Friday 17 December 2010

Dark Tower Readalong: The Gunslinger, Part 4

We've reached Part 4 of my Dark Tower Readalong, and this time we will be tackling the first seven chaplets of "The Way Station." Here is Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. Please do consider joining in this read through The Gunslinger, add comments and feel free to link to this post elsewhere so that we can try and build a nice little Dark Tower community, as we follow the path of Roland. 

First of all, I will provide a brief summary on how I see the events in each chaplet (there will be spoilers!) and then I will write out a commentary - my thoughts on what is happening, and, mainly, how confused I am *grin*


Roland walks throught the desert, with a song his mother used to sing to him in the cradle running through his mind. He has run out of water and is beginning to lose track of events. He arrives at some ramshackle buildings and sees a figure there - a figure he believes to be the man in black. However, it proves to be a young blond-haired boy. Roland is able to ascertain this immediately before he collapses.


The boy tends him while he is unconscious. He tells the gunslinger, when he wakes, that his name is John Chambers, but Roland may call him Jake. The boy tells the gunslinger that the man in black has been through - not long ago. Roland wants to know where Jake has come from, but the boy doesn't know, so Roland offers to make him sleep so that he could remember.


We learn what happened to Jake when he encountered the man in black. He lived in the present, in the real time, and he died - was he killed by the man in black?


While the boy is still hypnotised, Roland asks him if he wants to keep the memories when he wakes, but Jake demurs. Roland is confused by what he has learnt from Jake. When the boy sleeps, the gunslinger explores and finds an old pump that pulls water from the desert. Memories from his past overwhelm him.


As Roland and Jake talk in the evening, beside a little fire on the porch, we find out a little more about why the gunslinger has been pursuing the man in black. Roland decides to take Jake with him.


In the morning Roland goes down into the cellar to try and find some food. He manages to take some cans to the surface. When he goes back down - surrounded by mutant spiders - he hears a rumbling through the sandstone wall. He speaks to it - a demon, he believes - in High Speech and it replies with the voice of Allie, warning Roland that the boy is a trap. When he returns to the surface Jake is so relieved to see him that he rushes to hug Roland - and the gunslinger realises he has started to love the boy. They leave the buildings, heading again for the mountains.


Okay, first up, apologies for the delay on the readalong - sometimes real life really does take over, and I was laid up with a nasty little infection last Friday. Back to fighting fit this week and ready to read on through The Gunslinger!

We begin the section entitled 'The Way Station'.

Another little tidbit is handed to us concerning the world in which Roland lives - the little rhyme that goes around his head at the start of the first chaplet mentions 'planes' and he has no idea what these might be. He lived in a castle when he was a child, and was forced to face each night and the dark alone. This seems a distinctly odd upbringing, especially when he remembers his mother showing her love with songs and grace.

He was also "born to the High Speech" - rather than it be something he merely learnt.

Born to the High Speech and a gunslinger: "A gunslinger knows pride, that invisible bone that keeps the neck stiff."

Now and then King will write a sentence that makes my soul sing - often they will be incredibly simply, like this: "The mountains dreamed against the far horizon." Rather than belabouring the description to the point that it is dull and over-imagined, King allows the reader freedom with wonderfully elegant writing.

I wonder how much the following sentence will have resonance in the future: "The blood was not thirsty. The blood was being served. The blood was being made sacrifice unto. Blood sacrifice. All the blood needed to do was run...and run...and run."

How scary must it be to know you're almost dying of thirst, hallucinating, and yet you're also aware that it is happening, and that you need to carry on regardless? The gunslinger is a tough guy!

Another little supernatural hint here as well, as the gunslinger realises he has reached the two buildings: "The wood seemed old, fragile to the point of elvishness..."

Oh, the heartbreak and the hallucination! Roland believes he has found the man in black, and manages to summon the energy to run towards him with his gun. But "the delusion" is a strong one - a young boy. So painful and confusing for the gunslinger: "The gunslinger stared at him blankly and then shook his head in negation. But the boy survived his refusal to believe; he was a strong delusion."

When I read this: "A blade of pain slipped smoothly into his head, cutting from temple to temple..." I genuinely thought that maybe the boy was the man in black, hidden by illusions. I guess the language used is also to convey the extreme confusion and disorientation of Roland.

The boy! Jake! How sweet he is, and how very out of place. Roland's questions lead the reader to start understanding that the boy is not in his own time. Or is he? We don't know where the gunslinger exists - but the boy comes from a place with movies and Zorro and Times Square, all things that exist in "our world".

