The Gunslinger is hot on the trail of the man in black, hot for a couple reasons. One, he’s really pissed at the man in black; two, he’s crossing the Mohaine desert, the “apotheosis of all deserts.” As he travels, the Gunslinger recalls the hut of the last border dweller along the old coach road, a man called Brown.
The Gunslinger breaks corn, beans, and possibly wind as he spends the night at Brown’s hut. While there, Roland (for that is the Gunslinger) learns that the man in black has also passed this way, perhaps six weeks ago, maybe only two. It’s hard to say, because “time is funny out here.” Zoltan the crow makes some remarks, Roland takes out the makings and tells Brown of the horror in Tull.
Riding into Tull on a Pricetown mule, Roland is greeted by the strains of Hey Jude being played on a honky tonk piano. At Sheb’s saloon he meets Alice the barkeep and Nort, the deceased weed-eater brought back to life by the man in black. After a few days in town, Roland begins to feel he’s been laid a trap. And so he has. Sylvia Pittston, the local hoodoo woman, frenzies up the town against Roland, branding him as “the Interloper.” They come at Roland with sticks, knives, clubs, rocks. Roland kills everyone in the town. Thirty-nine men, fourteen women, five kids.
The mule dies during the night so Roland departs Brown’s hut on foot. Sixteen days later, he stumbles into the way station where he meets Jake Chambers, the boy.
The way station was once a stopping point for coaches running along the old coach road, before the world moved on. Now it was just a deserted spot in the desert. But it contained a pump that still pumped water, among other things more sinister. Roland hypnotizes Jake and learns that he comes from another world, perhaps such a world as existed in prehistory. He learns that Jake died on that other world, pushed in front of a moving car by a man wearing a black robe. Before leaving the way station to continue upon the man in black’s trail, Roland descends into the station’s basement where he confronts a speaking demon. The demon warns Roland to “go slow past the Drawers, gunslinger. While you travel with the boy, the man in black travels with your soul in his pocket.” Roland takes the demon’s jawbone for a souvenir.
Roland and Jake depart the way station, following the trail of the man in black. The mountains loom closer now; and for the first time in months, perhaps years, the Gunslinger can see green—real, living green. As the two stop to rest, Jake falls asleep and Roland’s mind wanders back in time; we learn a bit about his boyhood:
Cort is the teacher, training the sons of the Gunslingers to become gunslingers themselves. Roland and Cuthbert are in the midst of a lesson, along with David, the hawk. After Cuthbert displeases Cort in the day’s lesson, he sends them away, ordering Cuthbert to fast. Which is why the boys end up in the west kitchen, the domain of Hax, the cook. Hax, the traitor.
Hax feeds the boys. They slip away to eat their meal and while doing so, overhear Hax in treasonous talk with a soldier. The good man is mentioned. The boys later report the conversation to their fathers. Hax is sentenced to hang. The boys watch the hanging. Ten years later, the land falls to the good man. By that time, Roland is a gunslinger and a matricide; his father is dead, and the world had moved on.
The travelers chance upon an oracle a few days later. It almost kills Jake, but later delivers a prophecy to Roland. He learns that three is the number of his fate. The three include a young, dark-haired man who stands on the brink of robbery and murder; the second comes on wheels and her mind is iron but her heart and eyes are soft; the third comes in chains. Jake is Roland’s gateway to the man in black, who is the gate to the three, who are the way to the Dark Tower.
Roland returns to their camp, Jake throws away the jawbone Roland had given him for protection. The next morning they start to climb the mountains and Jake begins to have fears. They continue to climb. They finally catch a glimpse of the man in black as they near the top of the mountains. The man in black and the Gunslinger have words, they will talk, says the man in black, on the other side of the mountains, “just the two of us.” He disappears into a fissure. Jake doesn’t want to follow the man in black anymore, as he realizes he will probably die again. But as Roland turns to enter the fissure, Jake reluctantly follows.
Under the mountains, it was lightless. Roland and Jake followed a path alongside the river. Time lost all meaning as there was no way to keep it. They traveled, rested, ate, slept. They eventually stumble across a set of railroad tracks, which they then follow. Which is how the came upon the handcar. Jake knows immediately what it is, Roland had no idea. The handcar works and they now travel at a faster rate. As they travel, Jake asks Roland about his coming of age, and we learn:
Roland is fourteen. As he’s walking through the castle he passes his mother’s door when a voice calls out to him, “You. Boy.” It was Marten, the enchanter. In his mother’s room. Roland enters the room for a brief conversation with his mother. He suspects something is up between them. Brief words are passed with Marten. Roland leaves, changed somehow, and heads straight for Cort’s home. He intends to call Cort out for battle. If he wins, he becomes a gunslinger; if he loses, he will be exiled. Roland’s weapon of choice turns out to be David, the falcon. After a brief, intense and bloody fight, Cort yields. Roland has come of age.
