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The Gunslinger: An Engaging Dark Western Worth Reading

Updated on November 9, 2016

An Intriguing Western in the World That Has Moved On

The Gunslinger By Stephen King


The book review this time around, is Stephen King’s The Gunslinger. And if you’ve been living under a rock, I’ll let you know what it is. It is the first book in the long running Dark Tower series. And before I begin, I’ll say that I have a long and storied history with this book. I actually tried to read it eight years ago. I got it out of a nickel box at a yard sale. It was thin little book and I figured it looked entertaining enough. So I gave it a shot. And the darn thing was impossible to read. There was little detail and it was so metaphorical talking in circles without saying anything. About forty pages in, there was apparently a shoot-out that was never mentioned in the book until the author started talking about the aftermath. I nearly went insane flipping back and forth trying to decipher what hell happened, but King only had him talking to a church lady, metaphorically talking about the world, and then started talking about how Roland killed everyone. It was very badly written. I stopped there and felt it was only a shame as it held so much potential. And I just loved it and it saddened me that I could follow a textbook about fifteenth century parliaments better than I could the Gunslinger novel. Because I really want to love it. Then I read a short years later. It was called The Little Sister of Eluria, which was a prequel to the Gunslinger. It was so rich, imaginative, and dark. This short story made me wanted to give this book another shot. So I looked up the Gunslinger novel and found an expanded edition. It was twice as thick, around 300 pages, as the tattered seventies edition I owned was well under 200 pages. Curiosity got to me. It was revised and reworked book released in 2003. Apparently he went back to rewrite the thing. So here’s my review for the expanded and revised edition of The Gunslinger.

First of all, after all of that you’re probably asking what is The Gunslinger? In the simplest terms The Gunslinger is a dark weird western set in a wasteland world that to exist parallel to our own. Roland is the central anti-hero who is after the mysterious man in black who had wronged his family and is more importantly, the key to finding the dark tower. The dark tower is the central point of everything, life, death, worlds, and maybe even god. Roland’s reasoning for finding the tower is unclear until the end of the book. There are many glimpses and clues to his past are scattered throughout the chapter. His upbringing was as a son of the Elder Steven of Gilead (A royal family of this world), but became a gunslinger and appears to have no true empathy for anyone, but it shines dimly through every now and then. The book follows him as he travels through an apocalyptic western world as he takes in a boy he find lost in the desert as he searches for the man in black.

The good? First of all, this expanded edition is much better than the original which was like deciphering another language for me. It showed me the world and made me care about the character as the first draft only talked in circles without ever saying anything. The anti-hero Roland is also interesting. I know well he’s not the hero with a heart of gold, but I want to know more and follow him to other adventures. I really have not met a character this fresh and intriguing since I discovered Anita Blake so many years ago. The world is fascinating. It’s portrayed to be odd mix western, somewhat medieval, and slightly modern setting. The world is both imaginative yet somewhat grounded. There are hints of our own world thrown in there, such as “Hey Jude” being played on the piano in a saloon grounded it even more. It’s just such a great world to learn about.

The bad? Even with a complete rewrite like this, the book is not without faults. The climax is a let down to what I expected and I still felt somewhat lost to what Roland’s real quest was reasoning is. I was so sure it was tied to revenge on the man in black, but that’s not the case. But like I said, Roland is such a complex character. So little is revealed about him and the author asks the reader to piece it together. I could have missed the hint I needed or it might not be revealed yet. Also the book is bit of a bait and switch. It started with this glorious shootout but slows down to be a basic character study for the rest of the book. Now I liked Roland and was fascinated with the world, so that didn’t bother me. But I can see how the tonal change can be a disappointment to other folks. There’s mention of demons in a couple parts but King does little to describe them. I know the ‘less is more law’ is useful, but when Roland is two feet away from it looking at it; it just feels cheap. I would to know what it looked like. Also there was a hand cart scene that went on forever.

Overall, this is an intriguing and fascination read. By no means is it epic. But it could lead to something an epic over time. The rewrite is grand improvement and there’s no reason not to read it. I recommend this book to everyone. It’s certainly worth the read as this clearly was one of King’s greatest gems and is surprisingly exciting.

Overall Rating: An Intriguing Western in the World That Moved On

Four smoothies out of four.

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