[By Nic Lindh on Friday, 27 August 2004]
The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.
The opening sentence of Stephen King’s The Gunslinger is fantastic, practically daring the reader to put the novel down.
The Gunslinger is the first book in Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, and the opening salvo in his attempt to create a truly massive epic. According to King, in the foreword to this edition, the entire The Dark Tower is meant to be read as one novel with each installment a piece of the whole. Also according to the foreword, The Dark Tower was mainly inspired by The Lord of the Rings and Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns, a sentiment echoed by the afore-quoted opening sentence.
The Gunslinger puts the reader in a post-apocalyptic world where gunslingers are the arbiters of justice, sort of a Spaghetti version of King Arthur’s knights of the Round Table. The world has passed on and things are falling apart, the gunslingers have perished all but one, and deserts are devouring the land.
As a novel–or chapter in a novel–The Gunslinger is a good read, setting the stage for the obsessive and all-consuming quest on which Roland the gunslinger finds himself.
It is also an interesting read in that it has glimpses of the machinery which fuels King’s creativity and writing, and anybody who’s read a lot of his body of work will see situations and themes resurfacing. (Of course, some would say that King has really only written one story fifty different ways…)
The marriage of the more traditional quest myth and a hyper-Western mythos certainly makes for a very interesting read and leaves you wanting more of the saga and also to find out more about Roland, his obsession, and his past.
As it is the beginning of a saga and not by any means a self-contained work, there is really no point in picking up The Gunslinger unless you intend to follow through with the rest of the series, but if you do, it’s a hypnotic descent into a ruptured world.