The Gunslinger by Stephen King
In his first step towards the powerful and mysterious Dark Tower, Roland Encounters an alluring woman names Alice, begins a friendship with Jake, a kid from New York, and faces an agonizing choice between damnation and salvation as he pursues the Man in Black.
Few books can grab you and draw you into them quite as quickly and completely as The Gunslinger. In my experience the first book in a trilogy/series can often take some time to immerse you as a reader, possibly due to the unfamiliarity of the characters but also the new location and place names, this is especially pertinent for high fantasy titles. But this book hooks you from the very first page, from the very first sentence even. And what a first sentence it is! In a recent podcast, Josh and Ryan discussed the finest opening sentences found in fantasy novels and The Gunslinger received a deserved mention.
The Man in Black fled across the desert and the Gunslinger followed.
The above line sums up the entirety of King's magnum opus, neatly encapsulating the obsession of the Gunslinger and highlighting his single-minded determination. At this point you being to wonder - "Who is the Gunslinger?" and "Who is the man in black?" - and it is these questions, which are soon joined by countless others, that provide the driving force of the series as you simply must know the answers and the author, in his very own inimitable style, slowly and carefully reveals the worlds and the peoples involved as he takes the reader on a journey that few who make it ever forget.
I like Stephen King the man (judging him by his interviews and author's notes) and I like Stephen King the author. The Dark Tower series, along with his other works It and The Stand, have a special place in my heart. However, because King is so popular, and so successful, he is also heavily criticised, sometimes by people who have not even read any of his work. But I hold King to be a master of the art of storytelling and characterisation, his books can often be hefty tomes which leads to cries of "filler" and "padding" from his naysayers but I've enjoyed almost everything I have read of his, regardless of size. And that brings me to an interesting point: It is sometimes forgotten that King is every bit as good at the short story format as he is at the thousand page epics and The Dark Tower series showcases his skills at both mediums. The Gunslinger is a relatively short book, around the 200 page mark, and absolutely perfect for those wondering if the Dark Tower series might be for them. It can be read easily in a day and there is not the abundance of world building and characterisation that marks the beginning of many an epic fantasy series. These vital ingredients come of course, but gradually, at key-points during the tale's progress and never at the cost of momentum.
In The Gunslinger, 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 journey into good and evil, in a desolate world which echoes our own. In his first step towards the powerful and mysterious Dark Tower, Roland encounters Alice, begins a friendship with Jake, a kid from New York, and faces an agonising choice between damnation and salvation as he pursues the Man in Black.
The Dark Tower boasts some of the best characters in fantasy and the first instalment introduces to us the obsessive and lonely gunslinger, Roland of Gilead, and the innocent yet world-weary Jake of New York. And as we read they form a tender and loving relationship that is pivotal to all that follows. From the beginnings in the desert and through events and flashbacks we then visit the doomed town of Tull, visit Gilead, see the New York of Jake's when and finally travel through the mountains to the moment when Roland faces the most difficult decision of his life.
My advice is simple… If you are not sure whether or not embark on the Dark Tower series then I recommend that you give The Gunslinger a go. It is great little book and if you are any where near as captivated as I was then you are in for a treat, as the next book, The Drawing of the Three, is my favourite of all, and sure to cement an ever-increasing love affair with the series.
When I saw Alaisdair doing the re-read of one of his favourite series, Narnia, I asked Lee if I could do a The Dark Tower re-read, and Lee said it was, “as if you could read my mind…” and we decided to do the re-read together with one book a month. The Dark Tower actually holds a great value for me since it was by this series that I took the first journey into the fantasy genre. I first read this series when I was still in high school, and have since then recommended it to many of my friends that this is for me easily one of the best fantasy series out there. I’ve only read the books twice, so I am looking forward with more than great pleasure to once re-live this great experience. And what is great about a re-read is that I do already know the series but in re-reading the events I hope to encounter things that I might have missed first time around.
