The Gunslinger

March 9, 2016
The Gunslinger Book Cover The Gunslinger
The Dark Tower, #1
Stephen King
Dark Science Fiction
Penguin Group New American Library Signet
June 23rd, 2003
Hardback
299
Library
June 10th, 1982

Beginning with a short story appearing in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1978, the publication of Stephen King's epic work of fantasy -- what he considers to be a single long novel and his magnum opus -- has spanned a quarter of a century.

Set in a world of extraordinary circumstances, filled with stunning visual imagery and unforgettable characters, The Dark Tower series is King's most visionary feat of storytelling, a magical mix of science fiction, fantasy, and horror that may well be his crowning achievement.

Book I

In The Gunslinger (originally published in 1982), King introduces his most enigmatic hero, Roland Deschain of Gilead, the Last Gunslinger. He is a haunting, solitary figure at first, on a mysterious quest through a desolate world that eerily mirrors our own. Pursuing the man in black, an evil being who can bring the dead back to life, Roland is a good man who seems to leave nothing but death in his wake.

This new edition of The Gunslinger has been revised and expanded throughout by King, with new story material, in addition to a new introduction and foreword.

(via Goodreads)

 

The Gunslinger is my first encounter reading Stephen King. And I was horribly disappointed.

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed.”

This is the first line in The Dark Tower series; eight dark fantasy/horror/western books which King describes as the magnum opus of all his writing. It’s an incredible first line and quite possibly the greatest first line I have ever read.

It’s a shame that I hated almost every moment which followed.

F-the-dark-towerrom the beginning, you are thrown into King’s universe with no explanations. You don’t know who the Man in Black is, who The Gunslinger is, where they are, why The Gunslinger is chasing him, or why the Man in Black is fleeing. Or if he is even fleeing. Or what the heck is going on. All we know is that the Gunslinger follows.

The problem is that as we continue, nothing is really explained to us. We get some background on the Gunslinger, but not enough. We experience the world with the Gunslinger as he progresses through the desert, but that’s it. This means that I had no idea what was going on, or why it was happening, for 98% of the book. I didn’t care about the events that were happening, or what happened to the characters. There was no way to identify if there was good or evil, or if any of the characters fell into those paradigms. No characters had any relationships to speak of, nor relationships to the world around them. Things happened, and I read the words which explained them.

I’m also frustrated by the lack of themes. There are strange metaphors and weird imagery. There are aloof religious references and peculiar dreams. There are profound philosophical conversations with no connection or reference to anything we know. I couldn’t connect one idea to the next– it felt like walking into a Hoarder’s home and trying not to panic. I found myself constantly thinking, “Why am I even reading this book?”

dark tower quote

The only time reading this novel didn’t feel like reading a textbook in Sanskrit was during the flashbacks. When the Gunslinger was sharing stories, either with other characters or in his head, I felt like connections could be made. We saw how the Gunslinger viewed the world in some small way, and we got a tiny bit of real world building. Whether we experienced his childhood or his previous experiences while following the Man in Black, I felt like there was something to hold on to. We learned of the Gunslinger in a way his wandering would never be able to explain. However, once the flashback ended, there were rare connections to the continuing story. Why did we just read that? Did it help propel the story forward? Possibly, but not in any way we can see from this first book.

I’m sure the story improves and dots are connected as one reads on. I recognize this is just a hook and long setup for a series. But I personally found this frustrating. I could see greatness hiding, and the words used to describe this world are often perfectly placed. I mean, I knew this wouldn’t be the greatest of King’s work since it’s the first story he ever wrote. For a 19-year-old, this is still great. But I detested it.

After I finished the book, I did some research in this series. I found that a lot of people love The Dark Tower series. King is constantly referencing it throughout his other works. The most interesting aspect to me was that King says this series was inspired by the poem Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came by Robert Browning. This poem is inspired by a line from King Lear, in which Glouchester’s son Edgar speaks nonsense:

Child Rowland to the dark tower came,
His word was still ‘Fie, foh, and fum
I smell the blood of a British man’.
– King Lear, Act 3 Scene 4

And this line is inspired by the fairy tale Childe Rowland popularized from Joseph Jacobs’ English Folk and Fairy Tales published in 1892.

dark_towerUpon reading the fairy tale, the book makes a minuscule bit more sense to me, but I feel like I’m filling in gaps I never would have understood otherwise. It also gives me a good idea of what could possibly happen in the next book, if not the remainder of the series. I have only read the first two verses of the poem, just in case there are true spoilers for what might happen in the series.

If anyone I know has read this series and wants to let me know what I’m missing, I’ll gladly listen. I want this book to be great. I want to avoid spoilers since I want to pretend someday I will get this book and be interested in reading the rest of the series. If so many people love this series, there must be something waiting beyond the first book. Has anyone read it? Does anyone want to tell me why I should stick around?

Alas. Until such a time arises that this is bested, I shall leave this my least favorite book of 2016. By a lot.

1 star

5 Comments

  • Birdie January 3, 2017 at 12:24 pm

    I’m about halfway through the series now. My friend loves this series and wants me to read them, so I am. Just very slowly. They’re not my favorites, but I will say that the first book is widely known as being the weakest of the series.

    Not trying to convince you to keep going, again they’re not even close to my favorites, but just saying that they do get more interesting.

    • Jackie B January 3, 2017 at 4:50 pm

      That’s good to know! This book was just incredibly frustrating to me. I’m glad that this is the weakest of the series. It’s extra sad to me because I have never ready any Stephen King before– so this turned me off completely (not that I really *planned* on reading King, since I can’t handle thriller or horror). Oh well.

      I would love to hear your opinions on the series as a whole, however. I hear there are some great twists which *might* make it worth reading.

      • Birdie January 3, 2017 at 5:47 pm

        I think I’m somewhere around book 5 in the series. They’re good but they don’t keep me invested between books.
        I’d say, if you read another, but don’t want ‘horror’, try Joyland. It’s one of my favorite King books. 🙂

        • Jackie B January 9, 2017 at 1:16 pm

          Thanks for the tip, Wendy! I am definitely interested in exploring his work more. I’ll have to check out Joyland.

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