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

Stephen King – It

Whew! This has been quite a journey. It took me the better part of a year to read this book. I devoured 500 pages in two days, then set it aside for months at a time. Which does not mean it was a bad read or got boring, but it’s a lot to take in at once. And Stephen King’s masterful story-telling made it very easy to remember even the smallest details of something read half a year ago. It creeped me out, it made me laugh, it made me cry – the Master did it again!

by Stephen King

published in: 1986
by: Viking
pages: 1376
copy: paperback (huge!)

My rating: 8/10

First sentence: The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years – if it ever did end – began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter shell swollen with rain.

Anyone who has seen the movie – and who hasn’t? – will be familiar with the basic plot of this chunky King story. It, a strange force usually appearing as Pennywise the clown (though It has a range of other creepy shapes) is wreaking havoc on the little town of Derry, Maine. Children disappear, are killed brutally, and nobody seems to know what’s behind the killings. Except for a group of child misfits who know that Derry is being haunted by a monster. Apart from running from bullies, trying to stay alive and simply being children, they decide to destroy It, no matter what.

Stephen King’s ability to make characters, especially children, come to life, is uncanny. I’ve said many times that my favorite aspect of his books is the way he talks about childhood friends. But it’s not just that romantic 50ies playing-out-in-the-sun, riding a bike, and secretly smoking kind of thing that I enjoy reading. Every single person in this story seems to leap off the page with a life of their own. Stuttering Bill, fat Ben Hanscom, Eddie with his aspirator, and beautiful Beverly Marsh, along with the rest of the Losers’ Club and the bullies and side-characters, seemed so utterly real that it made the events of the story all the more scary.

Which leads me to the horror bit. I’m not one to be scared by monsters but I do admit a dancing demon clown is not my favorite subject to dream about. What scared the living daylights out of me, though, was the very human horror. Patrick Hockstetter’s story managed to make me cry in desperation, shake my head in disbelief and run to get a hug from my significant other because I felt so scared. So yes, It may be ablet to look like a werewolf or a leper or a clown with razor teeth, but It acted through humans and it was those actions that made this a true horror novel for me.

I feel silly trying to judge Stephen King’s writing. It’s impeccable, it grabs you and keeps you hooked. The ending held a few surprises for me so if you’ve seen the movie, don’t be put off – the book is bigger, not only in pages, but in scope and backstory. And it’s well worth the read.

THE GOOD: Well written, fantastic characters and great creepy moments.
THE BAD: It’s a big commitment. If you don’t want to read 1500 pages in one go, do it like me and put it aside for a while.
THE VERDICT: Essential Stephen King, I also suspect a lot of connections to the Dark Tower series.