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The Gunslinger by Stephen King

The Gunslinger by Stephen King
Book Name: The Gunslinger
Author: Stephen King
Publisher(s): Grant
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy / Western
Release Date: June 10, 1982

The Gunslinger is the first novel of a seven book-long series (eight if you include the spin-off) of what is now considered to be a staple of the epic fantasy canon. However, after having read it, you would not necessarily think this to be the case. The novel does not set up the world as one might expect; neither does it have an easily understandable premise or a concise plot. It is instead a wonderful collection of enigmas that circulate around the central figure of Roland Deschain, which flourishes into a philosophical debate of a climax, its last pages leaving you with a bundle of questions and a thirst to know more.

This novel is truly written like the very best episodes of Lost; events and characters are introduced with varying degrees of ambiguity and mystery which are not thoroughly explained (or at least not in such a way that it is particularly easy to follow) but yet the reader is drawn in, partly by the questions that are aroused by the very captivating nature of a well written curiosity, and partly by the convincing atmosphere constructed by the incredible skill of King’s storytelling.

Roland is a character who you learn more about through his actions rather than his thoughts. This creates a certain amount of uncertainty concerning his motivations and personal goals, leading to a number of surprising moments along the journey. He does however manage to retain a human spirit and grounded believability in a very unreal world, with an obvious understanding of his abilities and of those around him, and with a certain amount of cunning ingenuity in moments when he truly thinks outside the box. He is a rather intriguing figure and the few venturing flashbacks into his childhood seek to flesh out his enigma and add another level to what seems to be an increasingly deeper and deeper tunnel to his soul.

There are three characters that have a serious impact on Roland and his story: Allie, a woman in a backwater town torn between her sensible logic and her unconquerable desire; Jake, a boy torn from another world (bearing similarity to our own) who takes on the role of an unwilling and singular pawn in a game far bigger than him; and the Man in Black, Roland’s personal antagonist and the person he has been hunting for many years. Each figure comes into his life and changes it drastically. It is fascinating to observe Roland’s calculations and decision-making when it comes to his interactions with them. He does give off the sense of a skilled tactician playing a long game that we readers are yet to fully understand. And at the end of it all lies the Dark Tower itself. Whether it is a physical structure or something metaphorical, it remains for the moment an object that seems to beckon all towards it. Although it is not explained in great detail, it will have its revelation in time I’m sure.

I’m afraid I must reiterate, but the mysteries of the plot and of each of the characters involved is such a stirring draw for me as a reader that my fingers itch to open the pages of its sequel. The novel is quite short but is packed with so much drama, adventure, and philosophy that it truly feels like a bigger novel than it is. The story is rather disjointed due to it having been originally written as a collection of short stories that were only later brought together to form one novel. Yet this also creates the sense that the different parts are all separate but slightly linked aspects of Roland’s journey which contributes to a feeling of progress for both the reader and the protagonist.

The plot is difficult to follow with the last part in particular being of mind-blowing and mind-befuddling proportions in equal measure. There is not a particularly clear arc for this volume and you cannot walk away and be satisfied with this novel on its own as it is clearly a build up from start to finish for the rest of the series. It is a very strange way to begin a long series and one that is likely to put off a number of readers for being so unusual.

For instance, there is a portion of about 30-40 pages where Roland and Jake are journeying through a system of caves that does drag and, in a book this short, a slow piece of prose is not something that can easily be forgiven. But putting these minor quibbles aside it is a wonderfully confusing and intriguing story and so far it has me hooked.

The setting is that of a western but with the odd influence of magic and weird creatures which reminds me of the more recent The Incorruptibles by John Horner Jacobs. There also seems to be a link to either the real world or one similar to it (reminiscent of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy). Finally, the novel is short, focused primarily on one character and his drives, and bears cultural elements from the real world (such as the song “Hey Jude” by The Beatles playing at moments throughout) giving it a post-apocalyptic sense rather similar to Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns. All in all, these different elements prove this novel to be a rather successful hybrid of a myriad of different genres. It’s a western, a sci-fi, a fantasy, a dying Earth novel, a philosophical treatise, an adventure, a mystery, and a character study. It is all of these things and more. But what it truly is, is a marvellous feat of writing.

I look forward to reading and reviewing the next volume: The Drawing of the Three.


One Comment

  1. Avatar Davieboy says:

    A fine review. You have a treat in store with the next 3 volumes, then a bit of a comedown in quality, although it’s all worth reading and the ending is IMHO perfect.
    BTW Thanks for all the YouTube video reviews!

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