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The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger Paperback – May 3, 2016
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"An impressive work of mythic magnitude. May turn out to be Stephen King’s greatest literary achievement." (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
"A compelling whirlpool of a story that draws one irretrievably to its center." (Milwaukee Sentinel)
"Brilliant, fresh and compelling…will leave you panting for more." (Booklist)
About the Author
Stephen King is the author of more than fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. His recent work includes Sleeping Beauties (co-written with his son Owen King), End of Watch, the short story collection The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, Finders Keepers, Mr. Mercedes (an Edgar Award winner for Best Novel and now an AT&T Audience Network original television series), Doctor Sleep, and Under the Dome. His novel 11/22/63—a recent Hulu original television series event—was named a top ten book of 2011 by The New York Times Book Review and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller as well as the Best Hardcover Book Award from the International Thriller Writers. His epic works The Dark Tower and It are the basis for major motion pictures. He is the recipient of the 2014 National Medal of Arts and the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. He lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife, novelist Tabitha King.
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The plot is very minimalistic, but I feel that was by design. Roland the Gunslinger is on a mission to defeat The Man in Black, an adversary he's been hunting for years. Though ultimately, The Man in Black is the stepping stone in his mission to find the Dark Tower. The central nexus point of time which has supposedly disrupted its natural flow resulting in the abnormalities seen in the book. While this is minimal when compared to other novels, the core of The Gunslinger is about Roland's journey and the people and places he sees along the way, making it more about the quest itself rather than the destination. Reading this book felt like being set adrift on a boat in the middle of the ocean. You have no bearings or sense of destination; you can only go where the wind takes you, wherever that may be. I liked the sense of freedom this gave the narrative, but if you're looking for a deep plot than you'll be disappointed. This is a book that's meant to let your mind and imagination wonder, not ponder.
But what really sets The Gunslinger and the rest of the Dark Tower series apart is that it's an amalgamation of various different genres. By the book's cover it has obvious roots in the western genre, with King even admitting to being heavily inspired by the classic spaghetti western `The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.' But there's much more than that, such as strong elements of low fantasy with the more fantastical segments taking place in a world that is supposedly like our own, and even some science-fiction from the elements of time travel. There's also a strong sense of mystery that surrounds the book and its characters. Who were the Gunslingers? What's the Dark Tower? And who or what is The Man in Black? Like Roland himself, you just have to press on, and hopefully the answers will be waiting at the end. This union of vastly different genres would have normally made for an incoherent novel that's trying to accomplish more than it can handle, yet King manages to keep it from falling apart in a believable fashion.
Reflecting the arcane aspects of the world and his mission, Roland the Gunslinger is a man of mystery. He's the quintessential western folk hero, an enigmatic figure on a righteous path for justice. But as the story progresses and more insight into his past is revealed, the reader slowly begins to unravel more of the mysterious wanderer. Though while he's an excellent lead, he's hardly a character you can form an emotional attachment to. Whereas the young boy from the future, Jake, felt like the heart of the book for me. The companionship between Roland and the boy really brought a smile to my face and the perilous journey to find The Man in Black and the Dark Tower all the more daunting. The villain, The Man in Black, felt more like an entity rather than an actual character in the story. He's given very minimal attention and exposition, but his dark presence is always felt. Longtime King fans will recognize him as Randall Flagg, a character that King has included in many of his different works.
Special attention must also be given to Stephen King's incredible prose that he uses to illustrate the book's mystifying flair of wonder. However, for me this came off as a rather double-edged sword. When The Gunslinger is at its best, King is able to transport the reader into a semi dream-like trance, further immersing them into the incredible world King has crafted and suspending their disbelief on the unexplainable events that transpire. The potential downside for me at least, is that some passages felt more like a disorganized mess of thoughts rather than a coherent narrative. Moments like these were frustrating and really pulled me out of the story.
In the end, The Gunslinger was a bit of a mixed bag for me. I liked the sense of adventure and mystery King instilled with his unique style and the mashing of several classic genres into something that King can call his own. And while I don't usually prefer shallow plots, I am willing to make an exception with the direction King was taking the book. Yet I felt the narrative sometimes fell flat, and the ending was very unsatisfying. The Gunslinger is definitely worth checking out for its peculiarities, even if I don't absolutely love it, but I certainly do like it enough to see where this journey ends.
Although I'm not a fan of the first book, I wanted to push on to the second book. The Drawing of the Three was amazing and everything I expected from Stephen King. It completely made up for the odd first book, in fact you forget it even existed.
I know a book is great when I start sifting through the internet to find any fan art or illustrations that will help bring things to life for me. I wanted so badly to see the lobstrosities and Roland's guns.
I'm reading the entire series through again in anticipation of the Darktower movie coming out in a few weeks. I'm excited but I have to remind myself that his movie should not be expected to follow the books, it's just not possible. Some of my favorite movies are Stephen King stories (The Shawshank Redemption, the original Shining and Stand by Me) but some of the worst movies of all time are also Stephen King movies (Maximum Overdrive, Thinner, The Mangler). Still, I go with an open mind and a hopeful heart.....