The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, Chapter 2

Great start to the reread—we've got a really interesting discussion going on for Chapter 1! Let's keep the momentum heading across the desert to the end of Chapter 2.

Thank you for joining me on a reread of what Stephen King has called his magnum opus, The Dark Tower series featuring Roland of Gilead, the gunslinger. It’s been 38 years since Roland’s quest began in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and four years since the last Dark Tower: The Wind Through the Keyhole (2012). Let’s see if this equal parts Western, mystery, horror, science fiction, and fantasy epic still packs a punch.

*Remember: While this is a reread, please avoid spoilers in the comments. The point is to get there together!

The plan is to read a chapter a week, and each Tuesday we will meet to discuss major themes, motifs, and reactions. Make sure to bookmark the HQ page for the schedule and links to all of the chapter discussions as they go live! Let's get into Chapter 2 of The Gunslinger:

CrimeHQ's The Dark Tower Reread

Chapter 2: The Way Station

In the desert, out of water, and stumbling toward what should be his death, Roland views two buildings in the distance: a way station and a barn. To the trained eye, there’s John Wayne being goaded ahead by images of his dead friends in 3 Godfathers (1948) or Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name parched and dying in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966).

King’s vivid cinematic approach (Sergio Leone is a huge influence) as a storyteller quickly turns the overtly familiar on its head—Roland, nearly as dead as the Duke and Clint, pulls his guns to kill a figure he can’t quite make out. He finally realizes it’s a blond hair, blue-eyed boy just before passing out. After Roland regains consciousness, the boy—Jake Chambers—offers the gunslinger water and food and helps him back to strength. He says he had seen the man in black and hid away until the villain moved on. Roland senses he’s very close to his moving target.

Prior to this moment, we had been getting bits and pieces of what the gunslinger is capable of doing, which is mostly rooted in his adeptness with firearms. Now, we learn he’s capable of so much more when he hypnotizes Jake by twirling a bullet shell along his fingers. Jake appears to be from our timeline and goes to school in Manhattan. His parents seem to be indifferent to his existence—both are professionals with little time for him. We also know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the man in black is pure evil, as a hypnotized Jake recounts:

He comes to the corner and stands with his bookbag at his side. Traffic roars by—grunting blue-and-white busses, yellow taxis, Volkswagens, a large truck. He is just a boy, but not average, and he sees the man who kills him out of the corner of his eye. It is the man in black, and he doesn’t see the face, only the swirling robe, the outstretched hands, and the hard, professional grin.

So Jake dies in our world and wakes up in the gunslinger’s where he is in a sort of purgatory at this way station. Roland assumes the boy could be a trap, but he feels an emotional draw and decides he will take Jake along. But before they leave, Roland goes foraging for food and water in the way station cellar where he hears unhallowed sounds coming from inside the foundation wall. Then, in the voice of Allie—the woman he left in Tull—the demon intones, “While you travel with the boy, the man in black travels with your soul in his pocket.”

What a disturbing, awesome image that is, right?

Reluctantly, Roland breaks through a small opening in the wall and pulls out a jawbone that he keeps. Once again, we learn a little more about Roland’s calling because though he didn’t want to confront the evil, he does so while recollecting a proverb: “Take the dead from the dead…only a corpse may speak true prophecy.”

Loads of backstory via another flashback: the gunslinger's full name is Roland Deschain, son of Steven Deschain who is a lord of Gilead and one of many gunslingers. His mother is Gabrielle, and his days were spent under the tutorship of the harsh but intelligent Cort. He has a best friend, Cuthbert Allgood, and at the crux of this reflection is how the boys discovered Hax, a cook who was kind to them, was involved in treason. They tell their fathers and eventually watch as Hax is hanged for his crime. Whereas Cuthbert has difficulty watching, Roland peers closer, seemingly fascinated by the proceedings. Is King saying this is where Roland, in his heart, became a gunslinger?

I was confused by the Steven-Marten-Gabrielle connection mentioned…were you? I thought that perhaps what I remembered from my first reading may be a part of the story that King had revised in the 2003 edition—or maybe I’ve just forgotten. So I went online for answers. Big mistake. Unintentionally exposed myself to a sizable chunk of Marten’s history. Will not make that error again on this reread.

