Sunday, April 28, 2013

Have Gun Will Travel (to Other Worlds Than These)

The Gunslinger

by Stephen King

Published by Viking Adult

4 Out of 5 Stars

Recently, my comrades in literature featured a Dark Tower conversation on (prepare for shameless plug) Shelf Inflicted.  Unfortunately, I was unable to participate because I had not yet read the series.  It felt a little like being the uncool kid who gets picked last for  kickball.  I decided it was time to remedy this.  I was going to prove I could kick that damn ball.

Now I have made vague promises for years to them and to others that, yes, I would read the book and I was sure that I would love it.  Last summer I even went so far as to purchase a copy of the book.  That was as far as I got.  So what was the problem?  After all, I've read a few Stephen King books and enjoyed them.  The problem was that it was a series.  A series where the books become progressively longer.  And if I've said it once, I've said it a hundred times:  I hates me a series.  Because "series"usually translates to "sucking at the teat of the publishing cash cow for as long as possible."  Such novels often recycle the same premise over and over and over again until they have completely worn out that which began as unique and inventive.  They're the Lost of the literary world.  If you can't wrap it up in a trilogy, you have nothing to offer me.

But caving to peer pressure placed upon me by people I both trust and fear, I finally started The Gunslinger.  And so it has begun.

In a narrative as bleak and barren as its landscape, The Gunslinger follows Roland Deschain, the enigmatic gunslinger of the title, as he chases the man in black across a seemingly post-apocalyptic desert wasteland.  The last of his kind, the gunslinger is the ultimate anti-hero--a knight in tarnished armor with polished guns.  He's capable of extreme violence and single-mindedness in pursuit of his prey: 

he stood, screaming and reloading, his mind far away and absent, letting his hands do their reloading trick.  Could he hold up a hand, tell them he had spent a thousand years learning this trick and others, tell them of the guns and the blood that had blessed them?  Not with his mouth.  But his hands could speak their own tale (64).

However, he is also surprisingly tender to the helpless and hopeless who cross his path, like the young Jake, a boy plucked from 1970's America and brought to the nowhere through which Roland is traveling.  This place, while seeming like the frontier of the Old West, may be more than it appears to be as machinery is scattered throughout like so many fossils and everyone seems to be familiar with Hey, Jude.  The gunslinger himself is from New Canaan, a place like a medieval western (imagine A Game of Thrones with guns) where time has suddenly accelerated.  As best as I can tell, Roland's ultimate goal is to capture the man in black and make his way to the Dark Tower, a nexus of time and space, to seek answers as to why this is. 

The novel itself is a mash-up of all that is good:  sci fi, fantasy, western, horror, dystopian, legend, quest.  However, I can see where this book is not for everyone.  It's not a book that explains itself to you so much as happens to you.  If you don't like narratives that offer more questions than answers and leave you with no sense of resolution, then you might want to sidestep The Gunslinger.  I, however, am anxious to start The Drawing of the Three because destination is irrelevant to me at this point.  I just plan on enjoying the ride.


  1. I love your title! Seriously, there are frustrated PhD candidates haunting the halls of English departments all over the world that wish they could be so clever.

    1. Why thank you--I'm blushing with pride over that one!