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.
4 positive reader review(s) for The Gunslinger
Nhu Tran from Vietnam
I'm not really a fan of dark fantasy but this book is so captivating! At first, I went for the book simply to know the style of Stephen King (this is my first read of King's by the way), but then I binged the book in one day. The pace of the storytelling is not hectic nor rushing yet so engrossing. The storyline is presented at many different time points but not puzzling at all. King's way of writing casts on my mind a lot of possible scenarios, doubts, guessings,... Even in the end, the true self of some characters, and even the protagonist still appears somewhat mysterious to me. Given that 'time' is a very classic element of fantasy genre, King has given it a touch of his own 'magic'. It becomes unique, very 'StephenKing', indescribable just like the eerie feeling when one confronts 'the man in black'. In brief, this is a brilliant piece of work! I personally think King was quite 'gentle' in writing this book, regarding the badge 'dark fantasy': although sometimes, the story was even darker than darkness, King still spared us a beam of light (far ahead).
August Profumo from USA
The Gunslinger by Stephen King Book Review This book is the first of five, Dark Tower Series. The Gunslinger’s name, Roland wasn’t even mentioned until after about half way, when he meets a boy from the twentieth century where he had died a mysterious death. Roland hypnotized him by twirling his bullets with his lighting quick fingertips in kaleidoscopic fashion in front of his eyes: his mother use to pack his school lunch with a thermos. But, he started out alone, walking by a farmer with a dense field of majestic corn. The gunslinger had his water bag, which looked like a sausage, tied around his right shoulder and hung down to his left hip. Then he asked for food. So, he was given fresh picked corn and beans. But, the farmer served it piping hot from his stove’s pot to his pewter plate, with melting butter, a napkin and a silver spoon. The farmer’s Crow was called Zoltan—and he spoke like parrot a few lines from the Gospel. The Gunslinger was packing iron, and he’s given directions to the next town: Kark. Then he entered a small bar with stools in Kark, with only a few patrons playing at the poker tables. Then he asked for a shot of whisky and three burgers. Then he paid for it with a gold coin. But, they didn’t have any change, so the owner kept it. Then the Burgers started smelling heavenly after sizzling on a hot grill, but the cook had to remove them from their paper wrappers. Then he asked for a whore for the night. So, he paid Alice’s fee and slept with her for about a week, during the evenings. But, while it was daytime, he looked for the dark man in black, whom he had been stalking for nearly twelve years because he was his archenemy (or nemesis). So, the consensus claimed that he was seen passing through based on his descriptions: wearing a black cowl. King uses him; as if he were a carrot (tied to a buggy whip) in order to lure his audience (forward), as if they were horses. He’s strategically located at three different places including the end: Tower one. Then the Gunslinger (Roland) visited a nearby church at the town’s edge. The priest was a woman who Alice had warned him about as being super zealous, ardent and a holy roller. So, he listened to her sermon through an open doorway. Then he finally realized that her description of the Interloper aptly described himself—and Alice’s impressions were right on the button. So, he returned to town, expecting trouble because of its proximity because she had influenced it, drastically. Since, he was the butt of her sermon: the anti-Christ. So, when he reentered the town in question, he pulled out his gun from his left hip holster, with his bullet belt tied snugly around his waist. Then he held it ready (and perfectly still) in front of him, scrutinizing the town, menacingly, without revealing any emotion or thoughts, or wisdom. Then he walked steadily—inch by inch—around the corner of a red adobe building. Then he observed a group of a five men charging out of the saloon bar (brusquely) with the doors (flapping back and forth), armed with pitch forks. Then he fired five times, loudly, and hit them all squarely in their respective temples, with freshets of blood, landing on the doorway. Then he reloaded using his lighting, quick finger tips. But, someone threw a few sticks and stones en route—and a boy used a small knife to cut his left calf, deeply. So, ultimately, he killed the entire population of fifty, including woman and children. (However, it would’ve been more realistic, if the townsmen had been better armed with guns or cross-bows, or perhaps sharpened spears). Flash Back to His First Hanging When he was an eleven year old boy, he was being instructed with his best friend, Cohort, how to hunt with hawks with heavy leather gloves. But, he didn’t do it according to the book. Thus, a punishment was levied: he wasn’t allowed to eat dinner. But, the cook went ahead and fed them, with full servings of meat. So, Roland’s father who was a local patriarch ordered that the cook had committed high Treason, since it was against orders. So, his father had the cook hung at a gallows. So, his father said, that he and his friend, Cohort, should visit the hanging, which was the next day. So, he could see what treason was all about first hand. So, he went early in the morning. Then he noticed that many people had packed pick nick luncheons next to a stage. Then it started to get more crowded. Then the cook was lead out to the gallows, alone, without fanfare or religious sayings. Then a noose was put snugly around his neck by a hangman. Then the trap door was released from its hook and he plummeted downward through it. Then his neck snapped (literally and abruptly) when he finally bottomed out. Then his huge body started to make a y shape from swinging back and forth with his rope. So, Roland was the only person watching it completely, since his friend had departed early. So, he learned what justice was at an early age: it couldn’t be compromised, conquered or avoided. So, it matured him decisively—by a thousand years—and imbued him with wisdom beyond his years. Flash Back to His First Coming of age Roland had to fight to the death with his own teacher. So, his teacher asked him to identify his weapon: it was his hawk. So, his teacher didn’t expect it. So, Roland’s hawk fought his teacher and defeated him readily, because his weapon was radically different and audacious. So, I think that his teacher somehow survived, but since it was novel, he still passed. Roland’s portrayal was utterly perilous, rugged, inexorable, cruel, dark and ominous. But, his weaknesses were mulishness, lack of imagination, and his reflexes were lightning fast, but his mind’s wasn’t nimble or fluid. Thus, he spent the preponderance of his adult life wandering, nomadically, looking for hassles and participating in frivolous (or petty) gunfights. So, ultimately this distracted him from coming to grips with his arch enemy: the dark man. The dark man had more imagination and cunning, but they shared the same amount of compassion: none. But, Roland said, that he loved the boy from the twentieth century. I believe that that dark man won’t be apprehended until Dark Tower Five.
Javen from USA
The first 5 books of this series were nothing short of incredible with the Gunslinger being perhaps the greatest entry book into a series I had ever read. It is true as with all Kings books that this peeks to early and recalls way to much in the end as a super long prologue but even that is amazing. Having said that you need to end your reading of these series at Wolves of Calla, unfortunately the final two books do to this series what the second and third movie of the Matrix did. It waters down a incredible story and breaks your heart. Good luck, but do not say you were not warned...
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.
8.9/10 from 7 reviews