During the next period of awakening, Jake and Roland meet the Slow Mutants. Some of them glow, some of them are badly misshapen; extra eyes, stalks, gooey, etc. They nearly pull Jake off the handcar, but Roland is able to blast them away and the two make it past the Slow Mutants intact.
A station of sorts, with many tunnels connecting into a large central area, is the next marvel the travelers traverse. There’s a few mummies, neon lights, and Roland picks up a bow and some arrows. As they leave the station, they draw closer to the end of their time under the mountains. The tracks soon turn into a tall trestle which crosses a great chasm. On the other side of the trestle, an opening is seen, leading out to the other side of the mountains.
Unfortunately, the trestle is treacherous. The handcar weighs too much and Jake and Roland must walk across it. As they do, they can hear the struts and anchors of the trestle groaning. Ties are rotted, some break, many are gone. Across the chasm they can see a round opening of light, the other side. Ninety feet away from safety, the light is blocked out. It is the man in black standing in the opening. The trestle begins to give away completely, swaying left and right, screaming. Jake slips, catches himself on the rail. The trestle is going now, if Roland stays to save the boy, he could. But the man in black tells him he’ll be gone. If Roland wants to catch the man in black, he has to follow NOW, no time to save the boy. The shape in the opening is gone. Roland must decide. He does. Jake says, “Go then. There are other worlds than these.” And then falls to his death without making a sound as the trestle gives away and Roland runs to safety.
The man in black leads Roland to an ancient killing ground to make palaver. It was a golgotha. They palaver. The man in black tells Roland’s future with a deck of tarot cards. Roland is the Hanged Man. Jake, the Sailor. The third card dealt is The Prisoner. The fourth, The Lady of Shadows. The fifth, Death. But not for Roland. The sixth is The Tower. And the seventh card is Life. But not for Roland.
Roland then falls into a mystical kind of sleep where he dreams some really weird stuff about the meaning of everything. When he awakes, the man in black begins to talk and we learn: Size encompasses life, and the Tower encompasses Size.
In order to reach the Tower, Roland must slay the man in black’s master, known as the Ageless Stranger, or Maerlyn.
Perhaps all worlds, all universes, meet in a single nexus, a single pylon, a Tower.
Perhaps our entire universe is simply part of one atom on a blade of purple grass.
The keeper of the Tower is The Beast.
The man in black is Walter, not Marten
Then, Walter tells Roland he must go the sea, where he would draw his three. Roland wakes up by the ruins of the campfire where he and the man in black had palavered. He’s ten years older. The man in black was a laughing skeleton. Roland reaches out and breaks off Walter’s jawbone, to replace the one Jake had thrown away earlier. He begins walking west, towards the sea.
The Drawing of the Three.
The Drawing of the Three, the second volume of a long tale called The Dark Tower, picks up just seven hours after the last events of The Gunslinger. Roland awakes on the same beach where he and Walter, the man in black, had held their strange palaver. Waves have washed over his legs, soaking him to the gunbelts; in fact, his guns and many shells are wet. A serious problem.
Rolling out of those same, wet waves are the lobstrosities. “Did-a-chick? Dum-a-chum?” They ask, as they tear off Roland’s first and second finger from his right hand. And most of his right great toe. “Dad-a chum?” Roland shoots the thing and moves away to safety. Sleeps. Wakes up the next morning. And begins to walk.
"He had come from the east; he could not walk west without the powers of a saint or a savior. That left north and south.” Roland chooses north. Which sets up one of the great debates on ABSK. Because as he walks north, “the sea to his right, the mountains to his left,” we know in this world the sea should be to his left (west) and the mountains to his right (east). But Roland’s world has moved on, and nothing is as it seems. But compass directions are the least of Roland’s problems. The wounds inflicted by the lobstrosities have become infected and he is seriously sick. The lines of blood poisoning are running up his arm.
Roland reaches the first door on the beach at around 3:00 in the afternoon. “The Prisoner” is written upon its face. Roland opens the door and comes to realize he is looking through someone else’s eyes. The Prisoner’s eyes, Eddie Dean’s eyes. Roland walks through the door and enters Eddie Dean.
