Book review of Stephen King’s The Gunslinger
If there’s one thing I try to do here at FantasyBookNews.com when I review books, it is to give an honest assessment of books, without being swayed too heavily by who the author is, how famous the series may be, or any other outside influences. A novelist as big as Stephen King is hard to ignore, and treat in this manner. I mean, the guy’s written countless novels that have made the extremely difficult trip from page to screen, and had actors the caliber of Jack Nicholson bring some of his characters to life. This is my first Stephen King novel. I’ve never really dipped to deep into the horror genre, but The Gunslinger is supposed to be King’s adventure into the fantasy genre. He makes numerous mentions of Tolkien, hobbits, and the other fantasy genre novelists that followed Tolkien’s lead in the introduction to The Gunslinger. I should also mention that I’m currently listening to King’s On Writing audiobook, which is a fantastic read for any aspiring writer. In it, King details all aspects of writing, in particular his personal style of of not really planning the plot of his books prior to writing them. I can’t say that I didn’t have this thought in mind while I was reading The Gunslinger.
While King set out to write an epic fantasy, he decided he’d leave the elves, dragons and hobbits to the countless other authors who have attempted to recreate the experience that was Tolkien’s original classic. The setting for The Gunslinger is that of a western adventure. It has a quest feel to it, and you can’t help but notice the similarity with “The Dark Tower” to Tolkien’s tower of Sauron. The Gunslinger is a great character, well developed, with a very raw edge to him. King’s other characters in this novel are very well fleshed out, although we don’t get to see much of the Man in Black as I would have liked. The settings are quality, with a mixture of desert scenes and almost surreal experiences that the Gunslinger goes through. Its an interesting landscape, as while the tangible elements, like surroundings, buildings, and characters all seem to suggest early 1900’s western, it appears as if the novel actually takes place in a regressed future.
The story follows the current timeline of the Gunslinger, interspersed with flashback scenes of the Gunslinger’s childhood and coming of age. While both stories keep the pages turning, I don’t feel they had enough that eventually intertwined them. I would have like more from Roland’s past to have potentially adverse affects on his future, or other creative use of the flashback story line.
All things said, I can honestly say that I was tremendously underwhelmed by The Gunslinger. I’ve read the comics by Marvel, and I really believe this novel reads better as a comic or graphic novel than a book. It may have to do with the fact that The Gunslinger is actually five short stories originally written for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in the ’70s. It may have had to do with the fact that I was studying King’s writing methods simultaneously, and was overcritical of the plot and where I felt the book was actually going. That said, I think I’ll definitely be back to see where King actually takes this series. It is a seven book series, with the first four being published with an average of five years between each, and the last three being published over the span of two years. I may just be curious to see if King went on a Kerouac-esque writing binge to finish the final three novels.
I think King could have taken this character and accomplished a lot more with him over the course of The Gunslinger, but I’m definitely interested in seeing where The Gunslinger eventually ends up. I’ll do my homework and keep everyone posted.
You can purchase The Gunslinger over at Amazon.com.