The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.
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 began reading Stephen King’s magnum fantasy opus Dark Tower series back in 1989. I won’t go into the history of the writing of this particular book in what would become a seven-part series (eight if you count that flashback novel published after the fact, but eh…I haven’t felt the need to read that one yet); needless to say, King started writing it back in the late 70s as a serial that was finally collected in the mid-80s in Trade Paperback form, and then finally in the later part of the 80s in mass paperback form. The last format was the one I began reading.
And boy, was I bored with the story.
Keep in mind, I was all of 15 when I started reading that, and my attention span wasn’t what it is now. However, this was also the early edition of The Gunslinger, which was quite a bit different than the editions of this story we have now. And there is a noticeable difference. Mainly, the revised edition flows a bit better, and doesn’t seem as dry as the original one seemed to be. It took me several months to get through The Gunslinger when I was 15; when I re-read it back in 2006, I remember beginning reading it…then suddenly I was done in a few hours. Which, considering I was telling myself to take things slow, savor the story, I didn’t have much money to spare to pick up the later editions of the Dark Tower series, suddenly finding myself reading the final page left me in kind of a daze, wondering what happened. Anyway…
For all intents and purposes, I’ll be focusing on the updated edition in this review, as it was the one that I read most recently, and still have in my collection. On we go, then, sully forth…
We begin our epic tale with the titular Gunslinger, Roland of Gilead, pursuing a mysterious man in black (sadly, not Johnny Cash), on his quest for a mysterious Dark Tower, the center of not only this reality, but all realities. There are some flashbacks to where Roland has been leading up to now, which paints a picture of a land that’s not quite like ours, but bears an eerie similarity. Along his journey, he comes across a bunch of mutants, a town that was mystically boobie-trapped by The Man In Black to kill Roland, and a boy from what turns out to be our reality that has somehow managed to turn up at an abandoned way station in Roland’s world. Then the Gunslinger catches up with The Man in Black, and…they sit down and talk around a camp fire. The end.
As I mentioned above, it didn’t take me too long to re-read The Gunslinger. It does well with establishing the main character of Roland, a hardened, haunted man in a world that has moved on, on a quest that seems to be a fool’s errand, a tilting at windmills. It was also a good blend of fantasy and western, like Robert Jordan as filtered through Zane Gray. Mind you, The Gunslinger is probably the lesser of the seven core novels of the series, but it’s also merely the introductory adventure to set things up. The real fun doesn’t really start until the next novel in the series.