Act Your Age: How The Dark Tower Can Help Us Live In The Present

Wizard & Glass:
Interlude &
Part Three –

We began this week’s chapters with the Interlude, a break from the story of Mejis that comes dead center in the middle of the book (page 509 of 1018 on my new Kindle). It also happens to occur right after Susan and Roland have finally consummated their love, and she has lost her virginity. Now I know Stephen King says he doesn’t outline his stories, but this sort of thing doesn’t just happen by accident. The novel is split into two even halves: before and after sex, childhood and adulthood.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the importance of age in Wizard & Glass, and its depiction of the war between the old and the young. Now, as the two young lovers come of age (pun definitely intended) and enter the second half of the book, no longer children but adults, we see a role reversal begin to take place.

Whereas Roland and Susan were brimming with youth in the first half , now Roland’s back “crackles” when he stretches in the morning, repulsing Alain just like Susan is repulsed by the popping joints of a certain Mayor (p. 588). And Susan, feeling like a grown-up, is finally bold enough to stand up to Aunt Cordelia and demand to be treated with respect. Even the frequency of their lovemaking has cooled with time.

”I’m old enough for ye to keep a civil tongue when ye speak to me.”

– Susan Delgado, Wizard & Glass, p. 553

Conversely, as Reaptide approaches, the adults in Hambry all seem to be acting like children. Roland’s foil, Jonas, channels his inner juvenile delinquent when he trashes the young gunslingers’ bunkhouse, even imitating the local youngsters by cutting off a dog’s tail and leaving it at the crime scene. But this trig ploy is not the only way Jonas is regressing. His libido begins to rev up and he and Coral start going to town on each other like a couple of horned-up teenagers.

Meanwhile Susan’s Aunt is also behaving like she’s a young maiden again, flirting with and fretting over Jonas, titillated by the idea of them being seen in public together, too naive and blind to see that he’s playing her.

Though she might look older than ever, even Rhea is acting like a thirteen-year-old with a PornHub Premium Subscription, holed up in her room and masturbating all day. The only differences are that she gazes into the Grapefruit instead of a screen, and I don’t think there are many thirteen-year-olds out there using mutant snakes as sex toys (but then again, who knows with kids these days? I’ve seen Euphoria).

The motif of playing Castles echoes again here as well (it’s not subtle; Chapter 3 is titled “Playing Castles”). In the board game Roland and Jonas keep referring to, we know there’s a maneuver called “castling”, which must be timed perfectly as it can change the whole dynamic and momentum of the endgame. Of course, King never explicitly defines the rules of Castles, or explains exactly what it means to “castle,” but we can look to the game’s Keystone Earth equivalent for the answer. There is also a maneuver called “castling” in chess, by which a player’s king and rook can rally and swap positions. Perhaps this recent role-reversal between young and old is it’s own kind of castling—a swapping of maturities—that dramatically changes the endgame of this story.

He looked back at the board and moved a man around to the side of his Hillock. He had begun to Castle, and was thus vulnerable…

Wizard & Glass, p. 550

If so, how does such a maneuver affect the pieces on the board? We know things don’t work out great for dear Susan; Jonas certainly ends up being a loser; Roland beats Jonas, but after everything he goes through he’s not exactly winning either; Cordelia Delgado drops dead right after inciting a mob and murdering her niece. Only Rhea escapes mostly unscathed, but that’s an oversight Roland eventually corrects, so she only delays her own defeat. None of them come out on top.

The second half of the book is when everything starts to fall apart for everyone. I know you’ll say that this is Ka, and it all would have turned to shit no matter what, but what if everyone had just accepted their stage in life and didn’t resort to these desperate attempts to wind the clock forward or backward? We can only speculate as to how that might have changed things, if it would have at all, but it seems to me that these characters might have met happier endings had the teenagers been allowed to be teenagers, and the adults acted like adults.

As a new father, I find myself comparing my age to my daughter’s, and as wonderful as she is there’s no denying she makes me feel as old as hell. She makes me feel so old in fact, it can send me into an existential tailspin of I think about it too much, freaking out about mortality and how the years seem to be flying by. I take this week’s reading as a helpful reminder to not worry so much about how old I am, how young I used to be, or how fast my daughter is growing up. Hopefully, the next time I start feeling anxious about getting old, I’ll remember that it’s not worth trying to castle, and I’ll just make the most of my current spot on the board.

Next Week’s Reading
Wizard & Glass:
Part Two

Published by Joe Rechtman

Screenwriter/watcher. Constant Reader & Dark Tower Junkie.

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