Welcome back to my first read of the Dark Tower series! This week I finish up The Gunslinger, Book 1 in the Dark Tower series, with The Slow Mutants and The Gunslinger and the Man in Black. Roland finally confronts the Man in Black. Or does he?
Roland and Jake follow the Man in Black into the hole in the cliff face. Walking in the dark, they find a railroad handcar (along with railroad tracks). They come to an abandoned station, complete with mummified railroad employees, and survive an attack from “slow mutants.”
More interesting than the passage through the dark tunnel is a flashback to Roland’s youth. He learns that his father’s counselor Marten, who he obviously believes was the Man in Black, cuckolded his father, the lord of Gilead. Roland responds by demanded to complete his apprenticeship, earlier than any other would-be gunslinger. To do so he must defeat his teacher in combat. He does so, choosing his hawk as his weapon, but he is sent away and never gets his chance to confront Marten.
The eventually come to a degraded trestle bridge over a chasm. Fresh air and a pinpoint of daylight beckon ahead. The Man in Black is waiting for them at the end of the bridge. Jake falls but Roland makes it across the bridge.
Roland again tries to kill the Man in Black, with his guns and with his hands, but again cannot. The Man in Black assaults him with a vision of the creation of the universe. Roland survives the vision, and rejoins that the Man in Black doesn’t understand it either, that he is just a lackey. The Man in Black wears a different face, but admits that he was Marten. The Man in Black says that he has a king, but that Roland must slay the Ageless Stranger before he meets him, but even that Stranger, Legion, there is one greater than he.
Roland wakes from the preternaturally long night to discover that he has aged ten (!) years. Was he asleep for ten years or did he aged unnaturally? Roland must travel twenty miles to the ocean for the “drawing,” and we must travel to Book 2, The Drawing of the Three.
Where I’m Reading
What I’m Drinking
Don’t let the Deep Ellum Brewing pint glass fool you, I’m drinking a Tangerine Express IPA from Stone Brewing.
Roland thinks Jake is “strong in that half-empathy, half-telepathy they called the touch.” This is another example of something that may or may not be supernatural.
Roland is again unable to hurt the Man in Black. The Man in Black uses magic to light a fire, sardonically noting that he has matches but was going for effect, and he sends Roland a vision. The night is extended to allow them to palaver, and Roland is either made to sleep for ten years or aged ten years.
Roland describes seeing a “not-man,” i.e., an invisible man, hanged.
The Slow Mutants that attack Roland and Jake glow green in the dark like some sort of deep sea creature. They have insectile eyes and flattened noses, with a “knotted mess of tentacular arms and suckers.”
King uses archaic language for effect. I am a fan of that sort of thing…but King doesn’t always pull it off. I read the Cotillion scene a couple times and couldn’t make heads or tails of it, though it is relatively clear from context.
I understand that the movie and the book are telling very different story. Roland has yet to travel to our world here. He apparently won’t be doing so with Jake. I was surprising to see that, though we may see Jake again.
As a general matter, I was much more interested in the story told in the flashbacks than in the main story. Though I’m a bit disappointed to learn how personal the gunslinger’s mission is. “This time it’s personal!” has gotten to be such a tired trope in movies that I reflexively recoil wherever I see it.
The entire book contains an immense amount of worldbuilding. Good thing I love worldbuilding. But it was only at the very end of the book that the worldbuilding really grabbed me and made me want to rush ahead. And rush ahead I will, picking back up with the Big Read next week with the beginning of The Drawing of the Three.
You can find all of my Dark Tower Big Read posts here.