Since my reading plans have been delayed by the paperback release of the fifth volume of a Song of Ice and Fire series, I am taking a bit of a detour. Not that I don’t already have books stacked to the sky that I want to read, but when a friend offered to lend me one of their books I felt the need to push it to the front of the queue. At this point I have to note that the backseat of the car of said friend sort of looks like they raided the fantasy section of the local bookstore and never bothered to carry any of the books into their house. This is most decidedly not a bad thing. Anyway, despite distractions and limited reading time I still managed to pound my way through Stephen King’s The Gunslinger in only a few weeks.
The Gunslinger is the first Stephen King novel I have ever read, so I cannot compare it to any of his more current (or more popular) works. Based on information in the introduction and Wikipedia, the original story of The Gunslinger was published in installments in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in the late 1970s. The book I read contained the original five installments, but had been updated and revised so as to be more cohesive with the sequels that now comprise The Dark Tower series. The book I borrowed also had several full color illustrations by Michael Whelan, who recently did the cover art to A Memory of Light. Regardless of anything else, it is always a joy to see a story come to life through the artwork of Michael Whelan.
The Gunslinger is the story of Rolland, the last gunslinger, who is on a quest to catch The Man in Black. He suffers through various hardships caused by a combination of the harsh desert environment he is traversing, as well as magical traps set by The Man in Black. It is an interesting mash up of a coming of age story/start of a hero’s journey with fantasy and science fiction elements set against the backdrop of a spaghetti western. At the end of this first book in The Dark Tower series I am left… wanting more. I think this novel feels very much like a beginning. It does have a full story arc, and the characters are given enough of a background to be interesting to the reader, but the technicalities of the science fiction and fantasy elements are still a little vague. They do get explained, but the explanation is really more of a lead-in to the further adventures of Rolland as he begins his quest to find the Dark Tower. There is something of a resolution, but really this story is just the set up to a much larger adventure.
Also, I feel as though I need to ponder the writing style a bit. I hope that this statement doesn’t offend anyone, but the style of this book is what I tend to call “writing for guys.” I don’t really know how to explain it, but it is the sort of style where the main characters don’t really have a lot of emotions, or at least not in a way that is overly apparent to the reader. If the character is feeling something it is stated outright in a rather straightforward manner. Things aren’t pondered so much as intuitively known. For some reason “writing for guys” always seems to take place in a setting with a wide open sky. I am not complaining about this. In the context of the character and the setting, this style actually works quite well to give the old west feel to the novel. However, after reading several books where the emotional states of the characters are examined in intricate detail, and the characters themselves ponder the complex and contradictory nature of their feelings, well, the contrast is a bit jaring. In some ways the writing in The Gunslinger feels overly simplified, with things being told rather than shown, but then again the simplicity adds to the flavor of the world that is being created. So, perhaps it isn’t my favorite style of writing, but I can appreciate it in the context of the story.
If I have the opportunity to continue reading about the adventures of Rolland then I will, but I don’t know if I am going to actively seek out the remaining books in the series immediately. I am intrigued and I do want to know what happens further along in the story, but I am not so anxious to do so that I will ignore the growing mountain of books that has taken over the space around my bed. Perhaps at some point in the future I will follow Rolland in his quest for The Dark Tower, but for now I will be sticking my nose in a very different sort of book…