Eric Allen's Reviews > The Gunslinger

The Gunslinger by Stephen King
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Sep 12, 12

Read in July, 2011

The Gunslinger

The Dark Tower Book 1

By Stephen King

A Retroview by Eric Allen

There are usually three reactions people have when Stephen King is mentioned. I love him. I hate him. And I like the movies based off his books, but I can’t stand the books themselves. Whichever way you roll, you do have to admit that he’s one of the most famous and successful writers of our day. He’s often called the Master of Horror, however, very few of his books can actually be classified as being part of the horror genre. Oh, he does have his straight up horror novels, but the majority of his work is misclassified because his reputation is for horror, and that’s what sells his books, regardless of whether or not they actually fit into that genre. He has stated in many an interview that he is a science fiction and fantasy fan, and has always wanted to write a grand fantasy epic to rival the Lord of the Rings. And if you look at them, most of his books are really more science fiction, fantasy, and thriller, rather than horror

That is where The Dark Tower series comes in. He had an idea for the beginning of such a grand epic story, and he wrote it in high school. It was titled The Gunslinger and it is the first book that he ever wrote. It was published in a literary magazine, and later re-written and published as book one of The Dark Tower series once he’d gotten his foot in the door of the publishing world. The Dark Tower series as a whole has taken him decades to complete, oftentimes he would set it aside for years because he was basically making it up as he went along and couldn’t think of anything to happen next. It was not until the famous accident when he was run over while jogging near his home in Maine that he realized he came inches away from dying and didn’t want to snuff it before finishing his epic. It spurred him to get the final three books out within a couple years of each other and finish the series off.

The Gunslinger begins with Roland, a Gunslinger, who is something like an Arthurian Knight if he were to have grown up in the old west rather than ye olde England, chasing after the Man in Black. Those who are familiar with other works of Stephen King will recognize Randall Flagg in the Man in Black, though his name is not revealed in this book. The world is dying around him, and through a series of flashbacks we find that the Man in Black is the cause of it. Roland pursues him across an endless desert wasteland, seeking vengeance for the deaths of his family and friends, for countless wars and rebellions, and the very breaking down of reality itself. Long ago he began a quest with his friends to find the Dark Tower, the center of the universe, to set things right, and the Man in Black may be the only one that can show him the way.

As he chases after his quarry he encounters a boy named Jake, whom the Man in Black has transported from our world to Roland’s as a means to slow Roland down. Being a good man at heart Roland cannot leave the boy behind to die in the desert and so they travel on together and finally reach the mountains beyond the desert, catching the Man in Black at last, at the mouth of a cave. (view spoiler)

The Good? This is the very first book that Stephen King ever wrote, and therefore it is relatively clean, lacking the graphic sex and repeated use of the F word for which he is so famous. The story, though simple, is written in such a compelling way that it pulls you in, offering up questions about the past and the future of Roland that you can’t help but continue reading to find the answers to. Roland as a character is well developed, with a clear goal in mind that he will do anything to achieve. The atmosphere and tone of the book are extremely well done. This book feels like the beginning of the grand epic story that it is. For the majority of the book, there is only Roland alone with his thoughts and inner demons. You might not think that to be very interesting, but King does it in such a way that you just can’t stop reading.

The bad? Stephen King is well known for the fact that he never outlines or plans anything before sitting down to write. He gets an idea and basically makes things up as he goes along. Though this is less evident in The Gunslinger, because the plot is so simple, and there are so few characters in it, you can still see where he just pulled stuff out of nowhere when he painted himself into a corner.

The ugly? Stephen King uses a type of viewpoint called Third Person Omniscient. Normally, in a third person story, you see the story through the eyes of a single character at a time. You know their thoughts, their emotions, and their reactions to everything that happens. With Omniscient, the writer will give you thoughts and internal details from more than one character at a time. You’re not in any one character’s head, you’re in all of them, and which one whose eyes you’re seeing the world through can change at the drop of a hat, and normally with nothing to tell you that the viewpoint has changed. Some people, including myself, can find this to be confusing at times. It can also lead to the reader not connecting well with any of the characters. In a huge science fantasy epic like this one, it is vital that you connect with the characters, because you’re going to be with them for a very long time. Luckily there are really only 3 characters in this book, so its easy to get attached to them early on so there’s less confusion later in the series when more characters are introduced.

All in all, The Gunslinger is a very good book. It lacks the hard language and sex that put many people off Stephen King books, and despite my dislike of King’s writing style, it is very well written and thought out. It’s hard to make something this interesting and compelling with a cast of only three characters, and he’s done excellently with it. The atmosphere of the book is great, you can really feel the hopelessness of the dying world weighing on Roland’s back with every step he takes, and the hope that he feels as he chases after the one man that may be able to give him some clues on how to set it right again. Roland’s internal struggles play out very well, and you’re teased enough with things to come and things long past that you want to continue on to the next book. As the beginning of a large epic the likes of which King wanted to rival Lord of the Rings with, it’s rather short and simple. However, it is exactly what it needs to be to get this story rolling. Even if you do not go on to read the rest of the series, this book alone is worth reading for the simple reason that it is a perfect example of excellent writing and imagination the likes of which you would not have though Stephen King capable of, looking at his other works. I wish more of his books were like this one, clean and well written, rather than full of sex, horrible language, and not very well thought out or coherent.

I’m giving this book five stars. It loses a point or two because of the confusion of the Omniscient point of view and a little bit of rambling due to King’s making it up as he went along. Other than those two small issues I have nothing to complain about, not enough to lower it to 4 stars though. It was an excellent book that I certainly recommend you read.

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