Wizard and Glass
"Roland's story is my Jupiter, a planet that dwarfs all the others…"
A General Introduction to Stephen King's The Dark Tower Novels
The Dark Tower books have followed a publishing arc unique in modern literature. Beginning with a now-legendary series of five short stories published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fictionfive stories which now comprise the first volume of the novel cycleStephen King has spent thirty-three years writing The Dark Tower. It stands today as a singularly ambitious work of quest literature, matched only by J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings fantasy epic. A series that operates beautifully as a single, stand-alone saga, The Dark Tower series also ties into and informs many other novels in Stephen King's fictional universe. King's vast galaxy of overlapping realms and charactersa galaxy that has been exhaustively annotated and analyzed by the author's peerlessly avid fan-baseoutstrips even Faulkner's fabled Yoknapatawpha County as a wonder of narrative interconnectedness.
Though inspired by a wide range of literary antecedents and cultural archetypes, The Dark Tower saga was initially sparked by a course on the romantic poets at the University of Maine. It was here, King has said, that he first encountered a deeply enigmatic, richly symbolic poem by Robert Browning called "Childe Roland to The Dark Tower Came" (1855). King's object, dating back to his sophomore year in college, was to fashion a long novel that played on the conceits and constructs of the romantic aestheticto attempt a work that echoed the epic tone and atmospherics of Browning's poem, if not its explicit narrative line. Volume I, The Gunslinger, first appeared in hardcover in a limited edition from Donald M. Grant in 1982. The Plume trade paperback edition was published five years later and became a #1 national bestseller.
With Scribner's 2003 release of the fifth volume, Wolves of the Calla, and the culminating sixth and seventh volumes both slated for publication in 2004, Stephen King nears completion of what many argue is the crowning masterwork of a matchlessly prolific career. Of the undertaking, King has reflected, "I have written enough novels and short stories to fill a solar system of the imagination, but Roland's story is my Jupitera planet that dwarfs all the others (at least from my own perspective), a place of strange atmosphere, crazy landscape, and savage gravitational pull. Dwarfs the others, did I say? I think there's more to it than that, actually. I am coming to understand that Roland's world (or worlds) actually contains all the others of my making."
Somewhere over the Wizard's rainbow…
About Wizard and Glass: The Dark Tower IV
Coming in at nearly 700 pages, Wizard and Glass: The Dark Tower IV is in itself a stand-alone epic. Stephen King has said that this fourth volume in the series was far and away the most difficult to write. In 1996, King wrote, "I knew that Wizard and Glass meant doubling back to Roland's young days, and to his first love affair, and I was scared to death of that story. Suspense is relatively easy, at least for me; love is hard."
In both its structure and its penchant for clever parallel characterizations, Wizard and Glass is a playful and richly evocative riff on Baum's The Wizard of Oz. At the same time, in its spellbinding evocation of the forbidden and ultimately doomed love that grows between young Roland of Gilead and Susan Delgado, Wizard and Glass can also be read as a suspenseful re-imagining of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. But for all its archetypal echoes and textual interplay, Wizard and Glass is above all an especially inspired continuation of Roland and his fellow pilgrims' progress (or lack thereof) toward the elusive Dark Tower. Along the way, King peppers his narrative with loaded references and tie-ins to many of his other novels outside the Dark Tower cycleincluding The Stand, The Talisman, Eyes of the Dragon, and Insomnia.
Beginning with an ingenious resolution to the cliffhanger that marked the close of The Waste Landswherein the schizophrenic train called Blaine is finally bested by the ka-tet in their riddling duelKing's fourth volume finds his protagonists contending with the realization that they've fallen off the path of the Beam and must now find their way back. This getting-back-to-Kansas narrative unfolds within the opening and closing bookends that frame the story with which Wizard and Glass is centrally concerned. Here, in this central story-within-a-story, King takes us back to Roland's heretofore shadowy youth and brightens the corners of his formative relationships with Cuthbert, Alain, and, most importantly, the beautiful Susan. The circumstances surrounding his mother's betrayal are also finally illuminated.
