I’m not sure what the importance of this word is, but it does occur once in the very beginning and then twice at the end, which hints at significance. It’s difficult to write much with certainty about Stephen Kings’ The Gunslinger knowing that it’s the first in a long series about The Dark Tower. I suspect it may have something to do with our hero (Roland), who I’m pretty sure is an allusion to the knight of the same name from the epic poem, “The Song of Roland”. King even throws out a metaphor comparing something–I forget what–to the Saragosso sea, the name of the city Charlemagne defeats. The novel ends with a line alluding to the epic hero’s legendary horn: “The gunslinger waited for the time of the drawing and dreamed his long dreams of the Dark Tower, to whihc he would someday come at dusk and approach, winding his horn, to do some unimaginable final battle.”
The ancient epic and King’s novel have some other parallels: questioning the nature of God and religion and the use of sun symbolism. The Gunslinger starts in the apotheosis of all deserts and the imagery of the harsh sun of the day, sunset, and light reflections persist throughout. In The Song of Roland it was the miracle of the sun not setting that led to Charlemagne’s victory.
Aside from this parallel between the novel and “The Song of Roland”, I also noticed a motif of bird imagery and a contrast between birds of prey and birds of other natures. It’s Roland’s ability to tame the hawk, by befriending it, that enables him to beat his teacher in battle and as a result “come of age”. There are ravens, hawks, a dove, and a gull in this story. What else did I notice?
It’s a quest story. It seems significant that Roland does not even know what it is he seeks in “The Dark Tower” and does not only not understand the nature of the universe, he does not understand even the word universe.
Finished with the book, I am left with many questions, but not so many as our hero who the man in black conceals answers from in revealing certain things:
“Or one might take the tip of a pencil and magnify it. One reaches the point where a stunning realization strikes home: The pencil tip is solid; it is composed of atoms which whirl and revolve like a trillion demon planets. What seems solid to us is actually only a loose net held together by gravity. Viewed at their actual size, the distances between these atoms might become leagues, gulfs, aeons. The atoms themselves are composed of nuclei and revolving protons and electrons. One may step down further to subatomic particles. And then to what? Tachyons? Nothing? Of course not. Everything in the universe denies nothing; to suggest an ending is the one absurdity.
“If you fell outward to the limit of the universe, would you find a board fence and signs reading DEAD END? No. You might find something hard or rounded, as the chick must see the egg from the inside. And if you should peck through the shell (or find a door), what great and torrential light might shine through your opening at the end of space? Might you look through and discover your entire universe is but part of one atom of a blade of grass [allusion to Whitman?] ? Might you be forced to think that by burning a twig you incinerate an eternity of eternities? That existence rises not to one infinite but to an infinity of them?”
On a minor note, the word crotch is used too many times in this novel for my taste. 🙂