There are spoilers for the book in this review. Duh. (It’s from ’78, suck it up.)

I love Stephen King. I don’t think I’m capable of putting into words how much I love him. He’s been one of the most influential writers in my life, and this is coming from someone who doesn’t like the horror genre. I like to think of him much more as a science fiction or fantasy writer, even if generally his books can be terrifying. I would like to spend a day in his head. One of the best books I’ve ever read about professional writing comes from Stephen King, “On Writing.” He talks about how he got into publishing himself, but also gives some excellent advice for people who love to write and want to write professionally. As a very prolific writer and creative genius, it’s fun to see how practical he is too. I haven’t read every book by King, although I hope to one day. I’ve been waiting a very long time to read The Dark Tower series, and it’s because I kept being told it was very dense. I had to commit myself to it. So when I knew I was going to Panama with my family, I loaded up on the series, and prepared myself. This was his legendary epic, and I was ready to be blown away by it.

Instead, I was underwhelmed. By The Gunslinger, at least. I think it’s important to note that my tune changed once I got to the second book, so I will be continuing to write about it. But I have to be honest: I didn’t like The Gunslinger at all. Maybe it was built up too much in my head as King’s great work of fiction. I knew next to nothing about the series before I began it. I hate westerns, so that might have been a warning sign. The thing is, this book was published in five short stories first. It was never exactly written as one solid full novel, at least not for twelve years, and maybe that’s why it didn’t work for me. I kept feeling like just as I was starting to get the feel for it, the story shifted and it was cold and annoying. I would get invested in one scene, only for the book to shift to something new, with what felt like very little connection. I didn’t care about the main character or anyone he spoke to or dealt with in the series, and it seemed very disjointed. I was very disappointed in what I read, although I’m thankful now in hindsight that I did read it, because the rest of the series wouldn’t have gone as well.The-Gunslinger

The Gunslinger is about a man named Roland of Gilead. We’re not given much of an explanation for who he is or where he’s from, outside of a few glimpses of his past. He’s obsessed with making his way to The Dark Tower, which we’re not told much about, except it’s something that is drawing him. He’s willing to do whatever it takes to get there, and he hardens his heart against everything in his path. He is hunting down a man in black who appears to have some type of magic. The world here is deliberately drawing on Western themes, and it’s supposed to mimic our world but also be distant from it. A parallel world/timeline, basically. He meets up with a farmer in the desert who shows him kindness, and he thinks about a rather tragic encounter with the town of Tull. Before he met Brown the farmer, he stopped in Tull and found out the man in black went through there first. The man left a trap for Roland after bringing one of the townspeople back to life: basically the entire town was rigged to turn on Roland eventually. He stays there for some time, even taking a lover, but the man in black’s influence shows and he has to murder everyone there. I think one of the intentions of this book is that Roland isn’t bad exactly, he’s a simple man in a lot of ways, and he seems like he wants to care. But he’s hard and he’s cold due to the harsh way he’s had to survive all his adventures until now. This is one example of how he learned to stop caring. What is he willing to do to get to The Dark Tower?

Anything, basically. Roland continues to look for the man in black and he meets a young man named Jake. Jake died in our world and for some reason moved over to that parallel world. Right away he seems to be set up as a future martyr for Roland. He knows eventually the boy will have to die for him to get closer to his goal. They both agree on this. So it’s an odd story, to see them get closer and him keep saving Jake, while they both know where it’s going to end. I couldn’t really see the point in caring about this. The things they go through feel disjointed to the point where I found myself getting bored and wishing it was over already. The important thing was that he had to choose between saving Jake and following the man in black, and obviously he chose the latter. Who cares? I certainly didn’t. Just get to the Tower already, that’s where I was feeling at this point. Roland finally confronted the man in black who told his fortune, and drew five cards: the sailor, the prisoner, the lady of shadows, death, and the Tower. The man in black tells him to give up his quest, but he’s like I’ve spent this whole boring book getting here, man, I’m going to keep it up. So he goes to sleep and wakes up ten years later next to a skeleton, and now he has to find three people who will help him on his quest. I finished the last page and went finally!

I was close to not going on, but I’m glad I did. That being said, I still think this book is a disjointed and complicated mess. I felt no emotional connection to a single person in the book. I didn’t care who lived or died, or even what the greater purpose of it was. King does have a tendency to write stories better than characters, meaning the plots are often much more interesting than the people themselves, and that’s fine by me. In this case, since I didn’t care at all about the plot, I had nothing to do but suffer my way through it. I’ll admit that I hate westerns, so this was always going to be a stretch, and I had high expectations, so it was probably doomed from the beginning. I’m just not sure why this book is considered so great that it got a comic series, or it has so much acclaim. I also don’t think books that are really short stories work together unless they’re specifically woven that way. I had never encountered a book by Stephen King I hadn’t loved until this one, but there always has to be one, doesn’t there? I was determined to continue reading despite this, because I was assured it got better with time.

  1. Daatalaughing says:

    The Gunslinger is the only Stephen King book I’ve ever read. I figured if I was going to get into Stephen King stuff, Dark Tower was going to be my best bet. I hated it so much. Reading this book was like work. It was considerable psychological effort for me to slog through this and force myself to keep going page after page.

    People told me by the time I got to book 4 the series would be really good, but it wasn’t worth it to me, not if they were going to be anything like the first book. So I went on Wikipedia and read the summary of the rest of the books to try to interest myself in continuing. When I got to the part where King includes himself as a character and turns it into a self-insert fanfic, i gave the whole thing up as a bad idea and never read anything by King again.


    • Dee says:

      You didn’t like this one book so you avoided his crazy amount of other awesome things? Tsk! This was the 70s, he’s gotten so much better as a writer since. But yeah this book was not good. I will say that the second one got me though. The Drawing of the Three started out dull, but once they included the new characters into it, I was totally into it. Roland himself is still dull as hell, but the new ones were pretty interesting, and I enjoyed their interactions. I got through the third one which I also enjoyed! But I actually think we both were wrong that the Dark Tower series is what would make us like King. His other books are much better. I liked 2 and 3, but they’re still no where near as good as his stand alones.

      The Shining, Misery, The Green Mile, and Firestarter are some of my faves.


  2. portlandme77 says:

    I originally read the Dark Tower series out of order, I had stumbled on the forth book as a kid and then went back for The Gunslinger later on. The first book makes for a much drier read than the rest of the series, I have more fun the deeper into the saga I get.


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