Tuesday, 23 June 2015
The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger by Stephen King
Stephen King is a household name. He is the lord of horror and probably one of the best novelists you’ll ever come across. Not only do I believe this, but also do the majority of people who have read his books. If you were to ask a random person in the library to name some of his books, you’d probably hear the names of the greatest horror institutions of the last century. The Shining. The Tommy Knockers. Carrie. But, if you were to ask Stephen King, what might he say? Of course, The Shining and Carrie are amongst his most famous work, however what he describes as his best work, his magnum opus, is relatively unknown to the general public. It is, of course, the Dark Tower Saga. I found the second book in a coffee shop in Chester- it’s amazing, Cinderbox Coffee you must go!- and on reading the blurb instantly set out to find the first book. I’ve got to say, it’s one of the best decision I’ve made.
Book One, the subject of this review, is called the Gunslinger and it follows the eponymous character, known as Roland Deschaine, as he treks through the dangerous expanses of Mid World searching for the titular Dark Tower. The copy that I read was the heavily edited and improved copy of the original, however I’m sure the original is still a lot of fun. After all, the story will be overall the same and it is brilliant. The book is split into several stories, each one turning to a unique aspect of the classic Western genre. Story One, introducing the Gunslinger, is the archetypal Western. A small town in the middle of nowhere, a mysterious resurrection and the entrance of an enigmatic stranger. As well as an incredible mixture of fantasy and Western genre, along with brilliant dialogue and the vagueness of a severed outpost, King brings in the genre he excels at. Horror. Surely a resurrection should be a miracle, but King twists it to become a terrible curse. It is brilliantly entertaining and the significance of the number 19, which I’m sure you’ll discover when you read it, stays in the mind long after.
Story Two, called the Way Station, isn’t as memorable, however it’s story is still very interesting. It introduces the boy Jake, a young child who travels alongside Roland for the majority of this novel. We are introduced to his origin story, and by this also introduces us further to Roland’s nemesis: the Man in Black. This is the dark sorcerer that Roland is pursuing during the first book, and who meeting with will form the climax of the book. We are also told about the process by which Roland and his childish friends became Gunslingers. This story is one that many authors will have to write; appropriate for the story, even if not the most interesting.
We’re back on form with Story Three, the Oracle and the Mountains, however, and what an excellent story it is! Without going into the subject matter of this story, which isn’t completely appropriate for this blog, the Oracle and the Mountains deals with one of the archetypal plots of Westerns: greed and temptation. Jake, and later Roland, are both forced to face a tempting force. With an increase of psychological horror, written perfectly by Stephen King, this story is a turning point for the adventurers, where Jake must go from boy to man.
Story Four is the Slow Mutants. Even now, a year and a half after I finished reading the book in Luxembourg, I can see the glow of the Slow Mutants in my mind, and hear the ricocheting explosion of the Gunslinger’s revolvers. This story is one of the best in the entire book and, so far, the entire series. I absolutely love the way in which it so fantastically haunts me, even to this day. But perhaps better than this is the Gunslinger’s tale of his journey to manhood. The idea of this young hero, yet to prove his worth, outsmarting a formidable foe in such a brilliant way is one that will never leave me, and I feel privileged to read it.
And so we come to the climatic showdown, the metaphorical gun fight between the Man in Black and Roland. This story answers many of the question we have started this story with, as well as creating a dozen more that set up the next six novels in the series. The story mixes together an incredible blend of science fiction, fantasy and, of course, horror. The concepts of the Dark Tower, as the Man in Black explains, have inspired me to create a new interest in Quantum Mechanics, and write my latest and longest novel.
All in all, the Gunslinger is a completely memorable and completely brilliant novel. I believe, like the Drawing of the Three which I’ll discuss in the future, it boasts an excellent ability to seem fantastic when you’re reading it, but only grow better and better in the memory. It is when, a few months later on, that your immediate think of Roland Deschaine whenever someone mentions cowboys that you really realise how brilliant these books are, because they are more than just books. They are the Magnum Opus of one of the greatest living authors of today. They are the Dark Tower Saga by Stephen King.