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The Gunslinger by Stephen King

February 10, 2010

The Gunslinger opens with a stark, telling line: The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed. I was instantly interested in the plot—why is the man fleeing the gunslinger? Or is he fleeing someone else? Who is the bad guy?

Ultimately, these questions were answered. However, there was a lot about a tower and mystical things that I didn’t care about. What, Kristina? This is the first book of The Dark Tower series. How could you not care about the tower?

This is the first Stephen King book I’ve ever read. No Carrie, Cujo or On Writing prior to this. I knew he was a writer that could pound out bestsellers for the masses. I also knew many of my friends, who are serious about literature and writing, like to read him. So, I definitely didn’t approach this with a He’s like Dan Brown attitude (yes, I do refuse to read The DaVinci Code). I was excited to see why this series has such a cult following.

Included in my edition of The Gunslinger (it was a gift, so it’s a recent edition) is an intro and forward by King, which served to do two things:

1. Get me excited to read a contemporary epic, one with Western sensibilities, that the author worked on for an über long time (this is no Twilight. He wrote the series between 1970 and 2004).

2. Create a lot of build-up. King was inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien when he decided to write this. (But perhaps admitting this to your readers is an unfulfillable promise?)

The Gunslinger follows Roland Deschain, a really old, yet not aged, nomad. He was trained in the way of the gun, and when we first meet him, he is the one pursuing the man in black. (Given the name, you could guess the bad guy right away. Tolkien, too, used the black/white dichotomy.)

His journey to catch up with the man in black is riveting, punctuated with lively flashbacks. I really enjoyed these parts of the book: how Roland won his title of Gunslinger, how he’d roll into ghost towns and shoot ’em up; how he’d battle demons; and how he’d kick ass! There were softer, endearing moments with Roland, too: he had a brief relationship with a broken woman, Alice, and loved a young comrade, Jake. Roland is an awesome character: he has near-unbeatable fighting abilities and appears to have a strong moral compass, but I was still surprised by some of his actions. King was right on the money with this epic thing (Hero’s Journey, anyone?) and the Western thing (guns, horses, sex and dust).

That being said, though, I think I ruined the experience for myself by reading his forward. I really didn’t need to know his main inspiration was J.R.R. Tolkien. Every time I came across the mysticism, especially the Dark Tower palaver, I zoned out. I even made a note, “totally LOTR”, in regards to this passage: “Once there was a king, he might have told the boy; the Eld whose blood, attenuated though it may be, still flows in my veins. But kings are done, lad. In the world of light, anyway” (205). I found it hard to enjoy that, when I kept thinking about The Lord of the Rings. I understand the need for it, though, as King did set out to complete a sweeping epic with an American bent. I just didn’t care for it. Get back to the sex and guns! And the brief, yet integral, relationships Roland has with other people.

So, all in all, there was a lot to enjoy in this book. There was some stuff that made my eyes glaze over. Will I read the rest of the series? Yes, before I die. I heard the ending is JUST COMPLETELY AMAZING. Will I get through the next six books anytime soon? Not likely: I have way too many neglected books on my shelves.


Next: Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

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