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:
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.
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.