My real-time review continued and consolidated from here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2011/01/14/capeks-newts-corengate-at-the-dark-tower/ with the intention of reviewing in future all Stephen King’s Dark Tower books (the only books of his I’ve not previously read). [All my other real-time reviews are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/]
There is no guarantee how quickly this review will progress, whether it be days or years.
THE DARK TOWER – THE GUNSLINGER by Stephen King
first published 1982 – this edition New English Library 2003
Being reviewed at the behest of some members of the Message Forum Stephenking.com I just joined following my Real-Time Review of Full Dark, No Stars. You see, I admitted to reading all SK works as they came out except ‘The Dark Tower’ books.
I. 1 – 5
“…where demons undeniably walked;” I’ve reached the end of Chapter 5 of the first section. (I’ve not read the Foreword or any other impure non-fiction gubbins that precede these chapters). A brooding spaghetti western, brilliantly evoked in King’s inimitable style. The last Gunslinger in an oblique quest, meeting strange characters, feeling strange feelings, surrounded by the creaturification of the words that bear him on their backs. “And pigs would dance the commala in the light of the Peddler’s Moon.” (15 Jan 11)
I. 6 – 7
“Somewhere something was tottering, and when it fell, all would end.”
Narration within a narration as the Gunslinger is told by his one-night stand about the Man he follows, i.e. the Man in Black with an ability to resurrect the dead, particularly a told-about corpse with a sick grin, amid more mysteries and oblique wonderful weirdmongerishness and not davinci but numeral codes….nnnnn nineteen… [I keep expecting one of Capek’s giant lizards to stump along the tussocky horizon as a cameo.] (16 Jan 11)
I. 8 – 10
“He was like something out of a fairytale or a myth, a fabulous, dangerous creature.”
Like King himself in 1982 as distilled by his fiction? And what is over the other side of the endless desert? Devils? We’re not told. Too busy looking after the Gunslinger’s mule. There might even be giant lizards brooding inscrutably out there? Reading this book and wondering why they’re not mentioned? Thinking aloud. (17.1.11)
The Gunslinger has a past & it is being eked out non-collusively to we bystanders of this very strange konking fiction. I wish I had read this book before. It sheds light on other pieces by this author I’ve enjoyed piecemeal from the time of Carrie in the seventies. But the light The Gunslinger sheds is diffusive, misty, intriguing, a dream that is slowly fitting into shape in a parallel way to how the story of the lizard-newts is emerging within the other novel I’m reading randomly alongside it (ie ‘War With The Newts’ by Karel Capek). (18 Jan 11)
“The gibbering madness that walks and crawls and wriggles through men’s most awful wants and desires.”
From that beautiful woman ‘surrendering’ to creatures just now in my concurrent reading of War With The Newts by Karel Capek, we have here in TDT-TG, almost by inversion, a grotesque woman preacher creating creatures from herself as conjurations of her gospelling prayers … while the Gunslinger watches her memorable ‘performance’, here in Tull.
“I have walked arm in arm in the lion’s den…” (19 Jan 11)
I. 13 – 20
“Why do you have to think you’re in the middle of such a mystery?”
In 1982, when this book was first published, it must have been a horror genre trail-blazer. It stil is – and the Gunslinger continues his quest for the Man in Black, piecing together, yes evolving (in the context of this whole real-time review) items of gossip into truth, prehensile myths into first hand experience, a Tullish killing-mayhem, weirdmongerishness (prefiguring as I now realise for the first time my own ‘Weirdmonger’ story published in 1988) – as, here, the first section of this book (called ‘The Gunslinger’) comes to an end. Very impressed.
“The wind walked restlessly, told its tale to no one.” (20 Jan 11)
“Because the man in black had shrunk two full feet…”
The book’s 2nd section starts here (THE WAY STATION), resonating, via high fantasy, and a self-concocted nursery-rhyme merged or muddled from the gunslinger’s childhood, approaching a sandhouse waystation (where I imagine tiny lizards foraging but not by dint of any words telling me that) – and has the man in black whom he seeks really shrunk…? Only at waystations can plotspoilers roost without compunction but then fly off as if they’d never been there at all, I guess. Meantime, the prose in this book is genuinely some of King’s best I’ve ever seen. (21 Jan 11)
“It was not fair to ring in innocent bystanders and make them speak lines they didn’t understand on a strange stage.”
