Monday, August 3, 2020

Dark Tower Re-Read, Book 4: Wizard and Glass

Living the High Life on my porch with Wizard and Glass

My Dark Tower re-read continues! Much to my surprise, Stephen King's Dark Tower series has become one of my favorites in recent years. And it's definitely a series that demands re-reading. After most of the main components of the series came together in Book 3: The Waste Lands, which I read on a socially distanced beach vacation, and a break for the Hugos, it was time to move on to what might be the longest Dark Tower book, a book which might have the longest flashback I've ever read in a novel: Book 4: Wizard and Glass.

One more thing before I dive in: I finished my first complete read of the Dark Tower series in late 2018 (or early 2019 if you count Book 4.5), and the only reason I waited this long to read it again is because I was waiting for an important milestone in my professional academic life, namely, tenure. Much like the wheel of ka, the wheels of bureaucracy spin slowly, but inexorably. I received final word on my tenure and promotion in early July while reading The Waste Lands, and as of Aug. 1, the day I finished my re-read of Wizard and Glass, I am officially a tenured Associate Professor.

I didn't plan to have a pandemic or an uprising against racism this summer, but I am glad I've found time to celebrate this milestone as planned by at least starting my Dark Tower re-read before the doom of the fall semester is upon us (I also got myself a nice bottle of Lagavulin whiskey, which I enjoyed immensely while finishing Wizard and Glass the other day).

But enough about all that. Let's get to my re-review (you can find my first review here).

For all the faults of Wizard and Glass (yeah, it's long....), this strange and beautiful novel forms an essential part of this strange and beautiful series. I will be going on to 4.5 soon (instead of waiting to the end like I did the first time), but here are some thoughts before I do that.

My basic impressions of Wizard and Glass are similar as the first time through, from the lush world-building, to the development of Roland's character and quest, to the feeling at few points in the middle of "I have how much left?" 

But it's not quire right to say I have the same reactions, either, because everything is deepened. I appreciate the world-building and the relevance of this book for Roland's character so much more. I think I had heard a little bit about the ending the first time, but this time since I knew what was going to happen my sense of dread was heightened. Once you know that, Wizard and Glass becomes almost as dreadful (in the literal sense) as one of my other favorite King novels, Pet Sematary

I won't spoil it, but I think it goes to show that sometimes you enjoy something more if you have spoilers. Indeed, this is the whole point of my Dark Tower re-read. I really am enjoying the series a lot more, which is saying something because I loved it the first time.

Another thing I'm even more deeply amazed by: how weird this book is and how well it works. The first 140 pages are the main quest narrative picking up directly from the end of Book 3 with the mentally ill train, and then you have a 600+ page flashback that's like one of King's patented Maine small towns but in a weird Western fantasy land. This is followed by 70-some pages back in the main narrative. And the main narrative connects to The Stand and The Wizard of Oz. Weird. But somehow it works. Really well.

The first time around, I wrote about what I called "Genre Mash Up and Philosophy Building." I discussed all the different genres (Westerns, science fiction, horror, fantasy, etc.) and the different philosophical issues and traditions involved in making sense of it (personal identity, ethics, utilitarianism, deontology, virtue ethics, Daoism, Buddhism, suffering, the meaning of life, etc.). We also find out more about ka (not really God, not really destiny, not really determinism, but not not those things, if that makes any sense... maybe not).

This time I thought about all that again, but two new things struck me this time. First, the treatment of women, especially of Susan, made sense in the framework of understanding misogyny provided by philosopher Kate Manne. Manne distinguishes sexism (prejudice against women) from misogyny, which she refer to as the law enforcement wing of sexism. 

In Wizard and Glass, Susan is mistreated by men, sure, but other women, especially Aunt Cordelia and Rhea of the Cöos, are also cruel, primarily because Susan steps out of her place within this patriarchal culture. I found this framework to be a helpful way of understanding what's going on in the novel, not just for Susan but for most of the characters. Susan surely gets a raw deal (that's an understatement!), but it's from within a whole system of oppression that can, if you bother to look, hold a mirror up to our own societies here on Keystone Earth.

Second, I had an additional insight about Roland's obsession with the Dark Tower. We finally learn in this novel why Roland is so obsessed with the Tower. Sort of. I mean, we still don't have a lot of details. How does the Tower work? What will he do when he gets there? Is he the right person for the job? The whole thing is, even after four books, still a bit hazy. 

But that's King's point, isn't it? That's how obsession works. To lean on the Buddhist angle I discussed in my first review, Roland's desires for the Tower are not as rational as he thinks they are. Sure, someone has to do something to save the multiverse and all, but Roland has spent surprisingly little time thinking this through. But isn't that how all our desires are? 

Say I want to go down to the Traveller's Rest for a pint of beer. I might enjoy the beer while listening to Sheb playing the piano (forgetting whether I saw him in Tull already), but then what? Another beer? Something stronger? Should I help Sheemie with his deliveries? Desires have a way of multiplying and never satisfying. Regular desires become obsessions when it becomes even less clear how you would ever satisfy them or even what you want exactly. Unhealthy romantic obsessions are an obvious example, but I also see this a lot in academia and fandom as well. 

Such obsessions become harmful when the things you need to be a healthy human being suffer for it. They become downright dangerous when other people suffer for your obsessions. A depressingly salient example at the moment is many Americans' obsession with a particularly shallow concept of personal freedom and the harm this has done to my country before and during this pandemic.

And there, fellow Constant Readers, is my sense of dread again about Roland's obsession, going forward to Book 7. But as I always say about this series, it's about the journey not the destination. Maybe something Roland (and America) should consider. Oh well. Ka moves in its own ways.

One last thing I'm looking for in this re-read: Do I have a favorite Dark Tower book? A lot of fans do. The first time through, this one was my favorite up to this point. The immersive experience, character development, and philosophical issues are probably what pushed me from "yeah, I think this series is pretty cool" to "OMG, I have to finish these books!" I'm not sure exactly where I crossed the line into full-fledged Tower junkie. Maybe becoming a Tower junkie is something you only realize after the fact. Maybe I was hooked already by this point. Maybe the mind-bending weirdness of the later books did it. It will be interesting to see how it goes for me this time.

I'm really looking forward to delving into the later, even weirder books. But first I have a quick stop in Book 4.5, The Wind Through the Keyhole. Long days and pleasant nights.

This "distracted boyfriend" meme is hauntingly apt for Wizard and Glass

No comments:

Post a Comment