The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, Chapter 3

Though our journey is long, we've kept a steady momentum with a great discussion of Chapter 2! An oracle once told me we'd hold long palaver this week for Chapter 3.

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! This is a short chapter but a meaty one, so let's continue our journey with Chapter 3 of The Gunslinger:

CrimeHQ's The Dark Tower Reread

Chapter 3: The Oracle and the Mountains

I had been wondering when we would get to a few names that King had sprinkled throughout the first couple of chapters. We’ve heard about this Susan, or Susannah, and though she only appears in a distorted dream that Roland has at the start of the chapter—so we can’t be sure what’s factual—it’s certain this was a relationship that was important in his life. The dream further degenerates into what we can presume is foretelling:

The boy was looking down at him from a window high above the funeral pyre, the same window where Susan, who had taught him to be a man, had once sat and sung the old songs: “Hey Jude” and “Ease on Down the Road” and “Careless Love.” He looked out from the window like the statue of an alabaster saint in a cathedral. His eyes were marble. A spike had been driven through Jake’s forehead.

The gunslinger felt the strangling, ripping scream that signaled the beginning of his lunacy pull up from the bottom of his belly.

Upon waking, Jake is gone. Roland finds him at the altar of an oracle/succubus. Using the jawbone extracted from the last demon he encountered, he frees the boy from the oracle's spell and takes him back to their camp. Instructing Jake to keep the jawbone close for protection, Roland ingests some mescaline and goes back to the oracle.

An altar in the center of the Standing Stones of Stenness.

I find it mildly amusing that he has to brace himself with a drug to go the distance with this oracle in his quest for answers. Still, our gunslinger perseveres to hear the oracle prophesize about the three: a man possessed by a HEROIN demon, a woman who “comes on wheels,” and the man in black talking to him about the tower. She also lets Roland know that if he turns back from his hunt for the man in black (who, the oracle explains, has eaten Marten’s soul) and no longer searches for the Dark Tower that Jake’s life will be spared.

I’ve been thinking that Jake’s safety is hanging by a thread. First, we know that he has died in our world when the man in black pushed him in front of a moving car, and then he just happens to be residing, a little too conveniently, at that way station when Roland came along. King writes that Roland feels love for the child but his Captain Ahab obsession for the Dark Tower—well, let’s just say, I don’t see this eleven-year-old slowing down Roland from his goals.

And Jake senses it. He condemns him, in a manner of speaking, by saying, “He killed me the first time and you’re going to kill me this time. And I think you know it.”

At last, Roland sees his prey and does what comes natural: pulling his weapons and firing.

A spray of granite puffed over the head of the man in black; a second to the left of his hood; a third to the right. He had missed cleanly all three times.

The man in black laughed—a full, hearty laugh that seemed to challenge the receding echo of gunshots. “Would you kill all your answers so easily, gunslinger?”

After twelve long years, the man in black promises to talk “on the other side” and goes into the cleft of the mountain. Roland’s compulsion overcomes when he gruffly asks the boy if he’s going to follow or stay. King writes, “That was the moment at which the small figure before him ceased to be Jake and became only the boy, an impersonality to be moved and used.” So the search for the man in black, and ultimately the Dark Tower, supersedes any one person’s life to the gunslinger. 

What do YOU think about Chapter 3 and what the oracle has told Roland? Will Jake make it through the gunslinger's quest? 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. Alan Williams

    Although this was a short chapter, it was pretty critical. I think you’re right about Jake (I can’t actually remember much about the book from when I originally read it) and if he came between The Gunslinger and his goals he’d be sacrificed.

    Interesting how, despite being so adept with his guns, Roland can’t hit the man in black – a sign of his powers perhaps?

  2. David Cranmer

    tontowilliams, I’m assuming the man in black’s powers are much more vast than even the gunslinger can comprehend. But why is someone with those kind of resources even entertaining Roland?

  3. Charles Gramlich

    With two exceptions, I thought this chapter was a bit slow. It was a sort of slow-motion chase scene. The scene with the demon oracle worked well for me, and it let King cut loose a bit with his prose. Why write a fantasy if you can’ t let your prose sing? It seemed pretty clear that King himself has had some experience with mescaline, and that’s in keeping with other writers who have experimented with hallucinogenics (e.g., Huxley). The other scene that worked well for me was at the end, where they actually see the man in black. The change in emotional investiture for Roland with Jake at the very end of the chapter came as a bit of a disconcerting surprise. I wonder how that is going to play out.

  4. David Cranmer

    cgramlic, as mentioned before we are rereading early Stephen King and early SK short stories at that. The two scenes you mentioned was more than enough to keep me engaged but it was a bit of a slow ride. Still cracks me up he took the mescaline to strengthen his reserve against the succubus. Must remember this technique if I ever find myself in a similar situation with a female demon. As for Jake, I think he’s now considered expendable in Roland’s world.

  5. Adam Wagner

    I think we all need a little bit of artificial courage when dealing with powerful women…

    • Songbird

      Just curious if this page is still active. I just started the first book and love reading the contributions people have made here.

