The Gunslinger and A Purpose Driven Life

The main character of Stephen King's 7 book The Dark Tower fantasy series is a gunslinger named Roland of Gilead. If you don't know much about King, this series is a not really "horror" at all and has its own set of fanatical fans even within the already startingly popular world of Stephen King. The Dark Tower series follows Roland as he, you guessed it, goes on a quest to find this elusive Dark Tower that sits at the very center of all creation.

What seems remarkable about the gunslinger in the light of pre-dawn, when I've woken up suddenly from a good dream in which I'd been taking my dream kid brother and dream girlfriend to a drive-in movie of some sort, is that Roland knew exactly what he wanted throughout his centurties long life and kept moving towards it, regardless of any sacrifice that needed to be made. Like a mixture of Clint Eastwood and the Terminator, he walked on and on and on until he reached his destination.

Of course, there have been other characters like this in fiction. Ahab and Odesseyus come to mind, among others, but out of all the characters I've met in fiction Roland seems, somehow, the most believable in his utter dedication to his quest. His quest is his life, period. He isn't questing to go back home again (which modernity tells us is impossible, anyway), or save the world (though this was a side effect of Roland's quest), but instead he walked on simply to reach his damn Dark Tower.

Sometimes I can't help but feel jealous of such a purpose driven life. I, too, would like to set out on such an obvious journey with such obviously high stakes. Instead I, Dave Oppegaard, am a real person living in a modern world. I tell myself that writing is my Dark Tower, and usually that's enough to make the sacrifces I've made to write worth it, but sometimes it just feels like I'm this aimless ball of crap floating through an aimless world. People such as I are where organaizations like the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps hit paydirt, normally, but I don't exactly feel like drifting down a semi-organized, cliche ridden road. Instead I find myself asking, on a daily basis, what would Roland do. Roland wouldn't sit around all day in some stupid office, either at work or at home. He'd keep moving, always, bent on his real, tangible purpose, utterly certain that his goal was worth attaining.

The lucky son of a bitch.

14 comments:

Blogagaard said...

You know, a lot of academics dislike fantasy and science fiction and call them genre fiction, as if that's all that really needs to be said. This cannot be due to all the bad stuff in genre fiction, because literary fiction's had just as much bad stuff itself. Is this because genre fiction hauls in so much more money? Or is it because the safe, comfortable life of the academic looks even more trivial than usual under the glaring light of adventure?

Lex Ham Rand said...

Academics (generally) don't like genre fiction, especially fantasy, because it is intentionally NOT serious. I had a grad professor tell me quite frankly that the reason academics fight so much is because, in the end, their work matters so little to the general public.

Fantasy fiction is like the literary salt that can be rubbed into the open wounds of most academics' lackluster careers (hoping for Harvard but ending up at State College, or settling for being a part-time adjunct with no hope of becoming the next Harold Bloom or Catharine McKinnon.)

Academic life looks so safe and desirable, but in reality there is not a very liquid job market, and opportunities to get salary increases, etc., are much more limited than in the private sector.

When one is just as smart as those who chose careers in law, medicine, science or engineering; and when one has spent twice as long in graduate school; and when one can only hope to earn a mere fraction of the same income as those fellow learned professionals; then, my friend, you have a recipe for bitterness and permanent unhappiness.

And no fantasy novel, especially not one by a fabulously wealthy author whose greatest claim to fame is writing pulp horror fiction novels that have been made into incredibly popular movies, can lift the spirits of those demoralized souls.

Blogagaard said...

So Rand, do you think even the stogiest old prof secretly yearns to go on one great quest?

Lex Ham Rand said...

They are so risk-averse, as a group, that the greatest quest many of them can muster is the quest to go get a latte from Starbucks before their office hours begin.

Mike said...

What kind of great quest I wonder?

If I fancied myself some sort of hero chasing after a dark tower of some sort, I suppose I'd be over in Afghanistan looking for Bin Laden.

I don't think the great quests that you suggest exist anymore, at least outside of fiction.

Mike said...

I also think you're chasing your dark tower bloggie. I think anyone who has a goal is.

Now, as to whether you'd let your friends fall to their deaths on the way is a different matter.

Michelle said...

I just read last night that Albert Schweitzer got a religion degree, learned to play organ masterfully, learned to build organs, and then left all that to become a doctor in the jungle of Africa. He planned it that way as a teenager -- arts and theology until age 30 and then humanitarian causes after that.

I was too screwed up in my twenties to manage that sort of plan.

Blogagaard said...

Mike, I guess that's why I write fiction, to quest in one way or another. I think even the most cursory theme/plot study of my first six novels have all invloved a quest, some quite literally and some thematically.

You know, I might be the only human being alive who's read all six of my novels? That's wierd. I'm the world's foremost Oppegaard expert.

Michelle said...

Once they get published we can all expand the "O" section of our personal libraries.

Michelle said...

You can sit inbetween "Sharon Olds" and Mary Rose O'Reilly.

Blogagaard said...

Woah. I have no idea who those ladies are, but they might not get along with me too well...

Michelle said...

Sharon Olds is a moody poet (aren't they all) and Mary Rose O'Reilly is a St. Thomas prof/Quaker/writer. I probably should have said you could sit after Pablo Neruda and Thomas O'Brian but I wanted to quote a couple of O's.But with six novels maybe you'll have a shelf of your own!

Lex Ham Rand said...

I plan to build my very own Oppegaard library in my back yard!

Blogagaard said...

Yes, Rand, build it and they will come! I'll even record a voice greeting for all who enter, and framed autographed photos! Excellent!

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