Stephen King – The Gunslinger

I read this book years ago and, like many people, wasn’t too impressed. It’s short for a Stephen King book and doesn’t really give you an idea yet of how big a story is starting with the black man fleeing across the desert and the gunslinger following…

by Stephen King

published: New English Library 2003 (1982)
pages: 328
copy: paperback
series: The Dark Tower #1

my rating: 6,5/10

first sentence: The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

In the first book of this brilliant series, Stephen King introduces readers to one of his most enigmatic heroes, Roland of Gilead, The Last Gunslinger. He is a haunting figure, a loner on a spellbinding journey into good and evil. In his desolate world, which frighteningly mirrors our own, Roland pursues The Man in Black, encounters an alluring woman named Alice, and begins a friendship with the Kid from Earth called Jake. Both grippingly realistic and eerily dreamlike, The Gunslinger leaves readers eagerly awaiting the next chapter.

From the very first sentence, I could feel that this was the beginning of a big, epic story. Even without the knowledge of six (by now seven) books to follow, you sense it between the lines, in the way Roland behaves and from the memories he shares. The desert is a rather empty place and the only thing we know about Roland in the beginning is that he needs to catch this man in black.

As plot goes, I didn’t like this book too much. Stephen King delivers his usual very short chapters – sometimes even just one line – which keeps you going more easily, but the lack of things happenening made this a surprisingly hard read to me. I think now that I’ve read a few more volumes in the series, I’d love to go back and revisit the beginning. But being thrown into that universe, not really knowing what is going on, where we are, who the hell Roland is anyway and why he’s so obsessed with the Tower, made it hard for me to be engaged in the story.

That said, Stephen King’s style (and I sound like a broken record here) leaves nothing to be desired. He finds the right balance between descriptions and the characters’ inner conflict, of dialogue and action. Not everybody likes short chapters, I find they keep me reading faster and longer. If you know that the chapter will end very soon, you’re more likely to push through those few pages, only to find that something really awesome happened – which sends you right into the next chapter.

As I’ve mentioned, we don’t learn a lot about the Tower or Roland’s past yet but there is one flashback that was the best part of the entire book to me. Suddenly I was gripped and cared about Roland and couldn’t put the book down. That passage was wonderful but ended too quickly. My boyfriend just read this book a couple of months ago and is now well into the series. Book one is still his favorite – I guess that shows it’s really a matter of taste, not of the author’s talent. Which, in my humble opionion, is indisputable.

So I guess it’s the start of The Dark Tower series and you have to get through this one to get to the really good bits. I will probably re-read this novel after I’m done with the series because I suspect that Stephen King already knew very well where the story was going and put a lot of deeper meaning into his first volume than we think. This toying with readers’ expectations is a great thing, in my opinion, but it usually works better when you do it with a chapter, not an entire book.

THE GOOD: Fantastic writing, the epic beginning of a larger plot, worth it just for the flashback.
THE BAD: Really slow at times and hinting at many things the readers can’t understand yet. Gets frustrating.
THE VERDICT: Worth it! Read this book and be amazed at the worlds between volumes one and two. If you don’t get sucked into the story, don’t give up until you’ve met Eddie.

RATING: 6,5/10   A good book, leaning on very good

The Dark Tower series:

  1. The Gunslinger
  2. The Drawing of the Three
  3. The Waste Lands
  4. Wizard and Glass
  5. Wolves of the Calla
  6. Song of Susannah
  7. The Dark Tower
  8. The Wind Through the Keyhole

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