In the third novel in King’s epic fantasy masterpiece, Roland, the Last Gunslinger, is moving ever closer to the Dark Tower, which haunts his dreams and nightmares. Pursued by the Ageless Stranger, he and his friends follow the perilous path to Lud, an urban wasteland. And crossing a desert of damnation in this macabre new world, revelations begin to unfold about who – and what – is driving him forward.
King’s third volume on Roland the gunfighter’s search for the Dark Tower offers charming bits of whimsy, some splendidly tense moments and one rip-roaring horror scene. At times, however, it is pretentious and the direction of the sprawling plot uncertain. Roland has two companions on his quest for the tower at the portal of all the worlds.
Susannah Dean and Eddie Dean, who entered his world from New York City of 1963 and 1987, respectively. When the three track down the den of a 70-foot-tall cyborg bear, they are pointed down a path leading to the Tower. But Roland is slowly going mad, a fact that seems linked to his past experiences with Jake Chambers, a boy who died twice in the first book of the series. Jake reappears here, displaying great resilience in crossing over from 1977 New York City to join Roland & Co. (As Susannah notes, “This time-travel business is some confusing shit.”) They press on, plumbing the depths of a children’s book that tells a profound and ancient tale. Unfortunately, the questers don’t reach the Tower; in fact, they’re caught in a cliff-hanger ending.
There is a nice variant on the old time-travel paradox. In The Gunslinger, the boy Jake is sacrificed to Roland’s determination to catch the ‘man in black’. In this story, we find Jake alive and well and still living in (our) New York, due to an action by Roland in The Drawing of the Three that caused the previous history to never occur. But both Roland and Jake have memories of the ‘other’ past, and this duality is slowly driving both to the edge of insanity. The resolution of this problem requires that Jake be brought back to Roland’s world, and how this is accomplished forms the major portion of one of the ‘episodes’.
At various points throughout this book, King makes allusions to other famous science-fiction and fantasy authors and their creations (and some of his own), from Richard Adams (Shardik and Watership Down) to Isaac Asimov’s ‘positronic’ brains of his robot stories, to J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit with its riddling games. For those who have read these works, these allusions provide an enhanced view of this world and how it works, but I am not sure how well some of this plays with readers who haven’t read these other works.
Overall, this book is a page-turner, and does a good job of holding the reader’s interest in the fate of the major characters and the overall resolution of the quest. The ending of this book is a cliff-hanger, like the movie serials of old, and for this reason I don’t recommend you start this book unless you have a copy of book IV, Wizard & Glass, handy, as you will definitely want to immediately find out the resolution to the end situation here.