The Gunslinger by Stephen King (audio)

This is my 1000th post! Thanks for your support, friends!

gunslingerI so very much enjoyed The Wind Through the Keyhole from Stephen King’s Dark Tower series that I had to find The Gunslinger, book one in that series. I was captivated by King’s own narration of the former, and disappointed to find that he didn’t read this one himself; but narrator George Guidall did a fine job, and I shouldn’t punish him for not being Stephen King.

In a fantastical spin on the western genre, we open with Roland Deschain walking alone with his mule, his guns holstered at his hips. He is pursuing “the man in black”, with an eventual destination of “the dark tower.” These terms are archetypal and possibly metaphorical. He has to cross a desert. He talks with a lone farmer (accompanied by a talking crow), and tells the man a story. (The story-within-the-story is repeated in The Wind Through the Keyhole, very enjoyably.) In the gunslinger’s story we experience the town of Tull, where Roland had also stayed for a spell, in pursuit of the man in black, with some nasty consequences. This is the first of the gory-bloody bits in The Gunslinger, but not the most extreme. We are also learning something of the magical nature of this world that the gunslinger inhabits. The man in black casts spells to entrap Roland; time doesn’t flow normally. At a glance, however, this could be our own world – possibly following war or other disaster.

Next, Roland meets “the boy,” Jake, who has himself come from some other world. As he describes it, Roland thinks he must be making things up; but the reader recognizes modern-day New York City. Jake and Roland travel together for a spell, still across the desert, and then have to climb a mountain, and then go into the mountain. I’ve put off saying this for long enough: The Lord of the Rings is strongly present. The dark tower, the linguistic touches, the lone-ranger type which is borrowed both from western books & movies and from Tolkien, and now the trip into the evil mountain with the ghoulish parahumans threatening them along the way, are all clearly inspired by that exemplary world-building trilogy. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure I referenced Tolkien in my review of The Wind Through the Keyhole, too.

Anyway. They’re traveling, and Roland tells Jake a story, too – another story-within – this time about his training as a gunslinger, and the climactic, life-determining moment when he fought his teacher. This is the truly gory bit: it made me cringe a little, and I don’t consider myself a squeamish reader, so take note. This is Stephen King, after all. Horror joins western and fantasy-epic in King’s genre mashup. Roland and Jake will have a final meeting with the man in black; and I shall leave you there.

I enjoyed this book very much. Stephen King is, without question, expert at world-building and believable, fully-wrought, finely detailed backgrounds. Roland is both an archetype and a real person I easily learned to care about. The tension, suspense, and dramatic action are engaging and had me sitting up straight waiting for the next blow. The boy Jake is sympathetic. There is a mystery surrounding the man in black, and the final confrontation – I said I wouldn’t go there. On the other hand, The Gunslinger felt to me grittier, grainier, less literarily refined than The Wind Through the Keyhole, which in my memory, at least, was a superior book; but not by much. And for that matter, a grainier, less refined beginning feels like it suits this series. I am enchanted by the pulling together of genres, as I stated: western, horror, fantasy, and epic adventure. I don’t think I’m doing it justice in this review, but this is fine work, friends. I’ll be seeking out book two.

Rating: 7 slow mutants.

6 Responses

  1. […] is book 2 in the Dark Tower series. I reviewed book 1, The Gunslinger, here (and a later installment, The Wind Through the Keyhole, here). And I have just ordered my copy of […]

  2. […] Waste Lands is book 3 in King’s Dark Tower series. (See my reviews of book 1 and book 2.) As Jeff said in a comment on an earlier review, they keep getting better and better! […]

  3. […] and Glass is book 4 and, I think, my favorite so far. We met the gunslinger in book 1; met his three compatriots in book 2; and were reunited with the boy Jake in book 3. As this next […]

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