8 Rated Books Book Reviews Western Week

Book Review: The Gunslinger

Title: The Gunslinger

Author: Stephen King

Review Number : 31

Genre: fantasy/Horror

Stand alone/ series: book 1 of Dark Tower series

Summary: In the Gunslinger, 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 a desolate world which frighteningly echoes our own. In his first step 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 agonising choice between damnation and salvation as he pursues the Man in Black. Both grippingly realistic and eerily dreamlike, the Gunslinger leaves readers eagerly awaiting the next chapter. And the tower is closer!

Why did I read the book: Thea has threatened by with bodily harm if I didn’t. She can be quite scary, so I caved.


“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” : with this phrase we have both an opening sentence and a summary of The Gunslinger.

The search for the Man in Black, by Roland, our hero, has been going on for years and now he is closer than never. We go along as his search takes him through a town, the desert, the mountains; we meet some people (and some monsters) along the way, some stick around for a very short amount of time, some for even less. Some things are learnt – by us and by Roland – but the narrative is mysterious, as mysterious as the reasons behind his search . All we know is that the Man in Black is his connection to a larger quest – that of the Dark Tower. Throughout the 200 pages of the book we have glimpses of Roland’s past and his training as a gunslinger, we learn that he is the last of them and that he has no family or friends left in the world. He has nothing but memories to get by, but memories that he tries to leave behind along with his emotions as he can not afford either in his relentless pursuit.

The gunslinger, reminded me quite a lot of Strider or Aragorn of Lord of The Rings fame, in his physical description and some of his actions but not all of them. Whereas Aragorn was a highly honourable man, we have the feeling that in his quest, Roland can not afford to be moral. In fact in one of his flashbacks to his childhood his father tells him: (…) it is not your place to be moral, (…), Morals may be beyond you. I realise then that the gunslinger, is the epitome of the Man with no Name, as best explained by Thea is her recent opening post for the Western week ,- He is an outsider, shrouded in mystery. He plays by his own rules, and makes decisions that will benefit himself, according to his own views of justice or questionable morals. Although the line between right and wrong is blurred for this man, he will surprise occasionally by showing his soft spot for the helpless and downtrod…but at the same time is a bounty hunter that partakes in less than lawful activities.

And we do have the feeling that Roland is all of the above and will stop at nothing. In fact, some of his actions irked me to no end and at some points I hated him. But as with all good anti-heroes there is enough in him that attracts us as much as it repulses – and I could not help but to want to know more about him, about his past and what the future will bring.

Ultimately, I could not put the book down. Probably because of Mr King’s fantastic portrait of a weird world and its characters which completely sucked me in. The book has a feel of old Western – with the desert, a saloon, the guns, the fact that there seems to be no advanced technology around and yet we know that this can not , possibly, be the past – it can only be the future – people sing Hey Jude and there are mentions of large buildings, a subway that no longer works, a trip to the moon (which the gunslinger doubts ever happened) and yet we never know for certain what happened , only that something went very wrong at some point.

But that is not what matters to the gunslinger – what matters to him, for reasons yet unknown but which concerns a vow he was sworn, is indeed the Dark Tower; and when he finally catches up with the Man in Black a conversation goes on that enlighten what the Tower is: a nexus of all worlds, of all universes, of time. And he gives counsel on the steps Roland must take in order to reach the Tower: the first one being the obscure Drawing of the Three – which is where his journey will truly begin.

The Gunslinger is the opening of a series of 7 books, The Dark Tower series, which is considered to be Stephen King’s Magnum Opus. Even though this short book is fabulously weird and gripping it seems to be nothing but a tiny appetiser of wonders to come. Wonders that I intend to devour as soon as possible. Bring it on.

Notable quotes/parts: I love his interactions with Jake, a lost boy he found in The Station, part 2 of the book. They connect and theirs is a bond of love undoubtedly. But the gunslinger mind is a mind set in one thing and one thing alone and since he was a teenager he has known that some things, some friends, need to be sacrified in his way – *SPOILERS* it has happened with David, his hawk friend who died for him and it happens with Jake who he lets die when it comes to the point of choosing to save him or to carry on after the Man in Black. A very sad turn of events.

