The Gunslinger by Stephen King
Digital Audiobook narrated by George Guidall
Published by Simon & Schuster Audio on October 6th 2003
Series: The Dark Tower #1
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Science Fiction
Length: 231 pages or 7 hours, 20 minutes
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In the first book of this brilliant series, 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 spellbinding journey into good and evil. In his desolate world, which frighteningly mirrors our own, Roland pursues The Man in Black, encounters an alluring woman named Alice, and begins a friendship with the Kid from Earth called Jake. Both grippingly realistic and eerily dreamlike, The Gunslinger leaves readers eagerly awaiting the next chapter.
“The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.”
For a lifetime, Roland Deschain, the last gunslinger, has been following his precious quarry. His mission is to reach the Dark Tower, and the man and black can give him information to aid him on his quest. But he is no easy man to catch, for the man appears constantly vigorous while Roland pursues him across a desert, low on water and sustenance.
The gunslinger does not move without causing destruction and despair in his wake. Wherever he goes, death follows. When he befriends a young boy at a way station, he brings Jake along on his journey, knowing that somehow the boy is the key that will help him reach the man in black. He will reach the man, at whatever cost.
The beginning of Roland’s story.
I have read The Gunslinger easily five times. It’s a short book, especially as King’s novels go. It’s also fascinating. Roland Deschain is a ruthless, gritty character carved somewhere out of the American Old West. He’s seen his world fall apart, his friends killed, his family destroyed – he’s also seen the literal crumbling of Gilead. His final quest – to reach the Dark Tower – is the only thing winding him up to move forward, like clockwork.
Roland’s character is an interesting one in a hero, and I think that’s why I keep going back to The Gunslinger and Wizard of Glass. His history plays such a strong part in his motivations. His training comes into play as well. In The Gunslinger we see a little of his early days, before he was a gunslinger. Back when he was a slightly softer person. We see the first glimpses of his deadly potential. And it’s fascinating, because while you don’t really want to root for him, you are interested to see where he’s going.
Stephen King apologizes for nothing.
An interesting aspect going into The Gunslinger and the Dark Tower series in general is that you know from the beginning that this is King’s story, and he’s not writing it for you. If anything, he’s writing it for Roland (something that becomes abundantly clear in later books). You won’t get one of those heartwarming love stories and you won’t get a whole lot of character redemption. Roland Deschain is who he is and that’s all there is to it.
The world in general seems very much the same way. Everyone is aware that things are falling apart. Again, you won’t find some white knight riding it to save the day. People have accepted their lives and the way of things. Some see Roland as a hero. More see him as a curse – especially in these early books. Ultimately The Gunslinger sets up Roland’s character for the rest of the series and gives you a hint of what’s coming. You won’t have that warm fuzzy feeling when you finish this book. But, you may be intrigued, may be enflamed, may feel that primal need to know if it was all worth it.
Having read this several times, I think it’s fair to say I enjoy it.
While The Gunslinger isn’t perfect, it is fascinating. It’s also got some of the best lines in the series, one off quotes that are strong and striking. The first line of the book (and my review) is a good example of this. Also Jake’s prophetic, “Go now, there are other worlds than these.” I’m a sucker for a book with perfect quotes like that. But also the grittiness of this first books really gets to me. The dark, desperation of it is something I don’t see a lot in science fiction and fantasy, and it’s an alluring premise.
I will freely admit that The Gunslinger isn’t for everyone. As with many of King’s works, the Dark Tower series starts off very slow and with a lot of back story and things don’t really get moving until the middle of book three or (arguable) The Wolves of the Calla. But it’s still an interesting story and essential if you’re going to read the entire series. Which, yes, I heartily recommend everyone do.