Every so often a truly great novel comes along. I’m talking about your Great Gatsbys, your Life of Pis, your Farewell To Arms. These tend to come from certain accepted points of the media landscape, but one place they don’t typically come from are the popular fiction authors.
Then, we get The Gunslinger by Stephen King.
Released on June 10, 1982, and comprised of short stories published between 1978 and 1981 that formed a continuing narrative as Roland, the titular gunslinger, chases the mysterious man in black across the dessert.
It’s in this novel that we are first fully introduced to the world of The Dark Tower, a world that has, ostensibly, moved on from the old ways. Its a dystopian backwards-looking future, in which time has collapsed in onto itself, and even reality has fallen in on itself, creating the most engrossing and troubling of situations: the end of everything.
In this novel we meet Roland, and through a series of small adventures, get to know him. As a whole they come together to produce a portrait of Roland himself. It’s a character study, and what’s more, it’s a character study about a character we don’t necessarily like. In that way it’s very much an early precursor to concepts like Breaking Bad. From an author that is traditionally plot-driven, to have such a successfully executed character-driven story is a triumph in and of itself.
Let’s see if I can explain.
Possibly the best way to explain Roland would be via his adventures with a young boy he meets named Jake Chambers. He meets Jake under mysterious circumstances at a way-station and the two become traveling companions, chasing the man in black and fighting the slow mutants. All this leads up to a moment where Roland must make the “horrible choice” as the Green Goblin called it. He has to decide between his quest for the Tower and letting Jake die… and he let’s Jake fall to his death.
This is, of course, a surprising twist and lets us know that this is not the story of a standard hero — maybe not a story of a hero at all. It’s a story of an obsessed, driven man who struggles with the things he must do in the service of that obsession — that’s interesting. Really and truly interesting, actually. This character seems like the spiritual ancestor to characters like Mal from Firefly, broken men struggling for what they can at all costs.
We get a taste of the world in this novel, but more importantly, we get a healthy dose of Roland and want more.
This one is not to be missed.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“Released on June 10, 1982, and comprised of short stories published between 1978 and 1981 that formed a continuing narrative as Roland, the titular gunslinger, chases the mysterious man in black across the dessert.”