King, Stephen. Wizard and Glass. A Plume Book, 1997. Illustrations by Dave McKean. ISBN 0-452-27917-8
Who can remember the pangs and sweetness of those early years? We remember our first real love no more clearly than the illusions that caused us to rave during a high fever.
About the Story (spoiler-free):
Wizard and Glass is the fourth novel in Stephen King's Dark Tower series. It is mostly a pause in the larger story arc of the series, although (mercifully) it does resolve the cliffhanger ending of its predecessor, The Waste Lands, before launching into a long flashback to the past of Roland of Gilead, the gunslinger and title character of the novel that began what I don't think I'm unfairly describing as an epic saga. Although readers have been given glimpses of Roland's past in the books that came before Wizard and Glass --- The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three, and The Waste Lands --- most of these inspired more questions than they answered. Wizard and Glass begins to provide answers to some of the questions, though far from all. To cut a long story very short, it is the story of Roland's first love, a girl named Susan Delgado whom the young gunslinger meets not long after the trial that earned him his weapons. If you've read The Gunslinger, you know that the ordeal in question is never an easy one, but that Roland wins his guns under even more extreme pressure, and by even more spectacularly violent means than most of his gunslinger peers. (If you haven't read The Gunslinger, that was the very mildest of spoilers, and I'm sorry; please go read the book!) As for the love story at the heart of Wizard and Glass, I wish I could say that the gunslinger's first love was less painful than the test that forced him into the circumstances under which he meets Susan. I can't, of course, and anything else I've tried to write about it is either more convoluted and ill-phrased, or a truly wretched spoiler.
Like all of the longer flashbacks in the other Dark Tower books, Wizard and Glass is narrated in the third person, although ostensibly its story is being told in the first person by Roland to his companions in his quest for the Dark Tower --- Eddie and Susannah and Jake, all from different times in the New York City of our world, which is linked to Roland's in some as yet unexplained way. This enables King to play with perspective in a number of ways that at first don't seem to make sense --- Roland's memory includes many details and thoughts that he could not have known at the time he was a part of the story. The author is well aware of this inconsistency, and during one of the pauses in the story one of the listeners questions the gunslinger about it, yet by the end of Wizard and Glass everyone in Roland's audience, readers included, learns the source of his enigmatic nigh-omniscience. They also learn the origin of his quest for the Dark Tower, a cosmic lynchpin of sorts, a nexus of power that connects all worlds (in particular all those of King's imagination --- more on this later). Questing for the Dark Tower has cost Roland many lovers and friends, including some of the most engaging characters of Wizard and Glass, and he tells his new companions of his past as if to warn them of the risks of joining his quest... and becoming his friend. Yet at the end, all of Roland's companions prove true, and they continue on together. The Tower, believed by many in Roland's world to be only a myth, is an obsession to the gunslinger and his friends, not to mention readers of their story.
More about the book:
In his Afterword to Wizard and Glass, Stephen King notes that he was somewhat reluctant to approach writing this chapter of the Dark Tower saga. He notes that he began the series as a young man, but by the time he came to revisit Roland's coming of age in greater depth, more than fifteen years had passed, and in that time he'd accumulated so much life experience that he felt hard-pressed to evoke the strong emotions of adolescence. Eventually he found inspiration by remembering the younger self that wrote the earliest chapters of Roland's story --- he describes it almost as if he took dictation from that memory, which I thought was interesting enough to share.
Fans of King's post-apocalyptic novel The Stand should note that parts of Wizard and Glass actually take place in the world of The Stand and even briefly parallel its action here and there. Again in the Afterword to Wizard and Glass, though also in various interviews and other writings, the author has remarked that the world of The Dark Tower somehow encompasses all worlds, although (as mentioned previously) especially all those he has written about in his books. Part of me thinks such statements are ambitious almost to the point of sounding silly, but other parts of me --- the parts that get most swept away by reading the Dark Tower series --- think this sounds exactly right. Either way, I think it's safe to say that in Roland's world, all stories are true (apologies to Alan Moore).
Finally, (and speaking of stories of epic proportion that reinvent mythic images), fans of the Sandman graphic novels might be interested in the Plume trade paperback edition of Wizard and Glass, if only for its illustrations, created by Sandman cover artist Dave McKean. They're gorgeous, haunting, and dreamlike --- oddly distorted and viewed from multiple perspectives simultaneously, not unlike memories told and reimagined by a captive audience. Come to think of it, McKean's illustrations aptly capture the shift from Roland's first-person story to his listeners' (and readers') third-person vision of what must have happened. Neat.
This concludes the "objective"/analytical portion of this writeup/review. What follows is my personal opinion and feelings about the book, as well as a few quotes that illustrate my point (though, really, you should read the book).
True love, like any other strong and addicting drug, is boring --- once the tale of encounter and discovery is told, kisses quickly grow stale and caresses tiresome.... except, of course, to those who share the kisses, who give and take the caresses while
every sound and color of the world seems to deepen and brighten around them. As with any other strong drug, true first love is really only interesting to those who have become its prisoners.
And, as is true of any other strong and addicting drug, true first love is dangerous.
For me, Wizard and Glass is a hard read, one that inevitably fills me with feelings of regret and loss. If you've ever loved someone you shouldn't have and suffered the consequences, ever been in love with a passion that overrode all other thoughts and emotions, overrode reason and reasonableness, if you've ever been drawn to someone even though both of you knew it was wrong, and if worst of all this love was your first love, a teenage love, full of all the mood swings of adolescence, then you're starting to get an idea about the emotions evoked in this book. There's far more than that, of course, but it's the love story that broke my heart on my first reading, and becomes if anything more painful every time I reread Wizard and Glass. Time and again, I find myself hoping against hope with the young lovers of Roland's memory, even though I know their story cannot end well --- even though it ends far more horribly than I could have imagined. On my most recent rereading, I found myself almost wishing I could put the book down and spare myself the agony, but Wizard and Glass makes for compulsive reading, and in the end I was filled with relief and --- almost --- closure when I finished it. There's not many books that exercise this much power over me, but Wizard and Glass kicks my ass every time, and that's saying something.
Roland looked up and saw Susan sitting in her window, a bright vision in the gray light of that fall morning. His heart leaped up and although he didn't know it then, it was how he would remember her most clearly forever after --- lovely Susan, the girl at the window. So do we pass the ghosts that haunt us later in
our lives; they sit undramatically by the roadside like poor beggars, and we see them only from the corners of our eyes, if we see them at all. The idea that they have been waiting there for us rarely if ever crosses our minds. Yet they do wait, and when we have passed, they gather up their bundles of memory and fall in behind, treading in our footsteps and catching up, little by little.
All centered, italicized quotes from Wizard and Glass. Node Your Library.