Looking back over all the books that I have read so far, The Gunslinger does start of with one of the best opening sentences: “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed”. No doubt about this, but I will probably come back to this sentence in later re-reads. There are so many things that directly spring to my mind when I first read this sentence: Who is this man in black, why is he fleeing, who is the gunslinger? and why is he chasing the man in black? Already from the first pages of the gunslinger you are thrown in a weird world, I still cannot decide if it is the past or the present. The universe that King has created around The Dark Tower is quite alluring and magnificent to say the least. Looking at the characters, the setting and language used one might say this is a past time, set in a western world where gunslingers still reign, but looking at several objects placed within in this rich environment from nuclear slug, canned foodstuff and batteries, one might say it is nearing the future. Added on top of this is the heavy and provoking reference that, “the world has moved on”. I’m still wracking my brain which it will be but I will probably lay it to the side and fully enjoy this magnificent universe to the fullest.
In the Gunslinger you follow The Last Gunslinger, Roland Deschain of Gilead. His character is just marvellous, though when you encounter him first, the descriptions of his character are all throughout a third person narration, but once Roland started to converse in the world I immediately liked his character. For me his strong personality is drawn from a few points in the series. Too start off, the narration that King uses to describe him is just spot on, the third person narration is very strong and in the dialogues this totally comes to its rights creating a very engaging and addictive way of storytelling. Another point where Roland get’s a strong point from is his characters personality, he has a single quest to fulfil, finding the ever elusive Dark Tower but even in this quest he is haunted by many demons of his past. Some of the tales of these demons are being told through flashbacks in the storyline, like his story in Tull, which is macabre to say the least but also his coming of age, the relationship with his father and mother and his friends in Gilead and In-World. All in all, Roland’s character is for me just great, he is complex, straight to the point, compassionate and driven to reach his goals.
In this first installment, Roland goes through a lot of events, some more grim than others but they all never the less create a unique feeling to the storyline. I particularly liked to re-read about how Roland met up with Jake in the way station and their journey together through the mountain on the pushcart. Similarly to this was the events that occurred in the town of Tull, it is funny too see that many things do fall into place now after re-reading it again. Lastly there was one part of the books that I now just fully have come to appreciate and that is the part of when Roland is in palaver with the man in black, it is with the explanations of several things that this really is an eye-opener.
As a first summary: I’m so pleased about having started this re-read that I just want to devour every other book in the series straight away! But I will rein myself in and try to extend this feeling over a year. The Gunslinger is a unique reading experience that introduces you to a great and complex main protagonist, a rich and magnificent world that will enlarge itself at least a thousand fold as the series continues. All I can say, if you have not read this series, you are definitely missing out.
Jasper de Joode, 10/10
The Gunslinger is a great read and a similarly excellent listen, The audiobook, narrated by George Guidall is one of the best you will find. You can read my thoughts on it here.
Xavier from Austria
The Gunslinger is an excellent start to a fascinating series. I was left feeling that King had poured every ounce of himself into this series (this is in the main a good thing but book six...). Roland's quest to reach the Dark Tower has everything, including moments of fantasy and horror while also evoking the feel of the old spaghetti westerns. Although different from the majority of King's other works it does have one thing in common - it is another example of superb story telling. Recommended.
Joos from The Netherlands
I first read 'The Gunslinger' when I was around twelve, eleven years ago, and I got sucked into this book and within a week I had read 'The Drawing of the Three' and 'The Waste Lands' and loved every second reading them. When the 4th book: 'Wizard and Glass' finally came out I found it's quality inferior to the first three books but still good. When the 5th,6th and 7th books came out I all read them as well of course, but I found those to be even worse. Overall I'd give this "magnum opus" a 9/10 for the first 3 books, a 7/10 for number 4 and a 5/10 for the last three.
Peter from Warwickshire
This is small book by fantasy standards and it really is one that reels you in amd leaves you with little choice than to make you're way through the 6 books that follow (they get longer, much longer!) I thought, as an avid fantasy reader, that Stephen King is very good at writing in this genre and Roland is a fantastic character with which to write a major series around. This series is a must for Stephen King and fantasy fans alike.
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