But who is stander and who is bystander, I ask. Our protagonist meets a boy called Jake who speaks of memories that may or may not be of a real world that we readers or bystanders know, a world that haunts the gunslinger’s world. Which world neutered, which unneutered? The book in my hand seems to indicate something real about my own once-upon-a-time world of old-fashioned TV sets. But what if it were now a slippery text on a Kindle, instead? (22 Jan 11).
II. 3 -4
“Somewhere a radio is playing a song by the rock group Kiss.”
[Cf: “This, if we may so call it, kiss continues for several days;” in today’s concurrent War With The Newts reading.]
A past car crash (like exploding lizard sex?) is emblematic of Time’s retrocausality as the Gunslinger and Jake, at the Way Station, seem to transcend destiny – as well as the thought that the man in black may be slowing deliberately so that he can be caught up with? (23 Jan 11)
II. 5 -6
“While you travel with the boy, the man in black travels with your soul in his pocket.”
It’s as if the man in black has reached forward into the future and seen a vision of ‘The Road’ and brought it back, by FD,NS’s gps sat-nav, towards the story’s time or the author’s time in 1982 or the reader’s time in 2011 – and thrown in spiders each with sixteen legs as part of the bargain. This, I’m now convinced, is a major work of retrocausality that only we in the 2010s can begin to appreciate for what it is – because some of it’s now coming true. And I also experience the apparent neologisms – (like ‘gunna‘) – as if the book’s teaching me to learn things anew as well as in hindsight. Indeed, fathoming the baffles & fables, veils & piques of the book itself is my own Dark Tower quest, perhaps, and this process of real-time reviewing (facilitated by the internet) is at last helping me to home in from various directions of creative reading so as to triangulate an as yet unknown goal. A way station of literature with no certain clue whither it points me. (24 Jan 11)
II. 7 -12
“Sooner or later, if there isn’t a turncoat, the people make one.”
The gunslinger (Roland) tells boyjake of his youthful friendship with Cuthbert, their act of betrayal of the cook for his act of betrayal, watching him hang… And the almost Arthurian hurdles to be a gunslinger… An ambiance crossing ted hughes with gormenghast…. We are in territory that knows no causation other than the rules of magic fiction as truth itself.
“In the end it wasn’t such of a much,” (25 Jan 11)
II. 13 / III (The Oracle and the Mountains) 1 -2
“It ends this way, he thought. Again and again it ends this way.”
Jake and gunslinger Roland back in the retro-effected plot-moments of surrogate ‘now’ – almost physically ‘Ted Hughes’-ed and holly-prickled by words they are meant to inhabit together with the crickets and suckerbats… Hey, Jake, is this a post-holocaust-of-our-known-world scenario – with a song that is here mentioned called ‘Hey Jude’? “Nnnnnnnnnn–” (26 Jan 11)
III. 3 – 4
“There was a ring of black standing-stones which looked like some sort of surreal animal-trap in the moonlight.”
And an altar – a “jawbone mojo” and cinematic abandonment of a relationship that we believed would last an eternity of fiction. Echoes of Jake’s past in our world (O dear co-reader) and the gunslinger’s attempt to gain some purchase on post-Toynbeean history. Challenge-and-Response: the way events move. That’s what King is so good at. And the tasty language. (27 Jan 11)
III. 5 – 7
“Ah, Roland, will thee betray such true thread as this in a sad unthreaded world?”
Through mystic communion with a sexy immanence or muse, or through drugs, at his “willow-jungle“-filtered altar, Roland envisions worlds or various civilisations that threaded our own? And these worlds were ironically destroyed by drugs if these were the same drugs now enabling him to see the visions in the first place? This is the beginning of the quest proper – another number: ‘Three’ to go with the earlier ‘Nineteen’ – and The Road that boyJake tells our protagunnist will not be hard. I wonder if he’ll be right. Mountains or Mysteries with teeth that will or will not allow our food for thought to pass through them. (28 Jan 11)
III. 8 – 10
“‘Why am I here?’ Jake asked. ‘Why did I forget everything from before?’ / ‘Because the man in black has drawn you here,’ the gunslinger said. ‘And because of the Tower. The Tower stands at a kind of . . . power-nexus. In Time.'”