As Chapter 2 closes, we have Roland and Jake close to their adversary but still so far away.

They began to move upward again, sending small runnels of pebbles and sand down toward the desert that washed away behind them in a flat bake-sheet that seemed to never end. Above them, far above, the man in black moved up and up and up. It was impossible to see if he looked back. He seemed to leap across impossible gulfs, to scale sheer faces. Once or twice he disappeared, but always they saw him again, until the violet curtain of dusk shut him from their view.

That imagery reminds me of something out of Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane stories. Creepy, mysterious evil roaming the earth at will.

What do YOU think about Chapter 2 and the relationship between Jake and Roland? Head to the comments and start/join the conversation!

*Remember: Be careful with your comments—NO SPOILERS! We will be moderating the comments and deleting anything we feel is a spoiler, so pause before you post and make sure you're not ruining it for someone else.

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David Cranmer is the publisher and editor of BEAT to a PULP. Latest books from this indie powerhouse include the alternate history novella Leviathan and sci-fi adventure Pale Mars. David lives in New York with his wife and daughter.


  1. Charles Gramlich

    Here are my thoughts on Chapter 2 of Gunslinger. 1). My level of interest in the story as a whole ramped up. Chapter 1 wandered, especially at the beginning, but now it seems King has the reins in his teeth and the story is off and running.

    2). Though extensive, I thought the flashback here was much better done than in chapter 1, where it seemed more tacked on for stylistic effect. Here, we are provided with a lot of needed information and it was told in a linear form that was easy for me to follow.

    3). My favorite touch here is when we learn about the boy’s backstory. This throws a whole new spin on the tale as it clearly reveals the basic spiritual/religious basis for the story. We know now that we’re not in a “real” world as we understand it.

    4). I, personally, found more poetry in the writing in this section than in chapter 1.

  2. David Cranmer

    I like how you worded that, cgramlic, “ramped up.” My interest too. It seems more focused, backstory works better, and I like the mystical element of him spinning that shell. And King has me liking Jake. Nice contrast of the innocent boy vs. hardened gunslinger.

  3. David Cranmer

    I mention ‘evil’ again when describing our antagonist but what else to call the man in black’s actions of pushing a kid to his death, right?

  4. Charles Gramlich

    The Jake/Gunfighter relationship is looking like it’ll be pretty complex. I’m definitely feeling the Man in Black as evil, although I’m sure he feels himself justified in what he is doing.

  5. David Cranmer

    The man in black is one of the most rewarding bad guys I’ve read (reread) in quite a spell. Matthew McConaughey is a great actor and I’m sure he will do a fine job in the film next year but when I think of this pure evil character I see more of a Willem Dafoe style.

  6. Joe Brosnan

    I won’t lie, it wasn’t until Jake appeared, with his clear connection to our “real world”, that I grew sure I would continue on with the series. I’m always weary of a wise beyond their years child, but I think King does a great job of straddling that line.

    Great job overall, David. Really enjoying this whole reread so far!

  7. David Cranmer

    Thanks, Joe. Appreciate that. It’s been an enjoyable kick so far. And I know what you mean about the smart kid trope that I’m tired of as well but Jake seems more wounded than anything else to me.

  8. Alan Williams

    This feels like a pivotal chapter, although not at first, it isn’t until the flashbacks start and the hypnosis that things become clearer. That said I didn’t enjoy it as much if I’m honest – more of a joining chapter, and slowing down some. That said I’m enjoying the reread as I realise just how much i.e. Nearly all of what I read originally.

  9. David Cranmer

    tontowilliams, its such a refresher for me. I didn’t remember Roland’s episode in the cellar, that he almost killed Jake, and the hypnosis.

  10. Adam Wagner

    This chapter really solidified what I thought in the previous chapter about everything Roland is experiencing being a trap or dark magic brought about by the man in black. I’m not at all sure what’s “real.”

    It seems like Jake comes from our world, which would indicate “real,” but he died/was killed and placed in this world, seemingly to fit the man in black’s purposes or Roland’s fate. With a seemingly impossible task ahead of him (the book alludes to a great amount of time Roland has been chasing), it seems Roland is stuck in a sort of Atlas-like purgatory–maybe Jake too?

