Kemper's Reviews > The Gunslinger

The Gunslinger by Stephen King
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Aug 05, 2016

really liked it
bookshelves: fantasy, alt-universes, 2011-r, magic, western, dark-tower, uncle-stevie

The Dark Tower series was one of the great joys of my reading life. However, it also frustrated me to the point where I often wanted to bludgeon Stephen King with a hardback copy of It.

I was baffled by The Gunslinger when I first read it way back in my high school days. It had been an unobtainable limited edition that had popped up in the title card of King’s other books, and when it finally went into wide release I couldn’t wait to snatch it up. But then I couldn’t make sense of it. There was a cowboy in an almost apocalyptic landscape where magic existed, but everyone knew the lyrics to Hey Jude. After scratching my head over it for a while, I decided that King must have hit the bottle a little extra hard that day, and then I forgot all about it.

I was so unimpressed that I didn’t even make an effort to get The Drawing of the Three when it first released. When I finally read it, I got an inkling of what King was doing, and it seemed cool as hell. And since I had delayed reading the second book for so long, I didn’t have a long wait for the third one. By the early ‘90s I had gone from Dark Tower skeptic to hardcore convert. (Little did I know the frustrations that awaited.)

The gunslinger is Roland Deschain, a kind of knight with two six guns instead of a sword and shield. Roland is chasing a mysterious ‘man in black’ across a seemingly endless desert. We don’t know exactly where they are, but the place seems to be in a state of decay. There are occasional remnants of very advanced technology, but things have devolved to the point where Roland’s revolvers are the most high tech thing around. Magic, demons and mutants are also common place in this world.

Over the course of the book, we learn that Roland has been chasing this man for years, and he’s never been closer. He eventually comes across Jake, a young boy whose last memory is of being pushed into the street and killed by the man in black in what seems to be our New York of the 1970s. Roland knows that Jake has been left as a trap to force him into a choice that will further damn his soul (Which is seeming kind of ragged around the edges anyhow.), but he is committed to catching the man in black so he can find the Dark Tower.

After the other books in the series had come out, I would occasionally go back through The Gunslinger and what came later completely changed my mind about this. It went from being a strange book that I didn’t understand or care about to the surreal prologue to a series I was more than a little obsessed with. I started to enjoy the cryptic vagueness and lack of information in the story. It was our introduction to the obsessed Roland, and once we got a bigger look at that world I came to love this book.

However, when King started the series, he had no idea what came next or how it would end, and he never felt obligated to stick strictly to the hints and clues that he littered in earlier books like this one or even his other books that contained bits of the Dark Tower. So there were continuity errors and predicted events that never came to pass. After finishing the series, King decided to update and revise The Gunslinger to get it in line with what he wrote later.

If he would have just stuck to cleaning up some of the continuity errors and revising the prophecy bits to match, I could have lived with that. Unfortunately, King couldn’t resist seeding the entire revised edition with more history and foreshadowing of coming events than in the original version. I liked it more when he stuck to just throwing us in the deep end with this strange world and morally compromised main character. I still prefer my original copy, flaws and all.

However, there’s another factor in play when it comes to this revised edition, but I can’t talk about it without spoiling the ending. My official recommendation for newbies is to read the original version first, then the series and then come back to this revised edition if you feel like it. Call me old school, but I think it plays better that way.

Here’s a bit more about why King gets a bit of a pass for essentially pulling a George Lucas and having Han not shoot first. Do NOT read this if you don’t want to know how the series ends.

(view spoiler)
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Comments (showing 1-20 of 20) (20 new)

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message 1: by j (new) - rated it 3 stars

j (view spoiler)


Kemper Joel wrote: "[spoilers removed]"

(view spoiler)


message 3: by An Odd1 (new)

An Odd1 I dislike prophecies intensely, so your warnings and knowledge of revisions is encouraging for what sounds like a challenging series.


message 4: by Harry (last edited Jun 17, 2013 03:59PM) (new)

Harry Dunno, Kemper. I went into this with about 200 pages and still couldn't get into it...and put it down. I liked your review, it's honesty as to its failures and edification of what is to come after...but if the first book in a series doesn't grab me...then I'm gone.

Perhaps if the reason why the Dark Tower is of such importance was laid out from the get go...or, if the conflict was a bit more engaging beyond that of simply trying to follow a man dressed in black...perhaps I would have kept on reading.


message 5: by Kemper (last edited Jun 18, 2013 07:18AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kemper Harry wrote: "Dunno, Kemper. I went into this with about 200 pages and still couldn't get into it...and put it down. I liked your review, it's honesty as to its failures and edification of what is to come afte..."

Gunslinger is a tough intro because it's so odd and has a different tone than the rest of the series. As I noted in the review, I didn't understand what the hell was going on the first time I read it, and it wasn't until I eventually read the second book that the series came into focus and really grabbed me.

King wrote this much earlier in his life and only released it as a limited edition, then demand for it led him to release it widely which then led to everyone asking 'What's next?' Then he wrote the next book but Gunslinger was never meant to be the traditional start to a series like you'd normally read.

