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The Gunslinger, book #1 of The Dark Tower by Stephen King

Review by Mike 2004-03-05

The Gunslinger is the first volume (of seven) in the Dark Tower series, and introduces us to Roland of Gilead, the last gunslinger alive. Roland lives in a post industrial world that has reverted back to almost medieval conditions Ė according to its inhabitants it has ďmoved onĒ. A little at a time Rolandís background is explained Ė how he grew up among the ruling class of his country, and how he lost everyone dear to him in the revolution that brought an end to the rule of the gunslingers and laid Gilead in ruins. Now all he has left is the search for an elusive man in black, and ultimately finding the Dark Tower, a place of great importance, but shrouded in mystery.

King claims that the Dark Tower is inspired by Tolkien (what fantasy work isnít?) and Sergio Leoneís movie The Good, The Bad and The Ugly - a spaghetti western with magic and a quest to save the world, in other words. It may sound like a strange combination, but King manages to fuse these two elements and make the story work. There are lots of fantastic elements in the history of the world and in the events that unfold on Rolandís way to catch up with the man in black, but the writing makes you feel like a remote observer, just like at the movie screen.

The remoteness does have one drawback Ė you never really get close to the characters. They are well drawn, but never become your friends to laugh and cry with. Another thing that keeps you at a distance from the story is the fact that very little information about why Roland needs to find the Dark Tower is revealed. In many ways, The Gunslinger leaves you with more questions than answers, but since there are six more books to fill in the gaps, Iím not particularly upset about it.

I need to point out that I read the revised version of The Gunslinger, published 2003, in which King has not only corrected minor mistakes and discrepancies with the later books in the series, but also rewritten some of the bad beginnerís prose in the first version (published 1982). Iím not familiar with the original version, so I canít say if the revisions have improved the book, but I liked what I read so much that I will give The Gunslinger 4.5 amulets.

The Dark Tower
The Gunslinger (1982, 2003)
The Drawing of the Three (1987)
The Waste Lands (1991)
Wizard and Glass (1997)
Wolves of the Calla (2003)
Song of Susannah (scheduled for June 2004)
The Dark Tower (scheduled for September 2004)

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