on May 30, 2000
This is the first installment of Steven King's fantasy series, The Dark Tower, which follows the story of the Gunslinger Roland, the equivalent of an Arthurian knight in the world King has created, and his quest to reach the Dark Tower in order to make the world right again.
This installment tells the story of Roland's search for a mysterious stranger who may be able to help Roland find the Dark Tower. It is long on atmosphere and short on action. Therefore, fans of Steven King's horror works will find this book a distinct change of pace. However, the book will not disappoint you if you try it, especially if you are a fan of fantasy series such as the Lord of the Rings. Furthermore, you will find in later books that elements of King's horror world also exist in Roland's world, and therefore, to have a full understanding of King's horror villains, you have to read this series.
The Gunslinger offers several intriguing views of Roland's dying world. The book is not devoid of action; there is a dramatic shoot out for shadowy reasons which one hopes will be better explained in the concluding volumes of the work. There is a lost child who provides the first direct evidence that Roland's world is connected to our own, and there is the introduction to Roland himself, a man who is capable of fantastic violence but still comes across as human and quite possibly kind (a fact which becomes more clear in later books).
I recommend this book most highly to anyone who enjoys stories involving quests such as Arthurian legends, the Chronicles of Prydain and the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.
on September 5, 2006
I did not find The Gunslinger itself to be an enjoyable read, at all. The pacing was odd, the voice was bleak, the writing rather juvenile, even after a clean-up attempt by a much older King, and the ending was nigh incomprehensible to me. After reading it, I had absolutely no plans of pursuing the Dark Tower series further.
A friend (to whom I am eternally indebted) practically force-fed me the second book of the series, The Drawing of the Three, and from there I was hooked. The rest of the series captivated me. It made me laugh and (toward the end) cry so hard that I occasionally had to put the book down and compose myself before I could keep reading. These days I'm an evangelical DT fan, pestering everyone I know to try the series. It's just such a bother that I have to tell everyone "You won't like this, but read it, the other six are amazing."
on April 27, 2004
I've read a number of reviews of the series and have been told by friends how great it is, so I decided to check it out. Reading and understanding the intro/forward King has written in this revised edition helped a great deal. King wrote this book early in his career with the intention of writing a grand epic. He explains the author of this book at the time had not really found his groove so to speak and had spent a little too much time in writing seminars. One particularly revealing comment King makes about himself was that the seminars taught him to favor ambiguity over clarity and simplicity. He also goes on to mention when he revised the book he found many areas for improvement, but was able to leave the writing alone in places where he was seduced into forgetting the writing seminars by a particulary entrancing piece of story.
I find this captures the book well. Reading it, the book shifts from a very interesting tangible plot to the Gunslinger slipping into ambiguous dreaming and past thoughts within the same page. You can almost tell where King has gone back and done revisions as you can see his 30+ years of experience fixing his amateur mistakes.
Taken by itself, I didn't find the book that intriguing. Just average. Taken as a series I will definitely trek on to the future volumes as a number of people have told me the first one is sort of one you just have to get through. It's good it is a quick read and sets up alot of what will be revealed later.
on November 1, 2004
Well, this is a difficult review to write. Like many reviewers here, I've been reading this series from its inception, since I was a young man (about Jakes age). It has remained one of my favorite series, and each new volume was awaited with a barely containable anticipation.
I agree with so many of the glowing reviews of this book.
And I agree with so many of the disappointed reviews of this book as well. I am completely conflicted.
However, what it boils down to is this: The story lost the breadth and scope that made it so epic for me in the early volumes. The Tower was the center of ALL WORLDS! An infinite number of universes hung in the balance. This wasn't your average quest story, this was a story about ALL quests, in ALL times. King Arthur, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Tain, Ulysses, the Good the Bad and the Ugly...all of these epics found an echo here. Billions upon billions of existences were hanging in the balance between what we were lead to believe was an epic evil (one that found its way into many of Kings stories) and the Gunslinger and his Ka Tet. The wheels of fate worked to bring about the central struggle of all times and places to a boiling point that we could not even begin to conceive of. How could the stakes get any higher? In all honesty, how could any writer fill such a grand expectation? In the first book, Roland has a vision, given him by Flagg, of ascending through the universes to emerge in a single blade of grass at the foot of a rose. The scope of what was at stake was never more beautifully crafted than that section of the first book.