The gunslinger and Jake are steeped in and drawn along by the gormenghastly, tantalising destiny of past or future, allowing the present, momentarily, to be the present, with the man in black present, too … momentarily. I feel drawn along with the gunslinger and the boy as they enter the man in black’s shadow as a means or a path towards who knows which retrocausal fulfilment out of many such fulfilments; even though they’ve already been written by the dark kingstephen, I still haven’t been hidebound by reading these as yet unread words herein on hard, (unchangeable?), unkindled paperpages? (29 Jan 11)
IV (The Slow Mutants). 1
“We were sneaking into one of the old balconies, the ones that were supposed to be unsafe and roped off.”
Wildwest campfire talk as night gentles around, I guess. Roland tells jakeboy of his boyhood. The poetic language is remarkable. I am glad I left The Dark Tower series until the present day (I’ve now already bought the 2nd volume ready to read and review). I am aged 63. I can clamber in my mind on the right balcony now to get the best ‘view’. A view of intrinsic High Fantasy laced with our own reality… or ‘readality’. This is what I wrote in haste about it on a discussion forum elsewhere today. (30 Jan 11)
IV. 2 -8
“The range-finder in his head took them on steadily.”
Cf: the sat-nav / gps in FD,NS. A parallel or synergy between the jakeboy and erstwhile rolandboy in time’s clinging past. By osmosis rather than by direct narration, Jake today (then) learns of the boyhood trials of Roland to become the (last?) Gunslinger, by duelling almost to the death with Roland’s mentor Cort, using, as Roland’s chosen weapon, the birdhawk David he had earlier befriended. We, as readers, by an even deeper osmosis, feel we are travelling on a pumphandled-railroader truck along the plot track laid centuries ago by the scribes that live to this day in kingstephen’s-head. The hawk’s eye? That’s my brain come to this book at last, the chosen reader. Every book has one. Every reader thinks he is the one. (30 Jan 11 – three hours later)
IV. 9 – 11
“The Slow Mutants fell back a step and watched them go with faces hardly human (or pathetically so), faces that generated the weak phosphorescence common to those weird deep-sea fishes that live under incredible black pressure…”
This, I guess, is a matchless horror scene (before it’s time in 1982?) with Roland and Jake pumping the rail-machine along the track among these marauding creatures. What is more incredible for me is that this review started life alongside a review I am still making of ‘War With The Newts’ (1936) by Karel Capek. Need I say more, other than to say that, until just now, I had not predicted the nature of the Slow Muties! (30 Jan 11 – another 3 hours later)
IV. 12 – 13
“…turning backward would mean death for both of them – death or worse: entombment with the Slow Muties behind them.”
A stunning julesverne-ian, nemonymousnight-ian journey in a fragilely perserved rail-ka subway (from our time?) as the two protagonists fuse not by retrocausality but by ‘readality’ – and, almost in a TV version of ‘choose your own path to adventure’ controlled by sinister king dungeon-master, the maninblack is faced…. (31 Jan 11)
V. (The Gunslinger and the Man in Black). 1 – 9
“…a few splinters from the great stone pillar of reality.”
Or of (my word) readality?
This last section, partly via the Man in Black himself, is poignant as well as re-invigorating the reader and the gunslinger for the quest proper – and speaks of my own child-like questions of the universe and infinity. The jake within me. Also my pet theories over many years regarding ‘The Synchronised Shards of Random Truth and Fiction’ (easily googleable) – but here allow ‘shards’ to be read as ‘cards’, tarot cards. And my interest since the 60s in the ‘Intentional Fallacy’ and Nemonymity – here expressed and addressed through the Narrator, the Protagonists, the Narrator’s narrator, the Head-lease author etc, the collusion and non-collusion of the pecking-order of story-telling as both truth and reality … magic fiction, fiction as religion (all easily googleable)…
This book: a massive experience for me on one level. Maybe different experiences for others. We are all the special reader – each of us. All spoken of in a sublime fantasy tongue.
“For so it has been told to me by my king and master.”
I shall be real-time reviewing in due course the second book in ‘The Dark Tower’ series. Please watch for an eventual announcement and the link to it in the comments below.
“You work, you die, this you call life?” – Alan Coren (The Best of Alan Coren 1980)