Wizard and Glass by Stephen King
|Book Name:||Wizard and Glass|
|Formatt:||Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook|
|Genre(s):||Fantasy / Western|
|Release Date:||November 4, 1997|
Wizard and Glass is a reflection novel (no pun intended). We have now reached what could tentatively be referred to as the middle volume in this seven-book long series, and instead of driving the plot forward, this novel applies firm pressure to the brakes and moves the gear-stick into reverse. Really, without the bookends of the present day at the beginning and end of this story this could even be considered a prequel novel. However, its events are essential to the present day plot and it demands to be read. And it definitely needs to be, as it searches into the dark and tragic history of Roland’s past and bears implications for his dark and tragic future.
Our central protagonist (up to this point a rather silent, sullen, secretive figure) finally gets the real fleshing out that he, and we as the readers, required. It comes at the best place, and at the best time. We needed to know who this character really was before we continued further on our journey towards the Dark Tower with him, and it is well worth it.
This novel is very long, potentially the longest in the series, but with the number of words King dedicates to this portion of the tale we get a lot of expansion that is much needed for the two climaxes that take place at the end (one for the present, one for the past) making this an amazing and extremely satisfying read. Following the cliff-hanger at the end of The Waste Lands we are launched into a continuation of the tense stand-off that our heroes last found themselves in. This is a very exciting beginning to the story, throwing the reader right back into the thick of it straight away.
The prologue, which is a complete word-for-word of the last few pages of The Waste Land, felt rather unnecessary but does lead people right back into the thick of things. Following this affair we continue on with the main party for a few more steps before they all settle down and finally (and when I say finally I mean that it’s taken them two books to get to this point) demand some answers from Roland. Who is he? What is the Dark Tower? Just what is this all about? And Roland decides to give them a fully comprehensive answer.
What follows is a certain period in Roland’s early teenage years revolving around the barony of Mejis and its inhabitants. The primary plot of the novel bears similarities to a ‘Whodunnit?’ story, where the detectives (Roland, Cuthbert, and Alain) meet the locals and investigate rumours of local aid for the insurrectionist John Farson. We are introduced to a whole host of new characters that each play an important role and serve to flesh out the story in all kinds of different directions. Eldred Jonas and the witch Rhea were the richest of this cast, both vicious and in-depth. Together they make excellent antagonists for Roland and his friends.
The setting is the most Western in feeling of the series to date, with very little magical or strange happenings occurring at all in the novel (the majority taking place in the bookend segments). The characters themselves could have walked straight off the set of an Eastwood or Wayne movie and into the pages of this tale. They live and breathe the Wild West lifestyle, giving the novel a considerably more laid back atmosphere than the previous three in the series. It is ground in its realism, and the reader is not constantly challenged with the difficult and interchangeable landscape of the novels that came before. In a way, this novel offers the reader a chance to take a breather, a spot of quiet reflection. It may not seem as exciting a novel as The Waste Lands at first, but it is certainly an easier novel to read and get into.
In all honestly, I think the difference in tone that this novel has to its predecessors is exactly what was needed at this point in the series. Instead of focusing on the ongoing cosmic mysteries of the series, King here invites us to see Roland as he used to be and to empathise with the struggles of youth. Here we can see the pain of growing up too fast, of being exiled from one’s home to a land strange and far away, the agony of balancing and weighing conflicting identities (is he Roland or is he Gunslinger), and understand the difficulties of discovering your first love in a very dangerous situation.
Susan Delgado is a wonderful character. A woman caught in a horrible situation she can’t escape, trapped with a lifeless sow of an aunt, and torn between morality and an oath she feels she must keep. She bears her issues with a strong heart and is constantly questioning her own motives and actions. She is confused and concerned, but is also resolute in what she feels she must do. She is a brilliant character to read about, who has as much focus in the narrative as Roland. Whilst Roland is an outsider and stranger to Mejis, Susan has lived there her whole life, because of this we see Mejis very differently in her eyes. The twists and revelations can be especially heart-breaking when seen through her eyes.
The romance is of course a major part of the plot, but never does it feel over-bearing or cheesy. Instead it is rather emotive and incredibly tense. The situation and climate makes their love almost as dangerous as in Romeo & Juliet, and King constantly makes the threat feel real and ever present. For Susan it is a reprieve, a wonderful break from the hell of her life, but she never sees it as something that can last. For Roland it is the confirmation that he is what he pretends not to be, human.
This is an excellent entry in what continues to be a fantastic series. But the Dark Tower is still out of reach, and there are questions still to be answered. I can’t wait to take the next step.