The Dark Tower – Part II

February 3, 2011 at 10:43 pm (Dark Tower, Literature, Stephen King)

As I’ve stated in my previous entry, Roland isn’t a very likeable and also a very enigmatic character when we meet him in The Gunslinger. After his long palaver with the Man in Black (who calls himself Walter) and a long sleep, he awakens at the Western Sea, and this is where Volume II, The Drawing of the Three, picks up. Roland is confronted with lobster-like monsters, the lobstrosities, who seem to consider him rather tasty since they decide to munch on the fingers of his right hand and also on his foot. This happens pretty early in the book – again, I was shocked. How could King do that to his hero? How could he rob him of his right hand – well, part of it – that he needed for drawing his gun, for shooting? How could he leave him on that beach slowly dying of the poison the lobstrosities’ bite had injected into his wounds? It is here that Roland finds the first of three doors that lead him to another world in which he draws his first companion, Eddie Dean, a junkie on his way to deliver some drugs. The beginning of this chapter, entitled “The Prisoner”, made for some tiresome reading and I had to put the book away for months – I had finished The Gunslinger in April or May 2010, had started right away with The Drawing of the Three and found that, after about 120 pages, I could go no further. So the book rested on the shelf until October. Then I decided to give it another shot – and I was hooked. Completely hooked and instantly addicted to the Tower. I won’t go into much detail here; it becomes clear pretty soon that Eddie, when not on drugs, has the abilities of a gunslinger. So does Odetta Holmes, a black woman bound to a wheelchair after she has lost her legs in a gruesome accident. Odetta is a divided personality – within her, there also lurks Detta Walker, a foul-mouthed bitch and a troublemaker. By stepping through the third door and encountering Jack Mort, the man who likes to kill people by pushing them on, say, railways and by defeating him, Roland frees Odetta of her split personality and she becomes Susannah.

The chapter about Mort is probably the best in the entire book, and I knew I had to read the next volume as soon as possible. As it turned out, The Waste Lands was even better. It shows us how Roland, Eddie and Susannah slowly become ka-tet – you might also call it a fellowship -, how Eddie and Susannah improve their gunslinger qualities and how their love blooms. This volume also features Jake, the boy who has died before. By pushing Mort in front of a train, Roland has prevented him from killing Jake (who has been pushed in front of a car by Mort), thus creating a paradox which King has solved in a brilliant way. I loved that part, I couldn’t put down the book – not for the love of God would I have wanted to miss this. Drawing Jake to Mid-World turns out to be quite difficult – Susannah has to distract a demon by having sex with it (is there any King book out there without at least one sex scene?). And then we’re headed for Lud. The description of the ruined city and its inhabitants is stunning and I think it’s among the finest works King has ever written.  The book ends with a massive cliffhanger – after having escaped the lunatic Tick-Tock-Man and after having found Blaine the Mono (who’s even more of a lunatic, as it turns out), the ka-tet, now complete and accompanied by a billy-bumbler named Oy, can finally resume the journey towards the Dark Tower.

However, they have to beat Blaine first. The crazy train (Ozzy Osbourne, anyone?) is very fond of riddles and requires a contest – if the ka-tet can confront him with a riddle he cannot solve, he won’t crash at the end of the journey, killing them all. And off we go to Volume IV, Wizard & Glass – the most tiresome book in the whole series, as far as I am concerned. The first 100 pages are excellent even though the riddling contest grows a bit tiresome after a while. There are allusions to “The Stand”, our heroes find themselves in yet another devasted, ruined land. It is here that Roland tells his companions the tale of Susan, the only woman he ever loved. And this is where the book becomes really, really tiresome. I don’t mind flashbacks – not at all. But 600 pages? Dear Mr. King – that’s way too much. Especially since the flashback only covers a couple of month, telling us the story of how Roland and his best friends Cuthbert and Alain reach the small town of Mejis where they uncover great evil and where Roland falls in love with Susan Delgado.

I was prepared to hate Susan, simply because a dear friend who has read the books a couple of times and on whose opinion I can rely had told me that Susan was some kind of Miss Perfect. I didn’t think so. She’s a teenager, ready to sell herself to the town’s mayor in order to retrieve her father’s lands that have been stolen from her. I think Susan Delgado is one of the most tragic characters in the whole series. She’s doomed from the beginning. As soon as she encounters the witch Rhea, her fate is sealed. Having read The Gunslinger, I knew that Susan would die and this didn’t improve the book much. It seemed pointless to read 600 pages of flashback already knowing the outcome. The main grudge I hold against Wizard & Glass is that Roland and his friends, although still kids, don’t behave like teenagers. King stresses over and over again that they are very young and inexperienced, yet they manage to not only discern the schemes woven by the bad guys. They also manage to kill all of them – and there are plenty – in a short, brutal fight. Not very convincing, if you ask me, even for trained gunslingers, but what the heck.

The flashback is necessary – no question about that. We learn more about Roland, we learn how he has become what he is, and we learn why he sets out to search for the Dark Tower. We also learn about the tragedies overshadowing his beginning quest – Susan’s gruesome death (gosh, that was heartbreaking!), his mother’s death at his own hand because magic had deceived him into believing that the witch Rhea, responsible for Susan’s death, was facing him. No wonder the guy is traumatized, eh?

Wizard & Glass ends with the ka-tet reaching the green glass palace where they encounter an old acquaintance – here comes Randall Flagg, villain of “The Stand”. At that point I began to doubt King’s intentions. Granted, it’s quite amusing to have references to his other books here and there, but introducing Flagg was a bit over the top especially since the ka-tet escaped him by way of deus ex machina. I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the book; it dragged along, was quite repetetive and, to some degree, pointless insofar as the flashback could have been told in a much, much shorter fashion.

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