Wizard & Glass
When I started this blog, I tried to frame it not as a celebration of just the The Dark Tower novels, or of just Stephen King, but a celebration of storytelling itself. I chose to focus that idea through the lens of The Dark Tower because the power of narrative is a central theme of the series, and…well, because it just so happens to be my favorite story of all time. I have a very intimate relationship with these books, and in a way (I’m sure Roland would call it ka) it wouldn’t make sense for me to write about anything else.
But that’s me. If I were someone else, this blog might be about Wheel of Time (never read it, don’t @ me), or I might be sitting here churning out Jane Austen expanded universe content. I connected with The Dark Tower on a deeply personal level. My journey to the Tower belonged to me, and me alone. Yet at the same time, there are millions of other Constant Readers who have their own relationship with these books too.
I’ve written before about Sai King’s belief that stories are magic, and how he literalizes that magic in this series, imbuing palavers and flashbacks with a mystical energy. The personal relationship we feel with our favorite stories is part of that magic and it belongs to us. However, when a story becomes beloved by the masses as The Dark Tower or Wheel of Time or Pride & Prejudice have, the magic is no longer private; it’s shared with the other fans.
Not that that’s a bad thing. Up until this year, I found life as a Dark Tower fan extremely lonely. Of my very few friends and family members who have ever read a Dark Tower book, none of them are even a tenth as interested in the series as I am. Since starting this blog, however, I’ve connected with a lot of people that are just as passionate about the Tower as I am. In one of the loneliest years of my life, I sure have found a lot of like-minded friends through our shared love of this saga.
So it does seem like Ka that this week, our nineteenth week of reading, the chapters have provided two iconic scenes, each one illustrating the different ways a story’s magic can manifest: publicly or privately.
First, we witnessed the six man stand-off in the Traveler’s Rest, with Roland and Jonas’s tets lined up to kill each other like chess pieces positioned for a complicated sequence of trades. This is the first scene I picture whenever someone mentions Wizard & Glass, and I know from some of your tweets that I’m not alone there. The story of the Big Coffin Hunters getting out-manned by the unarmed “Affiliation Brats” is so powerful that it isn’t just memorable for the reader, but it instantly becomes a legend within the world of our story.
They talked about it in Hambry for years to come; three decades after the fall of Gilead and the end of the Affiliation, they were still talking. By that time there were better than five hundred old gaffers (and a few old gammers) claiming that they were drinking a beer in the Rest that night, and saw it all.– Wizard & Glass, p. 290
Everybody in town has heard the story within twenty-four hours, and then made it their own, passing it on to others. That story goes public like a company launching an IPO. The story is so exciting and compelling that Pettie the Trotter can’t stop gawking as it all plays out, even though she knows she could be caught in the middle of a dangerous situation. It’s such a powerful story that hundreds of people claim to have been a part of it when they weren’t even there.
After that, we are privy to a scene that works its magic on us just as effectively, but on more intimate terms. The story of Roland and Susan’s first meeting on the Drop, culminating in a passionate and forbidden kiss. Unlike the legendary display in the saloon the night before, this iconic moment is completely private. In fact, much of this scene’s intensity grows from the need for secrecy. Roland and Susan must hide their romance; Roland won’t even tell his ka-tet.
Besides, keeping a lid on their love just makes it all the more steamy. At its heart, this book is largely what Elmer Chambers would call a “bodice-ripper.” It’s the kind of paperback romance novel you find at the supermarket checkout counter, with a fourteen year-old gunslinger’s apprentice on the cover instead of Fabio. The kind of book you’d be embarrassed to read on the bus. There are multiple scenes that still manage to make me blush, between Susan masturbating to the thought of “Will Dearborn” to the upcoming trysts the lovers indulge in.
Part of her wanted him to stay—to stand close to her while the clouds sent their long shadows flying across the grassland—but they had been together out here too long already. There was no reason to think anyone would come along and see them, but instead of comforting her, that idea for some reason made her more nervous than ever.Wizard & Glass, p. 340
The meeting on the Drop is a story shared only by Roland, Susan, and us, the reader. The showdown in the Rest is shared by everyone. Each type of story is powerful in its own way, and each scene has made an impression on the fans. However, while the story of the showdown is a triumph, the story of Roland and the girl at the window is a horrible tragedy. Perhaps if Roland and Susan hadn’t been so secretive, and had publicly disclosed their relationship early on, they could have avoided the Reaptide Festival all together. There would have been fallout of course, but likely no more dangerous than what they face down the road as is. Maybe they didn’t need to be so secretive.
Is it possible that I had made the same mistake? I cherish my own experience with the novels, and nothing can take that away from me, but I also have so enjoyed writing this blog and sharing my thoughts with people who love the same things as I do, and think about storytelling as much as I do. Maybe if I had been more vocal about my passion for these books ten years ago, I would have been introduced to this wonderful community much earlier, and I wouldn’t have spent so long feeling alone in my love for them. Maybe if we all lived our lives more openly and less privately we could turn more of our tragedies into triumphs.