Warning: Possible spoilers below:

The Gunslinger is the first book in the Dark Tower series by Stephen King. He tells the story of Roland, a gunslinger from the inner baronies (Gilead actually), who embarks on a quest to find the Dark Tower. He decides on this quest after finding a piece of the Wizard's Rainbow in Hambry (see Wizard and Glass).
During Roland's quest, as he chases the Man in Black, he encounters Jake, a young boy from New York who finds himself in the Gunslinger's world after being pushed in front of a car and dying. Roland and Jake set out after the Man in Black together until Jake is killed once again, this time by the Gunslinger himself. Jake's final words to Roland are "Go then, there are other worlds than these".
Roland continues west and eventually meets up with the Man in Black who, during a long palaver, foretells that Roland will draw three companions to help him on his continuing journey toward the Dark Tower.


Spoilers, Spoilers and More Spoilers...you have been warned.


To start off, I would like to say I believe that the only way to really appreciate the awesome-ness that is Stephen King's Dark Tower series is to read it though once and then read it again. The second go round for me, so far, has been so much better than the first because now I know the big secret: that Roland Deschain is stuck in what seems to be a never-ending loop and that once he reaches the Tower he is sent back to where the first book in the series begins. Knowing this mind-blowing fact, a fact that literally caused me to scream "Oh fuck you Stephen King!" at the final page when I first read it, makes rereading the series a whole new experience.

I recently decided to start rereading the series and just finished The Gunslinger, Just like with my first reading, I loved the basic story since it has an interesting combination of Old West (gunslingers, rundown western style towns), medieval (the twist on the whole King Arthur legends) and science fiction (all the references to modern day conveniences that are from the "Old people" and have become ancient relics). I really enjoy the odd juxtapostion of these things that don't seem like they would work together. It's always fun to find all the roundabout references to our world but now there's even more to find. Now I'm not sure if my revelations about this book in connection with the big secret are as exciting for anybody else as they are for me, considering the first time I read this I was in seventh grade so it's not like I was looking for literary connections but I would like to think they are.

One of the main things that I've loved about rereading this book is picking out what I think of as the " deja vu moments". There are all these moments in the book where Roland has a feeling that something isn't quite right. For example at one point he is musing about how easy it was for him to bond with Jake, he chalks it up to the fact that the Man in Black left Jake as a trap. While this basic premise is true, I think it's because not only has he bonded with Jake before, when Jake returns to Mid-World later in the series, he ultimately sees the boy as his son. If you consider the fact that, due to the big secret, who knows how many times this whole process occurs, maybe his paternal feelings for Jake are starting to become ingrained deep in a part of his subconscious that doesn't get mind-wiped at the resumption point. Even Jake seems to be having these moments since he seems to know that Roland is going to kill him. He could just be a highly perceptive child, but I think some of it is due to the fact that this has happened before. It might also explain why he was so calm when he died. This could explain his comment about "There are other worlds than these", maybe he knew that his death was not the end and that he would be ok when all is said and done.

Another aspect that is closely related to the "deja vu moments" are the "future memory moments". I think this occurred once where he says "Sit yourself, Jake" when trying to get the boy to rest and then immediately tries to remember where he heard the phrase since it's not one of his own. He believes he might have heard it from his childhood love Susan Delagado but I think this is a reference to Susannah Dean, one of his future Ka-tet members. Another example is Jake knowing Roland's fire lighting rhyme without ever having heard it, an occurance that makes the gunslinger wonder how the boy came to know it. There is also the instance where Roland tells Jake they need to "palaver" and, not only does Jake understand this term which is most likely uncommon in his world, he seems almost fond of Roland's use of it. This could be in reference to all the talks, or palavers, Roland, Jake and the rest of their ka-tet have over the course of their quest for the Tower.

Finally, I like rereading this series now that I know what is going to happen because it allows me to not only truly understand the clues about what is coming, such as the descriptions of the Three that Roland will meet on his way to the Tower, this foreknowledge allows me to pick up threads that connect to points later in the story that might otherwise have gone unoticed. One of the main ones that I caught this time around was on the very first page where it said "Resumption". This is there because this is the reboot point of Roland's never ending cycle. The other big thing I noticed was Nineteen. Later on in the story Nineteen becomes a big omen for anything to do with the Tower but I forgot that it was mentioned in the beginning as well. Nineteen is the word the Man in Black gives Allie the bartender to torture her remotely into asking the resurrected Nort about what happened after he died. And when Allie does eventually fall into the trap to use the trigger word, it causes her to go mad with this forbidden knowledge. Roland subconciously thinks of it as going to "the land of Nineteen", like he knows that this number has some sort of significance beyond being the Man in Black's trigger word for Nort.