Additional Thoughts: It took Stephen King over 12 years to write this book. And it was inpired by the poem Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came by Robert Browning which also inpired this fabulous painting by Thomas Moran:

You can find the poem here: Childe Roland

Verdict: Weird, scary, poignant. A fantastic opening to what seems to be a marvelous series.

Rating: 8. Excellent.

What I am reading next: The Lion’s Lady by Loretta Chase

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  • Thea
    April 1, 2008 at 7:19 am

    Yay Ana for finally starting the Dark Tower books! The Gunslinger is brilliant, isn’t it? One of those, the more you think about it and reread it, the better it is books.

    And psst–Jake is one of my favorite characters… *winkwinknudgenudge*

    Hurry up and read the next two books already!!! 🙂

  • Ana
    April 1, 2008 at 7:43 am

    I want to , I really do! But that XFiles box, has got a hold on me! It is must disturbing. LOL

  • Kate
    April 1, 2008 at 8:33 pm

    Oooo…I just finally picked this up after years of harassment from a close friend! I haven’t read Stephen King in years, and I’m really looking forward to it. My previously-mentioned friend always thought there was a connection between the Gunslinger books and King’s other fantasy novel, The Eyes of the Dragon. I’ve only read The Eyes of the Dragon (so far)…what do you ladies think?

    (And of course I have to balance this out with my book club Irene Nemirovsky…it’ll be tough.)

  • Ana
    April 1, 2008 at 11:31 pm

    Kate, I don’t really know! This was my very first Stephen King book. Thea commented that this has crossovers with The Stand, though. I will ask her about the Eyes of the Dragon.

  • Thea
    April 2, 2008 at 7:13 am

    Kate–Ooh boy, are you in for a treat! The Dark Tower books are actually the linchpin to ALL of SK’s other works, which mention or are mentioned in the series at some point. The Eyes of the Dragon (great book, btw) is very closely connected with the series–Flagg, the wizard, is none other than the same Randall Flagg from The Stand, and The Man In Black here in The Gunslinger (later he is identified as Randall Flagg) (Note: The King Roland in TED is another crossover, but the characters are very different).

    Almost all of SK’s works have DT crossovers, the most notable of which are (off the top of my head): The Stand, The Eyes of the Dragon, It, Insomnia, The Talisman, Black House, Hearts in Atlantis (short story), Everything’s Eventual (short story), The Shining, ‘Salem’s Lot, and Rose Madder.

    Not to mention other influences from Tolkien, J.K. Rowling (yes, you read that correctly!), Marvel Comics genius Stan Lee, and movies such as The Magnificent Seven/Seven Samurai!

  • Mollie
    April 3, 2008 at 5:16 am

    I’ve always wanted to read this series. I always enjoyed the Stephen King books I read. Except IT. I tried reading it several times but it really scared the crap out of me. WAY creepier than the movie. I had to quit several times b/c of nightmares. LOL. What a baby. Sigh.

  • Thea
    April 3, 2008 at 7:58 am

    Mollie–you’re not a baby! IT is definitely the scariest book I have ever read. I read that sucker in 7th grade and it scared the crap outta me. Still does, to this day.

    And that’s why I love it so much! :p

    Rest assured, the Dark Tower series is much more fantasy/adventure than horror (although there are horror elements to the story).

  • John Mutford
    April 8, 2008 at 5:40 am

    I loved this one, and thought it stood apart from the rest of King’s catalogue. I read up to Wizard and Glass, in which I think the whole series jumped the proverbial shark. Plus, it really bothers me that King doesn’t seem capable of writing a book any more that doesn’t have allusions to the series. What once stood apart has become monotonous. To me, anyhow 😉

  • Thea
    April 8, 2008 at 11:10 am

    Hi John–I definitely think you have a point there. Wolves of the Calla onward definitely marks a different tone for the series. Book 5 is the last book that I really, genuinely LIKED. I mean, I’m one of those compulsive people that needs to finish every series, and the last two books just kind of fall short, especially after the brilliant first five volumes…I digress.

    Agree with you on the irritating, constant DT allusions–I’m holding off on Duma Key for that reason!

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