By the end of the tale, I can find no trace of that scope, that scale, those horrendous stakes. They are gone. The book narrowed its focus down to one man, and his personal Demon, the Tower. Now, taken as that, as the story of Roland's addiction, this is a great piece of work. But, taken as the conclusion to the tale to end all tales, the archetypal struggle to save existence itself, I find nothing satisfying at all. The last three books took the series down this different path, and it's not a path that satisfies the thirst he created in me all those years ago. Somehow the center of the very fabric of reality became a backdrop and prop in the story of a single man. Not even man in line with the infinite, or a man connected to the infinite...just the life of a single man.
And, like the others, I find the dispatch of the villains extremely poorly done. In a sense, we care about the villains as much as the heroes. They should play as much of a part in the universal archetypal struggle as they do in most myths, but here, they are reduced to afterthoughts, and poor afterthoughts at that. This was the most disappointing part to me. You will still read this book, if you read the series, but if, like me, you were hoping for the infinite to find its way back into the story, I advise you to narrow your focus...then you may find the book you were looking for.
on May 3, 2000
At under 300 pages, "The Gunslinger" - the first book from Stephen King's "The Dark Tower" series - may seem oddly short, especially when compared to the latest volume from the epic, weighing in at around 700 pages. And still, Constant Reader, there are thousands more to go!
According to the afterword from this book, it took King twelve years to complete the writings. He wrote the opening line, "The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed" while an undergraduate, the middle portions when "`Salem's Lot" was going bad, and was inspired with another concurrent writing: "The Stand." For King to have kept the Gunslinger, the Man in Black, Jake, and the other characters - and really the entire world of the Dark Tower - alive for so long in his mind is a testament to not only the power that this held over the author, but holds over us - his Constant Readers. Moreover, since the first publishing of "The Gunslinger," around twenty years have passed, a number of newer volumes in this series have come and gone - yet with this first, partially inspired by Robert Browning's poem, "Childe Roland," and partially inspired by reams of green paper (read the afterword to the book), you know that this was a very special creation indeed.
I am not a fan of King's horror fiction. But when he gets down to writing about "other worlds than these," such as "The Stand," "Insomnia," "The Green Mile," and "The Talisman" (co-authored with Peter Straub) - there is no one better. His is an imagination to be jealous of. There is always a feeling that alternate universes exist, next to our own. King imbues his other worlds with just enough of our own so that we feel a tantalizing connection between our own perceptions of reality, and those that King entertains us (Constant Readers) with.
At any rate, "The Gunslinger," at under 300 pages, is just right to introduce us to the world of The Dark Tower, and keep us on course, with a desire to continue (and to wait, ever so patiently for the next volume in the series) the journey the Gunslinger started many years ago.
on December 29, 2009
It looks like most reviewers have this pretty well covered, but I'd like to throw in my 2 cents, mostly because I've spent so much time reading these books and it just plain feels right.
I'll start by saying that this book is not perfect, and there were times when I was convinced that the story would end horribly. So why do I give it 5 stars? I feel that what was good or great about the book is enough for me to dismiss what annoyed me about it. As with most reviews, there will be many SPOILERS ahead, so go read the book first if you haven't.
I can cover what truly bothered me pretty quickly; King's importance in the plot and Flagg's death. Not that I need a 150 page battle between Roland and Flagg, but to be so easily dispatched by a child who would later prove to be absolutely no threat to Roland seems wrong. Was this really the best that Roland's lifelong enemy could do? I don't know, it just doesn't add up. As for King, I didn't like his part in the plot during Song of Susannah (narcissistic) and was hoping it would not dominate the final volume, which it doesn't. I will admit that it didn't turn out as bad as I feared (I half expected Stephen King to be in the top room of the Tower), and I do appreciate that it ties the story to reality through something other than the fictional Tet Corporation in NY. While this is nice, I could have done without King ever having been in the story.
