The Dark Tower 1: The Gunslinger


Stephen King


Fantasy / Science Fiction


Date Reviewed:

October 24, 2004

don't like to start a series until the author has finished writing the entire set of books. I don't want to read halfway through the volumes, and then find myself stranded, waiting for the next book. I usually forget all the plotlines and characters by the time the next installment is published. Thank goodness I never started the Wheel of Time! I have wanted to read George R.R. Martin's Fire and Ice series, but that is advancing a glacial pace: book 3 (A Storm of Swords) was published in October 2000, while book 4 (A Feast for Crows) is due in December 2004 - a 4 year gap between books in a series projected to run 7 volumes. Stephen King's Dark Tower book 1: The Gunslinger started as a short story in 1978, and was first published as a novel in 1982 - but now at last all 7 volumes are here. (Stephen King was nearly killed by a truck as he walked along a country road - after this brush with death, he sat down a wrote books 5, 6 and 7 of the Dark Tower. If not for that accident, the series might still not be complete.) Do I dare read all 3000+ pages, all seven volumes? I have decided yes, I will read the Dark Tower. Stephen King is a terrific story teller, and I trust that I will enjoy the series. So on to book 1: The Gunslinger. Here we go: "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed."

Roland the Gunslinger is chasing the man in black across a desert landscape. The desert is vast and empty - King does a great job of describing the bleak terrain and the shambling souls who still inhabit it. He conveys a sense of a world that is ending, all life sucked out of it. The man in black is a sorcerer, and he sets a few traps for Roland. It becomes clear that this story is not set on our world, there a demons, devil grass and the other usual suspects from a Stephen King story. (I don't mean to imply that the story seems like a King retread, instead, it seems epic.) A gunslinger in this world is more than a gunslinger in ours - Roland's shooting skills are magical. A series of flashbacks give us some of Roland's history - (it is in one of these flashbacks, well into the story before we are told that the gunslinger has the name Roland.) but of course, the flashbacks raise new questions - did Roland really kill his mother? What was the treachery of Marten, the wizard who betrays Roland's father? Why is Roland the last of the gunslingers - where has their civilization gone?

There really aren't too many characters in the main thread of the gunslinger, it is just Roland and Jake and the desolate terrain that they face: desert, mountains, a lightless endless underground tunnel. (There are more characters in the flashbacks to Roland's youth.) This means that the characters are somewhat remote.

When I think back to the book, I realize King didn't answer any questions. But this isn't maddening, only intriguing - lots more to come! The man in black may have answers, but Roland and the reader only get hints. I presume all of the questions will be answered in the future volumes (which get a whole lot thicker - this paperback was just over 300 pages, but I see that the just released volume 7 = 864 pages, while volume 6 checked in at 432, and volume 5 at over 700. This is a great start to the series, I'm looking forward to the Drawing of the Three.