A Gunslinger of Impeccable Personal Smoothness

The Dark Tower series of novels by Stephen King is available on Kindle. I downloaded the first volume, The Gunslinger,  to give the series a try. The Dark Tower series of novels was introduced in 1982 with The Gunslinger and continued through 7 volumes. The series was completed in 2004 when the volume with the same name as the series, The Dark Tower, was published.

The Gunslinger tells the now familiar quest story set in a grim twilight epoch after the world suffered some sort of devastation and war. The gunslinger is the last remaining warrior of his nation; he is following his destiny, which is the quest for the Dark Tower. As usual with quest stories, the gunslinger, Roland, must surmount various trials on the way.

Roland and is the last of his breed of adventurers who are trying to delay the total collapse of their civilization. He is perusing a wizard in black whom he thinks is leading him toward his goal. It is a fast paced story told episodically as the chase continues from trial to trial. In the end Roland and the Man in Black confront each other face-to-face, but clearly the story does not end because there are 6 books left in the series.

Two poems played a role in the launching of this epic series of novels. The first of these poems, Gunslinger by Edward Dorn, 1968, provided the name for the first book in the series. The second poem, Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came by Robert Browning, provided the inspiration for the quest for the Dark Tower. These poems are exceptional and it is easy for me to believe that the poems influenced the young author-to-be, Stephen King. King was still a teenager when he Dorn published his poem Gunslinger.

Dorn’s poem, like the novels of the Dark Tower series, is the story of an epic journey by a gunslinger in the search of the illusive Howard Hughes. (Howard Hughes was a larger than life public figure who died in 1976 and even today the artifacts of his grand projects are on view in the LA area.)

Look at how Dorn’s gunslinger begins his journey:

I met in Mesilla
The Cautious Gunslinger
Of impeccable personal smoothness
And slender leather encased hands
Folded casually to make his knock.
He would show you his map.

Mesilla is the historic New Mexico border town that had its moment of fame when the Gadsden Purchase, which extended the United States southern border further into Mexico, was finalized.  There was a ceremonial raising of the flag of the United States in the town plaza during the signing ceremony. It is in Mesilla that Gunslinger and I wait for the stage that will take them towards Los Vegas where HH may be hiding.

The Robert Browning poem Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came is a sad soliloquy about the hardships encountered during a quest for the Dark Tower. Stanza 7 gives the first reference to the knights of the quest and of the Dark Tower.

Thus, I had so long suffered in this quest,
Heard failure prophesied so oft, been writ
So many times among “The Band”—to wit,
The knights who to the Dark Tower’s search addressed
Their steps—that just to fail as they, seemed best,
And all the doubt was now—should I be fit?

The Browning poem, Childe Roland has been inspiration to several authors beside Stephen King. Notably, in her 1990 novel Possession the British novelist A. S. Byatt named her main character Roland Michell after Childe Roland. Roland Mitchell was a literary historian on a special quest for the truth (and perhaps his PhD theses).

I don’t think I’ll take the time to read all 7 of Stephen King’s Dark Tower novels, but I’m glad that I read the first of the series. Perhaps, for no other reason that because it reminded me of these two poems.

Day 32: The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger (Stephen King) (1982).

About carto

Retired software engineer who grew up in Montana, went to Montana State College in Bozeman, and moved to California to work at Stanford Research Institute (SRI). Carto's Logbook is about photography, travel and adventure; Mt. Maurice Times is tall tales mostly biographical; Carto's Library is about books I've read and liked.
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