Others were bothered by the quick deaths of Mordred and the Crimson King. I wasn't. Mordred may have been powerful, but he was still a child; and a sick, dying child at that. He had to make an ill-advised move out of desperation, and I think it was wonderful that Oy was able to die defending Roland. As for the Crimson King, while the battle may have been brief, it was still exciting and not without great word play between Roland and the CK.
Ok, so most of us want opinions and theories on the end, right? I will admit that I very much liked the ending from the get-go, but I have had to digest it for a few days before really knowing what to make of it. I suggest anyone else that has recently finished the book do the same. In doing so, I have realized that this ending has evoked a lot more emotion and thought from me than I expected, and clearly almost everyone else who has read this book has had the same experience, for better or worse. In my opinion, this alone is proof that the ending is very powerful.
So, let's just say it, we find out that Roland has been repeating his journey from the Mohaine Desert, where we first meet him in book I. Why is this a good ending? It puts the entire story in perspective. Roland, while heroic, has been cold hearted throughout the saga. He seems to be learning to love, particularly in the case of his adopted son Jake, as well as the rest of his ka-tet. Would we have ever guessed from the pages of "The Gunslinger" or even "The Drawing of the Three" that Roland would have such an emotional reaction to Susannah finally leaving him at the end of the story? Probably not. The world had moved on, a world that had been "full of love and light", and the gunslinger that we meet in book I is a hero, but can't be described as "full of love".
During this journey, Roland has accomplished his purpose according to prophecy, which is to save the Tower. I personally believe that he has probably accomplished this in the past journeys, but it doesn't really matter. The Tower, it seems, is more than just an anchor for existence; it is holy, and will judge those who enter it. When Roland arrives in the Mohaine once again, he is given the Horn of Eld. This can signify many things, but I believe that it signifies that he has pleased the Tower and this will be his final journey. King appends Browning's poem, which has Roland blowing the "slug horn" at the end of his journey. It could be that Browning's poem actually IS the final journey, meaning that the end of Roland's quest is actually right there for you to read about, or it could just be a vision of what his final journey will be like. I think it can go either way, the point is that we know that Roland will have peace, and soon.
Need proof? Let's look back to Jake's final death, a sad scene that will bring even the most cynical reader to tears in light of life's harsh truths. In this scene, Roland promises that he will sacrifice himself to save Stephen King rather than Jake, and his decision is made when he jumps from a moving vehicle to do just that. We all know how it turns out, but the point is that the gunslinger has changed since first letting Jake drop into the abyss in book I. I believe this, along with the care he gave to the rest of his ka-tet toward the end of the journey is what finally pleased the Tower, which awards him with the Horn of Eld. When Roland arrives at the Tower in Browning's poem, the spectators (roses in King's story) in the final stanza are "met to view the last of [him]". I think that King interprets the last of Roland as in the last time that he will arrive at the Tower. After all, King does state earlier in the book that there is "only one place for the poem", which is at the end, as the poem reveals Roland's final journey.
I don't want to make light of the sadness that comes with this ending, because it is certainly sad. The hope combined with sadness and the endless possibilities are what makes this ending so brilliant. I think I've covered the main point, but perhaps Roland has still more to learn and atone for on his final journey, and there are other things to consider. Did time rewind (which his watch rewinding as he approaches the tower and the re-installment of the Man in Black would suggest) or was he simply placed back in the desert? Will he meet Jake again on this journey? Has he learned enough to save Jake rather than palaver with Walter? Are Roland's enemies (Flagg, the CK, etc) so desperate to kill him because they are caught in his loop and aware of it? Could the Horn of Eld symbolize the line of Eld, meaning that Roland is to save Jake thereby restoring "love and light" into his world (and also ensuring that his son will continue in the line of Eld) before the Tower will let him rest? I could go on and on with these, and some of them may be reaching, but I think that if you believe that the Tower has finally begun to award his progress during his damnation then you can believe that he will be able to right all wrongs.
I will miss reading these books, I hope the rest of you take as much from it as I did. Long days and pleasant nights.
on November 9, 2007
I wish I could say I expected better, but after Wolves and Song, I was prepared for the worst. It wasn't the worst. But it wasn't the best, either.
Most of what needs to be said about this book has already been said. It's sloppy and bloated. It reads like a first draft (albeit a good first draft). It wanders off on long tangents that contribute nothing to the overall story. Parts of it are quite good, but overall, I was left with the impression that King just wanted to finish the book and get it out of the way.