"There's no place like home," Eddie says near the end of the novel. Here, perhaps for the first time, Eddie and Susannah and Jake are united and unwavering in their commitment to the quest and to their shared destiny; they have, indeed, come home. And Roland, devastating matricide notwithstanding, has for his part finally "learned to love again." But to what end? Wizard and Glass sets a wonderful stage for what is sure to be a wildly unpredictable answer to this fundamental question.
The Wolves of the Calla await.
By any measure, Stephen King occupies a central position in the recent history of literature in English, having produced a body of work that is as artistically vital as it is commercially prominent. His primacy in the horror-fiction canon in particular bears comparison to that of J.R.R. Tolkien's station among modern fantasy writers. And like Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, and Sinclair Lewis before him, King has demonstrated over the course of his career a rare talent for limning the cultural zeitgeist and expressing the characteristic concerns of his era. The fact that he has worked largely within the parameters of the horror and fantasy genres in pursuing these ambitious ends makes his achievement all the more remarkable. Since his earliest works in the 1970s, King has been an author of matchless international reach, enjoying an enduring brand of popularity that transcends all presumed literary and commercial boundaries.
For all the darkness and terror with which King's narratives are generally associated, many critics and fans have argued that King's often brutal fictional universe belies a fundamental optimism about human nature. Richly populating his novels and stories with all manner of pop-cultural signifiers and pitch-perfect minutiae of American middle-class life, King's writing holds up a mirror of sorts and reflects that, even in a world of cynicism, despair, and seemingly infinite cruelty, it remains possible for individuals to find love, discover unexpected resources in themselves, and conquer their own problems, along with the malevolent powers that would suppress or destroy them.
Born in Portland, Maine in 1947, Stephen Edwin King is the second son of Donald and Nellie Ruth Pillsbury King. After his parents separated when he was a toddler, King and his older brother, David, were raised by his mother. He spent parts of his childhood in Fort Wayne, Indiana; Stratford, Connecticut; and Durham, Maine.
King graduated from the University of Maine at Orono in 1970, with a degree in English. In January of 1971, he married Tabitha Spruce, whom he met in the stacks of the university library. Shortly after graduation, he began selling his first short stories to mass-market men's magazines. Many of these stories later appeared in the Night Shift collection and elsewhere. In the spring of 1974, Doubleday published King's first novel, Carrie. He has since written more than thirty-five books, all international bestsellers. His recent works include Everything's Eventual, From a Buick 8, Dreamcatcher, Bag of Bones, The Green Mile, and the nonfiction work On Writing. He is also the coauthor, with Peter Straab, of Black House and The Talisman. Under the pseudonym Richard Bachman, King has published several more bestselling works, including The Regulators, Thinner, and The Running Man. Most of his books have been adapted for the screen, including: Dreamcatcher (2003), Hearts in Atlantis, The Green Mile, Misery, Stand by Me (from "The Body"), Thinner, The Shining, Carrie, Christine, The Stand, The Dead Zone, Pet Sematary, Cujo, and Firestarter. Among King's forthcoming books are Wolves of the Calla: The Dark Tower V; Song of Susannah: The Dark Tower VI; and The Dark Tower: The Dark Tower VII.
A celebrated philanthropist and the father of three children, King lives in Bangor, Maine and Florida, with his wife, novelist Tabitha King.
- Discuss all the ways L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz colors and underlies the escapades of Roland, Eddie, Susannah, and Jake's adventures in Wizard and Glass. In terms of character and action, what are the explicit and implicit parallels established by King between Baum's novel (and its classic movie adaptation) and his own?
- Also, consider the myriad of ways King's forbidden love-match between Roland and Susan echoes and riffs on that of Shakespeare's archetypal doomed lovers, Romeo and Juliet.
- While Baum and Shakespeare serve as his explicit archetypes, King takes the imagery, themes, and motifs and veers toward destinations and outcomes that could occur nowhere but in a Dark Tower book. What are some of these destinations and outcomes?
- In what ways does the illumination of Roland's history in Wizard and Glass serve to fill in the blanks and spaces of Roland's enigmatic character? What, if any, are the limits to his determination to reach the tower? In what ways do the traumatic experiences with his mother so long ago underlie his haunted ruthlessness today? Discuss the stark disconnect between his large capacities for love and empathy on one hand and his unwavering devotion to the code of the gunslinger on the other.
