Susan has proved honest, I find myself asking a question that I honestly can’t believe I’ve never considered: is Roland a reliable narrator?
What if the whole story of Susan and Mejis is made up?
Now, I want to be clear: I’m not saying that this is definitely the case. I’m just saying that I used to blindly take the gunslinger’s story as gospel, but now this week’s chapter’s have me wondering… Could Roland just be a liar? I don’t want to believe that, but once the idea occurred to me, I couldn’t stop turning it over in my mind like an unsolved riddle. So let’s break it down.
First, you must be asking: why would he lie? Why would he stay up all night telling a bullshit story to his only friends? To make himself seem more sympathetic of course. As I said, this story never fails to make me feel sorry for the poor bastard, and I’m not the only one. Eddie, Susannah, and Jake all see a softer, more vulnerable side of Roland after he’s told his tale, and I think it’s fair to say that hearing their Dinh’s story strengthens their bond to him. But what if that’s only because that’s what Roland wants them—and what King wants us—to feel?
Roland looked touched, almost shaken, and Eddie wondered how he ever could have thought this man an emotionless robot. Roland might be a little short on imagination, but he had feelings alright.Wizard & Glass, p. 133
Maybe after their encounter with Blaine, who I’ve previously pointed out is a foil for Roland, the gunslinger became worried that his companions would notice he’s just as inhuman and dangerous as the train. In this week’s chapters Eddie has a dream in which Roland—somehow playing the role of Engineer Bob—is operating a Charlie The Choo-Choo bulldozer, further linking him and Blaine. Eddie interprets the dream to mean he still doesn’t fully trust Roland, but Roland insists that’s a bunch of “ology-of-the-psyche” nonsense. He tells the tet someone is putting those dreams in Eddie’s head to mess with him (a trick a certain R.F. has been using for the past few weeks over on CBS All Access).
But they have acted on Eddie and Jake’s prophetic dreams in the past, and they’ve turned out to be nothing but helpful so far. Only when Eddie’s trust in Roland is called into question does the gunslinger become skeptical about the validity of dreams.
“Dreams either mean nothing or everything—and when they mean everything, they almost always come as messages from… well, from other levels of the Tower.” He gazed at Eddie shrewdly. “And not all messages are sent by friends.”Roland Deschain, Wizard & Glass, p. 133
With our knowledge of the final book, and what happens to Eddie and Jake, there’s an argument to be made that Eddie’s intuition in this dream turns out to be fairly accurate. And thanks to Khef, if Eddie is starting to mistrust Roland, the others would no doubt be picking up on the vibe too. Maybe the gunslinger sees the writing on the wall and decides to head off potential desertion—or maybe even a mutiny—by fabricating a story designed to make it seem like he’s not a bad guy after all.
Of course, the gunslinger is beset with memories of Mejis before Eddie has his Engineer Roland dream. He has his first dizzy spell standing atop Blaine’s carcass, and he seems lost in the fog of his past the whole time the Ka-Tet is turnpikin’. Unfortunately though, that doesn’t necessarily mean Roland isn’t lying. He could have suspected Eddie and the others might lose faith in him from the moment they turned the tables on Blaine. After all, the success of Eddie’s “bad” riddles proved that Roland had led them in the wrong direction, and almost immediately after the crash he is crying Eddie’s pardon.
As for whispering Susan’s name all disoriented and moody, if I’m arguing that he’s a liar then it’s just as easy to argue that his distant dreaminess is just an act. Maybe his dizzy spells are yet another ploy to appear vulnerable and build sympathy for himself. He even asks for another day to put his thoughts together, but he could just as easily be using the extra time to make up the story.
“Would you think I was cozening,” he said, “if I asked for one more day to think of these things?”Roland Deschain, Wizard & Glass, p. 127-128
Maybe parts of the story are true. Maybe there really was a Susan and maybe Roland really did love her, and maybe their relationship did end in tragedy, but I think it’s also entirely possible that Roland is polishing some (or most) of the facts to make himself look better in the eyes of his current companions, to make him seem like more of a victim than maybe he really was.
If you don’t think Roland isn’t capable of doing something like this, you haven’t been paying attention. Roland said it himself this very week: “you must watch me all the same. I bear watching, as you well know.” (p. 133). Eddie replies by assuring Roland that he does trust him, which is exactly what the gunslinger wants. What better way to get someone to trust you than to be honest about being untrustworthy?
This exchange is particularly significant—here’s where this theory really goes down the rabbit hole—because it might be our best clue that King intentionally left the credibility of Roland’s story up for grabs. We already know that Roland structures his story around a gaming metaphor, comparing his tet’s and the Big Coffin Hunters’ maneuvers with the Mid-World equivalent of chess, called “castles.” Of course the other game that plays a large role in this tale is the Mid-World equivalent of poker: that’s right, “watch me.” Is it possible that Roland’s reminder that he bears watching is actually a subtle hint that this supernaturally long night of storytelling along I-70 is just one big bluff?
For now, I don’t think there’s enough evidence to definitively say one way or the other whether Roland’s story is true. I hope it is; if it’s not, this book will end up breaking my heart in a whole new way. I’ll be reading carefully over the next few months, looking for any further clues that might prove the gunslinger onnest…or disonnest.