King has stated that he never plans his stories. While that approach can lead to some wonderful spontaneity, it has its drawbacks, most of which are showcased in this volume. Mordred got a whole BOOK leading up to his birth. After all that fanfare, what did he ultimately contribute to the story? Nothing. He kills Flagg, but that's about ALL he does, and since he basically replaces Flagg as Roland's arch-nemesis, what was the point? And wasn't Flagg supposed to be immortal, anyway? Or at least quasi-immortal?
And then there's the ending.
At beginning of the Coda, King the Narrator first advises his readers to stop reading before the end (huh?) and then scolds the ones who are still there: "You are the grim, goal-oriented ones who will not believe the joy is the journey rather than the destination...who still get the lovemaking confused with the paltry squirt that comes to end the lovemaking." I have never had an author first wag his finger at me for NOT putting down his book before the end, and then insult my sex life on top of it. Though it's kind of a confusing insult.
Really, though, I think it says more about him than the readers. Basically he's failed to bring his story (and readers) to climax. And he anticipates our disappointment, so he's grumping at us. How dare we expect him to constantly perform! He's not a machine! He's tired! Why won't we just leave him alone?
And after this cranky little speech, he shows us the Tower, and what lies at the top...which, as it turns out, is a door back to the beginning of Roland's quest. Back in the desert, chasing that guy again...and who knows how many times this has already happened? Sigh.
I guess it's not the worst ending he could have written. I understand what he was going for themeatically (ka's a wheel and all). The problem is it makes no sense. What, exactly, has happened? Has time literally reversed itself? Is everyone else in Roland's world now condemned to relive that portion of their lives as well, simply because Roland made some boo-boos on his journey? Why is Everything About Roland? What happened to the rule that time couldn't go backwards in this world? Is the Tower (and all existence) now in danger again? Seems kind of stupid for it to do that to itself...unless Roland is fated to save it every time. In which case it was never in any danger, which makes the whole series seem kind of pointless. I guess saving the multiverse isn't that big a deal after all.
Or is Roland just caught in a private psychological loop which has no impact on the "real" world? In which case, did the events in these books actually happen?
In either case, the reader is left with the impression that the events in the Dark Tower series--which, we were led to believe, were stunningly significant--really didn't matter all that much. It's just Gan's video game, and Roland is his hapless Super Mario. Sorry, Roland, our princess is in another castle...er, Tower. And hey, don't worry, if you screw up, you can push the reset button and start over.
As disappointing and confusing as the ultimate ending was, though, it didn't bother me as much as Susannah's ending. After risking her life countless times for Roland and the Tower, she GIVES UP when she is literally days away from their destination and flees into some fantasy version of New York to live with a fake Eddie and Jake--a couple of guys who share the appearances and first names of Susannah's comrades, but are otherwise nothing like them. Don't kid yourself, Susannah; you might be in New York (or some version of it) but that's not Eddie and Jake. Maybe this was supposed to be uplifting, but as much as I was hoping King wouldn't kill her, I would have preferred an honest death to a fake happy ending.
on May 17, 2002
I am a huge fan of Stephen King's Dark Tower series of books. I think that "Wizard and Glass" is possibly the best book he has written so far. I am always evangelizing others on the greatness of King's massive uber-story. Yet book one, "The Gunslinger," seems to be one heck of a stumbling block for most folks.
This is understandable. The story begins with Roland (the main protagonist of the series) in his darkest place. He has become hardened, unable to love. The story ends with him making the most heartless of decisions. "The Gunslinger puts the capital "G" in Grim.
Yet this almost unbearably bleak backdrop is essential to what the story of Roland and the Dark Tower becomes. In it we learn of what Roland is--a "Gunslinger"--and how he became one. We learn of the treachery that has set the course of Roland's destiny in motion.
Most of "The Gunslinger" comes off like a flashback wrapped inside a horrible hallucination. Bad things happen and there is no fulfilling end to this part of the tale. It understandably turns a lot of folks off to going any further with The Dark Tower.
