Friday 26 November 2010

Dark Tower Readalong: The Gunslinger Part 2

Wow, that week sped past, didn't it? Seems five minutes ago that I was writing the first post in this readalong series! You can catch up with said first post here.

Today we'll be looking at chaplets six through fourteen (about 30 pages).

Remember, spoilers will be encountered from here in on - you have been warned! I just wanted to make an additional comment regarding spoilers. Please don't be afraid of listing spoilers in your comments - just mark them out as spoilers and I shall either skip or read as I see fit. I have never minded having a book spoiled before I read it (I even knew who would die in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince before I cracked open the first page). For me, it's not so much what is happening as how the author gets you there and how they write about it. So don't fear spoiling my reading experience! With that out the way, let's get down to it...


The woman tells the gunslinger about Nort, the man who approached him in the bar asking for gold. He died in front of her bar, and the man in black had something to do with his revival. The gunslinger asks her - Allie - about the man in black.


The man in black arrived the same day that Nort died. Allie has an odd discussion with him during which he drinks good whiskey. It culminates in him bringing Nort back to life. Allie wonders whether Nort knows anything of what has happened to him in the afterlife. The man in black leaves a note for Allie telling her that if she says the word 'Nineteen' to Nort, he will give her the answers she is desperate for.


The gunslinger asks if this is all, and advises Allie to pretend the number nineteen no longer exists. She asks if he is leaving in the morning - she wants him to stay a little longer.


In the morning the gunslinger asks Allie what lies to the southeast - she is scared, and says that she only knows about the desert. The gunslinger thinks he knows why the man in black is heading that way.


The gunslinger goes to talk to the hostler about what lies beyond the desert, but doesn't get any clear answer. He knows the hostler hates him for being an outsider.


Sheb, the piano player, bursts in on Allie and the gunslinger while they are in bed and tries to kill the gunslinger. He has his wrists broken for his troubles. The gunslinger recognises Sheb from his past. Allie realises that the gunslinger was once in love, but he refuses to talk to her about it.


The gunslinger attends a church service and watches the preacher declaiming The Interloper, also called High Lord Satan. He suspects that the preacher has been infected by some dark magic of the man in black.


The gunslinger seduces information about the preacher out of Allie.


Allie and the gunslinger both realise their time together is coming to an end, as she serves him breakfast on the fifth day.


Overall, I just can't get over the quiet sense of desperation and loneliness within this book. Life on the frontier, dangerous and bitter. King evokes the sense of this with wise choice of words, such as yellow, grit, rusty. The only real difference to this slow unwinding of details is when we finally see the man in black - this passage glitters dangerously in comparison.

He realised he was afraid of the desert ahead.

This might be why the gunslinger dwells in Tull for a few days, rather than the draw of Allie. When we first meet the gunslinger, he has been within the desert for a while and, looking back on it now, in that first instance the gunslinger has a different "feel". He suffers from dizziness, and muses on the nature of reality - whereas in Tull he seems more focused and dangerous. Maybe there is something in the nature of the desert that will send a man to madness?

I actually want to wrap King's prose around me in a hug! It is so perfectly chosen at times:

He looked like wire clothes hangers all wrapped and twirled together. You could see all the lights of hell in his eyes, but he was grinning, just like the grins the children carve into their sharproots and pumpkins, come Reap.

That passage gives us another hint about the culture of the land - seems they do celebrate a version of Halloween but call it Reap instead. Reap gives it an otherworldly feel - makes it sound more dangerous.

Finally a hint of the horror that King is known for in the following passage!

Then he puked, and it was black and full of blood. It went right through that grin like sewer water through a grate. The stink was enough to make you want to run mad. He raised up his arms and just threw over. That was all. He died in his own vomit with that grin on his face.

Allie is terrified of telling the gunslinger about the man in black - her reluctance is understandable given what she sees and how he treats her.

I just want to pull out various sentences that give rise to a curiosity about the desert and what lies beyond it - we are being driven to wonder about this. Sentences include: "...the clouds flew across it, as if they had seen something horrifying in the desert wastes where they had so lately been" and "The clouds all go that way. It's like something sucks them-" and "The smell of the desert was clear in the air. Almost time to move on."

Tull really is a place of sinners! Not only do we have NortKennerly: "...lying by the window with a bottle in one hand and the loose, hot flesh of his second-eldest daughter's left breast in the other..." Maybe this is why the preacher has come to Tull?

In fact, there is a feel of death about Tull. This is linked through from Allie's fears of menopause and old age - "a condition which in Tull was usually as short and bitter as a winter sunset" - to the fact that the townspeople celebrate frantically at Nort's wake. As the man in black says:

"It excites them. He's dead. They're not."

The man in black is weird and creepy, from his wide grin to the words he says. Mention of the world next door indicates again that there is more than one world or dimension in this story. The 'magic' that he performs on Nort is eerie, with the lunging and the howling, "pouring over Nort's body like water poured from one glass to another and then back again."

The letter that the man in black leaves for Allie is just as strange - but also horrific:

You want to know about Death. I left him a word. That word is NINETEEN. If you say it to him his mind will be opened. He will tell you what lies beyond. He will tell you what he saw. The word is NINETEEN. Knowing will drive you mad. But sooner or later you will ask. You won't be able to help yourself. Have a nice day!

