I have been behind on giving my thoughts on books for awhile, but with looking at Stephen King’s The Gunslinger I will be caught up on my recently finished books. The Gunslinger is the first book of King’s Dark Tower series and it is a stranger work. It’s a strange world that appears to be a mash-up of old westerns, post-apocalyptic, horror, and fantasy. Some spoilers will probably be present in these thoughts, so take care in venturing forward.
The book follows the Gunslinger Roland of Gilead and his quest to catch “the man in black” who he has been chasing for a long while. He hopes to catch him in order to achieve his ultimate quest, to find the Dark Tower.
The book starts off presenting itself in what seems to be a western setting. We see a lone gunman walking through the desert with his mule. He’s chasing a man in black, which in westerns are typically the bad guy. Yet you continually meet things that make the setting seem a bit off.
Little things like a bird singing “Beans, beans, the magical fruit.”Like the gunslinger questioning the humanity of the man in black he’s following. Telling a story of how the man in black rose somebody up from the dead and even how a number of people are surprised with Roland’s possession of a non-mutated mule. You begin to realize this isn’t just a western despite what the initial setting may have led you to believe and you probably should have known better since you’re reading a Stephen King book after all.
The world Roland inhabits is a messed up place, “the world has moved on,” as Roland says. The world is a bit of a desert waste land, at least the part of it we see Roland moving through here. Exactly what caused this destruction and mutation of animals and people we are never really told. This is just how the world is as far as we know.
The book seems to follow three parts. The the first part is an introduction to Roland and the world he inhabits. Most of it involves him telling a story about a trap that the man in black left for him in the town of Tull.
The second part features him meeting the boy Jake (who came from our world after he was pushed in front of a car and killed) and traveling through various dangers on the quest to chase after the man in black. During this part we also see some of the past of the gunslinger and a little about why he is chasing the man in black.
The last part is when the gunslinger has finally caught up to the man in black. The first and last parts, aren’t as long as the middle. The bulk of the story takes place in the second part where the Gunslinger and Jake are traveling to find the man in black.
The world of The Gunslinger is a rather bleak and dark one. As I’ve already said, the world Roland inhabits “has moved on.” It is past its prime. We see this in the desert wasteland that Roland wanders through. We can see this in the trap laid for the gunslinger at the city of Tull, the mutated animals, demons, the danger of running out of food and water, mutant humans, and of course the man in black himself.
In this bleak world, Roland seems to be a ray of hope, but even he isn’t the valiant knight seeking to right the wrongs. He’s more of a duty bound soldier doing whatever it takes achieve his goals. So even the ray of hope has a bleakness to him. Like he is worn down by his never-ending quest and longs for it to be over, so he marches on.
Roland’s willingness to do whatever it takes to accomplish his quest is a fairly significant theme of the book. He is willing to sacrifice, and usually has to, those close to him in order to catch the man in black. Roland doesn’t really manipulate or use these people and often is very conflicted in the decision he has to make. It is just that his goals are more important than anything else, no matter what he may feel about it.
Overall, I’m not really sure I’ve read a book quite like this. It was strange, yet intriguing. It kept you interested in figuring out what was going on next, even if you couldn’t understand everything when it did happen. It is not a book for those who like happy or uplifting tales. It is also not for those who like simple or straight forward stories either.
As I said I found it interesting and am looking forward to seeing how the story plays out in the subsequent books of the series. That said, I wouldn’t call The Gunslinger my favorite book either, but I found it unique and quite different than anything I’ve read before.