I am here to tell you to keep on pressing on. King's story is, in my opinion, turning into one of the most epic and worthwhile tales ever written. The dryness of the Gunslinger is more than compensated for in the following books.
on May 10, 2008
I just finished reading the Dark Tower series. I have been enjoying reading everyone else's reviews for the past couple days (although I am nowhere near close to reading them all) and I feel that I am now finally ready to add my own two cents. A lot of what I have to say has probably been covered before, but I do feel I have a couple new points and in any case I feel the need to vent. Of course there will be spoilers; I think that anyone who comes to this message board will probably be helpless to avoid them. I know I avoided reading what everyone else thought of the book before I was done- I wanted that much to be surprised by the ending that I had waited so long for! Now I wish I had just come on here first. I would have been saved a lot of disappointment.
When I first finished the book, I hated the ending. Absolutely hated it. If I wouldn't have rented it from the library, I probably would have done something destructive to it! Now I think the concept behind the ending at least had potential. But it was so confusing. What exactly did Roland do wrong, that he had to be punished in such a way? I could maybe understand if the Tower sent him back because he needed to do it over and over until he got some aspect of himself right, like he needed to love more, or something. But to send him back because he didn't have some ridiculous horn-key, and then NOT to send him back to the moment he could have picked the horn up and been given the choice to take it or not all over again? Why send him back, and imply that it's because he didn't have some key, but then send him back to the beginning of the series with the key on his belt? And it doesn't make sense that the Tower was punishing him for saving it, and that it would put itself in danger again by doing so! Was it punishing Roland for being so obsessed with it?? What was Roland supposed to do instead, quit without visiting it? Quit after he saved the beams? I thought the beams were secondary to the Tower, not the main driving force behind it!
As for the Tower itself... What a disappointment! So he gets there, and it's this shrine dedicated to his life?? I guess I could understand if maybe the contents of the rooms changed based on who was entering it, but that obviously wasn't the case because the Crimson King had shredded some of his baby clothes on the second floor before he went off on the balcony. (More on him in a minute.) It was all but promised in earlier references that the Tower was the center of all universes, right? The linchpin holding everything together? And different worlds were represented on different levels? And that harp thing that was in Blaine the Mono was played on the Upper Levels? And whoever had access to the room on the top floor could, if not rule the universe, then at least find a way to fix it? Did I miss something or what?? In the end, Roland was not allowed to rule the tower because he left some horn behind years and years ago??
As for the Crimson King... Why did the Tower open its door to him in the first place? And why not let him climb all the way to the top? Obviously the Dark Tower had its own way of taking care of unwanted intruders (which it apparently considered Roland). Did it trap CK on the balcony instead so Roland could kill him? Oh, wait, Roland didn't kill him anyway, nevermind. Why all this hoopla about Roland being the only one to get to the top, if the only thing waiting at the top was punishment? Why the cheap ending with the Crimson King? How disappointing! I was expecting a palaver, at least on the same level as Roland's palaver with Walter at the end of the first novel! So, after all this lead up to the Crimson King as this uber-villain in so many novels, we don't even get any more backstory on him? On what his motivations are? If he was just some silly old man on a balcony with sneetches, and he was throwing the sneetches at Roland anyway, and Roland could shoot the sneetches so easily anyway, why bother hiding behind that pyramid? Why not use his ability to plan a super awesome attack, that we have seen him demonstrate so many times before? (And WHY WAS THE ONLY ONE ALLOWED TO FINISH THE JOURNEY WITH HIM A HALF-WIT INTRODUCED MOST OF THE WAY THROUGH THE LAST NOVEL??) CK most definitely deserved a more exciting death than what he got. And I was thinking it was going to be so interesting, because Roland couldn't just shoot him to kill him because he was already dead anyway!