    It brings me back to a philosophy class I took, where on the first day–to really get the mind working towards metaphysics/epistomology–the teacher introduced the famous “brain in a vat” though experiment. Is Roland and others around him some sort of play thing to be controlled in this world? Who’s to say?

    I’m excited to find out–bring on Chapter 3!

  11. Charles Gramlich

    JoeBrosnan, I agree that this chapter has hooked me enough to keep me reading.

  12. Charles Gramlich

    AdamCWagner88, yes, this chapter did a nice job of complicating things and yet making it more clear that we are dealing with a fantastic and not quite real world.

  13. Pritpaul Bains

    As already noted, this is very much the point at which The Gunslinger begins to hit its stride. I appreciate the minimalist approach of the first chapter and the sheer scale of vast solitude it conveys, but the way the world really starts to open up here went a long ways toward keeping me going.

    I should note, I was initially kinda concerned about Jake immediately becoming the secondmost prominent character in the book as so few authors are able to write children in ways that aren’t pithy or annoying, but King has enough cred stored up writing kids between The Body, IT, and The Shining that I needn’t have worried (note deliberate exclusion of Cujo from that list).

    I could read books upon books of Roland’s backstory. I’m endlessly fascinated by Cuthbert, Alain, and Cort. Trying my best not to look ahead to Wizard and Glass! And yeah, the Steven-Marten-Gabrielle connection threw me for a loop initially as well – though I ended up just riding it out and waiting for clarity.

    Already looking forward to the next chapter, David. Thanks much!

  14. David Cranmer

    [url=]AdamCWagner88[/url], we are watching a Nova series called The Fabric of the Cosmos. The third episode, Quantum Leap, talks about the now gradually accepting theory that we could have scores of alternative worlds with many different versions of you/me. Stepping through a wormhole and hello David #2. Not quite what King was going for but I like the fact that this fantasy novel with a door opening up in another time, may, someday, not be so far fetched. But, hell, I could just be a “brain in a vat” thinking that.

  15. David Cranmer

    Kickpuncher, so it wasn’t just me with the weird Steven-Marten-Gabrielle ‘ménage à trois’ of sorts—glad to know that! King certainly has an affinity to younger people, I remember The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon and the 9-year-old lost in the woods. He seems to remember what it is like to be those ages. I like Jake. Fingers crossed he doesn’t grow annoying though.

  16. Teddy P

    [quote]“While you travel with the boy, the man in black travels with your soul in his pocket.”[/quote]That is such a brutal line.

  17. David Cranmer

    TeddyP, poetic and also a very cruel that you are basically screwed kind of sentence. Brutal, yes.

  18. Adam Wagner

    David: I’ve read a decent amount of layman’s books on quantum physics/mechanics. It’s fascinating. I can unashamedly admit that I understand about half of the words in all the books, while wishing I could understand them all (which is how most scientists feel about quantum physics in general I’ve come to learn).

    This conversation just made me think: There seems to be a refrain of the line “The [this] world has moved on.” Maybe we are getting to otherworld/alternate universe scenarios. Roland’s world has moved on, but he’s a survivor and the Tower he’s looking for is another shot in another world? Dunno–just spitballing now.

  19. David Cranmer

    I hope you are right, Adam. Like Joe said when the connection was made to our “real world” it became so much more engaging.

  20. Prashant C. Trikannad

    “So Jake dies in our world and wakes up in the gunslinger’s where he is in a sort of purgatory at this way station.” — David, I was curious about the different timelines and particularly liked the way King handled the flashback and the present, which I thought was quite subtle and matter of fact. This chapter has dark overtones with a touch of the horror. How I wish I’d read the book!

  21. David Cranmer

    Prashant, besides King’s flourish with the timelines, I like observing how he gets us emotionally attached to secondary characters. Knowing the Maine sage from so many other top books, its only a matter of time before some of these bit players don’t make it—a master’s touch the way he binds the emotional knot to these lives.

  22. Patrick Barker

    The flashback of how Jake dies is so visceral and disgusting. I was cringing and gritting my teeth as he describes how the car broke his back and that he could taste his own shit in his blood. Super effective writing.

  23. George Duncan

    I am so excited to start my re-read of this series. I look forward to sharing this ride with you all. Especially as you went for the right 5 years ago!

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