I’ve been planning this for a long time. The seventh book of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series came out in 2006 and ever since I finished the last page of that book I have wanted to reread the entire series. So, with a little extra reading time available this summer I decided the time was right to finally take the plunge and go through all seven books plus the Wind through the Keyhole which was added later in between books four and five. Fair warning, this is a reread so I’m going to talk about the whole series mostly the ending because my primary area of focus during this reread is to examine the character of Roland to see how (if) he changes throughout his journey and to determine if there is any foreshadowing of the ending at any point during their series. So, for this point on consider yourself warned.
The first Dark Tower book is titled The Gunslinger and naturally it follows the Gunslinger, Roland, as he chases after the man in black. This is actually the third time I’ve read the first part of this book. When I first got into reading Stephen King when I was much younger, I got the first three Dark Tower books thinking I would blow through them like I did everything else I’d read by King up to the point. But I was wrong. I started The Gunslinger and made it about halfway though, got bored and stopped. As I continued to read my way through King’s books I realized some of them were interconnected and I knew in order to understand everything I had to give The Gunslinger another shot. The second time I blew through it, knowing there was a lot more in what followed. This time, I read the version King updated following the completion of the series. I don’t remember all of the details from my first reading so I can’t say how much is changed. But from this reading, there is a ton of foreshadowing that takes place that I would have missed the first time through. The ones that I noticed for the most part were toward the end of the book during the palaver between Roland and the man in black so I will save discussion of those until later.
For the most part, each of the Dark Tower books has a scene or two that really stuck with me over the years. The Gunslinger has two scenes that I always remember. One is actually all of the scenes that happen in Tull. The most memorable of all the Tull scenes is when Roland is on his way out, killing everyone in town on his way. After Sylvia Pittston gets the entire town to turn on Roland and try to kill him, he makes the only decision that will preserve his quest for the Dark Tower and kills everyone in the town. I’m not sure if it’s the artwork that was in the original copy of the book I read, a classic image of Roland standing at the end of a long line of bodies, or if it was just the way it was written, but the scene has always stuck with me.
The second scene is one that I most associate with this book and remains an integral part of the rest of the series which is when Roland lets go of Jake in order to catch the Man in Black. Jake dies, but Roland’s quest for the Dark Tower remains alive and well and this scene sets up all of the books that follow. It is hard, I think to read this series and not look back at that scene and realize its importance.
These two scenes are memorable, but they also give the reader insight into the character of Roland at this point in his journey. He killed everyone in Tull (men, women and children) to maintain his pursuit of the Man in Black. He then kills Jake, a boy who quickly became like a son to Roland, in order to meet up with the Man in Black and learn what he needs in order to get to the Tower. King does this precisely this way because he wants the reader to know how important getting to the Tower is to Roland. He will do anything, including killing children, to get one step closer to the Tower. In Roland’s mind, he is destined to get to the Tower and therefore, what happens on his way there, the people he kills and the lives lost don’t matter to him because he continues to reach his end goal. This gives us the most important piece of information we can have regarding Roland’s character. Obviously, in a seven-book series, there is ample opportunity for Roland to grow and change but early on we know the only thing that is important to him is his quest for the Tower.
At the end of The Gunslinger Roland finally catches up with the Man in Black and he is able to sit down and ask him questions regarding his quest for the Tower. There is a tremendous amount of foreshadowing in this part and it sets up the next few books in the series quite well. The Man in Black draws a series of cards meant to help Roland. The ‘hanged man’ card which represents Roland himself. The ‘sailor’ card is next which is Jake, the boy Roland killed in order to continue his trek. ‘The prisoner’ with a monkey on his back is Eddie Dean who we will meet in the next book. Next is the ‘Lady of the Shadows’ which has a woman with two faces on it, meant to represent Odetta Walker/Detta Holmes who also makes her appearance in the next book. The fifth card is ‘death’ though “not for you”, the Man in Black tells the Gunslinger. The next card is the ‘Tower’ and the final card is ‘life.’ The final card the man in black tosses into the fire and tells Roland that life is also not for him. This obviously foreshadows much of what will happen in the coming books but the way the Man in Black arranges the cards give us more insight into the ending of this story.
We know that once Roland reaches the top of the Tower, his journey to it starts over. And the Man in Black places the cards in a circle with the ‘hanged man’ card in the center of the circle. That card is then “covered completely” by the Tower card. This may be a piece of foreshadowing used by King to tell us that Roland’s quest is cyclical. There is no becoming or end of the circle of cards just a continuous circle, King even uses the word satellites when describing the positioning of the cards. Constant, continuous, repeated motion. The same as Roland’s journey. Additionally, by covering the card representing Roland with the Tower card, we learn that Roland and the Tower are essentially the same thing.
I enjoyed this read-through of The Gunslinger because it was nice knowing where all of this was going to end up later on. I’m anxious to move on to The Drawing of the Three and continue my second journey to the Dark Tower. While it is a short novel, it sets up so much of what follows. We learn a little about Roland and his history (more of which we will learn about in Wizard and Glass) and we begin to understand a lot of what Roland’s world is like and how it is different, though not entirely so, from our own. Until next time…long days and pleasant nights.
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