Review: The Dark Tower – The Gunslinger by Stephen King

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” 

The desolation of the Gunslinger’s world oozes from the pages to infect the reader; despite this you are drawn ever onward by the Gunslinger’s all-consuming desire to catch up to the man in black. The flashbacks to his younger years pad out the story, but make the reader desperate to return to the hunt for the man in black. The Gunslinger never doubts that he will fulfill his task, and neither does the reader as they are drawn in by the Gunslinger’s fatalistic desire to succeed. While the pace of the story initially feels slow; there is no other way for it to be. The Gunslinger’s plodding quest cannot be made into a fast paced run of adrenaline because, for the most part, it is not. It is one man doggedly following another because there is nothing else left for him to do.

The only other book of Stephen King’s that I have read is Salem’s Lot, and in my mind he is first and foremost a horror writer. The Dark Tower is still a horror story, but much of its horror comes from the sense of despair that the story generates. Sure there are still spirit possessions, demons, creepy mutants, and grizzly murders, but the sense of fatalistic despair in Tull, and the Gunslinger’s all-consuming drive, present their own horrors in a far more visceral way. King manages to blend these horror elements seamlessly with elements of westerns, and above all fantasy to create something wholly different.

While doing a brief bit of research on this book, I discovered that it was substantially edited in 2003. The copy I have is a little-old second-hand paperback copy from 1989 that I picked up in a store here in Tonga. I’m now curious to read the updated version. I have a feeling that the niggling dissatisfaction I have with parts of the novel might disappear with the reading of the revised version. While I thoroughly enjoyed reading the version I have it feels unrefined. Rather than adding to the stripped back, raw, feel of the novel it distracts, and detracts, making me pause and puzzle over why a certain phrase or segment doesn’t sit quite right. It may just be my editing mindset once again taking over, but I won’t know for sure until I can get my hands on a more recent copy.

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