Eddie is a prisoner of Heroin. He’s hooked, a junkie. He’s also in kind of a jam. He’s on a plane, heading back into the U.S. carrying a bunch of cocaine. As the plane approaches the airport, the crew comes to realize something is up with Eddie. They’re right, but on the wrong track. Roland comes forward in Eddie’s mind and makes himself known, informing Eddie of the problem. They head (no pun intended) into the john where they both go back to Roland’s world through the open door. Stashing the coke on the beach, they go through the door again, back into the plane. Taken into custody, the customs men at the airport can find nothing on Eddie and so have to let him go.
Eddie was smuggling the coke for a man named Balazar. A couple of his thugs pick up Eddie and take him to Balazar’s place, a place called The Leaning Tower. Balazar thinks the Feds have made Eddie and that he’s running some kind of trap. So just to be on the safe side, Balazar had Eddie’s brother, the eminent sage and junkie Henry, picked up for insurance. Eddie tells Balazar his goods are safe, he can get them anytime. He’ll just walk into Balazar’s bathroom, and come out in a few minutes with the coke. Balazar says okay, but Jack Andolini is going in with you. Roland tells Eddie that’s okay. They go in, go through the door. After a little gunplay in Roland’s world, the lobstrosities finish up with Jack. Then Roland and Eddie go back through the door into Balazar’s.
Lots of gunplay in Balazar’s. Eddie and Roland kill a lot of people. Unfortunately, Henry is also dead, overdosed on heroin and then decapitated. Roland manages to get Eddie to accompany him back to his world. They grab some Keflex from the medicine chest and walk back through the door to Roland’s world.
Roland takes the Keflex and starts to get better, but they don’t have enough to kill the infection entirely and he begins to get worse. Meanwhile, they are walking up the beach and eventually come to Door Number 2, The Lady of Shadows. Which is how Odetta Holmes and Detta Walker enter the story. Odetta is confined to a wheelchair, as a result of being pushed in front of a subway train a number of years earlier. She is also a schizophrenic. Detta is her other, darker side. Detta is a very mean bitch. Nasty, vile, dangerous.
Heading north again, the party makes good time when Odetta is present, slow time when Detta is present. She’s not hip about helping out the two honky mahfahs at all. And Roland is getting even sicker. Soon he can’t go any further, so Eddie and Odetta/Detta continue on. When they reach the third door, Eddie leaves Odetta there. And since she is Odetta, and since there are nasty, dangerous sounding animals close by, and since Eddie is in love with Odetta, he gives her Roland’s gun and then takes the wheelchair back to get Roland. And when they arrive back at the door, Odetta is gone. Detta has disappeared and is hiding in the rocks waiting her chance to kill the two.
Roland goes through the door into The Pusher. Eddie eventually falls asleep and is captured by Detta. She ties him up and drags him below the high tide mark. When Roland looks back through the door, he can see the trap she has laid. Soon the tide will come in, bringing the lobstrosities, which will kill Eddie unless he returns to save him. But Roland has plans of his own.
Jack Mort, the pusher, is not a nice guy. In fact, he’s the guy who pushed Odetta Holmes in front of the subway train that amputated her legs and caused the major rift in her personalities. After a few adventures in New York city, Roland acquires some guns, shells, and a lot of Keflex. And he’s come up with a plan to try to restore Odetta/Detta back into one person. He takes Mort to the same subway where Odetta had been pushed, and just as the train is coming in, he looks through the door and gets Detta’s attention. She sees Mort in the subway, Roland makes Mort jump in front of the train, to his death. Roland goes back through the door just in time. Detta, being confronted with the man who had pushed her, and seeing her two sides through Roland’s and her own eyes, becomes healed. She becomes Susannah Dean.
Roland then saves Eddie from the approaching crustaceans. Days pass, Keflex is taken, they head further north, becoming a band of travelers, instead of people at odds with each other. The Tower is closer.
The Wastelands picks up the story of Roland, Eddie and Susannah a few months after the confrontation by the final door on the beach. After some time of rest and recuperation, Roland begins teaching his new gunslingers how to survive, and how to shoot.
