The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, Chapter 5

Now that we've had enough time to mourn the fall of Jake in Chapter 4, we finally catch up with the man in black. While I don't expect our conversation to last many years, let's pick the momentum back up for a week as we close out Book I of The Dark Tower. 

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 chapter's got symbolism abound as we finally get some “answers” about the man in black and Roland's quest—so let's begin our palaver over Chapter 5, the final chapter of The Gunslinger:


CrimeHQ's The Dark Tower Reread


Chapter 5: The Gunslinger and the Man in Black

The man in black leads Roland to “a Golgotha, place-of-the-skull.” Surrounded by the remains of dead animals, under a sky bluer than the gunslinger has seen in a while, the man in black puts him to work gathering firewood that he then magically ignites. After a rabbit dinner, they break out the Tarot cards, which Roland is told to lay down one at a time. Represented are the hanged man (the gunslinger), the sailor (explained to be Jake because no one threw him a line), the prisoner, “the lady of shadows,” death, Dark Tower, and life. The man in black informs him that the “death” and “life” cards are not for him. 

Credit: RavenMedia via DeviantArt

Then, in an attempt to frighten Roland away from his quest, he’s taken on a journey—a vision—where they zoom past the Milky Way planets, farther and farther out into the icy blackness of space, in some disturbing stimuli for the gunslinger: 

The stars themselves began to shrink. Whole nebulae drew together and became glowing smudges. The whole universe seemed to be drawing around him. 

“Please no more no more no more—”

The voice of the man in black whispered silkily in his ear: “Then renege. Cast away all thoughts of the Tower. Go your way, gunslinger, and begin the long job of saving your soul.”

Lots of biblical styling throughout The Gunslinger—especially in this closing chapter of Book I—and I’m reminded of Satan tempting Jesus by taking him to the top of a tall mountain where he is shown the kingdoms of the world that he could rule if he only bowed down to Old Scratch. Roland says “never” when asked if he will abandon his pursuit, and he is returned to the Golgotha where he learns that Walter o’Dim is another alias for the man in black. (You may remember Walter’s letter from Chapter 1.) The man in black also confirms that he came to Roland’s mother as Marten, though she never “broke” under his will. It seems that Walter/Marten/the man in black is able to change his appearance and is immortal, and Roland is told by this sorcerer that he himself is an immortal as well.

Biggest reveal: The man in black admits to working for someone greater than himself and that his knowledge is limited … “My king’s enchantment has prolonged this night and will prolong it until our palaver is done.” Well, that explains to me why the man in black doesn’t just kill Roland the many times he had the opportunity. When pushed as to how Walter met his boss, he explains:

“He comes to me in dreams. As a stripling he came to me, when I lived, poor and unknown, in a far land. A sheaf of centuries ago he imbued me with my duty and promised me my reward, although there were many errands in my youth and the days of my manhood, before my apotheosis. You are that apotheosis, gunslinger. You are my climax.” He tittered. “You see, someone has taken you seriously.”

Legion (more Bible references) is the name of the entity apparently paying attention to Roland, but before they meet, the gunslinger will have to destroy the Ageless Stranger. No more detail given there. Oh, and there’s still a link in the chain of command above Legion. But before all that, in Roland’s immediate future, there’s something called a drawing that will include three.

Roland falls asleep, and when he awakens, many years have passed. How does he know this? Time has been an iffy, shifting dimension; Roland’s hair has thinned and grayed; and there’s a skeleton sitting next to him that we are led to believe is Walter. Yeah, I don’t think so, and neither does Roland, who swipes the jawbone. 

Other lingering questions:

  • Why did the powers that be want Roland comatose for that long?
  • What about this North Central Positronics company? What role do they play?
  • What is the significance of the prime number nineteen? 
  • Is Jake still alive? He cheated death once before.

In November 1981, after twelve and a half years, the last installment of The Gunslinger was published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I wonder how readers reacted then because they had no idea that Stephen King would end up compiling all these segments into Book I, just the beginning of an epic eight-part series. Hell, Mr. King didn’t even know where everything was going at that point. Regardless, thirty-five years on, the final chapter of The Gunslinger rocks.

What do YOU think about Chapter 5 and Roland's discussion with the man in black? 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.
 


The Dark Tower Reread Navagation
Chapter 4 | Index | The Drawing of the Three: Part I

 

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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.

Comments

  1. Charles Gramlich

    I’m trying to remember how I felt all those years ago when I read this book, before much more in the series was out and certainly well before it was finished. In thinking back, I believe I probably was somewhat disappointed and that may have contributed to my low rating of the work at the time. Certainly, the actual confrontation with the Man in Black was pretty anti-climactic. But given the reveal and the fact that we know now there is much more, the ending makes sense. It also makes sense that this is a relatively short book, since it is actually only a part of a much longer work. I still wonder whether Jake may be coming back in the future.

    As for the writing itself, I thought it was quite good at the end. A little poetry, a lot of emotionial resonance. Overall this was a pretty pleasant, and quick reread of this work.

  2. David Cranmer

    Charles, you nailed it—looking at The Gunslinger as part of a bigger work it hits the right tone overall with some mysterious reveals and forebodings. But The Gunslinger on its own would not be a fully satisfying a read and I’m betting less so before Mr. King revised and updated. It now serves the purpose of whetting the appetite for the next seven books which it does quite admirably. I’m hooked and want to know where Roland is headed and if Jake still lives. And, of course, what the Dark Tower is all about.

  3. mates

    Who could be in control of the man in black but some supernatural entity?

  4. David Cranmer

    Mates, it has to be, right? I mean who else but a god-like entity can be controlling people’s lives to this degree.

  5. Adam Wagner

    I really liked the trippy feel of the dream sequence and subsequent explanation of the vastness of the universe and the inconceivable nature of reality in context.

    Honestly, it read like having a night terror. Absolutely terrifying except you don’t quite know why.

  6. Adam Wagner

    Although, I must say, I read the “death” of the man in black differently. I never questioned the skeleton being him, as it seemed he had finally served his purpose, thus being allowed to rest. It’s an interesting, and definitely plausible, idea that the man in black simply left and propped a skeleton in his place to trick the gunslinger into thinking he was no more.

    Either way, I assume it’s the last we see of him for a while at least.

  7. Prashant C. Trikannad

    David, as Charles noted, I thought the end was “anticlimactic” too. I expected more from the meeting between Roland and the man in black. I realise, of course, that you were constrained from revealing too much. Your thoughtful reviews of the five chapters of this multithemed and multilayered book, as I see it, has certainly piqued my interest in Stephen King’s body of work.

  8. David Cranmer

    Adam, Roland falls into a deep sleep and visibly ages when he wakes which makes one wonders how that is possible outside the world of magical spells. So when Roland sees the skeleton I’m very skeptical of it being the man in black. (Unless he will be regenerated later.) And I did like the trippy feel and “the inconceivable nature of reality.” Well said.

  9. David Cranmer

    Prashant, I see it being anti-climatic only if the book is viewed on its own. But there are seven more titles (to date) and its a perfect primer for me wanting to read #2 in the series. And like Adam mentioned above I like the philosphical elements of #1’s conclusion.

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