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Rory O’Connell

Mrs. Roberts

AP Literature


Archetypal Perspective - The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger

The first installment to Stephen King’s critically acclaimed epic, The Dark Tower: The

Gunslinger, contains characters and settings that are constructed almost entirely through the

inspiration of classic archetypes. By utilizing the Archetypal Perspective, these can be observed

in several instances throughout the duration of the narrative, although it can be noted that in

many instances King adds a layer of ambiguity to the archetypes included in the story in order to

solidify the vacancy of generic storytelling in his works. In addition to this, he manages to

include an uncanny amount of complex archetypes when considering the comparatively paltry

length of the epic's powerful first book. In this piece, Stephen King puts into practice a unique

kind of writing, in which a multitude of themes collide, and can be applied to the tale’s

progression until its compelling conclusion. King combines the two previously mentioned

methods of writing and clashes his several intricately written archetypes together in order to push

an expansive assortment of interwoven themes. Among many others, the search for knowledge,

and answers to the unknown, can be considered the core theme of The Gunslinger. This is a

theme that heavily reflects who Stephen King is as a person, and as an author.

Stephen Edwin King, now regarded as arguably the most accomplished author of

fictional horror to date, was born on September 21, 1947, in Portland, Maine. His early life

involved dealing with the swift divorce of his parents, Donald and Nellie King, when he was just

a toddler. As a result of the fragmentation of his immediate family, King and his younger brother
David constantly shifted between homes in the Northeast portion of the United States. Rightly

so, it can be observed through King’s writing that many of his stories take place in this area of

the country. He began writing at the young age of 7 after receiving direct inspiration from his

father’s box of horror fiction books as well as science fiction and monster films. King attended

Lisbon High School in 1962, and graduated from the University of Maine at Orono with a degree

in English in 1970. It was during his college years that he took his first step into the pool that

would eventually threaten to drown him. According to Detox To Rehab’s biography profile on

Stephen King, he began practicing excessive drinking and the usage of drugs such as marijuana,

LSD, and Speed while he attended university. He was even arrested a month prior to his

graduation for excessive drinking. Needless to say, this would be the beginning of a downhill

slope for the aspiring author, as drugs and alcohol would later take their mind altering hold of

him. Amongst these hardships, while struggling to find stable employment after his college

years, King married a fellow passionate writer by the name of Tabitha Spruce, and soon found

the beginning of his career in education in 1971, teaching English courses at Hampden Academy

for a discouragingly low income. The two went on to give birth to three children over the course

of their relationship. However, as his life progressed, King’s drug usage intensified significantly.

While this addiction crippled him emotionally, it led to him producing some of his most

reputable early works. The internal chaos that festered within King’s mind during this period of

time was channeled into the pages of his novels, giving birth to some of the most unique and

acclaimed pieces of horror fiction and fantasy in the history of literature. As the author’s fame

grew exponentially, so did his bad habits. His wife eventually took action, and through the help

of friends and family, he was able to triumph over the desires that had steadily picked away at
him for years. Stephen King, after this turning point, continued to write passionately, and

continues to do so alongside his talented wife and children.

As previously mentioned, King favors a style of writing that convolutes his masterfully

woven archetypes in order to diversify them, therefore making them unique in their own right.

This technique can be observed through King’s implementation of the Battle Between Good and

Evil archetype in The Gunslinger. Although the Battle Between Good and Evil is the generic

basis for an uncountable amount of stories told throughout the ages, Stephen King adds more

depth and believability to the characters of The Dark Tower by blurring the line between the two.

The tale’s protagonist, Roland Deschain-the last of a noble order of gunslingers-is by no

reasonable definition a hero embodied by purity. It is Roland’s purpose, however, to hunt down

and defeat the mysterious man in black, who acts as the definitive antagonist of the story, as

evidenced by its opening line, “The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger

followed.” The narrative progresses in a manner that serves to slowly unfold Roland’s backstory

over time, while leaving his connection to the man in black shrouded in uncertainty until the

book’s conclusion. This method of storytelling often leads readers to question the motivation

behind Roland’s quest, and the morality of the actions he performs whilst embarked upon it.