*shudders* That is some unimaginable temptation. Is the man in black the devil, the interloper, the Lord High Satan?

There is another hint in the scene between the gunslinger and Kennerly that we're dealing here with some post-apocalyptic world. Kennerly talks about "mutie oxen" which seems to be short for mutant oxen. Either mutated by some terrible disaster or through gene technology - or maybe simply magic? Not sure what we're dealing with in this world!

I'm finding some of the descriptions rather distasteful albeit realistic - am I just being a sensitive soul?

"That Allie's pretty nice when she wants to be, ain't she?" The hostler made a loose circle with his left fist and began poking his right finger rapidly in and out of it.

Another reminder of just how dangerous the gunslinger is:

He brought the knife down with both hands, and the gunslinger caught his wrists and turned them. The knife went flying. Sheb made a high screeching noise, like a rusty screen door. His hands fluttered in marionette movements, both wrists broken.

And then another little reminder of the sheer history that we have yet to find out - King definitely isn't in the mood to baby his readers along and go all exposition-heavy! The gunslinger has met Sheb before, when the gunslinger was just a boy, in a place called Mejis. Who is Susan? I suspect she is going to become pivotal - the girl that the gunslinger loved.

The next scene concerning the church service and the preacher-woman is heavy with symbolism and foreshadowing, it feels to me. The preacher-woman has come from the southeast, out of the desert, and seems to have an enchantment of the man in black within her - something to trap the gunslinger in Tull. She mentions LeMerk or LeMark, which resonates with the gunslinger - he has filed it away for the future, so we shall as well, since I reckon it could prove to be important.

And we finish this section with another of those loaded sentences that King does so well:

He only saw her once more alive.

Doesn't that give you a sense of dread?

Right, over to you guys - I've talked for way long enough! What have you picked out from this week's section? What interested you? What didn't you like? Any thoughts very welcome!


  1. Great post, Amanda. I have to admit, I got so caught up in this book that I rattled through it and finished reading it on Wednesday.

    You pick up on some great points, a couple of which certainly passed me by. And by the way, don't expect many answers by the time you reach the end - I think this series is going to be a lot like Lost in its drip-feeding of revelations...

  2. Well, I have been avoiding talking about this on your blog as I am trying to not ruin everything for you... I know you said you would choose which spoilers to read etc, but you wont understand until the end of the 7th book.

    Right: I haven't been reading along, but I think I might have to pick it up again! Been looking for an excuse.

    Now: suggestions on what to look at in this book/section:
    1. You need to analyse way the gunslinger (have they given his name yet?) treats other people. *spoiler* cattle *spoiler*. Up to this point, they are merely tools for his use. For instance, he is just using Allie for his ends and then no doubt (as the "He only saw her once more alive." line shows, she isn't going to survive much longer. The question is... at whose hand will she die?
    2. You also need to consider, through this book the relationship between the gunslinger and the man in black. As this matures through the 7 books you will understand the gunslinger a little better... and as it is the pivotal plot point so far, its worth thinking about
    3. Consider: Why is the gunslinger afraid of the desert ahead?
    Is it the future looming, or his past, or both? Will finally meeting the man in black be the end of his life('s goals) and leave him spent and burnt out? Is he afraid of what the desert contains (mutie oxen?), is it the symbolism of a neverending abyss?

    4. Keep up the good work ;)

  3. I also like the style so far. The details coming in bits and pieces. Through imagery and flashback.
    In scene 5 we also got some genetics (or bad magic) info with the burgers. "Threaded stock", "three eyes, six legs, or both"

  4. Amanda, I've finally got on to this, and I've now read to the same point as you. I love your write-up and observations :)

    I'm enjoying this so far, although initially I found elements of it confusing, which doesn't usually happen with a King book. Now I'm getting into my stride with it, and I'm really enjoying the sparseness and the drip feeding of portents. King shows his mastery of tension building in lines like the last one you cite.

    There are already certain recurrent motifs from King's work present here it seems to me. This is not the first fantasy written by King that I've read. He also wrote a medieval fantasy shortly after this, The Eyes of the Dragon, which I read many years ago. There is a subtle similarity with the feel of that from what I recall. There are also elements of his epic The Stand.

    I'm glad to be finally reading this series. Looking forward to the next part - see you here :)

  5. I agree with Jason above, i found a number of things, in this story especially, confusing at times. It's a great review and again, keeping this short as to not post spoilers!

  6. The earlier parts of The Gunslinger point toward a bigger world and/or multiple worlds. This is a massive hint at what comes in later books all of which is given an even bigger hint when *SPOILER* We meet young Jake and his entrance/exit into Roland's world *SPOILER*

    And Jason mentions above The Stand, lets just say *SPOILER* the Man In Black has associations with Randall Flagg *SPOILER*

  7. Insuperable,increible, leer los tres primeros libros de LA TORRE OSCURA y antes de empezar el cuarto leeros IMSOMNIA y entrareis en el universo de Stephen King.
    Please you must read the book I,II,III and later stop. Then you must read IMSOMNIA. I can´t find words. Simply the King.