Stephen King,
The Dark Tower #1: The Gunslinger
(Penguin, 1982)

Stephen King's sprawling, seven-book epic journey begins with a simple yet declarative sentence: "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed."

In those 12 words you're treated with the essence of what the series' initial 300-plus page chapter is really about. And, essentially what maintains the gunslinger's interest (for this book at least). Do we know why he's after the man in black? No. But neither does the gunslinger (Roland of Gilead). Maybe the man in black's got something to do with the mysterious Dark Tower. However, Roland doesn't definitively know.

It's all so straightforward. Of course, until King makes things significantly more complicated.

While the gunslinger pursues the man in black, he comes in contact with a variety of characters in a post-apocalyptic-like time when society has simply "moved on." Remnants of the world we're familiar with -- paper, "Hey Jude" playing on some stereo -- are present, but infrequent. Jake, one of Roland's cast of run-ins, even remembers a time when he was living in New York City. But then he was run over by an automobile and wound up at an abandoned weigh station in Roland's universe.

What the hang is going on here?

Typical of King, the author very much conceived an idea and just ran with it. As he admits in the book's afterward, he finished The Gunslinger without an idea of where it's going, or whether it'll ever be completed. (Luckily for us, the series ended in 2004). With this frame of mind, King plays with his settings, characters and themes more than most other authors would.

And that style pays off big time in The Gunslinger. In a book series that purposefully connects previous King works -- The Gunslinger's got direct references to Bag of Bones, The Stand and The Eyes of the Dragon -- under one umbrella, it pays, as the author, to provide enough room to get a little creative.

I'm not well versed in science fiction, nor do I ever plan to be. But the introduction to King's Dark Tower series is so enjoyable and, I'll admit, addicting, that I find myself invested in finding out where this thing's going. King's grand hypothesis about time and the universe, merely hinted at here at the end of The Gunslinger, is a ways down the road. But I look forward to discovering what it is.

review by
Eric Hughes

14 March 2009

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new