Not trying to talk you into keeping going. If you don't like it, you don't like it. But I've always thought of Gunslinger as this strange extended prologue to when the series really gets going in The Drawing of Three.


Nandakishore Varma I enjoyed the original book because it was so weird... like a dyspeptic dream in the early morning hours which I couldn't quite hang on to.

King had originally intended 25 books, I remember reading... then he must have realised that he wouldn't live long enough, so made do with seven! ;)


Trudi Kemper wrote: "but Gunslinger was never meant to be the traditional start to a series like you'd normally read....I've always thought of Gunslinger as this strange extended prologue to when the series really gets going in The Drawing of Three..."

A thousand times yes and I really couldn't have stated that any better. If the series doesn't grab a person after Drawing of the Three, then drop it for sure. But I always tell people not to abandon the series if The Gunslinger leaves them confused and underwhelmed.


Ana I would very much like King to do that, too, but I think the well of Mid World and End World dried up when he put everything he got into this one version. Hope is still there, though..


Kemper Ana wrote: "I would very much like King to do that, too, but I think the well of Mid World and End World dried up when he put everything he got into this one version. Hope is still there, though.."

After reading The Wind Through the Keyhole, I hope he never does anything else Dark Tower. Going back and fiddling with the story seems like a bad idea after that one.


Ana I thought that too. I liked the story in that, but it always felt like it was standing on its own and had nothing to tie it up to the story. Unlike the people that got to read the books over a span of some 10+ years, I read them in two years and in the correct order, with The Wind Through The Keyhole where King intended it to go, between books nr 4 and 5. And it still felt separated and not at home. So I agree with you that he should've left that one outside.. or, anyway, inside his head.


Linda Kemper, thanks for your review of "The Gunslinger"; now I may give the other books a try.


Joseph Kay Thank you for the review I remember reading this when I was younger and not moving onto the second book, after reading it again I felt compelled to read the second book because of your reliable reviews. Thanks and keep up the awesome work. There series certainly picks up in the The Drawing of Three and feels worthy of the acclaim the Dark Tower has been awarded.


Kemper Linda wrote: "Kemper, thanks for your review of "The Gunslinger"; now I may give the other books a try."

Hope you like them if you try them out.


Kemper Joseph wrote: "Thank you for the review I remember reading this when I was younger and not moving onto the second book, after reading it again I felt compelled to read the second book because of your reliable ..."

Glad you're liked the next books. I'm not overly fond of Wizard and Glass, but I think after that it becomes a great ride to a very satisfying ending.


Trudi Readers: DO NOT click this spoiler link if you have not read the entire series.

(view spoiler)


Nancy Thanks, Kemper, for your review of "The Gunslinger". I am such a big Big BIG fan of Stephen King, I felt like a traitor for never reading the Dark Tower Series. In King's Foreward to the revised edition, he shares a memory in which he asks his audience to raise their hands if they have read more than one book of his. Everyone in the room raises their hand. Then he asks how many have read at least one book of the Dark Towers series and over half the hands go down. I knew that I would have been one of those who had to lower their hands ... not for lack of trying tho. I started The Gunslinger on multiple occasions and I just could not get thru it!
Here are a few of the problems I think we non-readers of the Dark Tower series had with Book 1 (and if you can't get thru Book 1, how likely are you to move on to Book 2-7? )
1. I am not a fan of cowboy stories and the first impression I got of The Gunslinger (beyond the title itself) was that it was a cowboy story. On my third attempt to read the book, I discovered it went beyond a 'cowboy story' ... (I should say Well Beyond a Cowboy Story, but I was slow on the uptake, as you might have noticed


Nancy Oops, my comment went on a lot longer than they have given room for -- I must have gone over the word limit? In any case, the essence of what I wanted to say was Thank You for your review. I was forcing myself to get thru it (all the while feeling guilty and inadequate), and now I feel better oriented to the book. I'm going to finish it and continue with the series


Spinning Jenny BB I realize you wrote this last year but I'm late to the bandwagon. I started with the revised, and on a lunch break picked up an original and was all, WTF? To continue your Han metaphor, (I didn't read ur spoilers) in the original, Greedo even SAYS "don't shoot, don't don't don't..." And kapow he's dead. Ha-wha?! I'm going to read the old, skim the new and keep the "changes" filed away. He totally George Lucased it. :/


Kemper Jen wrote: "To continue your Han metaphor, (I didn't read ur spoilers) in the original, Greedo even SAYS "don't shoot, don't don't don't..." And kapow he's dead. Ha-wha?! I'm going to read the old, skim the new and keep the "changes" filed away. He totally George Lucased it. :/

I wrote this review like 5 years ago and didn't realize until you said this that I screwed up the Han metaphor. It should have said that Lucas changed it to Han NOT shooting first. Oops! So thanks for that. I've fixed it now.

Get back to me after you finish the whole series, and we'll talk about why the ending kinda changes how I think about the revised version.


Spinning Jenny BB Sounds good


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