I Kill With My Heart: The Hypocrisy Of the Gunslinger’s Creed

Wizard & Glass:
Part Three

Up until this book, we’ve seen Roland kill about a hundred people between Tull and Lud (maybe more if you count lobstrosities and cyborg bats) and he never seems to give it a second thought. He kills lovers without hesitation, he shoots children in the face, he has no compunctions about ending a human being. He feels bad about letting Jake fall, but not bad enough to save him. But of course in the first three books, the gunslinger has already been around the block a few times, no stranger to killing. A hundred people is likely just a drop in the bucket. One has to imagine that back in the day, the first time he took a life, he must have felt something.

But in this week’s chapters, we finally witness Roland’s very first kill and it turns out that Roland has always been an emotionless sociopath. His father noticed as much when the gunslinger turned in Hax as a young boy, but seeing him take his first life confirms it. He’s never been bothered by the idea of killing.

Just a few weeks ago, when Roland and Cuthbert went up to the Cöos to give Rhea a stern talking too, King points out that maybe Roland and his Ka-Tet are a bit squeamish about killing her. But after this last reading, I don’t believe that’s the truth of it. I don’t think Roland was afraid of killing anyone, I think he was afraid of losing his game of castles with Jonas by killing her too early. After all, as he tells Susan, “Killing’s what we were trained to do; we’ll do it.” (p. 797).

That training is on full display when the three boys from Gilead finally become killers. They sneak up on the men riding drogue behind Jonas and take turns coming of age in the only way that’s important to boys—now men—who deal in lead. But it’s all so unceremonious. In fact, the very first is a man that Cuthbert back-shoots with his sling, killing him before the man knew he was being killed. A few more like that and then Alain and Roland kill a man apiece with their knives (I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they start by using the same weapons they used to back each other up in the traveler’s rest), even pretending to be a friendly ally before plunging the blade in, a cold-blooded ruse.

Roland drew his knife, and rode up beside the fellow who was now drogue and didn’t know it. “What news?” He asked conversationally, and when the man turned, Roland buried his knife in his chest.

Wizard & Glass, p. 841

Then they pull out their guns and kick things into high gear. Their adrenaline surges, the battle fever sets in, and they finally become the well-oiled killing machines they were built to be. And afterward, when the dust settles and the fever has burned off, there is no remorse, no regret, no emotion.

Cuthbert rallies to Roland when the shooting is done and they say “hile” to each other like coworkers getting into the elevator on the way up to the office. They discuss the casualties as numbers, only to calculate the remaining threat, but there’s not a moment taken to reflect on the two dozen plus lives they just cut short.

This is all juxtaposed, of course, with Susan, who also kills her first (and last) people just twenty-four hours earlier while breaking Roland and the others out of jail. She kills Dave Hollis and immediately feels awful. She feels so bad about killing him in fact that she doesn’t want anything to do with the violence in the Bad Grass. This is the reaction of a good person, a healthy person, who hasn’t been raised to be a professional weapon. Compared to her, the boys’ reaction to their “first time” comes off as even more sociopathic.

She thought of how unfamiliar and wretched Roland’s gun had felt in her hand as she held it beneath the serape; of the wide unbelieving look in Dave’s eyes as the bullet she fired into his chest flung him backward; of how the first time she’d tried to shoot Sheriff Avery, the bullet had only succeeded in setting her own clothing afire, although he had been right there in front of here. They didn’t have a gun for her…and, more important, she didn’t want to use one.

Wizard & Glass, p. 796

And yet, the final line of the gunslinger’s creed is a promise to kill with one’s heart, which begs the question: is Roland breaking that promise by killing without emotion? Or is the creed just a bunch of hypocritical bullshit in the first place, meant to lend a sense of honor to a dishonorable trade? Maybe gunslingers just like to say they kill with their hearts, so they don’t have to feel bad when they behave heartlessly.

Next Week’s Reading
Wizard & Glass:
Part Three, 10.vi-xxvii
Part Four, 1.i-v

Published by Joe Rechtman

Screenwriter/watcher. Constant Reader & Dark Tower Junkie.

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