As with the last two Dark Tower novels, this weighty fourth volume offers an "Argument": bringing the reader up to speed on the events-so-far in the series. The opening chapters go over some familiar ground, repeating much of the last chapters of The Wastelands. After the final dealings with with Blaine, the schizoid train (in a thoroughly ingenious and yet somehow obvious showdown), the small band of travellers continue their quest. There's just one problem: they've fallen off the path of the Beam and need to find their way back.
Thus begins this long and complex tale. Throughout his career, King has used epitaphs at the beginnings of his longer works; quotes from other works that illuminate the story further. Here, he puts the device to great effect, taking from tales that not only add enjoyment to this fourth volume, but are imperitive to it.
The tales are Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and The Wizard of Oz. The framing story, that of Roland and his companions' quest back to the Beam, takes almost blantant imagery from the latter work (some of the final scenes are taken directly fromt he filmed version.) The more important story, the story of Roland tells of his first love (and his first loss) takes a less direct approach.
The central story -- of Roland and Susan and the dark, forbidden love they shared -- opens up a new genre to King readers. Thiose who enjoyed Misery know that King has dabbled in romance before, but never so broadly or extensively. Using the Shakespeare play as a backdrop, King creates a passionate and ultimately doomed relationship between two young lovers -- and gives the reader more insight into Roland's character. (In his Afterward, King tells of his fears of writing historical romance; that, as shown by W&G, is a fear he can now put to rest.
Surrounding the central story is a tale of harriers and a dark future, revolving around some suspicious oil reserves; this aspect is slightly less interesting. There's nothing intrisically boring about these dealings (especially the scary scenes involving Rhea of the Coos), but King's real strength relies in the love story. King has a knack at doing this -- making those scenes that are so intense that he could fill a book of them, then spreading them out so the pages between fly. Check out the dog attacks in Cujo
, the psychic flashes in The Dead Zone
, psi activity in Carrie
, Tony sequences in The Shining
, aura scenes in Insomnia, painting scenes (before she steps through) in Rose Madder
, and David's "God things" in Desperation
. The reader waits for them, and when they come the sheer force of King's storytelling bursts from the page. In W&G, it is the hushed and hurried meetings of Roland and Susan -- and if romance can get that intense in King -- I want more.
The paralell of Alain and Cuthbert to Susannah and Eddie are also quite shocking and exciting. Eddie and Cuthbert are jokesters; Alain and Susannah both posess "The Touch" ). The setup of the bookwas well executed: part 1 is the framing story, part 2 is the story within a story, part three finsishes the frame. This same device was used in equal measure in the excellent novella "The Breathing Method." The way the book works (and also while referring to the past DT books), you can see the exact and unmistakable comparisons of Roland's old friends and his new. We do not yet know the ultimate fate of Cuthbert and Alain -- nor those of Susannah and Eddie. But I'll tell you this much: Misery Chastain died in childbirth. And King has been known to kill off major characters before.
Speaking of Susannah's baby: the question is this: demon or human? One would like to think human, if only because of the fact that when Susannah was Odetta, she and Eddie made love first. Maybe the demon rape tainted it, which could lead to shades of character, but a demon birth might be more bloody and more up King's alley. We won't know till we get there.
Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake and Oy have become as much a part of King's legendary "groups" as the Loser's Club in It and the Ad Hoc comittee in The Stand were. With all the foreknowledge of the train sequence -- what with King telling everyone that Eddie saves them beforehand -- it was less enthralling than one may have liked. Still, the dead baby jokes were a stroke of genius, fitting in with Eddie's character perfectly and at the same time staying within plausibility limits. And when they discovered the abandoned newspapers telling of an important King-themed event --King fans around the world went "Wow!". The theories of semi-similar universes back-to-back are no longer theories -- and all bets are off.
The ending sequence is a little bothersome. The reader will enjoy the sly and overt Wizard of Ozreferences (parts of it were so exactly like the filmed version [Oy pulling at the curtain], it was just thisclose to plagarism -- but still great). What isn't so good is the almost rushed aspect of it. Here we have Randall Flagg
(or Russell Faradin, or whomever) -- King's greatest villain, and he does no more than play a role. Almost certainly some later confrontation will ensue -- it almost has to at this point. But this part in itself leaves one a little empty. Same goes for Tick Tock. It seemed as if something major should have happened there, especially seeing as 1. The Quick lineage is important to the story's background; 2)The character is an obvious paralell character to Trashcan Man (a point made by RF in DT3), bringing a little depth and history to an RF/TTM joining; and 3. Tick Tock was an extremely interesting character in himself. How did he turn from little Andew in the cider mill to Ticky? Why the fascination with clocks?
Again, because of the paralell universe thing, TTM may make a later appearance (just look at Jake for proof it can happen). But, taken as a single volume, the death of Ticky was upsetting and a little flat.
I don't want to rag on King, especially because I'm very highly anticipating both DT5 and Bag of Bones. It's going to be interesting how I change my perceptions once the whole tale plays out. (I like DT1 more now because of DT4 -- never thought that would happen). The things King fans will especially like about this book are the in-references. From The Stand
, to The Talisman
, to Eyes of the Dragon
, to Insomnia
-- this one has it all.
The Dark Tower IV: Wizard & Glass is a terrific book, both on the basis of a single volume and as the fourth part of a very large whole. As is the case of The Drawing of the Three not much journeying to the Tower actually gets done, but the back story is finally told -- with still a few tantalizing hints of what is to come. And the Tower grows closer.