The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger – Stephen King

In the Gunslinger, Stephen King introduces the reader to one of his most enigmatic heroes, Roland of Gilead, the Last Gunslinger.  He is a haunting figure, a loner, on a spellbinding journey into good and evil, in a desolate world which frighteningly echoes our own.

In his first steps towards the powerful and mysterious Dark Tower, Roland encounters an alluring woman named Alice, begins a friendship with Jake, a kid from New York,  and faces an agonsiing choice between damnation and salvation as he pursues the Man in Black.

Starting on this odyssey once again and treading the well worn, familiar paths of Roland’s world has been both a pleasure and an eye-opener.  There is plenty of foretelling liberally scattered throughout this first book, and I forgot just how well it was written. Part western, part fantasy, and erring into sci-fi realms this fusion of genres and ideas are a stirring mix of unpredictability for the reader to experience.

The Gunslinger throws the adventurer into a strange, bleak world of obscure references to people and places, full of tantalising glimpses into a world passed and Roland’s own enigmatic history.  On my first read through this technique made me both eager to understand, and infuriated at not having the answers to hand, but the intrepid reader’s efforts will be rewarded as the series unfolds..

Likewise Roland’s world is a familiar, yet alien place with an atmosphere of decay, but is full of detail and mystery.  King manages to show so much whilst leaving even more open to question.  This form of crumb dropping is an enticement for this reader to carry on, to seek understanding of the world, and the lives there, but it will most likely split readers according to their tolerance for curiosity.

Something that stood out for me with this book is the writing, having fewer characters to concern himself with, King can go about the business of being more verbose and exploring a new world with reckless abandon, which makes the book even more of a departure from so much of his usual fare.

As with any series opener, the ending must demand that the reader picks up the next book and this is done in a much more interesting way than the cliché cliffhanger, as you would expect from a writer of king’s talent. Without going into any spoilers, there is much to be said for the culmination of this instalment,  Its epic imagery and wonder set up a myriad of intriguing possibilities for the following books .

The Gunslinger is an excellent start to the Dark Tower series and is my second favourite book in the series (of eight books), the most effective being The Waste Lands, but that is a story for another day. For King fans he also incorporates references from his other books which makes this work into something much more layered, but for first time fans who miss these, it doesn’t detract from the book as a whole and reading more widely of his work will sometimes unexpectedly bring you back to the tales told within The Dark Tower Quest.

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19 Replies to “The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger – Stephen King”

    1. Ah yes, I did enjoy his insights. I’m not sure if this is right but I seem to recall the short story done by another author at the end of the book is different in the UK from the US. I’m not sure where I came across that but the UK story is really good, bleak but good.

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  1. I don’t read this kind of book very often, but like the sound of this one – might be nice for a change in reading diet some time. And your review has sparked a reminder about a fantasy series I read (and I think enjoyed) many years ago by Stephen Donaldson – The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. Have you come across it?

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    1. I believe I owned an omnibus of the Thomas Covenant series but never actually read them. It’s one for the relisting though. Being King, the Dark Tower series is unpredictable but full of quality moments, I’m on my favourite book (the third book) and am really enjoying picking up on things I completely missed the first time around.

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  2. What an odd idea! The clearly originally medieval reference to Childe Roland (who, in a later manifestation in English literature, “to the dark tower came,”) made into a gunslinger! I’m sorry that King never caught me up in his series of books. I’m too old to start now, I fear.

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    1. Never too old! repeat the mantra!!! I like the basis in old the old poem, I like to see it as an echo through time, and perhaps space as well. It makes things more epic that way.

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      1. Yes, but in order to start with the very first, I’d have to start with “Carrie,” wouldn’t I? And somehow, I’m a little old (62) to take teenage resentments about prom seriously again.

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        1. Skip Carrie, start with The Stand, an immense beast and also has a small tie in to one of the Dark Tower book as well, and it was the first one I read and still own which is one of the rare editions that survived The Great Cull of ’17.

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  3. An excellent review, Ste J. I say this, not having read any Stephen King books at all, ever! Your enthusiasm and excellent powers of description have almost tempted me to give him a go.

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    1. This one is short (238 pages), and a bit like the Harry Potter books, they keep growing in size. I shall keep reviewing the books as and when I get time, so I shall attempt to encourage you more and avoid spoilers. It won’t take you long to go through The Gunslinger at any rate.

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  4. I’ve been meaning to read this series for years ever since I read one of his short stories set in this universe. I guess it’s finally time for me to pick up a copy. Great review!

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    1. Thanks! I’ve recently finished book three, and need to catch up with my reviewing. I’m really enjoying being back in the world but am jealous of those about to embark on its winding road for the first time.

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  5. Stephen King has been one of my favourites since I was a young teenager, but for some reason I’ve never been able to get into these ones. I tried recently and put it down again, maybe one day it’ll speak to me.

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    1. Book one seems to split readers (at least the one’s I’ve spoken too) but perhaps there is a time and place in which the books will grab you and pull you in to this strange world.

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