So all in all I can't wait to keep on with my second go at The Dark Tower series now that I've finished The Gunslinger. I hope that rereading The Drawing of the Three will be just as interesting. It most likely will since the first time I read it, I had to read quickly since I had a very very limited time to read it but I guess I'll just have to find out.

The Gunslinger is the first novel in The Dark Tower, Stephen King's classic, epic cross-genre series. It introduces the reader to the last gunslinger, Roland of Gilead, as he pursues The Man in Black across a world laid to waste that is part Wild West, part medieval fantasy, and part far-future dystopia. King started writing the novel when he was just 19, and he was heavily influenced by both The Lord of the Rings and by The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly; the book wears both influences very well.

There's a whole lot to admire in the novel: the epic scope, the adventure, the shivery horrors. But one thing the novel doesn't handle especially well is its depiction of female characters.

Early on in the book, there’s an interesting bit of description and foreshadowing with regard to the wind, which is blowing hallucinogenic smoke towards Roland:

The wind moaned, a witch with cancer in her belly. … The gunslinger occasionally moaned with the wind. (King 8).

The book has the kind of structural misogyny that one frequently finds in male-written fairy tales. In this narrative (but interestingly not in later books in the series, which feature much better-rounded female characters), women are enchantresses and whores whom the gunslinger doesn’t see as human in the way that he sees other men as human: they’re witches, all. They are part of a degraded, menacing landscape that constantly threatens both the gunslinger’s life and his sworn quest to find the Dark Tower. But their role as antagonists and distracting traps is not due to intentional evil on their parts; they simply act according to their natures, like the wind. And like the rest of the gunslinger’s world, they are victims of the cancerous evil that is overtaking the universe.

The moaning of the wind also echoes the witchy women’s blatant (and therefore threatening) sexualities. But the gunslinger, whose old-school masculinity is tied to his cocksmanship as much as it is to his marksmanship, is prepared to brave their dangers and moan along with them:

“I guess maybe you know my price,” she said. “I got an itch I used to be able to take care of, but now I can’t.”

He looked at her steadily. The scar would not show in the dark. Her body was lean enough so the desert and grit and grind hadn’t been able to sag everything. And she’d once been pretty, maybe even beautiful. Not that it mattered. It would not have mattered if the grave-beetles had nested in the arid blackness of her womb. (King 26)

Even the sexualities of tertiary female characters seem antagonistic:

A full-grown one, blond, dirty, and sensual, watched with a speculative curiosity as she drew water from the groaning pump beside the building. She caught the gunslinger’s eye, pinched her nipples between her fingers, dropped him a wink, and then went back to pumping. (King 42)

Later, he literally uses his firearm to bring another witchy woman character (a small-town preacher) to orgasm:

He rammed the barrel of the gun forward. He could feel the terrified wind sucked into her lungs more than he could hear it. Her hands beat at his head; her legs drummed against the floor. And at the same time the huge body tried to suck the invader in. Outside nothing watched them but the bruised and dusty sky. She screamed something, high and inarticulate.


“He stops ... on the other side ... s-s-sweet Jesus! ... to m-make his strength. Med-m-meditation, do you understand? Oh...I’m...I’m....”

The whole huge mountain of flesh suddenly strained forward and upward, yet he was careful not to let her secret flesh touch him. (King pp. 58-59)

When I read that passage, I think I said “Woooow” loud enough to wake up my seatmate on the plane. The gunslinger has faced down death in a thousand forms and shot down hundreds of people … but he’s scared of touching a woman’s vulva? That’s epic. Later on in the novel, the gunslinger faces a formless demon that is literally female lust incarnate. Given the other women’s portrayals, I expected that escalation.

In his updated introduction to the book, King doesn’t address this incredibly hoary brand of Western hero misogyny; considering he started writing the Dark Tower series when he was a teenager, it’s not surprising that he might consciously or unconsciously view women in charge of their own libidos as being as scary as clawed mutants or slavering sea monsters. Still, when one looks at his later novels (The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon springs to mind) it’s clear that he’s come a long way from this early depiction of women.


Works Cited

King, Stephen. The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger. New York: Penguin Group, 2003. Kindle.

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