Welcome to A Read of the Dark Tower series. Join me each week as I, Constant Reader, tackle the magnum opus of Stephen King’s career for the first time. If you want to discuss in general terms or talk about these first sections, join me by commenting here. If you want to talk spoilers, please head over to Tor.com forums for the spoiler discussion for the spoiler discussion so my Dark Tower-virgin ears won’t hear anything before I read it, which might tempt me into trying to sound more intelligent than I actually am.
In today’s entry, I’ll pick up with sections XI-XV of The Gunslinger’s first big chapter, also called “The Gunslinger.”
Section XI: Gunslinger (whom I shall refuse to call Roland until I’m officially told his name) and Allie are in bed when Sheb rushes into the room with murder on his mind, ostensibly jealous because Gunslinger is shagging his woman. Gunslinger breaks both of Sheb’s wrists with a single snap, then realizes he’s seen Sheb before—in a place called Mejis with a girl named Susan “before the bonfire.” Sheb recognizes him, but says Gunslinger was just a boy, one of three boys. Allie asks about Susan, but Gunslinger won’t talk about her.
What Constant Reader learns: Gunslinger has been in Tull four days now. The dude is obviously strong—Sheb’s hands were dangling at the end of his arms after a single snap. But Gunslinger seems to be killing time, trying to avoid moving into the desert. He realizes his reflexes are growing dull, or Sheb would never have been able to surprise him, and he wonders if the whole complacency-in-Tull thing is a trap set by the Man in Black.
(I’m wondering if Sheb is really jealous, or is under the influence of the Man in Black, about whom both Gunslinger and I are extremely paranoid. Is the whole town under some spell that he wove? But if so, why is Allie relatively normal, or at least relatively sane?)
Gunslinger thinks of the MiB by that name and not by Walter O’Dim, so this underscores that O’Dim is not a real name, or is one of many that the Man in Black uses.
We get another brief glimpse into Gunslinger’s past. Where is Mejis? Who is Susan (obviously someone he loved)? Why was he there with two other boys? What happened on Reap night (which I’m thinking is like Halloween or harvest)? And who is the Coffin Hunter, Eldred Jonas, who also was in Mejis?
A lot of questions are piling up and I’m as clueless as ever.
Section XII: Back to religion again. The bar is closed “for whatever passes for the Sabbath in Tull.” Gunslinger slinks into the church and hides in the shadows, watching the “preacher woman,” Sylvia Pittston, breathe fire and brimstone. She’s a “mountainous” woman who engenders a “sudden red lust” in Gunslinger that leaves him shaky. Unless Gunslinger has a fetish, we assume Sylvia has some kind of supernatural power that lures him. She is preaching about The Interloper and makes several innuendoes that let us know she’s referring to Satan as well as to the Gunslinger. She obviously knows he’s hidden there, listening. Finally, Gunslinger realizes she’s possessed. He thought “suddenly, with terror and absolute surety, that the man who called himself Walter had left a demon in her.”
What Constant Reader learns. Gunslinger is really afraid of the Man in Black, but driven to pursue him by a duty I don’t yet know enough to understand. This whole scene reads like something right out of the Pentecostal playbook—the religious ferver of the crowd, the man who collapses at the feet of the “evangelist,” the swaying and chanting. Hard not to see the mob mentality at work, fueled by religious zealotry, and not realize this is going to get really ugly very soon.
During her rant, Sylvia Pittston refers to The Interloper as “the Antichrist, a crimson king with bloody eyes.” (Uh, Lord Sauron, anyone?) She also talks about The Interloper as the one “who made the machines with LaMerk stamped on them.” That has to be significant because it’s listed right up there with old Satan’s other misdeeds, and Gunslinger picks up on it. But he isn’t sure if it’s “LaMerk” or “LaMark.” Even Gunslinger admits his memory is “capricious.”
Makes me wonder if Gunslinger’s self-doubt and capricious memory are not part of the slipping away of the world, and if whatever machines LaMerk or LaMark made didn’t contribute to the wasteland the land has turned into. He also has another sense of déjà vu—as if he’s heard Sylvia Pittston before. Another memoryfail?
Section XIII: In this short section, Allie and Gunslinger are in bed again. They seem to spend a lot of time there, but what else is there to do in Tull if one isn’t possessed by a demon? Gunslinger finally gets the information he wants from Allie: how long Sylvia has been in town and where she came from (about 12 years or maybe two, because “time’s funny,” and from the desert, far away), and where she lives (in a shack behind the church “where the real minister” used to live).
What Constant Reader Learns: Not much beyond what Gunslinger himself learns. He hears that Sylvia came from the desert and thinks “Southeast,” the direction in which the Man in Black is headed. So did MiB send her? Even though the MiB’s minion Sylvia Pittston doesn’t see people and stays in her cabin except to “preach,” we know Gunslinger’s going to go see her, and it’s probably not going to go well.
Section XIV: Another short section, but a chilling one. Gunslinger knows it’s going to be his last day in Tull, and a storm is brewing. He leaves, presumably for Sylvia’s house, and we are told he only sees Allie alive once more.
What Constant Reader learns: Uh-oh. Last time we had a storm brewing in Tull, the Man in Black was behind it.
I keep having to remind myself that all this is a big long flashback—that this is the story told through Gunslinger’s eyes, as he’s telling it to Brown in his hut at the edge of the desert.
Section XV: Gunslinger arrives at Sylvia Pittston’s shack. The constant wind has died down “and the whole world seemed to wait.” She doesn’t answer his knock, so he caves the door in with one hard kick. Sylvia’s in a rocking chair with a shawl, an oddly domestic picture. She tells Gunslinger he’ll never catch the Man in Black, and Gunslinger realizes MiB “screwed her in every sense of the word.” She claims to be carrying his child, calls the MiB an “angel of God,” and says the MiB told her that the Gunslinger is the Antichrist. So Gunslinger screws her too—with the barrel of his gun—while demanding to know what lay beyond the desert. He is careful not to touch her. Her orgasm seems to loosen her tongue and she tells him the MiB stops on the other side of the mountains to “make his strength.” Afteward, she says he’s killed the child of the Crimson King and orders the Gunslinger to leave, which he does.
What Constant Reader learns: The whole psycho-sexual thing with the gun barrel was disturbingly bizarre. Can we agree on that much?
So, at what point did the Man in Black possess Sylvia, body and soul? Before she came to Tull? Is Sylvia a victim? It’s hard to think of her as such, but once Gunslinger has exorcised her demon with his gun barrel-induced orgasm (hey, did the priest in The Exorcist ever consider this method?), the Gunslinger doesn’t kill her. Maybe he figures she’s already whipped the town into a frenzy against him and there’s no need. I keep thinking she feels like a loose thread he should have tied up, though.
Interesting that Gunslinger denies MiB ever told Sylvia he was the Antichrist, because earlier he’d told Allie that the MiB is many things, but not a liar. So that means Gunslinger is not the Antichrist—no surprise—and that the MiB’s claim to be an angel of God is true. Lucifer was a fallen angel, so that jibes with the whole angel/satan thing.
In the New Testament, in 1 John 2:18, the apostle John writes: “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour.”
Something apocalyptic is about to happen, yes?
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll pick up with the last five sections of The Gunslinger’s first chapter, also titled “The Gunslinger.”
Urban fantasy author Suzanne Johnson is annoyed that she’s far past 16 and still hasn’t discovered her secret powers. Her new urban fantasy series, scheduled to begin with the release of Royal Street in April 2012 by Tor Books, is set in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina. Find Suzanne on Twitter.