I'm amused (probably childishly so) that Jake measures time passing by the number of poops he has had...

"What's a channel?" A wild idea occurred to him. "Is it like a beam?"
"No - it's TV."
"What's teevee."

King makes a very specific distinction here for the reader, so that we can see the gunslinger has absolutely no comprehension of what this might be. I wonder how this effect is achieved in the audio book (if one exists)?

Roland is so very pragmatic and a rather unsympathetic character! When faced with poor Jake's tears, he merely says: "Don't feel so sorry for yourself. Make do." Does this give an insight into Roland's upbringing?

How wonderful to see the weird and zany parts of our world from the point of view of someone who sort of remembers: "Windows to look in and more statues wearing clothes. The statues sold the clothes." I'm assuming mannequins are meant here - if not, then maybe Jake comes from some strange futuristic time?

I think this is my biggest point of conflict with the novel so far. If I could just put my finger on WHERE they are and WHY they are, then I would be reading easier. As it is, I spend a great deal of time dwelling on it...

Does Roland use the shell as a type of hypnotism device? Or does he have a magic of his own when it comes to the guns?

The gunslinger has a real sense of self-loathing: "Not for the first time the gunslinger tasted the smooth, loden taste of soul-sickness. The shell in his fingers, manipulated with such unknown grace, was suddenly horrific, the spoor of a monster. He dropped it into his palm, made a fist, and squeezed it with a painful force. Had it exploded, in that moment he would have rejoiced at the destruction of his talented hand, for its only true talent was murder."

And here mention of the Dark Tower, in a mysterious fashion: "There was murder, there was rape, there were unspeakable practices, and all of them were for the good, the bloody good, the bloody myth, for the grail, for the Tower."

The flashback into how Jake appeared in the land of the gunslinger is what I consider to be typical King, in that it aims to shock and horrify: "It breaks Jake's back, mushes his guts to gravy, and sends blood from his mouth in a high-pressure jet [...] Blood runs from Jake's nose, ears, eyes, rectum. His genitals have been squashed."

And yet the gunslinger's land has electricity of some form, because we see him switch on the pump as Jake sleeps. But it sounds as though it is from a previous time: "...a thing as alien to this place and time as true love, and yet as concrete as a Judgement, a silent reminder of the time when the world had not yet moved on."

I'm a tiny bit uncomfortable about how often the gunslinger observes that Jake is a good looking lad. This is nothing to do with the same sex aspect, but the age of Jake.

We finally gain a hint of exactly why the gunslinger is chasing the man in black:

"Are you going to kill him?"
"I don't know. I have to make him tell me something. I may have to make him take me someplace."
"To find a tower."

Ugh, now I don't like spiders - but imagine mutants spiders with eyes on stalks or sixteen legs! *shudders*

Hmm, not sure what is going on with the "Demon" in the cellar, the one that Roland talks to in High Speech. Not sure what it is talking about when it references the "Drawers". I'm guessing it's a nice little bit of foreshadowing, so I will try to remember it.

This is sweet, but a little uncomfortable again: "He could feel the rapid patter of the boy's heart. It occurred to him later that this was when he began to love the boy - which was, of course, what the man in black must have planned all along. Was there ever a trap to match the trap of love?"

Any comments very welcome - did you see anything I missed?


  1. Yay, the reread is back!

    I thought the comment on the elvishness of the boards was also interesting. I wonder if that is foreshadowing or just description.
    King's language is very interesting through here, as you say. I also just read his "On Writing" book. Very good book. He mentions that on a rewrite he typically aims to cut out 10% of the first draft. So, sentences that might start out wordier get compacted. Seems to work from the results we see.
    It does seem like Jake is meant to be from "our world" or a close facsimile. The Man in Black seems to be able to cross whatever boundary there is between the worlds. Did he do this just to distract Roland?

  2. Amanda: your concerns about Jake and Roland are unfounded. It is more of a father-son than a creepy uncle-scared nephew kind of relationship :)

    Do you want somebody to explain the time/place issue, or are you content to know that it will be explained (somewhat) in the process of the story?

  3. Regarding the references to electricity, planes etc. The version I read there were a lot of mentions of Roland's world having "moved on". There was never any indication it was from our past, in our future only that it had "moved on".

    The Gunslingers and their culture seem to be the pinnacle, they have magic/science at their disposal.

    Also IIRC from the version I wrote there were several mentions linking the Gunslingers to the Arthurian legends is that still in the revised editions?