Book Review: The Gunslinger by Stephen King

As much as I like horror, I’ve never read King’s The Dark Tower series, so I thought it was time to start. The series begins with The Gunslinger, a book that takes place in a nightmarish-post-apocalypticish-wild-Westish setting in which a gunslinger named Roland is following a mysterious figure known only as the man in black—with passing references to a dark tower. At first I was irked by being thrown into the tale without a full understanding of what was happening. It slowed my interest initially, as I had to piece together bits from the present as well as Roland’s recollections of his past. But as the tale progressed, I came to enjoy discovering the elements of Roland’s world, and when the book ended, I ran to my keyboard to order Book Two.

What I enjoyed most was the balance between mystery and fatalism. It seems that characters know—if only subconsciously—what is to come and what has come before. Along his journey, Roland encounters (among other things) a boy named Jake. He and Jake travel together, though they both sense that Jake will end up being sacrificed in the end. There is also the suggestion that the man in black, while somewhat elusive, is making sure Roland catches him. Jake makes references to things he doesn’t quite understand, things like movies and subways from a time before the world moved on (and this, despite the fact that he also makes references to having already died in such a world).

The last chapter makes up for any confusing scenes in the beginning, insight coming like fireworks even as more mystery develops. I won’t give away much—only to say that the dark tower sought by the gunslinger is the crux of it all, and it’s something he doesn’t find in Book One. The ending definitely leaves the reading longing for the next book in the series (so watch this space for an upcoming review!).

Finally, as an English teacher and writer, I enjoyed King’s Afterward, in which he reveals some of the history behind his writing of the novel, including the fact that he was inspired by Robert Browning’s poem “Childe Roland,” which you can read here.