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'To me, gunslingers! Remember the faces of your fathers!'
Dark Tower 4: Wizard and Glass - Stephen King
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Dark Tower 4: Wizard and Glass - Stephen King
Advantages: Excellent continuance of a thoroughly entertaining saga
Disadvantages: Drags in quite a few places
What astounds me about Stephen King's epic work 'The Dark Tower' is the intrigue it emits. Written in seven parts and spanning just over 20 years from the publication of the first part (The Gunslinger) to the seventh and final part (The Dark Tower), each part steadily chronicles the voyage and quest of Roland of Gilead, presumably the last gunslinger, and his various and changing companions as he edges nearer and nearer to the Tower itself. What he will do when he gets there, not even he knows. It is his 'ka', his destiny, and he must follow it.
The first three installments served us very well in establishing Roland as a character, and then introducing us to some of his companions, who form their 'ka-tet', like a group linked not only by travel, but similarly by destiny, as they trawl through the lands of Mid-Earth to attain the Dark Tower. Drawn from our world are Susannah, Jake and Eddie, each from different eras, and into Roland's world, where we soon learn others have come before, particularly when we get to the third book, The Wastelands, where our heroes find and travel along the Beam, a near invisible 'path' which should eventually take them to the Dark Tower.
The end of the third book left our ka'tet mercilessly at the hands of Blaine, a state-of-the-art train capable of going supersonic speeds (and then some!) and with access to virtually every source of information in any world - in a split second! However, the ka'tet needs Blaine to transport them along the Beam in order to continue their journey, and so they board the train under the condition that Blaine will only transport them to the end of the line if they outfox him with a riddle. However, with every element of logic and information at his proverbial fingertips, Blaine proves (virtually) impossible to beat.
The story takes a slightly different tack at around the 140 page mark, as Roland settles to tell his companions the tale of Susan Delgado, and it is almost like reading a different book. In King's second book of his seven-book saga, a similar event occurred as the tale switched from Roland's quest to the New York Eddie Dean lived in, in the 1980s, and I felt a little confused and aggrieved at the sudden change of style, era and story. However, it all made sense in the end, and with the change of tack here in Wizard and Glass, I put my faith in King once more and settled to read this part of the story, which is quite lengthy in itself, around the 300 pages long. However, I was quickly entertained, and while certain things began to make more sense as this digressionary tale took place, it also posed a number of new questions.
This tale is essentially a flashback, where Roland recounts a chapter in his life that has led him to this juncture. It tells of the teenage Roland and his two best friends Alain and Cuthbert, as they are sent away from their native Gilead for their own safety, but 'ka' leads them directly into trouble and conspiracy, and sends Roland hurtling towards one of the most destructive things he experiences: love.
This flashback tale isn't the quickest tale ever told. In fact, it lasts for well over 600 pages of the book. King himself says that he became lost and disorientated around the 600 page mark of the book, and I am not surprised, for although it is an enthralling read, and very enlightening in terms of the whole saga, it is excessively long and the amount of detail in some minute that it makes this book very hard going indeed. I felt that it was much too long for what was necessary, and there were parts that did drag quite a bit.
However, the characterisation and descriptions thereof make it a very clear and intense story. It seems much easier to comprehend and associate with the much younger Roland at his 14 years of age, as opposed to Roland of the 'present' who is tracking the Beam with Eddie, Susannah, Jake and Oy. There is a similarity between these modern day companions and those of his past, with the characterisation of Cuthbert and Alain very clever, as are the villainous characters of the Big Coffin Hunters, Jonas, Depape and Reynolds. The character of Susan Delgado is described as perfectly beautiful, and is in stark contrast to many of the other women in the tale, thus making her the envy of all other women in the Hambry, where our story takes us.
As Roland and his 'ka-tet' of the past encounter Susan and the Big Coffin Hunters, characters pop up frequently and regualarly, and perhaps it would have been a lot harder to understand everything had some of the detail been left out. However, it still dragged in places, and I for one could have done with it being quite a bit shorter. By the time we return to our present ka-tet of Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake and Oy, much has been made clearer about Roland's reason for pursuing the Black Tower and my own understanding of the saga was clearer.
The version I read was a more recent one, with Stephen King offering an introductory foreword as well as an Afterword. This explains to us how he himself was not sure of the exact direction his saga was taking, and this does go some way into belaying my fears that I didn't really follow what was going on. However, if I cast my mind back over the first four books of the seven book saga, I find that things are starting to make sense by now, and that a large part of this deals with examining the darkness of the human psyche, and how destiny can play a large part in everyone's lives.
In conclusion, I do rate this chapter of King's epic saga very highly, but it is very important to have read the previous books in order to fully understand the sequencing and significances of many of the events. The flashback tale that Roland tells his companions drags quite a lot, and thus drops my rating of this book from a 5 star to a 4 star level, but ultimately, I was still engrossed from start to finish, such is the intrigue that I mentioned at the start of this review. The Dark Tower: Wizard and Glass is currently available from amazon.co.uk for £5.22, and is well worth the read. But again, make sure you have read the previous three books in the series, or this may not make sense. Once again, King has toiled over a well written book. This took a long time coming from the date of publication of the thrid book in the series, but seems to have been worth it!
Summary: The fourth installment of King's epic saga