Wizard & Glass:
This week, for the first time, our entire reading took place in Roland’s past and the rest of the Ka-Tet are nowhere to be seen. Instead, we meet Roland’s old friends, the ones we’ve only read about in vague fragments over the course of the last three books. Cuthbert, Alain, and of course Susan, the girl at the window.
But the main characters aren’t the only thing that have been replaced. The entire world the story takes place in has been flipped upside down (or perhaps it’s more accurate to say it has been flipped right-side up). After spending 1,500 pages in a world that’s moved on, we suddenly find ourselves in a functioning society. We’ve been given brief tastes of what Roland’s now-lost civilization was like before in the gunslinger’s tales of Hax and Cort and his parents, but the wealthy, tradition-bound trappings of Gilead always seemed coated in a veneer of fantasy.
Hambry, on the other hand, finally feels familiar. Maybe not familiar in the real-world way the 20th century New York scenes feel, but in the way that we’re familiar with a detective gathering suspects in the library to reveal who dunnit, or a wiseguy getting whacked in a mafia movie. As a culture we’ve ingested countless hours of Wild West media so even though none of us were alive to see it, we already know the landscape. We’ve been to a thousand versions of the Traveler’s Rest, met a thousand iterations of Sheriff Avery, and seen a thousand different Big Coffin Hunters. For the first time since Tull, this Western finds itself back in the west and we finally feel at home.
“Is it a Western?” Jake asked suddenly.
Roland looked at him, puzzled. “I don’t take your meaning, Jake. Gilead is a Barony of the Western World, yes, and Mejis as well, but—”
“It’ll be a Western,” Eddie said. “All Roland’s stories are, when you get right down to it.”Wizard & Glass, p. 128-129
But the biggest change to the storytelling here is the sudden importance of time. Up until now, the concept of time has been elusive and malleable. Time, after all, is a face on the water, and in the Mid-World that the New Yorkers experience, it’s not reliable at all. When Jake is drawn from Dutch Hill, he notes that his wristwatch starts running backward and with no consistency. It’s impossible to tell whether Roland is 50 or 500 years old, or how long any given night might last.
In Mejis though, back when Roland was young, time still had meaning. The complex plot of this novel is closely tied with the calendar; the young gunslingers-in-disguise are scheduled to stay at the Bar K for three months, Kissing Moon, Peddler’s Moon, and Huntress Moon. Everyone’s making plans and scheduling meetings in this story, strategizing in longer terms than we’ve seen any character do in the entire series so far. Up until now, none of them have had much time to stay in one place for three months, let alone plan that far ahead. Time actually matters in this book, in a way it never has before.
And along with time comes age. Not only does King focus on the age of each character he describes, but he has structured the whole story as a game of Castles between a young gunslinger and an old gunslinger; a gang of kids up against a gang of adults. Of course he touched on these themes in the previous book, but the King who wrote about the Grays and the Pubes had a far more nihilistic (and let’s be real, coked-out) perspective than the King who wrote this romantic tale of young love six years later.
Whether it’s his descriptions of Rhea, or Susan’s fixation on Hart Thorin’s cracking knuckles, King paints the elderly antagonists as repulsive creatures. And it would seem every adult in town is conspiring against our young heroes. Everything bad in this novel, even the oil derricks, are old; everything good, primarily Susan, is full of vibrant youth and beauty.
The old woman’d horrible smile made Susan think of the way eels sometimes seemed to grin, after death and just before the pot.Wizard & Glass, p. 163
This book was published two weeks after King’s fiftieth birthday, and I have to wonder if maybe he was so interested in writing about age in this book because he was having an existential crisis about his own. Recently sober and finding himself halfway to a hundred, looking down the barrel of a mid-life crisis, perhaps he wrote this epic tale of young love as a celebration of the youth he was leaving behind. Perhaps Rhea, Jonas, Thorin and the other adults are portrayed so abhorrently because they were all the things King didn’t want to become in his old age.
Unfortunately, if that is the case, then King clearly came to the pessimistic but pragmatic conclusion that there is no defeating age. Even if the teens win the day over the adults, as Roland’s tet does over Jonas’s, there is no escaping time, there is no escaping age, and there is no escaping death. It is inevitable, and despite the gunslingers’ victory over their enemies, the very symbol of youth is still burned alive and there’s nothing they can do about it.
Whether this was King’s intention or not, Wizard & Glass is a sobering reminder of our own mortality. It’s a love letter to the beauty of youth and a harsh lesson about the impermanence of that beauty. Just like Ka, getting old isn’t something you can avoid; it comes like the wind. The best we can do is try to stay in the moment and enjoy the breeze.