Author: Stephen King
First published: 1978-1981
Original publisher: The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
“The Man In Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed.”
And so begins the Dark Tower saga and the adventures of Roland Deschain of Gilead, an extraordinary fantasy epic from the prodigious malestrom of mental wonders of Mr. Stephen King.
I have recently completed reading this magnum opus of his that had taken him more than a decade to complete and I gotta say I truly feel like I have taken part in some legendary quest like Roland. I would be loathe to talk about the book in detail because the series is an intricate spiderweb with twists, turns, wrinkles, spikes, twines and roads less traveled. The less I reveal about the plot and its’ players, the better because there is far too much at play. But lets’ scale back the camera a bit and focus on this book as a whole. ‘The Gunslinger’ is the shortest of all the Dark Tower books because King originally intended to make a novella more than a full-fledged series, that was before his imagination got the best of him. Here we get a mostly self-contained story which follows Roland, a ‘knight’ of sorts who is traveling across a world much like our own (give or take some variations) to track down the villainous sorcerer Man In Black, also known as Flagg. Yes, THAT Flagg. That boy gets around like a hooker when the navy is in town. Roland does not have a specific path or alternative aim in mind- he is only interested in one goal; to reach the Dark Tower, a mysterious structure that may very well be a crossroads of creation, destruction and every possible reality. Given Flaggs’ desire to cause trouble and disrupt the fine balance of peace, Roland has taken it upon himself to embark on this mighty task… but as all of us can predict, this aspiration comes with a heavy price many.
King has stated for the record the key inspirations behind The Dark Tower have been the poem ‘Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came’ by Robert Browning, The Lord of the Rings, Arthurian Legend, the romance of legend and the sprawling Western The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. He also directly cited Clint Eastwood’s famed ‘Man With No Name’ character as one of the major inspirations for the protagonist, Roland. Roland as a character is an experience in of himself because the man puts up an ironclad mask of stoicism, but as with all of Kings’ menagerie of characters, there is considerably more going on underneath than we initially realise. As with many other brilliant fantasy tales, King has formulated his own spin on the genre by creating and enhancing stunning worlds of colour, desolation, variance, darkness and enlightenment and it all starts in this first novel. That is to say, what we get here is barely a taste of what is to come. I remember beginning to read this book when I was an impatient 17-year-old high school bint and I didn’t get much further than the first three chapters before I put it down. I never got back to it. It wasn’t until quite recently I was encouraged to try again, and well, considering with maturity I have grown considerably more patient if not more intelligent, I was able to hunker down and give ‘The Gunslinger’ another go. I feel like slapping my adolescent self because I was almost unable to put it down. I think I read it on the toilet a couple of times. Oh don’t judge, you’ve done it too, don’t lie to me!
Although nothing bombastic happens right out of the gate in ‘The Gunslinger’, it provides the perfect introduction to what will become a beautiful, complicated monster. Considering I have little major interest in the genre of high fantasy, The Dark Tower series is another one of those exceptions that have captured my imagination and has never let it go. The novel demands a suspension of disbelief and a cavalcade of imaginative derring-do, but it is worth every moment of your time. So, will you accompany Roland on his quest?