The Gunslinger – The Dark Tower #1
I bought the original copy ages ago and read through it. In a recent (okay maybe not so recent) Christmas gift exchange, I got The Gunslinger revised version from my cousin – see, I am easy to buy gifts for.
An intriguing 4 out of 5
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.
I will admit that I’ve been meaning to reread this series for a while, and when The Dark Tower movie was announced, I was motivated further. Unfortunately, my original Tower series is in storage somewhere so I found the revised version in a box of growing “To-Be-Read” collections. This review won’t be a comparison between the different book editions and the movie, though I might make references to the original and the movie compared to this revised version.
Everyone remembers this opening line: The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed. It still gives me goosebumps as it says much in so little. It works an introduction to the two main characters of the book. We know one is a gunslinger, giving a Western feel. The “man in black” already sounds like a bad guy or someone who has done something to the gunslinger, hence the pursuit.
The second line is classic king and really sets the standard for the rest of the novel. This line goes “The desert was the apotheosis of all deserts…” and that age old King writing style throws you into the middle of quite an epic quest (when considering all volumes in the series).
In its simplest form, the story follows Roland Deschain of Gilead in pursuit of Walter O’Dim a.k.a The Man in Black (who bares many other names as seen in other King books such as The Stand). Beyond the man in black lies the “apotheosis” of every dimension in existence – The Dark Tower. And yet the tower’s significance must begin with the man in black.
This first book is basically setting precedence for what will occur in future books – the journey. We visit desolate landscapes, a seemingly endless desert, a small town (which reminded me of a scene during The Saint of Killers memories from the comic book Preacher), a way station, and various other interesting places.
The story also shifts between past Roland and current Roland, where we begin where his pursuit for Walter/Man In Black began and why. We meet a cast of characters from his youth and his travels, we explore the beauty of Gilead (and its tragedies) and the desolation that has overrun the world.
We also get to meet the fated Jake Chambers (who is nothing like the Jake in the movie, nor do their meeting of the Gunslinger match except for the presence of a desert). That is all I can say about him…
I am pretty sure almost everyone knows I am a Stephen King fan. He’s writing is something I strive for in terms of execution – I don’t want to be another King but I sure want to learn from him. What annoys people about King is his seemingly laborious descriptions, but these are what give the characters and the world a greater depth. You begin to imagine the characters as real, the worlds they explore tangible, and the emotions they express relatable. You don’t need to be the character of have a frame of reference to them, because King gives you all of that as you read.
Roland’s character is definitely written well. The stoic-yet-drained, fatigued-but-relentless, kind-but-maligned gunslinger with a past riddled with death, pain, and suffering which are also the dull motivators that drum with each heart beat. We see many facets of this tuckered-out gunslinger, and we are only in the first book.
There are not a lot of disparities between the original and the revised except that early King edge in how the original reads. There are too many disparities between the movie and the book to even count that I will view them as two separate universes completely.
Final thoughts on the book itself however are a lot more confused between my memory of the first book and reading it again. Let alone that ending, which shocked me, as the following books clearly require this particular concept to work. I mean! What!?
So now I’m even more enthused to read through the series again and rekindle my favourite Stephen King flame that is The Dark Tower.
Did you know: The Dark Tower was borne from short stories published to The Magazine Of Fantasy and Science Fiction? The inspiration itself comes from a poem by English author Robert Browning, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came“, written in 1855.
“THE GUNSLINGER” OCT. 1978
“THE WAY STATION” APR. 1980
“THE ORACLE AND THE MOUNTAINS” FEB. 1981
“THE SLOW MUTANTS” JUL 1981
“THE GUNSLINGER AND THE DARK MAN” NOV 1981.
On a side note, I saw the premise (and trailer) for Arrivals on Netflix, and it reminded me of “Try To Remember” which is a short story by Frank Herbert in The Priests of Psi. Here’s the premise for the Herbert short story in my book review of this anthology:
Try to Remember!
A spaceship arrives on Earth. The aliens within send out representatives who speak in weird noises and make weird body movements. The reason: interpret the message or be eradicated. Thus the worlds greatest minds across the planet converge in an effort to make sense of the message.
The story is told from a woman’s perspective, who happens to be the only female in a room full of men. And desert sand. (PS: she’s a linguist) Really well written and a commentary on the different ways men and women think or rather, interpret the world around them. Women are the future!
And here’s the premise on Netflix:
A linguist charged with finding a way to communicate with aliens that have landed on Earth uncovers a connection with meaning for mankind and herself.
A stretch? Perhaps, but I find the similarities quite fascinating nonetheless…