Saturday, August 5, 2017

Book Review: The Gunslinger by Stephen King

The first novel in Stephen King's fantasy series mashes the Western genre with a dimension hopping horror and a magical element. From the iconic opening line, the Gunslinger pursues the man in black across the desert for a purpose unknown. The world is desolate and looks to be an alternate history to our own where residents of our timeline sometimes go when they die, like Jake, who dies in a car accident after encountering the man in black. The Gunslinger, Roland Deschain of Gilead, tells the story where he ventures into a town, forms a sexual relationship with the bartender and encounters the strange townsfolk who are not the same after encountering the man in black.  

The townsfolk slowly turn on the gunslinger until he has to use his weapons. He is amazing at shooting but reluctantly kills those he knows are under the influence of the man in black. His skills as a gunslinger allow him to kill the townspeople and once he recovers, he heads back out into the wasteland after the man in black though without his mule that was killed. He encounters other strange individuals and rumors of another world out there and meets Jake Chambers, the young boy from Earth. The walking wears down the Gunslinger until he finally succumbs to dehydration. Jake helps revive him and they continue the hunt for the man in black while also searching for food. Roland is able to hypnotize Jake to find out about his past and how he arrived in this world.

The two travelers encounter demons and succubus, struggling to survive in the wasteland. Roland reflects back on his training to become a gunslinger and his quest to become a protector to the Dark Tower. Roland's trainer Cort is brutal and when Roland tries to proclaim his readiness early he is forced to face his trainer in combat. Roland uses his hawk David to distract Cort to beat him in the fight but loses the bird in the process. There are further world-building efforts to explain the past like the young kids observing a hanging. The timeline shows that Roland grew up in a troubled environment during a time of turmoil. 

Back in the current timeline, Roland and Jake find the man in black on a mountain and climb up after him though the man in black taunts Roland and Jack that only one of them will make it to the other side. Jake is worried that Roland will abandon him and he does, allowing the boy to fall into an abyss after they escape a tunnel full of mutants. Roland continues down the mountain to meet the man in black who reads him tarot cards. A lot of strange things happen as Roland has odd visions that stretch out into the galaxy. When he awakes, a corpse is near him and he continues on his journey for many other books.

I was confused by a lot of the writing and found the scene jumping a little weird and hard to follow. I think this book benefits from others in the series but the mix of fantasy and western didn't work well. The climax was extra odd as the Gunslinger letting a boy die seemed like an odd move for a hero. I want to read the rest of this series and maybe I'll revisit this book again at a later date with a greater understanding. I had tried to read this book once before but had been unable to make it through. I had read this book in anticipation of The Dark Tower film but it looks like the reviews for that do not bode well for the quality but I'll reserve judgment until I see it soon. 

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