Tome of the Month: The Gunslinger

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bookAs life becomes more hectic and I feel increasingly overwhelmed, I am starting to realize it’s time to sit down and rethink my priorities. Reading fiction is of course not vital, and I’m getting detached from culture as I realize education has played no role in helping my find my place in the world. All the same, I can’t give up completely on what has been a very important part of my existence. I decided to resize my reading goal to a dozen book a year. I’ll publish a review on each of these books, every 20th of the month: I hope I can keep up with making it a regular blog feature.


The Gunslinger is a novel by Stephen King, first published in 1982. The die-hard, tenacious, ruthless Roland has spent the last twelve years chasing a sorcerer in the attempt to find the Dark Tower. The atmosphere of is ominous, arcane. There are no good guys, here: even the main charachter is mostly unsympathetic. Everyone is just evil.

If I could sum up in a word my reaction to this book, that would be: bewilderment. Where are we? On an alien planet? On Earth, but in a future when civilization has regressed and survivors of the human race are slaves to drugs? Are we in a drunken cowboy’s nightmare? Is everything only happening in his mind? Is this the afterlife, or an alternative universe?

The author is brilliant at keeping the level of suspence high, and does a great job making the chain of events unpredictable. But one thing is easy to figure out: things are not going to get better. This is quite depressing, but maybe it’s how horror stories are supposed to be: I’ve always avoided the genre, but then I thought it was time to try out something by this prolific and popular author. Having to choose one to start with, I felt intrigued by the Dark Tower cycle because it falls within the weird west genre, a combination of western and fantasy.

The opening line is effective, bringing us directly in the middle of the story, and I like its being an epic quests. However, even an accomplished writer like King has some flaws. After all, he wrote this novel when he was still a student. The writing style is sometimes too heavy and the description of the characters’ inner feelings is sometimes too detailed. I don’t need to know about every bowel movement in the gunslinger’s digestive tract.

The narrator has too many irons in the fire. Too much information of an esoteric kind is thrown at the reader. Too many reference to facts external to the story, and the hope that all will be revealed in the following volumes in not enough to hook me up. The very last sentence seem to shine a light on the sense of it all, but I’ll have to read the remaining seven books, but I’m not sure I want to extend such an unpleasant experience for the remaining 4026 pages. I fail to identify with the main charachter, who is definitely a anti-hero, anaffective except for a brief pedophilic crush; I’m offended by the blasphemy that permeates the book; the overall ambiance puts me in a miserable mood.

I was hoping in vain to find illumination in the author’s final note, but in the afterword in King only goes on about a stack of paper, his college years and the fact that he might never finish the Dark Tower saga, of which The Gunslinger is the first instalment. He eventually did, but the completion of the series took 30 years and he saw it as a work in progress, at least until the publishment of the revised edition of the first volume in 2003.

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