  6. Adam Wagner

    I feel like the fact that Jake essentially knows that Roland will kill him or let him die lessens the overall blow for Roland should he have to betray him. Based on the demon and the oracle, it seems a foregone conclusion that to continue his quest, the boy must die (if he isn’t dead already). It may not be easy, because I think the gunslinger has genuinely grown to love the boy, but the fact that they both know the fate of this world (at least as it pertains to Jake) makes it an easier pill to swallow.

  7. David Cranmer

    You make a good point, Adam. Perhaps, he’s just a badass who is resolute to the reality at hand. I’ll have to chew that over bit.

  8. Mates

    It would seem that nothing is going to deter Roland from his mission of reaching the Dark Tower.

  9. David Cranmer

    That’s for sure, Mates. What I’m interested in now is how much is orchestrated by the man in black and how much is free will on Roland’s part? I may be less interested if Roland is just being strung along and has no control in his destiny/search.

  10. Pritpaul Bains

    First off, happy birthday to Mr. King, who turned 69 today. First adult novel I ever read was Misery at the age of 10 and it changed how I viewed fiction forever.

    I’ve never been a big fan of visions or prophecies in the stories I read. Can’t quite put my finger on it, but something about them feels cheap. With that said, I was mostly okay with the demon oracle here – a needed bit of setup for the book to come.

    What struck me to this point in The Gunslinger is that thus far in the book, we really don’t have anything to go on by which we can credibly consider a “good” protagonist, or even an antihero straddling that line as best he can. To date, all the reader has seen of Roland tells us that he A) murdered an entire town in Tull (mitigating circumstances aside), B) is obsessed with his quest above all else, and C) is capable of reframing his feelings toward Jake to regard him simply as another tool in his quest and sever any attachment he may be starting to feel.

    Interesting way to introduce a protagonist.

  11. Oscar Case

    I’m afraid I haven’t been following along., and I doubt that I’ll catch up.

  12. Pritpaul Bains

    @11 – Only three chapters in so far! There’s time. 😉

  13. David Cranmer

    Kickpuncher, I found Roland’s capacity to turn off his emotional connection toward Jake great insight into this character—but has he always been able to do that? Compartmentalize relationships so easy. Does he assume that since Jake died once that he isn’t really in any permanent danger?

    And I agree that the gunslinger is a very different type of character though if I think about the Man With No Name in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly I can see the likenesses. Clint E was searching for the gold (his Dark Tower of sorts) and nothing was going to stop him. His one ‘friend’ (Eli Wallach) he places in a noose at the end before shooting him down. I don’t see a lot of straddling going on there either.

  14. David Cranmer

    Oscar, these are very short chapters—plenty of time to jump on board if you want to. Either way, thank you for stopping by.

  15. Mates

    Is it possible that Jake is nothing more than an apparition? If the gunslinger suspects the kid is a ghost then maybe he realizes he’s being toyed with by the man in black.

  16. Adam Wagner

    @Mates: Exactly! I mentioned this in the previous chapter discussions that the gunslingers uncertainty about the entire situation has him questioning whether anything/anyone is “real” or just apparitions set by the man in black. It’s possible that Jake is just a test (a stronger emotional test than Allie) or distraction to try and veer him off the path. Or, maybe the man in black isn’t trying to thwart his quest, but is testing his moxy to make sure he is worthy enough to continue?

  17. David Cranmer

    @Mates: I’m almost certain that the man in black is toying with Roland and I like Adam’s proposal that it is to test Roland’s intestinal fortitude. For what purpose is going to be fun to discover. But I just don’t see at this point that Jake is an apparition. Why? Don’t know—chalk it up to reader’s intuition.

  18. Denise Mix

    It would seem like the grandfather paradox would trip the gunslinger up if Jake were to die for good in his world. I’m guessing Jake didn’t really perish on 20th century earth but slipped through a passage to Roland’s before he was struck by the car. If he were to die again then he wouldn’t be able to help Roland because of the inconsistencies that would emerge associated with the paradox. I still wouldn’t rule out he’s a figment of Roland’s imagination courtesy of the man in black.

  19. David Cranmer

    @dMix: disturbing to think that if Jake is real and that the man in black swiped him from our world then he has access to an endless supply of humans to do his bidding. (A zombie squad.) In so many ways it is easier to imagine Jake as a ghost of sorts to blindside Roland. Oh, and when you start talking grandfather paradoxes and butterfly effects my mind starts to close down. I just watched a Nova program on the subject and my head is still swimming.

  20. Prashant C. Trikannad

    David, I’ll admit to being a little confused about Roland’s relationship with Jake, and even his intentions for the boy, and how it eventually comes in the way of his search for the man in black and the Dark Tower. This afternoon, as you know, I visited the Books by Weight exhibition and saw a cartoon of Stephen King’s novels lying on the floor. I looked at it, saw other people picking up his books, and walked right past. It never occured to me to look for this book!

  21. David Cranmer

    Prashant, FYI: we plan on reading through The Drawing of the Three which is the next book in the series after we finish The Gunslinger. So hopefully you still have a chance to track down a copy of either one—really appreciate your commentary. As for Jake, I believe Roland is using him as a resource of sorts to get to the Dark Tower. He may have developed some feelings (how deep is hard to say at this point) but he won’t let that interfere with the business at hand.

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