Friday, 3 December 2010

Dark Tower Readalong: The Gunslinger Part 3

Welcome to Part 3 of The Gunslinger Readalong - you can catch up with Part 1 and Part 2 by clicking the links. Remember, spoilers abound!

This is going to be a slightly shorter segment, dealing with chaplets 15 through 20, which brings us neatly to the end of the first part, ready to kick off with The Way Station next Friday. So, just thirteen pages or so - gives those people who haven't yet caught up the chance to do so!


The gunslinger visits the preacher-woman; he knows she has been screwed by the man in black. She thinks she now carries his child - a king - and the gunslinger uses this to threaten her into revealing what lies beyond the desert.


The gunslinger goes to remove his mule from Kennerly so that he can leave Tull, and realises in the nick of time that Kennerly and his daughter are going to try and kill him. He leaves them looking at each other.


The people of Tull are exhorted to violence; Allie has said 'Nineteen' to Nort; the gunslinger kills everyone in Tull.


We return to the dwelling where the gunslinger is telling his tale to Brown. He realises he likes Brown but doesn't know who or what he is.


We finally hear the name Roland - a name Allie had called the gunslinger - as the gunslinger heads away into the desert.


And we come full circle at the end of this section, seeing Roland at the fire in the desert as he follows the man in black.


Stephen King is still giving us an eerie, tired land with sections like: "A queer, flat light hung over everything" and "There was a large wooden cross nailed to the door of the place, which was leaning and tired." There is not much of hope or lightness or an ability to see a good future. I do find the novel quite difficult to read due to this - it is grim and resigned, and leaves me wondering a little: "What's the point?" But I guess that is exactly what the inhabitants of this strange land are also feeling on a day to day basis?

The whole exchange between the preacher-woman and the gunslinger is incomprehensible to me - except the fact that she sees the man in black as God and the gunslinder as the Antichrist. She also seems to believe that she is carrying the son of God, but the gunslinger says that this is just a demon. I'm curious that Sylvia knew about the High Speech, which seems to be something only particular people would know.

Sylvia Pittston gives me the creeps - she is a zealot, and you don't know whether the people of Tull are responding so strongly to her words because of her nature or because of the man in black giving her this new ability. It seems as though the gunslinger is drawn to her in a carnal fashion and he believes this is because of the man in black.

Her face had become a caricature of terror, and she stabbed the sign of the Eye at him with pronged fingers.

Now this is interesting! The sign of the Eye? Not something I am familiar about in terms of religion - sounds far more pagan, which seems strange for a preacher woman of Christ. What do you think about this? Am I missing something religious about this?

Two more things from chaplet 15 - the first is this quote:

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

I don't understand *grin* She's talking about the land beyond the desert - "he stops" - is this the man in black> Have to confess - I kept reading meditation as medication, which entirely changes the nature of that sentence!

Then Sylvia says: "You've killed the child of the Crimson King. But you will be repaid. I se my watch and warrant on it." The Crimson King? Another reference to the man in black? The fact that Sylvia says 'watch and warrant' sounds like it has a meaning - any ideas?

With the menace that the gunslinger seems to exude and his previous encounter with Kennerly, I would have thought the ostler would not be foolish enough to tackle the gunslinger. Also, using his rather vapid daughter to help tackle the gunslinger - both stupid and genius. Up to this point, I would have thought the gunslinger would avoid hurting women or children.

Up to this point, because, of course, in chaplet 17 we see the massacre of Tull. This really surprised me - I sort of imagined that the gunslinger had a code of honour, for some reason? Maybe because he most reminds me of Jon Shannow (from the David Gemmell post-apocalyptic novels) and that gentleman managed to retain a sense of honour and decency in a hard land. Or does the gunslinger have such a code, and knew that it would be the decent thing to kill the people of Tull, rather than have them under the influence of the man in black? What do you think?

