The Gunslinger, Stephen King

gunslinger

“I don’t talk of myself,” the gunslinger muttered.
“Yet tonight you must. So that we may understand.”
“Understand what? My purpose? You know that. To find the Tower is my purpose. I’m sworn.”
“Not your purpose, gunslinger. Your mind. Your slow, prodding, tenacious mind. There has never been one quite like it, in all the history of the world. Perhaps in the history of creation.”

When I woke up this morning, I was sure I had finished this book late last night. When I got home from spending the day with my seven-year-old godson, I saw The Gunslinger sitting on the couch, bookmark clearly still in place.

I’ve been a huge Stephen King fan for a while. King is a fantastic writer: his imagination is unparalleled, and he is a master at crafting language. It’s kind of a massive shame that his talent isn’t more widely recognized just because he’s a genre writer.

I’ve never read any Dark Tower novels before this. They’ve been recommended to me many times over — my dear Stepanic once told me that reading the Dark Tower novels would ruin the rest of King’s work for me, because they are his apex. Maybe the series was built up a bit too much, but The Gunslinger fell kind of… flat, for me.

I mean, it was a decent enough read. But kind of needlessly wordy, frustratingly vague in places, and filled with a sad sort of posturing masculinity that starts to grate after a while. Roland is such a frustrating masculine archetype: stoic, unemotional, and not prone to over thinking. He’s often described as not particularly quick or smart, but stubborn. He’s got a fridged girlfriend (Susan Delgado, who we literally know nothing about). There’s the whole gun thing.

There are so many times where Roland gets this weird, Chosen One type reverence, like in the quote I started off with. When I read that line, I wanted to chuck the book across the room, because oh my god there have been hundreds and thousands of minds like Roland’s! He is a pile of masculine sounding ropes piled on top of one another, masquerading as a character. The man is a walking stereotype!

And the weird, uncomfortable sex stuff! Every single description of a female character includes an unflattering and weirdly specific description of her breasts. There are SO MANY pointless sex scenes; almost every single female character has sex with Roland (the eponymous gunslinger). He has begrudging sex with a non-corporeal demon spirit of some sort. Hell, there’s even something weird and Oedipal implied in the relationship between Roland and his mom—he actually USES THE WORD OEDIPAL.

None of these things would bother me so much if it weren’t for the fact that King is so often BETTER than this. I guess when you’ve written as many books as King has, some are going to be Carrie and The Stand and Lisey’s Story, and some are going to be Under the Dome. I’d hoped The Gunslinger would be better, considering how loved this series seems to be… but in the forward to the Revised and Expanded Edition, as King talks about his decision to revise he book, he says:

The third was that The Gunslinger did not even sound like the later books—it was, frankly, rather difficult to read. All too often I heard myself apologizing for it, and telling people that if they persevered, they would find the story really found its voice in The Drawing of the Three.

Of course, that’s how King felt BEFORE the revisions. I can’t imagine what the original must have been like if this is the “new and improved” version. Nonetheless, I’ll be taking King’s word for it and persevering on to the next Dark Tower novel, The Drawing of the Three. (I mean, not right away, but eventually…)

After all, when you’re the guy who wrote Carrie, you get a bit of leeway.

XO

Books read: 5

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