Roland and Susannah take a little hike away from camp for some shootin’ practice. Meanwhile, back at the camp, Eddie is deeply involved in some carving, a hobby he enjoyed as a boy. So intent is he, that he doesn’t notice the approach of Bearzilla until it’s almost too late. But finally alerted by the sounds of crashing trees, Eddie sees a huge, towering, 70-foot-tall, mad bear heading straight towards him. Climbing the tree he was sitting under, he bearly (no pun intended) makes it to safety in the upper branches. The bear (once called Mir by the old people who had lived in the west woods) begins shaking the tree.
Meanwhile, back at the shootin’ lesson, Roland and Susannah have heard the commotion and are running back to camp. Seeing the bear about to shake Eddie out of the tree, Roland steadies Susannah on his shoulders, she shoots the bear a couple of times in the butt. This gets his attention and he turns and charges. Susannah says her lesson and shoots the little radar dish atop Mir’s head. Mir, one of the twelve guardians, dies.
The gunslingers break camp and follow Mir’s (whose real name was Shardik) backtrail, which leads to one of the 13 portals. The portals are grouped in pairs, each at opposite ends of the world. If one were to draw a line connecting each pair, you’d have a diagram like a pizza sliced into 12 pieces. And at the center, where all the lines meet, stands the 13th portal and the Dark Tower.
From the portal of the bear, they are able to follow the path of the Beam, a somewhat invisible line of energy which connects each pair of portals. With this course to follow, they have a direction to the Dark Tower.
We learn that Roland is not well, in fact, he is going insane. When Roland prevented Jack Mort from pushing Jake into the path of the car that would kill him, he created a paradox in both his and Jake’s mind. Both are now struggling with dual memories. Roland, who knows there was a boy that he met at the Waystation vs. Roland who knows there was no such boy. Jake wars with the memory of dying on a particular day and then meeting Roland at the Waystation vs. living the reality of not dying on that particular day. Both of their minds are being torn apart.
Back in New York, in Jake’s when, Jake writes a very important essay final for his English class. He has no memory of writing it, and is amazed when he reads it and hands it in to his teacher. The essay relates events which later come to pass in Roland’s world. After handing in his paper, Jake goes awol. While wandering about New York, he runs across a book store run by a man named Tower. He buys a book of riddles and a book about a choo choo train. Later that day, he finds the vacant lot wherein he finds the rose and the key and has a vision of the White. When he finally makes it back home, his parents are a little ticked, but they get over it. And that night, Jake has a dream that tells him he’s got to find a certain place the next day, a place which turns out to be the way back to Roland’s world.
Back in Roland’s world, Eddie had been kinda sharing Jake’s dream and he knows the kid is going to try to come through. He’s been busy carving a wooden key which he knows will be necessary to help Jake make it through.
The time comes for Jake to make his try. In Roland’s world, the gunslingers are at a demon’s speaking ring. In order to make their try, they’ll have to keep the demon occupied while Eddie draws a door into the dirt inside the circle. The door Jake will come through. Susannah occupies the demon, or rather, the demon occupies Susannah. The door is drawn, Eddie’s carven key inserted, turned. It doesn’t open.
Jake has entered the Mansion, a severely haunted and not nice house in New York. What he doesn’t know is that the entire house is actually alive. And it doesn’t like Jake. It begins to transform into some kind of wood and plaster monster, the doorkeeper, and begins to go after Jake. The boy finally finds the door he has been looking for, he puts the key into the lock and turns. He opens the door only to find the doorway blocked with earth. And the doorkeeper grabs Jake’s leg.
Eddie pulls out the carven key, and with Roland’s knife, takes off a little sliver of wood, making it perfect. He puts it back in the keyhole, turns, and opens the door. Roland pulls Jake up and out of the clutches of the doorkeeper, just as Susannah lets go of the demon. The demon rushes through the open doorway, they slam it shut, and everyone is safe. Jake has made it back to Roland’s world. And Roland promises Jake he’ll never let him drop again.
The band of gunslingers now numbers four, five if you include the billy bumbler that hooks up with the party. They continue to follow the beam and eventually come to a little town known as River Crossing. Really old people live there, and only a handful of them. They welcome the gunslingers, serve them a feast, and tell them of the city of Lud and the dangers there. And of Blaine, the mono.
The city of Lud lies across the river Send. Although they know it will be dangerous to go through the city, Jake knows they must, because they must find Blaine. Only with Blaine will they be able to travel across the Wastelands safely, to Topeka. So they must cross a decrepit bridge which spans the Send. About half way over, Oy nearly falls but is saved by Jake, who is saved by Eddie, who is saved by Roland. During this distraction, a scabby cove named Gasher approaches. With the threats of blowing them all to pieces with a grenado, Gasher takes Jake hostage, a prize for the Tick Tock Man. Gasher and Jake then head back into the city.
