wizard and glass

In anticipation of the film coming out, here – week by week – are my reviews of THE DARK TOWER novels.

Coming off the forward momentum of THE WASTE LAND, this wasn’t the book I was expecting.

But then, is that necessarily a bad thing?

Surely part an author’s job should be to subvert expectations, to take the reader to new and unheralded places. Yes, there’s the argument that Agatha Christie is hugely successful because she served the reader exactly the same dish again and again (but even there, something like THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKYROYD is a huge jolt to expectations). So it’s a good thing for a (constant) reader to be challenged, to be taken in a new direction, but it still relies on that challenge meeting its own expectations.

Instead of a continuation of the quest of Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake and Oy, we have in WIZARD AND GLASS a digression, a diversion, a flashback. The majority of the tale follows the young Roland, his adventures with the oft mentioned Cuthbert and Alain, his first love and the origins of the obsession with The Dark Tower.

I suppose when writing a long tale that takes years and only has a distant ending far in the future, taking a little holiday to write a story within that universe – with the same major character – that does have an actual bloody ending, must be most pleasant. And for the main part I was vastly entertained by this Spaghetti Western mixed with mysticism, witchcraft – including tastes of EL TOPO, THE WILD BUNCH, THE WICKER MAN and latterly THE WIZARD OF OZ.

Film imagery abounds here.

And yet there’s a sense that this challenge isn’t really met. This tale is related by Roland over the campfire to his Ka-tet (his posse, if you will), and yet King still retains his much loved floating narrative. How Roland can know what happens when he isn’t present, or indeed the thoughts of other characters, is explained away by magic (but then anything in THE DARK TOWER universe can be explained away by magic), but that means the whole ends up feeling something less than magnificent.

As much as I enjoyed it, as much as I was grabbed by the thrills and suspense, I would have liked King to rise to the challenge of one man telling his story. And not just any man. Roland of Gilead narrating a tale in that halting voice of his, putting his bruises on display and exposing his heart to the world. This is a good story, but I just feel that within it was the material for a great story.

So, my journey towards THE DARK TOWER moved on, but with – in Stephen King’s mind at least – a little leap. THE WIND THROUGH THE KEYHOLE was written after all the others, but King himself has placed it next in the chronology. But it’s another flashback tale and the consensus was when I was reading them, that it was a book I could skip. So next week it’s onwards to the WOLVES OF THE CALLA…

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