I also want to pull this quote as holding some meaning: "The man in black had played God in Tull. He had spoken of a King's child, a red prince. Was it only a sense of the cosmic comic, or a matter od desperation? It was a question of some importance."

There are moments of ridiculous, dark comedy when the gunslinger takes on the people of Tull: "The gunslinger shot him dead and the man thumped into the street. His false teeth shot out as his chin struck and grinned, spit-shiny, in the dirt."

I'm also going to take out this extensive quote, both because of the second mention of the Eye, and because of hints about the gunslinger's past:

The guns were empty and they boiled at him, transmogrified into an Eye and a Hand, and he stood, screaming and reloading, his mind far away and absent, letting his hands do their reloading trick. Could he hold up a hand, tell them he had spent a thousand years learning this trick and others, tell them of the guns and the blood that had blessed them? Not with his mouth. But his hands could speak their own tale.

He is called the child-killing interloper - there is an argument to be made as to whether he was this to begin with, or whether their taunts and attacks made him into such.

I like the fact King puts about the bodies: "None of them seemed to be sleeping." In so many novels we encounter deaths where the body merely appears to be sleeping - I like the emphasis that these were violent deaths and therefore could not possibly look like people asleep.

I'm disturbed by the fact that the gunslinger goes inside the tavern and drinks beers and eats hamburger after killing the entirely population of the town. This is pragmatism a step too far!

And finally the tortuous method of going back and forth in time is brought to a close as we return to Roland - now named - as he sits by the fire in the desert. There is a great strength and power to giving him a name after almost one hundred pages and over a thousand years of story and back history. We've now met Roland.

See you next week!


  1. "I set my watch and warrant on it" is the figure of speech by which people of Roland's world convey the meaning of "I am absolutely sure about it" ... you'll find a lot of similar "out of our world" figures of speech, and totally new words too :)

    Sylvia Pittston and the massacre of Tull are frankly shocking ... and that's precisely why the then 19 years old S. King wrote it :)

  2. I'm not sure what the prologue is like in your version of the book Amanda, but something that is worth being aware of is that this series was written over something lik 30 years... and the writing style does change a little and the storyline's maturation is directed often by what SK is experiencing at the time...

    In this book he is trying to start his own "LotR" style saga, which I personally thinks he nails by the end of the series.

    Oh, and as I mentioned last week - treating people like cattle continues... use then toss.

    Also, the symbolism with God, the Anti-christ etc might come back to further taunt us later on...

    Finally, a quick question: How many other Stephen King books have you read? The only entries tagged here are for the Dark Tower series so I am interested in knowing your back-catalogue knowledge of his work.

  3. I've finally caught up! This is my second read of The Gunslinger (the first being about 12 years ago) and I'm enjoying it a lot more this time around.
    In my edition we haven't learnt the Gunslingers name yet. Also in the reloading quote that you have put above my copy says twenty-five years where yours says a thousand which I find interesting.

  4. I didn't entirely follow the exchange between Sylvia and Roland either. It did seem the man in black seriously messed with Tull. Was it Allie saying 19 to Nort that triggered the town going insane?
    It was interesting that Roland's guns seem physical--he has to load them. He is quite good at it, but it doesn't seem a magical skill.

  5. @ fester: I confess, this is the first Stephen King novel I've picked up. Ever. Expect to see more reviews of his work though - I have a copy of Under the Dome and will tackle that at some point.

    @ Lucie: Isn't it strange that he changed those bits? I have the revised edition that King went through and changed. Will be interesting to see what other differences crop up.

    Thanks for your comments, I really appreciate it, considering this readalong is an ongoing effort.

  6. Regarding Roland's treatment of the people of Tull, it becomes more apparent as the story progresses that the only thing that matters to Roland is his quest. Even close friends become disposable.

    Also you'll realise as you near the end that **SPOILER** this is probably not the first time Roland has passed through Tull**SPOILER**.

    Lastly I'm not sure if the Crimson King was mentioned this early in the edition I read, I don't think I met him until book 3, but he is not the Man in Black.