After they’ve gone, Roland starts after Gasher and Jake while Eddie and Susannah go to find the Cradle of Lud, and Blaine.
Gasher drags Jake down into a maze below the city, running for miles and miles, past booby traps and obstacles. They eventually reach the cradle of the Grays, wherein dwells Andrew Quick, the Tick Tock Man, a trig cove. Some nasty business happens to Jake.
Eddie and Susannah finally find the Cradle of Lud, and Blaine the Mono. They discover that Blaine likes riddles and that he/it is insane. Blaine gives them a riddle to solve in order to open the gates so that he may be boarded. And it’s a tough one.
Back under the city, Roland trials Gasher and Jake to the Tick Tock Man’s lair. Using Oy, he is able to distract Quick and get inside the airlock door into the inner sanctum. Gunplay ensues, people are killed, some people thought killed are not, and Roland saves Jake, and Oy still lives. With the help of Blaine, they follow the correct path to the Cradle of Lud and are reunited with Eddie and Susannah. There, the group solves Blaine’s riddle and board the mono.
Once inside the mono, the train pulls out of Dodge and heads into the Wastelands. As Blaine acknowledges, he is going insane. He intends to end his existence by getting up to full speed and crashing at the end of the line. But he wants to hear riddles along the way. So bargain is made between Blaine and the gunslingers. The trip to Topeka will be a akin to a Fair Day riddle contest. Roland, Jake, Eddie, and Susannah will ask Blaine riddles. If they can stump him once, Blaine will deliver them safely to Topeka. But if he answers all the riddles correctly, he will take them all to the clearing at the end of the path.
The riddling begins, and The Wastelands ends.
postscript: But back in the cradle of the Grays, a man who wasn’t really a man after all appears. He talks to Andrew Quick. He asks Andrew if he’d like to kill the squint who shot him in the head, and the hardcase who killed all the others as well. Quick is agreeable and tells the stranger, “my life for you.”
Wizard and Glass.
The Little Sisters of Eluria
A short novella included in an anthology entitled "Legends," which was published a few years ago.
The Little Sisters of Eluria takes place in Roland's world, before the events of The Gunslinger take place. Roland is still casting about for traces of the man in black's trail when he stumbles into the town of Eluria.
Roland finds a town empty of life, sort of. Mayhap life as we know it. The town is deserted, except for certain sounds: a bumping, a singing, and a ringing. Roland wanders about the town for a bit and discovers a Jesus-dog chewing on the leg of a dead boy. The gunslinger chases the dog away, thinking to bury the dead boy, whereupon he notices a gold sigul about his neck. He takes it, meaning to return it to the boys parents if he ever has the chance.
The slow, green mutants strike.
When next Roland regains consciousness, he is suspended in what appears to be a hospital with few other patients. He has apparently been saved from the green mutants by the Little Sisters of Eluria, a small group of nice girls who help strangers. As it turns out, the small group of nice girls are in fact a bunch of old hags, wampirs, who are intent on healing Roland so they can drink his blood. Unfortunately, Roland is wearing the gold sigul of the Jesus-man about his neck, and the wampirs cannot harm him.
The nasty hags drug Roland while the doctor bugs do their majik healing work on his broken body. We're not sure how the bugs do their healing, but they can be controlled a bit by the girl wearing the dark bells, Jenna. She's not like the nasty harrigans, she wants out and decides to help Roland escape before the Sisters can slurp his blood.
We find that the brother of the dead boy is in the bed next to Roland, and he happens to be from Delain. He becomes a meal for the Sisters, who Roland happens to over hear chanting what appears to be words from the Language of the Dead, "can de lach, mi him en tow." So we wonder if they are related to Tak?
Roland finally regains his strength, with Jenna's help, and manages to escape. Jenna calls down the wrath of the bugs on one of the Sisters who tries to prevent her from fleeing, while the Jesus-dog does for the Big Bad Sister Mary, kinda ripping her to pieces. Roland and Jenna flee into the desert that same night. But with the coming of the dawn, Roland awakes to find Jenna gone. Her clothes lay on the ground as if she had de-materialized right out of them, shirt still tucked into jeans. The dark bells she wore lay near. Roland picks them up and shakes them, causing thousands of doctor bugs to run about from their hiding places, forming into a shape to say goodbye to Roland.
"When the sun was fully up, the gunslinger moved on west."