Inspired by the epic scope of J.R.R. Tolkien's the Lord of the Rings, the western flavor of Sergio Leone's "Dollars Trilogy," the character of "The Man With No Name," and the theme of Robert Browning's "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came," The Gunslinger conveys the tale of Roland Deschain of Gilead, New Canaan in All-world, the last gunslinger in a parallel universe that has "moved on." The book concerns Roland's pursuit of the man in black during which Roland recalls his training under Cort and a stopover in Tull. Roland later meets a boy, Jake Chambers, who joins the gunslinger on his journey across the Mohaine Desert and into the Cyclopean Mountains.
The book was originally published as a quintet of novellas in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction over three years:
- "The Gunslinger" (Oct 1978)
- "The Way Station" (April 1980)
- "The Oracle and the Mountains" (Feb 1981)
- "The Slow Mutants" (July 1981)
- "The Gunslinger and the Dark Man" (Nov 1981)
A revised and expanded edition was released in 2003 as a prelude to the rapid release of the final three volumes of the series.
The main story takes place in a world that is somewhat similar to the Old West but exists in an alternate timeframe or parallel universe to ours. Roland exists in a place where "the world has moved on." This world has a few things in common with our own, however, including memories of the song "Hey Jude" and the child's rhyme that begins "Beans, Beans, the Musical Fruit." Vestiges of forgotten or skewed versions of real-world technology also appear, such as a reference to a gas pump that is worshipped as a god named "Amoco," and an abandoned way station with a water pump which is powered by an "atomic slug."
As Roland travels across the desert with his mule in search of the man in black, he encounters Brown, a farmer and Zoltan, his crow. Brown graciously offers to put Roland up for the night. While Roland is there, we learn of his time spent in Tull through a the tale he tells to Brown. Tull was a small town which Roland came to not too long before the start of the novel. The man in black had passed through the town previously; he brought a dead man back to life and left a trap for Roland: the town itself. After Roland spends some time there, the leader of the local church reveals to him that the man in black has impregnated her and has turned her against Roland. She turns the entire town on Roland; men, women, and children. In order to escape with his life, Roland is forced to kill every resident of the town including his lover, Allie. Telling this story seems cathartic for Roland. When he awakes the next day his mule is dead forcing him to proceed on foot. Before Roland leaves Brown asks his permission to eat the mule.
At the way station Roland first encounters Jake Chambers, who died in his own world (presumably our own) when he was pushed in front of a car while walking to school in Manhattan. Roland is nearly dead when he makes it to the way station. Jake brings him water and beef jerky while he is recovering. Jake does not know how long he has been at the way station, nor does he know exactly how he got there. He hid when the man in black passed by the way station. Roland hypnotizes him to determine the details of his death, but makes him forget before he awakes (since Jake's death was extremely violent and painful). Before they leave the way station they encounter a demon in the cellar while looking for food. After their conversation, Roland snatches the jawbone from the skeleton in the hole, from which the demon speaks.
After leaving the way station, Jake and Roland eventually make their way out of the desert into more welcoming lands. Roland rescues Jake from an encounter with a succubus who is an oracle and then couples with the oracle himself in order to learn more about his fate and the path to the Dark Tower. Roland gives Jake the jawbone from the way station to focus on while he is gone. After Roland returns, Jake discards the jawbone. As Jake and Roland make their way closer to the mountain, Jake begins to fear what will become of him.
In a flashback, we learn about Roland's chance encounter in a kitchen which leads to the hanging of Hax the cook. The apprentice gunslingers are allowed to witness the hanging with their fathers' permission. Roland reveals how he was tricked into calling out his teacher Cort early, through the treachery of Marten. He succeeded in defeating Cort in battle through his ingenious weapon selection - his hawk, David.
Jake and Roland make their way into the twisting tunnels below the mountain, propelled along by an ancient mine cart. During the journey, they are attacked by the "Slow Mutants," monstrous subterranean creatures. Roland fights the Slow Mutants off and they proceed. Eventually they find the Man in Black and, as Jake dangles precariously from the tracks, Roland comes to a pivotal choice; save Jake or pursue the Man in Black. Roland chooses to follow the Man in Black. Jake tells Roland, whilst hanging: "Go then. There are other worlds than these." He lets go of the edge and falls without screaming.
After sacrificing Jake in the mountain, Roland makes his way down to speak to the man in black. The man in black reads Roland's fate from a pack of Tarot cards, including "the sailor" (Jake), "the prisoner" (Eddie Dean), "the lady of shadows" (Odetta Holmes), "death" (but not for Roland), and the Tower itself as the center of everything. The man in black states that he is merely a pawn of Roland's true enemy who is the one who now controls the Dark Tower itself.
The man in black creates a representation of the universe in an attempt to frighten Roland by showing him how truly insignificant he is in the grand scheme of things. He asks Roland to give up his quest. Roland refuses and is made to fall asleep by the man in black. When he wakes up, ten years have passed and there is a skeleton next to him — what he assumes to be the man in black. Roland then sits on the edge of the Western Sea while contemplating the three people he now is charged with bringing into All-World - the Prisoner, the Lady of Shadows, and Death.
|The Dark Tower series|
|Novels||I (a-b-c-d-e; f) • II • III • IV • IVS • V • VI • VII|
|Short stories||"Low Men in Yellow Coats" • "The Little Sisters of Eluria"|
|Related works||`Salem's Lot • The Stand • The Eyes of the Dragon • Insomnia|
|Comics||#1-7 • #8-12 • #13-18 • #19 • #20-25 • #26-30|
#31-35 • #36-37 • #38-42 • #43-47 • #48-52
#53-57 • #58-59 • #60 • #61-65 • #66-70
|Characters||Roland Deschain • Jake Chambers • Eddie Dean|
Susannah Holmes • Donald Callahan • Walter o'Dim