The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Summary and Study Guide

Stephen King

The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger

  • 54-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 5 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by an English instructor with an MFA in Creative Writing
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The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 54-page guide for “The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger” by Stephen King includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 5 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Middle Ground between Good and Evil and Christianity and Genre-Bending.

Plot Summary

Stephen King’s The Gunslinger is the first in a series of eight novels comprising The Dark Tower series. The Gunslinger introduces the protagonist, anti-hero Roland Deschain, and his journey to find The Man in Black. Combining genre elements of horror, fantasy, and western, The Gunslinger is ultimately a travel narrative highlighting Roland’s physical and metaphysical quest to kill the Man in Black and find the mysterious tower.

The Gunslinger takes place in a world like our own but not. While the multiple references to iconic popular culture—such as characters singing The Beatles’ “Hey Jude,” and innumerous allusions to Christianity and religious language—offer a sense of familiarity, the setting is a post-apocalyptic desert that resembles the Old West. This, combined with the fact that Roland is a western gunslinger from a King Arthurian-type feudal society, creates a distorted sense of time and place. It’s never made clear whether the story takes place in the past, present, or future, or whether it’s happening in an alternate universe or some sort of afterlife. Further adding to this sense of disorientation is the fact that little is known about Roland, including his age, motives, or goals. The only things that seem to be certain are that time doesn’t move in an orderly manner, cities and regions have been demolished by wars, and the world seems devoid of civilized life. In fact, most people that Roland encounters are either diseased, insane, or seem to be under some sort of spell.

The novel is broken down into five major chapters, with each chapter being comprised of multiple, numbered sections. Each chapter chronicles Roland’s hunt for the Man in Black and his ultimate quest for the tower, and introduces the many characters he meets along the way. In the beginning of the novel, Roland is crossing the mostly-abandoned desert when he comes across a farmer named Brown and his raven, Zoltan. While most of the story is linear, in that it follows Roland’s quest, many of the individual sections consist of flashbacks. Once Roland meets Brown, the story flashes back to when Roland was in the decrepit town of Tull. The Man in Black had brought a man back to life while in Tull, and this later becomes a trap for Roland. Ultimately, due to black magic from the Man in Black, everyone in the town turns against Roland, which forces Roland to kill everyone in order to escape, including his lover, Alice.

Back in the present, Roland leaves Brown and nearly dies from dehydration as he crosses the desert. While collapsing at an abandoned way station, he meets Jake Chambers, a young boy who doesn’t know how he got there. After hypnotizing the boy, Roland discovers that Jake is from a different Universe (appearing to be Manhattan), and that after being hit by a car and dying he suddenly woke up at the way station. Roland brings Jake along on the journey, and after many trials, the two finally end up at a mountain range. Roland is convinced that this is the hiding spot of the Man in Black.

To get to the Man in Black, Jake and Roland must trek through a pitch-black tunnel in the middle of the mountain. After stumbling upon an old railway handcar, which the two use to travel through the black faster, they encounter “slow mutants,” glowing green quasi-humans that try to eat Jake. Roland shoots them with his guns and he and Jake escape. However, only Roland makes it out of the tunnel alive. Jake is ultimately sacrificed by falling in an abyss so that Roland can continue his quest.

Once outside of the tunnel, Roland faces the Man in Black, also known as Walter. Walter tells Roland his future (although he’s exceptionally vague) by using tarot cards. Walter then gives Roland a vision of the expansive universe, hoping that he will give up his quest, but Roland refuses. Roland awakes from the vision to discover that he’s ten years older and sitting next to a skeleton, which he assumes was once Walter.

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