Book Review : Stephen King - The Dark Tower (1982)
Stephen King is the most iconic writer alive. I don't care what counterargument you have to offer, this is true. He's outwritten, outsold and outline anyone you can possible come out with and is, by far, the most adapted living author. He's my most read author (15 titles) and I have no idea how it happened. People tend to think everything he writes is automatically good, which any self-respecting King fan knows isn't true. When you write so much, you can't bat 1,000 a wise man once said. That said, the Dark Tower saga is possibly Stephen King's most iconic work and there's a movie adaptation coming this summer, so I decided to bridge that gap in my culture and read the first volume The Gunslinger. And I'm probably not going to read the rest.
Please, keep reading if you're thinking of stoning me or subscribing my email a tryout for a terrifying porn site.
Take into consideration I went into it blind. Hell, I still don't know what the rest ofthe Dark Tower saga is about. The Gunslinger is the story of Roland Deschain, a gunslinger (which is some sort of supernatural cowboy), pursuing a man dressed in black across the wasteland. And that's about it, really. There are hints that they're living either in an alternate reality or a distant future, * that Roland and the man in black control time and space and Roland meets a kid named Jake at some point. They don't have any meaningful interaction although Roland clearly takes a liking to him. There is all sorts of cool mythological stuff happening over the last hundred pages and then it ends. Did I fucking miss something or what? Because I was never sure what the fuck was going on or why should I care.
Let's be real. In the foreword to my edition of The Gunslinger, Stephen King almost apologizes for the book. He explains that he was very young when he wrote it (It was first published on the year I was born) and that is suffers from several problems young writers' books suffer from. I'm sure The Gunslinger makes sense in context, but it's unnaturally hollow by Stephen King's standards and this is coming from a guy who enjoys his schlockier work like Rose Madder or The Langoliers. The book just feels very un-King like, you know? He's a writer with a very particular method his legion of fans appreciate him for: uneasily intimate exposition, the layering of the mundane and the fantastic, the complex and multidimensional narrative, etc. The Gunslinger is neither stupid or poorly written, it's just devoid of what makes King an enjoyable writer. It's a deceptively simple fantasy western.
There are cool things about The Gunslinger, though. There is a cool mythological aspect that mirror parts of the Bible. The phrase "Let there be light" keeps coming back among others, which is interesting given that we're supposed to have no idea where the book is set or what,s going on. Stephen King describes the wasteland as "a world that moved on" (presumably from the human race), Roland Deschain is said to be a protector of light and goodness and the man in black is, well, the opposite of that, so what's going on here? The Gunslinger offers no answer whatsoever as to why the confrontation between Roland and the man in black is supposed to be important and it's by design **, but it seems like their confrontation will eventually lead to the genesis of a new world. I might be completely off since I haven't read the rest, but it's a cool direction The Gunslinger is hinting at.
So, The Gunslinger is not a turd sandwich or anything. Think of it more like an unsalted diet cracker I tried to convince myself tasted like the original. I appreciate what Stephen King tried to do here, but you need to start such a project with a bang and it's not the case here. The Gunslinger is mysterious, atmospheric and a tad hollow. It is barely an introduction. Even the upcoming film adaptation seems to have pulled from much more than just the first book in order to build a compelling narrative. After all it's called the Dark Tower and not The Gunslinger. There you have it. I was not a fan of his book. I don't think it has much substance. I thought it read like half-baked Cormac McCarthy and I don't know why I should bother reading the others. Should I? Convince me, internet.
* Hey Jude is playing at some point, that was cool.
** It's meant to make you read the sequel.