The Gunslinger by Stephen King (The Dark Tower)

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

I’ve read The Gunslinger about nine or ten times by now, having discovered it when I was still in college and there were only three books in the series. I was instantly captivated by how different the book was from anything else I’d ever read, by King or otherwise. The Gunslinger felt like an open text, fraught with possibilities, and I had no idea where King would take the story. The absence of explanation in the minimalist storytelling kept me rereading sentences and paragraphs, searching for the key to unlock King’s mythology.

This is my second re-reading since the trilogy was completed. The last time was probably 2005 or 2006, sometime before I started this blog. Despite the fact that King has now finished the series, the book still retains it’s allure, hinting at a larger story that can only be grokked by grabbing at slippery corners sideways. (Could be something to do with the way King finished the story, but I’ll save that for a later post, say true and I’ll say thankya.)

It’s not hard to spot the scenes that were added at a later date, since they reference specific events from books that were far from plotted when King first poured out Roland’s tale from the most uncensored part of his unconscious. However, they are integrated well and feel like they belong.

A friend of mine observed that The Gunslinger reads like the work of a young, inexperienced author with a story too big for his skills. I agree, mostly–I mean, King has admitted as much so far be it from me to contradict an author’s assessment of his own work. But I don’t think The Gunslinger has the same youthful awkwardness as the framing device in Carrie, for example, and it’s refreshingly free of the logorrheic attention to detail that plagues his later works (not that I really mind). To steal a term from genetics, The Gunslinger is a sport, a book that isn’t like anything else that King has ever written, even like the other books in the Dark Tower series. It’s a metaphysical western, with its pretensions mitigated by King’s imagination. It’s not my favorite book in the series, but in many ways I think it’s King’s best book.

3 thoughts on “The Gunslinger by Stephen King (The Dark Tower)”

  1. I have just been hearing about this book from everyone I know lately! I have steered clear of Stephen King for years because I scare easy, but I may have to cave in and read the Dark Tower books.

  2. I have always felt bad that I didn’t like this book. My husb tried to get me into reading King by giving The Gunslinger to me, having heard how great his fantasy work was. And I just didn’t like it. Can’t really pin down why, either…

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