- What was your reaction to the resolution to the standoff with Blaine in "Riddles"? "I held your jokes in contempt," Roland tells Eddie here. "Now they have saved our lives." In response to Roland's apology, Eddie makes a telling point about Roland's incontrovertible character. How does this key exchange, in the early pages of King's novel, underscore the overall portrait of Roland's nature that takes shape over the course of the flashback narrative that follows?
- Consider the telepathy shared by the members of the ka-tet. How does it work? What role does it play in the action of the story?
- Discuss the parallels linking the young Roland's ka-tet with his present one. Compare and contrast the natures of Alain, Cuthbert, and Susan with Eddie, Susannah, and Jake.
- What is it that has made Stephen King's novels (the psychology of the characters, the narrative arcs and plot structures, the liberal use of dialogue, and so on) such ripe sources for movie adaptations over the years? Ardent Dark Tower fans have said they would be very skeptical about the prospects for a Dark Tower movie. Is The Dark Tower saga "film-able"? Explain.
- What would be the greatest challenge involved in creating a successful film version of Wizard and Glass? If you were hired to be the creative consultant for such an adaptation, what would be your key concerns? What would it be most important to get right? What could be lost in the translation?
- Cast the main players in a Dark Tower movie. Who's your gunslinger? Who's your Susan? Who should direct?
- Describe the nature of Cuthbert Allgood. Though we do know for certain his ultimate fate, what do you see in store for Cuthbert? And, given what we can glean from the pages of The Gunslinger, what might be involved in his endgame?
- Describe the change Jake Chambers undergoes over the course of his participation in the quest for the tower. What specific roles do his various eldersfrom Eddie and Roland to Tick-Tock and even the darkly comic Blaineplay in his evolution?
- What is the effect of King's various juxtapositions in this novel: pop-culture-tinged humor crosses with fever-pitched suspense in some places, while artful, High-Speech-inflected dialogue crosses with quasi-Wild-West settings in others. How would you characterize the Wizard and Glass universe for someone unfamiliar with the oddities of The Dark Tower?
- Possibly the most complex and certainly the most heartbreaking character in Wizard and Glass is Susan. What is her story? Describe the hushed, hurried feel of the scenes King fashions for Susan and Roland.
- What were your reactions to Alain, and how did they shift as the novel progressed? What is the nature of "the Touch," the gift he seems to share with Susannah Dean? Describe Alain's relationship with Roland.
- Betrayal and treachery wear several faces in Wizard and Glass, and its legacy is enduring and severe, to put it mildly. Who betrays, and who is betrayed?
- Describe the events that lead to the horrifying matricide. Do you believe Roland's mother, hiding behind the drape, had planned to kill her son? What is Roland's theory? What part did Rhea of the Coos play in the matricide?
- What are the circumstances surrounding Richard Fannin/Randall Flagg's appearance? Unravel the layers and allusions to other novels implicit in the figure of Flagg.
- Some reviewers hailed Wizard and Glass as the most complete and satisfying of the first four Dark Tower novels. Do you agree? Which of the Dark Tower volumes did you most enjoy? Why?
- Stephen King's prose is widely admired by readers and critics. The Dark Tower in particular holds a kind of cult status among many readers for whom the saga stands both apart from and above the rest of the author's work. What is it about King's writing in this series that struck you the most? What would you say are the specific qualities/techniques in his writing that inspire such deep identification and enthusiasm in readers?
- Discuss the writing style in Wizard and Glass in particular. To what degree is it a departure from the rest of his work? What are some of the stylistic patterns and thematic concerns that Wizard and Glass shares with other Stephen King works?
- In his Afterword, Stephen King reveals that three stories remain in The Dark Tower cycle. He has said elsewhere that, with each book, it becomes increasingly difficult for him to find the doors affording him entrance to Roland's world. What does he mean?
- After the release Wolves of the Calla, the fifth book in the series, 2004 will see the publication of volumes six and seven. The Dark Tower's culmination is at hand. What do you expect from this final trio of novels?