Last week, we finished up The Waste Lands with a pain of a cliffhanger. Thankfully, we only had to wait 6 days instead of 6 years to find out what happens! This week, our ka-tet tries to outriddle Blaine the Mono as they speed through the waste lands towards Topeka, Kansas.
Thank you for joining me on a journey of Stephen King’s Wizard and Glass (1997), the 4th book in The Dark Tower series. When we left Roland, Jake, Susannah, Eddie, and Oy the billy-bumbler, they were trapped on the psychotic locomotive, Blaine the Mono, crossing through the feared waste lands. Our ka-tet had narrowly escaped the destruction of Lud that Blaine had decimated with gas—but for what? To become prisoners aboard a train bulleting into a desolate hell populated by fierce beasts, with a guide that’s clearly mad. Yeah, it looks like we are bound to have a helluva lot of fun as we continue our journey to the Dark Tower.
*Remember: While this is a reread, please avoid spoilers in the comments. The point is to get there together!
We're back to wacky Stephen King chapters, so the plan is to read a section a week (about 100 pages) and meet here at our usual time (Tuesday at 12 p.m. ET) to discuss major themes, motifs, and reactions. Make sure to bookmark the HQ page for the schedule and links to all of the chapter discussions as they go live! This week, we finally get an answer about what happened with Blaine the Mono, as our ka-tet tries to outriddle a psychotic speeding train. Join us in the comments for a discussion of Part I of Wizard and Glass: Riddles!
Thundering through the waste lands at speeds over 900 miles per hour, Blaine the Mono has demanded riddles from Roland’s ka-tet. If they don't play along, he will kill them—though it's likely he will juice them either way. The gunslinger's defense is to challenge Blaine on the illogic of requesting something from them when everyone knows full well the reward is certain elimination. Eddie, Susannah, and Jake are alarmed by Roland's rather large brass balls in confronting Blaine head-on, but relax when Blaine backs down not wanting to appear rude or uncivilized.
Roland proposes/gambles that if Blaine successfully answers every one of their riddles before they reach Topeka, then he may execute the ka-tet as planned. But should one puzzle slip past old Blaine, then he must release the group. Blaine accepts, and the riddling begins.
Like a wishful keno player, Roland mistakenly believes he has some iota of strategy; they will look for Blaine’s strengths and weaknesses in the game. By presenting the first set of four riddles on the sliding scale of “easy, not so easy, quite hard, very hard,” they hope to decipher just how the machine thinks. But Blaine answers all with extraordinary ease, and the ka-tet's mood turns hopeless.
Then, an unusual ripple, of sorts, is detected when Blaine offers Jake an illusion of either Marilyn Monroe, Raquel Welch, or Edith Bunker. Jake is quick to note that not only is the All in the Family wife and mother not a sex goddess, but she is merely a character. Blaine withdraws his offer but it’s too late. The others realize the demonic locomotive is not infallible ... now they have hope for escape. In addition, at the hounds of the falls, Blaine needs to recharge his batteries from electricity generated by the massive waterfalls.
“HOLD, HOLD. THE FORCE OF THE BEAM GATHERS. LOOK NOT DIRECTLY AT THE HOUNDS, MY INTERESTING NEW FRIENDS! AND SHIELD YOUR EYES!
Jake looked away from the colossal rock sculptures jutting from the falls, but didn't get his hand up quite in time. With his peripheral vision he saw those featureless heads suddenly develop eyes of a fiercely glowing blue. Jagged tines of lighting leaped out of them and toward the mono.
Throughout it all, Eddie has remained more mum than usual, almost in a trance state, or what his late brother Henry used to call a ”fuckin zone.“ Always the jokester, his cavalier humor in the face of death isn't particularly welcomed as Roland riddles away, digging deep into his arsenal of aged, spent conundrums.
In the last hour, though, Eddie steps up to the plate and begins flinging inane, puerile riddles that the sentient machine loathes but answers. Finally, Eddie asks, ”Why did the dead baby cross the road?” Blaine loses his shit asking for more time, but the ka-tet denies him, and the evil monster short-circuits and dies. For good measure—like any self-respecting gunslinger would do—Eddie draws his firearm and squeezes off a few rounds into Blaine.
Once outside, things grow decidedly exciting for King fans as the ka-tet wanders about the Topeka ruins, seemingly devoid of life.
Two were women, three were men. The sixth was a child in a stroller. A summer spent dead in the sun and rain and heat (not to mention at the mercy of any stray cats, coons, or woodchucks that might be passing) had given the toddler a look of ancient wisdom and mystery, like a child mummy discovered in an Incan pyramid. Jake supposed from the faded blue outfit it was wearing that it had been a boy, but it was impossible to tell for sure.
A newspaper reveals they are in 1980’s Topeka, Kansas, when the city had been leveled by influenza. That explains why the area is deserted, and when references are made to “Captain Trips” and “The Walking Dude,” we discover the group has essentially arrived at an alternative when that exists just after King's landmark novel, The Stand (1980). Damn it to all if I didn't see that crossover coming, and methinks some connections are on the horizon between Randall Flagg, the antagonist of The Stand, and demons in the Dark Tower.
Roland pinpoints they are where Mid-World ends and End-World begins, close to a thinny—a place where the fabric of time has been stretched a little too thin, as it were. Realizing they have fallen off the beam that guides them to the tower, they begin working their way back to it because not all roads will lead them to their final destination.
Susannah wants to know more about the other Susan that Roland had known in his youth, and he begins to weave the tale of how after becoming a gunslinger at fourteen, his father had become angered by Roland’s foolishness of being baited by Marten. For Roland's safety, his father sent him east, away from danger.
I'm sensing that in the next section we will be privy to a heap more gunslinger backstory. That's enough to make an excitable billy-bumbler say, “Oy!”
What do you think of the beginning of Wizard and Glass? Head to the comments and start/join the conversation!
*Remember: Be careful with your comments—NO SPOILERS! We will be moderating the comments and deleting anything we feel is a spoiler, so pause before you post and make sure you're not ruining it for someone else.
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David Cranmer is the publisher and editor of BEAT to a PULP. Latest books from this indie powerhouse include the alternate history novella Leviathan and sci-fi adventure Pale Mars. David lives in New York with his wife and daughter.