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Literature / The Gunslinger

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"The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed."

The Gunslinger is the first book in The Dark Tower series.

The story opens with The Gunslinger Roland Deschain trekking across a desert that appears to be in the Old West but may actually be our own world in the distant future. Flashbacks tell a High Fantasy tale of Roland's childhood.

To see the character sheet for the whole book series, go here.

Followed by The Drawing of the Three.

The Gunslinger provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Adaptational Self-Defense: Allie is held as a shield and hostage by Sheb as the residents of Tull attack Roland. In the original edition of the book, Roland kills her out of pure instinct; his trained hands react quicker than his mind. She screams at him not to shoot, but it's too late, and the guilt of her death sits on Roland throughout the rest of the story. In the revised edition, there is instead a subplot in which after Walter resurrects Nort, he tells Allie that if she says "nineteen" to Nort, he will tell her what he saw on the other side. Knowing will drive her crazy, but so will not knowing. Later, during the shootout, she begs Roland to kill her because she has spoken nineteen to Nort and can't bear the horrors that he whispered back to her. As she dies King says that "the last expression on her face might have been gratitude."
  • After the End: "The World has moved on." (Also the Arc Words)
  • Arc Villain: Randall Flagg/Marten Broadcloak/The Man in Black is the one Roland is chasing throughout the novel for more information on the Tower and the first major villain he faces on his quest.
  • Badass and Child Duo: Roland and Jake.
  • Big Beautiful Woman: Sylvia Pittston is described in this manner, with big dark eyes, "creamy, unmarked, lovely" skin, massive white thighs and "breasts like earthworks". Even Roland finds himself getting turned on when he sees her preaching and has to look away.
    • A smart detail that underscores the difference between the gunslinger's world and ours: like his ecstatic amazement at the sweetness of Coca-Cola (he can't imagine 20th century people getting hooked on hard drugs when sugar is so available, and is shaken to the core even despite his unnatural self-control), his sexual attraction to a large, well-kempt, sensual Rubens-esque woman seems to be a result of his post-apocalyptic culture, where neither are common.
  • Black Cloak: The man in black, obviously.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: During the battle at Tull, after Roland drops multiple assailants in one fell swoop, one of the other onlooking attackers is noted to make "a sudden and amazing load in his pants" at the sight.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The ancient jawbone.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Roland's weapon of choice in his gunslinger trial is David, his trained hawk. He's also mastered the art of fighting dirty, which makes Cort proud.
    • Young Roland is on his way to masturbate on the roof when he stumbles upon his mother's tryst with Marten. "Go and find your hand, boy."
  • Die Laughing: Walter's skeleton appears this way.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Not only is this book much shorter than the others in the series; it has a much more disjointed, poetic style. The narrative flow is much more linear in later books, which justify the different style by emphasizing that Roland went a little bit nuts during his long solo journey.
    • In the un-revised version, Farson isn't a character but a town targeted for poisoning by the Good Man ... who is stated to be Marten.
  • The End of the Beginning: The man in black tells Roland this.
  • Evil Chancellor: Marten.
  • Evil Laugh: The man in black.
  • Friend-or-Idol Decision: The Boy or the Tower? The Tower.
  • Friend to All Children: Hax the cook. Subverted when he turns out to be a traitor.
  • George Lucas Altered Version: King did this with the revised edition.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: The Crimson King serves as this in the revised edition as he is mentioned by Randall Flagg during his and Roland’s final confrontation at the end.
  • The Gunslinger: Not the trope namer, but it could have been. Certainly a Trope Codifier.
  • Guns Akimbo: Afterward, Roland loses two fingers and can't properly take the position again.
  • Hard Head: Like many other details in the books, instructive injuries meted out by Cort, the gunslinger's teacher, are poetically exaggerated. Cort casually and repeatedly strikes two of his pupils' heads so hard that blood comes out of their ears. Unlike a bloody nose, ears bleed only when a part of the hearing apparatus is obliterated, or if the entire base of the skull is turned to mush inside by trauma.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Roland and Cuthbert, while they were kids at least.
  • Humanoid Abomination: The Slow Mutants.
  • Human Shield: Sheb uses Allie as a human shield just before the battle of Tull. However, due to Roland's quick reflexes and over Allie's terrified objections, it doesn't work and he shoots them both. Though the revised version of the book instead has Allie being driven insane and asking for death.
  • Immune to Bullets: Walter. Despite his Improbable Aiming Skills, when Roland fires at him, he misses him with all twelve shots.
  • Jerkass: Cort. Though Cort is eventually shown to be an effective teacher who is genuinely concerned with training his pupils and earns untold respect from Roland and his first Ka-Tet. He is something of Drill Sergeant Nasty - Sadist Teacher hybrid.
  • Mood Dissonance: Walter o' Dim includes a little smiley face ☺ in his letter to Alice telling her the incomprehensible, indescribable Psychological Horror that would happen to her if she told Nort his Trigger Phrase. It's foreshadowing that he's actually Randall Flagg, who would wear a smiley face button in The Stand.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: The final test to become a gunslinger is a public fight between the candidate and his teacher, wherein they both pull out all the stops. Roland beats the everliving shit out of Cort before the latter yields, and afterwards he falls into a coma.
  • Orwellian Retcon: The 2003 revised edition. Aside from bringing the writing style more in line with the sequels and expanding on some scenes, it outright changes details from the original—to close a few plot holes and to better foreshadow events from later books. For example, the circumstances of Allie's death are different, and Walter's monologue no longer mentions a mysterious Beast in connection with the Crimson King.
  • Patchwork Story: The book was originally published as a series of short stories and novellas, hence its somewhat episodic nature.
  • Precision F-Strike: In contrast to the Cluster F-Bomb of the other books.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Cuthbert is the red to Alain's blue.
  • Shoot the Hostage: Sheb uses Roland's lover, Allie, as a Human Shield and hostage. Roland kills her out of pure instinct; his trained hands react quicker than his mind. Changed in the revised edition.
  • These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know: Allie finds some of them out to her horror from her conversation with Nort.
  • Time Skip: Happens during the story. After his conversation with Walter o' Dim, Roland wakes up to find that ten years have passed, and Walter's skeleton is across the campfire from him.
  • Training from Hell: How Cort trains the young gunslingers for their test.
  • Trigger Phrase: Nineteen (in the revised edition).
  • Villain Has a Point: John Farson, the "Good Man", is a cruel, power-hungry despot, or so we're told. However, he's right that the Affiliation is ruled by a cabal of thugs with vague aristocratic pretensions who maintain power largely by having the best guns.
  • Would Hit a Girl/ Would Hurt a Child: Roland kills every inhabitant of Tull, men, women and children. To be fair, they were all trying to kill him.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: When the two finally meet, Walter, the man in black, congratulates Roland on letting Jake fall to his death in order to reach his goal. Roland's responds by attempting once again to shoot Walter.