Stephen King is one of the most unique brands in literature. Stephen King isn’t the kind of author brand that produces page-turner thrillers to accompany you on a plane journey; a Stephen King book is nowhere near as accessible as say a James Patterson novel. Stephen King novels are so uniquely dark in concept that you require a whole new level of appreciation for literature to fully grasp what he’s able to do. I had a tough time getting into The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger initially, but by the end of the book I found myself eager to continue reading The Gunslinger’s journey, even given the fact that not much really happened.
There are so many cases in this book of Stephen King describing mundane activities such as hunting, eating, sleeping, or walking through a desert and you begin to feel as though the story isn’t really progressing as quickly as it should. If you’re someone who relies on a writing structure that carries you along then you may begin to struggle with The Gunslinger as it strays far from what’s considered normal; especially given that this book was first written in 1982. If you’re able to practice patience however, you’ll begin to see that reading about these irrelevant moments subtly helps you build a bond with Roland (The Gunslinger) that makes you begin to care about his mission.
Roland’s goal is to find the Man in Black and get answers about The Dark Tower. It’s never fully explained why Roland is on this journey and we don’t even get much of his backstory until the latter half of the book; but the events that transpire throughout the book are compelling enough to make you feel as though King is building towards something.
The beauty of The Gunslinger is how King is able to absorb you into this western fantasy mashup world and still subtly tie it into his universe; possibly without you even realising. The Man in Black for example, is Randall Flagg from one of King’s other popular works called The Stand. As you begin to learn more about the tower, you also learn that there is some connection between the different realms that King’s books take place in. The young boy Jake that Roland befriends is also revealed to be from a place that resembles our reality.
The book is structured in five parts, each with their own engrossing end sequence. The first part was definitely the hardest to digest as a reader because you’re vaguely exposed to this bizarre universe and you have to pay attention to understand the dynamics. Throughout this first part of the book Roland temporarily settles in a place known as Tull and he even commits to a sexual relationship with a woman known as Alice. Most people find Alice hideous and Roland’s reasons for sleeping with her tell you so much about his character. Without spoiling it, the ending sequence in Tull is the part that sealed the deal for me; letting me know that this would be a series that I would stick with, even if I didn’t fully exactly understand what was going on yet.
The rest of the book after Tull is pretty much focused on The Gunslinger journeying with Jake. Much of these parts are a blur, with a few key moments separating them. We also get some relevant backstory that helps in understanding why Roland is seeking out The Man in Black. The book ends with a brilliant exchange between The Gunslinger and The Man in Black that it sets up the following books in the series nicely.
Reading the edited 2003 version of the book – where much was cut out to make The Gunslinger more streamlined – made me wish I had also read the original version so I could have a comparison. Nonetheless, I’m certain that the original version wasn’t so much different in tone because this version was bizarre enough to keep my intrigue and this is the signature Stephen King formula that has kept his readers hooked for decades. I still consider myself freshly exposed to the Stephen King experience as I’ve only read one of his novels prior to The Gunslinger (Needful Things); but after reading The Gunslinger I’m eager to continue experiencing all of his works.
When it comes to The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger, you’ll either love it or hate it. You opinions are likely to be one of these extremes and I’m not sure there’s much of an in-between. I’m told that the The Dark Tower plot really kicks off in The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three, but this first book does a fantastic job of introducing Roland The Gunslinger and the realm that he’s come to be a part of.