Wizard & Glass:
2.i-End of Book
*This post contains full series spoilers
This blog post is my twenty-sixth weekly reading, which means we are halfway through the year and halfway through the series. Despite the wildly varying lengths of the eight novels—steadily increasing in size for the first four volumes, and yo-yo-ing between three hundred-page books and seven hundred-page tomes in the back four—it’s a bit miraculous that the end of Wizard & Glass is both the midpoint of the story and the midpoint of the series, give or take a few thousand words. I sometimes I wonder if King wrote The Wind Through The Keyhole just to balance the scales and make the two halves of the series more symmetrical, like “a man who might straighten bad pictures in strange hotel rooms. (The Gunslinger, Chapter 1.i).
The series is also cleaved in two by King’s accident, with the first four written before it and the last four after. Though the accident doesn’t happen until the final book in the story, in real life it took place smack dab in between books four and five, right in the middle of the series. It’s clear that the event changed King—he’s written and spoken about it himself plenty of times—and the tone of the books reflect that, providing two clearly defined halves of a whole story.
I, for one, appreciate the change in atmosphere. As a screenwriter, this kind of perfectly structured midpoint shift really floats my S.S. Georgie. I love it when a movie completely changes course halfway through (From Dusk Till Dawn is perhaps the most obvious example, but some other favorites include films like Sleuth or Sunshine), and I’m constantly trying to pull off similar things in my own scripts. To me, the midpoint of a story isn’t just the transition between “rising action” and “falling action,” as I was taught in film school; it’s an opportunity to make a narrative U-turn. You can change the tone and pacing as King does with these books; you can change the perspective a la Gone Girl; you can even change genres (did I mention From Dusk Till Dawn?). The midpoint is a chance for the writer to pause, reflect on the story he’s telling, and decide how he wants to finish it.
And here in this week’s chapters, King offers his own characters the same chance. Halfway through the series, our old friend Randall Flagg invites Roland and his ka-tet to “cry off. Turn from the Tower and go your way.” (p. 980). If they would only heed Flagg’s warning they could make the rest of their story whatever they want it to be. This is a chance to change their ka, to change their fate, and maybe turn a tragic ending into a happy one.
”Things could get easier, though. You and your friends could have a fine, fruitful life—and, as Jake would say, that is the truth. No more lobstrosities, no more mad trains, no more disquieting—not to mention dangerous—trips to other worlds. All you have to do is give over this stupid and hopeless quest for the Tower.”– Randall Flagg, Wizard & Glass, p. 981
Of course, we know Flagg to be a villain and we know Roland and the other gunslingers to be true, but let’s examine that knowledge for a moment. If the midpoint is an opportunity for the writer to rethink their story, let’s do the same. Now that we are halfway through the series, let’s change our perception—just as an experiment—of who the villains and good guys really are.
Is it at all possible that Flagg is actually trying to help Roland? Upon rereading, knowing what awaits the gunslinger atop the Tower, I find myself wishing he would just take the Wizard at his word and cry off. But Flagg only wants him to give up his quest so that he can finish his work of bringing the Tower down, you’re probably saying. But would the Tower falling really be so bad? The only reason we believe it would be is because Roland says so, and he only believes so because he saw it in the grapefruit, a source we know to be dubious and misleading.
Meanwhile, the New Yorkers, who are supposed to be Roland’s friends, don’t necessarily seem to have his best interests at heart. Yes, they forgive him for what he did to Susan, and are supportive when they learn how he killed his mother, but they also do something quite harmful in this week’s reading, perhaps the most harmful thing you can do to a tower junkie like Roland: they enable him.
When Flagg warns them to cry off from the tower, they all immediately tell him “no.” But Roland does not answer right away, he hesitates. Later he says that “what Flagg suggests is not bad advice” and admits that he has “found something more important than the Tower” (p. 1003). But his friends won’t even let him entertain the idea. He has finally begun to question the idea of ka and his obsession with the Tower, only to have his so-called friends encourage him to keep going.
The encounter with Flagg in the glass palace is almost like an intervention for Roland (something King had already experienced himself). Flagg is trying to force Roland into confronting his addiction. He even uses the grapefruit and the memories of what it made Roland do to the two women in his life, as evidence of how harmful his obsession can be, reminding him of how bad it is at rock bottom. Unfortunately, the New Yorkers have become just as addicted to seeking the tower as Roland is, and they undermine this intervention by blaming all of Roland’s problems on ka, just like he taught them to. Then they partake in the hypnotic drug of the grapefruit together, travelling on the pink storm as ka-tet.
“We’ve changed,” Eddie said. “We . . .” Now he was the one who didn’t know how to go on. How to express his need to see the Tower . . . and his other need, just as strong, to go on carrying the gun with the sandalwood insets.– Wizard and Glass, p. 1004
If the ka-tet is pushing Roland to embrace his addiction while Flagg is trying to help him quit, how can we truly call them heroes and him a villain? How can you argue that it’s not the other way around? We are halfway through the cycle of these novels, and I suddenly find myself wondering if I’ve been rooting for the wrong people all along.
“The good guys really being bad guys” is not an unprecedented scenario in this story, either; the war between Farson and the Affiliation is thick with ambiguity. Now it seems that the same ambiguity has spread to the New Yorkers and Flagg, and if their positions as heroes and villain are called into question then why not that the Crimson King as well? Why not Maturin, the titular cosmic turtle of this blog? Is it not possible that the turtle is actually the true Big Bad of these books? After all, when Roland first looked into the glass, it was the voice of the turtle he heard.