Wizard & Glass:
In Rush’s 1981 song “Freewill” lead singer Geddy Lee belts out Neil Peart’s lyrics: You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice. If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice. You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill. I will choose a path that’s clear, I will choose free will. King doesn’t write this song into the story, as he does with ZZ Top’s “Velcro Fly” in The Waste Lands, nor does he begin the novel by quoting this song as he does with Bad Company’s namesake single in the final book. Yet “Freewill” never fails to make me think of Wizard & Glass, and not just because Roland’s horse is named Rusher.
The above refrain is just a more poetic phrasing of what Susan remembers her father telling her: “‘There’s three things ye can do in any situation, girl… Ye can can decide to do a thing, ye can decide not to do a thing… or you can decide not to decide.’ That last, her da had never quite come out and said (he hadn’t needed to) was the choice of weaklings and fools.” (p. 280). And yet this week we have watched Susan do just that. She sees the cyclone of ka coming a mile away and can either evacuate the area, or take shelter in the cellar and batten down the hatches. But she can’t make a decision, standing there dumbstruck as the cyclone bears down on her.
If it’s ka, it’ll come like a wind, and your plans will stand before it no mo0re than a barn before a cyclone.– Wizard & Glass, p. 206
She and Roland really were made for each other because he’s the same way, both in his metaphorical game of Castles with Jonas, and in his courtship with Susan, demonstrating that navigating romance can be just as dangerous as espionage and subterfuge. Neither of them are willing to take the risk or responsibility of making a move, of “breaking cover.” For a guy who told a girl he loves her the third time they met, he somehow has issues with commitment.
“If you love me, love me” Susan tells him, “make me break my promise.” (p. 406). She’s challenging him to make the decision for her. Later he plays the exact same card on top of hers, challenging her to say the same thing again and give him another chance. “Say it again and I will, Susan. I don’t know if that’s a promise or a warning or both at the same time, but… say it again and I will.” (p. 422). It’s their own lover’s version of the stand-off in the Traveler’s Rest.
For the first time in her life she had actually felt ka, a wind that came not from the sky but from the earth. It has come to me, after all, she thought. My ka for good or ill.– Wizard & Glass, p. 422
At that point, when they have both passed on the chance to decide for themselves, ka decides for them, which brings us back to a question I seem to keep returning to on this blog, and which many of you seem to enjoy discussing: what the fuck even is ka? Is it fate or chance? Destiny or luck? It’s a wind; it’s a wheel; it’s shit. All of the above? None of the above? Both? To say the definition is elusive is an understatement, and I am left wondering if it actually means nothing. What if the true definition for ka is not fate or chance, but just an excuse for indecision.
Had they made a decision to do the deed earlier, they might have been able to plan their tryst more carefully, and plan their escape from Hambry better. But instead, they waited until their hearts (and hormones) boiled over and made the choice for them. Before, Susan was more clear-headed and could sense when Rhea was spying on them, but now she is completely unaware of the witch’s prying eyes while in the throes of passion. Then, after they’ve finished putting on a show for Rhea, this loss of self-control manifests quite literally when she performs the post-hypnotic suggestion the witch implanted in her subconscious. For a brief moment, her actions are not her own. By deciding not to decide, she has unwittingly surrendered her agency altogether.
Is it possible that Roland believes in ka simply because it’s easier than taking responsibility for what happened to Susan, or Allie, or Jake, or his mother? Is it a crutch he leans on when he doesn’t know what to do, or is too scared to do it? Is Ka really just “the choice of weaklings and fools”? I don’t know. And because it’s impossible to foresee the ripple effects of every decision we make, it’s impossible to know for certain, in any given situation, whether choosing not to choose is weak or wise. Personally, I think I tend to agree with Pat Delgado and Rush: I will choose a path that’s clear, I will choose free will.
One thought on “Is Ka Just Code For Cowardice?”
When Roland choose to let Jake die, what was Ka ? If Roland blame himself for it, does it mean that it’s not Ka but Roland himself who is at fault ? How letting Jake dies is any different from any other decision people made ?
How can any character know the difference between a Ka decision and their own decision ?
They can’t. They bullshitting.
Every time any character say Ka, like it was explaining anything, I translate Ka by “I don’t know shit but I won’t admit it”.
They all looks like stubborn fools but everything is clearer that way.
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