Additionally, the lack of elaboration upon the existence, purpose, and actions of the man in black

for the majority of the narrative leaves equivocality as one of the defining elements of the

character’s malevolence. The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger’s Battle Between Good and Evil

archetype ties into the story’s overall theme of the pursuit of knowledge, as it is revealed that the

man in black possesses knowledge that Roland wishes to acquire in order to answer the

unspoken questions he so desperately wants resolved. Whether or not it is evil for the man in
black to keep this knowledge from Roland is uncertain, much like his own moral compass, or

that of his counterpart.

Another classic archetype that defines The Gunslinger, and arguably the entirety of The

Dark Tower is related to the story’s setting as well as its characters. The Journey is a situational

archetype that reflects the entirety of Roland’s quest, and the hardships that the gunslinger faces

along the perilous way. According to literarydevices.net’s definition of The Journey archetype, it

is an instance within a story in which “the main character takes a journey, which may be physical

or emotional, to understand his or her personality, and the nature of the world.” This aptly

describes the journey that Roland is seemingly forced to embark upon as well, although it is

Roland’s quest to brave a vast desert with lethal inhabitants, and a strong theme of survival

works its way deep into the roots of his campaign. King follows The Journey archetype

religiously through the course of the beginning of Roland’s odyssey, including a point in the

story’s apotheotic conclusion, in which Roland is stripped down to arguably his lowest point in

the tale when the man in black presents to him visions of his own insignificance. In the nature of

the archetype, Roland is then returned to the land of the living, and accepts the personal

responsibility to forge onward with his iconic quest for answers. The usage of this archetype

within the confines of The Gunslinger serves to support the narrative’s overall theme of the

search for knowledge, as Roland undoubtedly takes part in this expedition with the intention of

receiving answers, specifically those regarding the aforementioned nature of the world.

In addition to the previously touched upon archetypes, King applies his own unique twist

to a third. Jake Chambers, the young boy from a foreign world that accompanies Roland for the

majority of his quest, occupies the Loyal Retainer character archetype; one that King alters

heavily in order to create a fresh and original character arc that ends in a fashion that is as
impactful as it is swift. Jake Chambers, however, doesn’t follow the exact guidelines of a generic

Loyal Retainer. King’s knack for adding subtle and obvious complexities and modifications to

his archetypes is shown at full force through the observation of this central character. Although

Jake remains at Roland’s side from the beginning to the end of their journey, with his loyalty

hardly wavering, he possesses certain characteristics reminiscent of an entirely separate

archetype, The Damsel in Distress. King appears to meld the defining factors of these two

archetypes together in order to forge the fictional existence of Jake Chambers. To elaborate, Jake

carries out the tasks that are regularly expected of a story’s Loyal Retainer, while simultaneously

retaining one of the key aspects of the classic Damsel in Distress archetype. Specifically, the fact

that he is used by the antagonist as a method of exposing the hero’s weakness. Jake was

deliberately placed from his home world into the care of Roland by the man in black; a

conspiracy that Roland considers thoughtfully throughout his journey with the boy. Chambers, at

first unaware of this truth, operates nonconsensually as a pawn of the man in black, meant to

become close to Roland in order to weaken him, and consequently ensnare him through the

power of newfound sympathy and care, emotions that Jake unwillingly inflicts upon the

gunslinger. Although Roland ultimately makes the decision to abandon the boy during the

narrative’s rising action, Jake’s character archetype, which borrows from an entirely separate yet

equally effective archetype, serves to enhance the theme of Roland’s search for knowledge by

creating an entirely new lair of trials and tribulations to the gunslinger’s quest, while adding even

more unanswered questions into the chaotic frey of Roland’s relentless, moved on world.