Monday, April 30, 2012

Review: The Gunslinger by Stephen King

Title: The Gunslinger
Author: Stephen King
Series: The Dark Tower #1
Pages: 264
Publisher: Plume
Date Published: June 10, 1982
Format: Expanded Paperback
Genre: Horror/ Fantasy
Source: Library

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.Set in a world of extraordinary circumstances, filled with stunning visual imagery and unforgettable characters, The Dark Tower series is King's most visionary feat of storytelling, a magical mix of science fiction, fantasy, and horror that may well be his crowning achievement.

My Review:
Stephen King is a HUGE idol for me. His dark humor, sadistic prose, religious inquiry, and psychotic monsters have kept me coming back again and again. I have read his books since I was 12 years old.(What can I say...I was a bit of a macabre and somber child...) The Stand is still probably one of my favorite books of all time and I rarely find a book of King's that doesn't challenge me, enthrall me, petrify me, or leave me so traumatized that I have to sleep with my lights and TV on for a week. That being said...The Gunslinger seems to be the exception to the rule. Perhaps it was because there was a strong Western flavor to the majority of the book. Maybe it was the relative abstract nature of the plot or lack of understanding of the world where the story took place. Whatever it was...I am just not a fan of The Gunslinger despite wanting to desperately. 

So many King fans have said that The Dark Tower series is King's greatest masterpiece and to be a true King fan you HAVE to read the series. Even my brother has been badgering me to start the series for years now and if HE reccommends a book or series I usually know that it's worth the read. I wasn't impressed with the Gunslinger though. Looking at some other reviews, it seems like the gunslinger was kind of a so-so book and that the series gets better, but for me, if I'm not interested right from the beginning, chances are I will find other stuff to take up my time. Honestly...I have so much on my plate that it could take me years to pick up book two just because I was so underwhelmed by The Gunslinger. 

The writing was definitely King-esk. That sounds kind of obvious, but you know how you can pick up a book and just instinctively know that a certain author wrote it? Laurell K. Hamilton is one of those authors for me. I just know by certain phrases, descriptive passages and character flaws that she wrote a certain story even if it had no cover and had completely different characters than her normal series. Througout his earlier work (Carrie, Salem's Lot, etc) King seemed to still be sifting around and finding his true voice as an author.  But as he grew in his writing and storytelling he found a voice that was distinctly his. If you haven't read any King it's hard to describe, but there are a lot of nonsense and sing-song phrases that get trapped in the main character's head and bounce around psychotically for the entire series. King has a way of incorporating the most broken and jarring sounds, descriptions and worlds in a way to make them fantastic and truly bizzare. You know it is something written by him just from the tone and the mysticsm behind the slightest turn of phrase. The dream-like quality of his work is something that I really enjoy and that was definitely true for the Gunslinger...though I didn't especially like where the plot went with the novel.

Like I said before, there was a definite Western flavor to The Gunslinger. The opening scenes revolve around a solitary man walking across the desert, pursuing an unknown foe. SO the plot of half the Westerns out there...I really don't like the gritty, rugged, almost hopeless feeling that I get when I read Westerns and that was definitley present at the beginning of the book. Yet there was one thing that set it apart from all of those "shoot-em-up" books...and that was the imagery. It stretches and bends the imagination in ways that you can't believe. It was so dreamy and had such a fantasy type quality that you almost felt like you were in one of those paintings with the melting clocks. There is a lot of confusion because you don't understand the rules of this world, only that it is strange and perhaps our world after life ends...but you just aren't sure about much.  Things got much better for the story near the middle and the end because the plot picks up and there is less of a focus on the abstract and more of a focus on where exactly Roland came from and where he is going.

Even though the passages were well written and so descriptive they feel more real than the book in front of you, the story doesn't come together until the last few sections of the book when the Gunslinger finally catches up with his quarry. We finally see WHY(kind of) Roland has been chasing this guy. They have a moment that seems to transcend the mind and universe. It honestly makes you question life and it's still have no idea where the series is going and what it is about. There are just these vague impressions of a tower, an adventure...and a quest. I liked the story, but I just didn't care very much because you don't really know what's going on.

I give The Gunslinger 3 Keys out of 5. It wasn't bad. It was amazingly well written and captures ideas and thoughts that you've never realized you have. The ending is what changes the book from a waste of space to something that just might intrigue you enough to go on to the next one. The ending poses questions of a much deeper meaning than a rugged quest across a desert. These questions are the type that haunt you for days to come and make you want to debate the philosophy of the universe. I think that in such a short page count King manages to entice the imagination and make you curious about his world. It just took me a while to appreciate it :) Happy Reading!


  1. Ugh! I have to read this series. Everyone keeps telling me to and I keep putting it off.

    Stop writing so many damn good reviews! You're making me go broke! Lol.

  2. Great review! I am also a Stephen King fan and loved this book and the Dark Tower series! You gave me a laugh when you said this book has "King-esk" writing because that is to true! Thanks for sharing this info and I hope that more people read this amazing series!

  3. This series is mind blowing! It is awesome in so many ways. My dad read this series, loved it, and went out and bought the whole series for me. I have a great dad! :) Thanks for the review!