Welcome back to my first read of the Dark Tower series! This week I cover the The Oracle and the Mountains from The Gunslinger. Roland finally gets out of the desert, and we finally see the Man in Black live and in color (that color being black).
Roland and Jake have made it to the mountains at the end of the desert. The first real vegetation they get to among the grass, a copse of willows, brings fresh water and rabbits.
But the willows also bring danger, and not just suckerbats (see below). Roland wakes the first night to find Jake gone. He’s been lured to an ancient circle of stones. Roland narrowly saves him from the demon within. But Roland needs something from the demon. So he leaves Jake at their camp, takes some mescaline (which Jake suggests is like LSD, despite Roland giving it a description that doesn’t sound like a hallucinogen at all), and goes back to the circle of stones.
It’s prophecy he’s after. The demon obliges with some foreshadowing prophecy. It tells him “Three. This is the number of your fate.” I’m going to go out on a limb and say this has something to do with the sequel to The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three (already sitting on my desk, ready for the Big Read). There will be a young man, infested with a demon Roland has never heard of, HEROIN. There will be one who comes on wheels (given a female pronoun). The demon suggests the only way for Roland to save Jake is for him to divert his path, this he will not do.
Then Roland has to have sex with it, because King is a creepy weirdo.
Roland and Jake strike out again, climbing toward the path. The country grows barren again, and cold. Roland tells Jake his home was called New Canaan, and us that the Bible exists in his world.
They encounter the Man in Black at the mouth of a cave in the pass. He tells Roland they will have much counsel on the other side, “just the two of us,” then departs.
Where I’m Reading
What I’m Drinking
Bell’s Oberon, for a weekend full of the sort of weather I fled north to escape.
Roland uses the jawbone from the Way Station to break the demon’s grip on Jake. He gives it to Jake for protection while he goes to the demon.
Roland considers speaking to Jake “dan-dinh,” which would apparentl “open [his] mind and heart” to Jake’s command.
Roland describes the Tower as standing “at a kind of . . . power-nexus. In time,” but admits that he doesn’t know what that means.
Surely it was by the Man in Black’s magic that Roland misses the three shots he takes at him. (King is making a habit of presenting things that are probably supernatural without giving us a firm indication there are in fact so.)
Roland is worried about suckerbats getting them. And “if they were vampires, neither of them might awaken . . . at least, not in this world.” The implication seems to be that some suckerbats are vampiric, not that suckerbats and vampires are separate creatures.
An oracle/demon makes another appearance, but we don’t really get any new information (other than that sometimes they are horny demons).
King continues to have a knack for a killer opening line. “The boy found the oracle and it almost destroyed him.”
Another great line, after Roland admits that he loves Jake: “And it seemed that he could almost feel the laughter from the man in black, someplace far ahead of them.”
The opening of this section is some very good writing. King does something brilliant to show just how hard the desert was on Roland and especially Jake. He doesn’t show it by describing its effects while they were fully in the desert, but by describing its effects on them once they were so close to water they could hear the crickets chirp. (When I hiked the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim my buddy and I spent a very long hour climbing the last few hundred feet long after our water had given out, with tourists casually streaming past us. I feel their pain.)
I like the way King has built up the Man in Black, and the way he gives us glimpses of him before his full appearance here, but the appearance itself was a bit underwhelming. I prefer Flagg’s introduction from The Stand.
This is another section with a lot of worldbuilding without much action. I love worldbuilding as much as the next fantasy fan, but it all has to be in service of the story. The Gunslinger is lagging on that front thus far.
There are two sections left, but I’ve been going a bit slower than I prefer, so I will probably knock both out next week.
You can find all of my Dark Tower Big Read posts here.