And don't even get me started on the ridiculousness that is Mordred! That whole thing was too much! Ok, I could see how he came into existence, I guess, because both Roland and Susannah got raped by those demons in different situations, so I can see how they would have Roland's sperm sample or whatever, but why use Susannah in that storyline at all? Why give Mia her own body only right before she gave birth, and part of a body in NYC? Why not either make Mia a real flesh and blood character, pregnant with Roland's child via the demon-rape, or have her be a spirit sharing/possessing Susannah's body and protecting the child? And why would Mordred be a spider? Why?? Where in the world did that come from? The Crimson King wasn't a spider, nor were any of the other characters that apparently had a piece of Mordred's lineage. Mordred wasn't even part demon, since Mia wasn't exactly a demon, just some kind of lonely spirit, and the demons that had a part in the conception were actually infertile. Mordred could really have been just cut out of the series altogether and no one would have been the wiser! Then, more time could have been spent adding other characters into the plot, like the ones from Black House and etc. that were promised but never delivered! Not to mention if Mordred was never introduced, then we could have had a real final showdown between Walter and Roland!
As for Susannah ditching out at the end... Come on. Given a choice between risking her life for the Tower (which she had been doing ALL THIS TIME) and possibly dying and being with Eddie in death, OR staying alive and being with some alternate version of Eddie and Jake, she chooses the latter?? Really?? And why, in this alternate reality, were Eddie and Jake brothers?? If they were together in some version of 1987, and Jake was 12 in some version of 1977, then in 1987 he would have been 22, and why not just make him and Eddie best friends or something? I didn't think times and places of birth (not to mention family structure) could be changed just because it's an alternate reality... Things like that are supposed to stay constant, aren't they?
In conclusion (because this has been quite the long rant) why exactly is Roland given friends, only to have them constantly die? If I remember correctly, only one death actually occurred because Roland chose the Tower, and that was when he was given the choice between saving Jake and following Walter. All the other deaths were not even necessarily due to Roland at all. (Although it WOULD have been nice to have more details about what happened on Jericho Hill.) He didn't ASK for a new ka-tet, but he was given one anyway. And, had he had his own way, he would have died the second time instead of Jake. So, if there was some kind of lesson to be learned there, it would seem that he did learn it. So really, what the f?
I was willing to deal with a lot in my pursuit of the Dark Tower. I put up with the ridiculous references to the Wizard of Oz (what was WITH THAT??), references to Harry Potter and etc. I put up with the awful Calla-speak that just would not go away. I even put up with Stephen King as a character. This horrible end, though, I just cannot excuse. Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy some parts like the battle of Algul Siento, but some of it was downright insulting. Literally. Some of it was literally insults being hurled at me by Stephen King writing in first person! Ok, Mr. King, don't worry, I will never make the mistake of reading your books or caring about your characters again. Nevermind the fact that you were once one of my favorite authors. While I think there is more to be said on the subject of the Dark Tower (an apology to your fans would suffice), don't worry, I'll leave you and your family alone. I won't write to you. You made it abundantly clear that you are not interested in my feedback, or even interested in having me as a fan. So congratulations, you lost one more annoying admirer, and may it do ya freaking fine.
on August 2, 2005
I guess I basically felt like Eddie, going through his heroine withdrawal. I wanted my fix.
But I never got another taste. I kept pouring through the words - man, I wanted it bad...
Originally, I think the author was having fun with the concept. And then it just sort of became a hassle, or he got old - I dunno...
But the first part of the series. That's the good stuff.
Come comalla, rice come a-falla... I was actually driving along, chanting that stuff in my head. And Roland was dancing his jig. Genius.
And then I started becoming the reader King hates.
I went from flying, to crawling... then I kept getting lost. And it wasn't fun anymore. I was just plodding along, hoping things might turn around, PLEASE come back around...
But they never did. The wheels of ka had gotten stuck in some deadline, and the ride was over.
So I just wanna thank all the Constant Readers out there for constantly hounding King to finish the series.
At the end, he's basically requesting that all of you leave him the hell alone. "Here's your *#** ending, now *#$# off... I'm retiring!"
So good job.
I'm not a constant reader. I picked up the entire series at the local library and read through them all over the past month or so.
Just wish I had stopped earlier.
At the very end, King warns me not to read the ending. But I was like - screw you old man, you dragged me through all this crap, you better come up with something, and it better be GOOD!
The joy was long gone, and I was jonesin' hard.
But all I got was a reset with a new life and some special power - the horn of Eld. Woohoo...
Anyway, it was TREMENDOUS fun while it lasted.
But when things start falling apart, go ahead and set the books aside. Once they lose it for ya, they never get it back.