Friday 31 December 2010

Dark Tower Readalong: The Gunslinger, Part 5

After a brief break for Christmas Eve (on which I delivered presents and saw friends) and, acknowledging that New Year's Eve probably isn't the best day for a post (*grins*), here is Part 5 of the Dark Tower readalong.

I am planning to pop a new page on my blog which will link to each of the pages in the readalong as we go, so that you don't have to keep searching for them - that will happen either today or over the weekend. Hmm, sounds like just the mindless job I require with the monumental hangover I'm expecting from New Year's Eve!

So, here we go with this segment, which goes from chaplet 7 of The Waystation through to the end of the section (next time we'll kick off from the start of The Oracle and the Mountains.

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*


The gunslinger and Jake reach the foothills of the mountains on the trail of the man in black, who seems closer. The gunslinger feels a strange reluctance to catch up with the man in black, believing the appearance of Jake to be a trap and wondering if the man in black is slowing deliberately. He has thoughts of people from his past, and mentions them to Jake.


We have a flashback to Roland's past when he was a boy, friends with Cuthbert and instructed by Cort. We see Cuthbert's hatred for Cort and watch as Roland disregards the instructor.


Still flashing back to Roland's past: we see one of the events that starts shaping him into the gunslinger. He and Cuthbert both start following the way of the gun as they hear a treasonous conversation.


Another slightly disturbing flashback as Roland talks to his father. We have more hints about Roland's character, and the events that have led him to the situation he finds himself in chasing the man in black.


Roland and Cuthbert are allowed to watch the hanging of the cook from the kitchen, after they told on him regarding his treasonous actions. Roland finds it hard to see any sort of honour. He takes a splinter from the gallows to remind him of this lesson.


This is the last of the flashback scenes, where the hanging actually takes place. Roland realises he is destined to be a gunslinger.


Jake points out the man in black to Roland - he is now in sight, flitting up the mountains ahead of them. Roland says they will catch up with him on the other side.


Thanks to King building the very bleak picture of the desert landscape, it is very noticeable when the gunslinger and Jake finally see green, living plants as they reach the foothills.

I love the imagery that King shows us of the landscape - stark and vivid: "At night, Jake would sit fascinated for the few minutes before he fell into sleep, watching the brilliant swordplay of the far-off lightning, white and purple, startling in the clarity of the night air."

The gunslinger is worried about the fact that Jake is able to take the trail at a decent pace with no complaints. I think this is because the man in black has *changed* Jake somehow to make him more attractive and fit to be loved by Roland, thereby weakening him.

They are catching up faster to the man in black: "This did not please him as much as he once might have believed. One of Cort's sayings occurred to him: 'Ware the man he fakes a limp.'" So he suspects the man in black of slowing deliberately?

Jake has proper hero worship for Roland, doesn't he? Forcing himself past endurance to keep up with the gunslinger, copying words and phrases from him.

Ack, I'm about to quote extensively because this whole section confuses me thoroughly:

"When I was your age, I lived in a walled city, did I tell you that?"
The boy shook his head sleepily.
"Sure. And there was an evil man-"
"The priest?"
"Well, sometimes I wonder about that, tell you true," the gunslinger said. "If they were two, I think now they must have been brothers. Maybe even twins. But did I ever see 'em together? No, I never did. This bad man...this Marten...he was a wizard. Like Merlin. Do they ken Merlin where you come from?"

And then Jake talks about Arthur and the Round Table, and the gunslinger says Arthur Eld instead. Is the priest the man in black? So he was called Marten? Or is there actually two of them?

I love the whole sequence of flashbacks - it's good to finally get a slightly clearer picture of Roland's upbringing. Having said that, for every question that is answered, we definitely have more questions posed! The two boys - Cuthbert and Roland - are watched by Cort as they exercise the hawk David (named after David and Goliath, it appears, so the bible stories are known). Bert and Roland talk in the low speech, and it seems as though at the moment their paths in life could progress to EITHER gunslingers OR various other roles, such as courtiers or pages.

The training Cort appears to provide is of the tough love variety! "Cort swung again, and Cuthbert fell over again. The blood flowed more swiftly now. 'Speak the High Speech,' he said softly. His voice was flat, with a slight, drunken rasp. 'Speak your Act of Contrition in the speech of civilization for which better men than you will ever be have died, maggot.'"

There are a couple of mentions in the flashback section that Roland isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer - and this doesn't fit all that well with the man we've seen up til now. Roland thinks it about himself, that he doesn't understand the message Cort is trying to pass to him, and then his father observes that he is not the fastest boy in training. Up until now, I've believed that Roland was sharp and intelligent.

We actually, I think, see the death of Roland's childhood here: "What he felt might have been a sort of death - something as brutal and final as the death of the dove in the white sky over the games field."

This passage shows the sort of upbringing Roland has had: "That's crude, Roland, but not unworthy. Not moral, either, but it is not your place to be moral. In fact..." He peered at his son. "Morals may always be beyond you. You are not quick, like Cuthbert or Vanny's boy. That's all right, though. It will make you formidable."

Ugh, the back end of chaplet 10 makes me feel awfully odd. Roland thinks about his parents "fucking" - later in his life he hears the story of Oedipus, and thinks "of the odd and bloody triangle formed by his father, his mother, and by Marten - known in some quarters as Farson, the good man. Or perhaps it was a quadrangle, if one wished to add himself." *shudders* This feels me with foreboding, as does the end of the flashback section where matricide is mentioned.

We have a name for the walled city: Gilead.

Several times we hear a ritual saying to do with fathers - this seems a strongly patriarchal society: "I have not forgotten my father's face; it has been with me through all."

In the last section, back in the present, Roland wonders if there will ever be any road that doesn't lead to the killing ground - will the Tower be different?

Okay, a slightly shorted analysis, I fear - people to see, drinks to drink, that sort of thing! Did you spot anything I might have missed?

Also, I know I have been very lax at commenting on people's replies to my Dark Tower posts - in the New Year, starting from this post, I shall make much more of an effort, I promise. Would love to hear all your thoughts and start a dialogue about the books.


  1. I also was a little surprised thet Rolands father called him slow, as I also thought of him as an intelligent man.

    Still seeing a few small differences between our copies of the book. I like looking out for things you mention that are different to what's in my copy! Although in this section the chapters were broken up differently which did make working out where you had got to a tad confusing! Flicking through my copy I think this may well continue as only section 1 was broken up into the little chaplets, the rest of my book uses bigger chapters.

  2. I'd always took the description of Roland as "slow" didn't mean the same as some people think it does.

    I'd always took it that Cort's job was to turn boys into Gunslinger's and there were various skills they had to master in order to gain that title. Roland wasn't as good at learning those skills which is why he's referred to as "slow".

    In the version I read there is some mention that if anyone fails the final trail then they don't become a Gunslinger and are sort of "relegated" to a life of a courtier. Being the son of the top Gunslinger (which I'd always assumed Roland's father was) meant there was more pressure on Roland to succeed and on Cort to teach him.

    Also regarding the "I have not forgotten my Father's face" comment. I'd always took this to be an honour thing. People who are said to have "Forgotten the face of their Fathers" are without honour, bad people.

  3. The "slowness" seemed to me to be an externally applied label that Roland just accepted as a child. Cort doesn't seem to be the nicest of people and it is probably his idea of a motivational tool.
    As Amanda mentioned, Roland doesn't seem slow at all when we meet him.