Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Book Review: The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower #1) by Stephen King

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Description from Goodreads
Beginning with a short story appearing in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1978, the publication of Stephen King's epic work of fantasy -- what he considers to be a single long novel and his magnum opus -- has spanned a quarter of a century.
Set in a world of extraordinary circumstances, filled with stunning visual imagery and unforgettable characters, The Dark Tower series is King's most visionary feat of storytelling, a magical mix of science fiction, fantasy, and horror that may well be his crowning achievement.
Book I
In The Gunslinger (originally published in 1982), King introduces his most enigmatic hero, Roland Deschain of Gilead, the Last Gunslinger. He is a haunting, solitary figure at first, on a mysterious quest through a desolate world that eerily mirrors our own. Pursuing the man in black, an evil being who can bring the dead back to life, Roland is a good man who seems to leave nothing but death in his wake.
This new edition of The Gunslinger has been revised and expanded throughout by King, with new story material, in addition to a new introduction and foreword. It also includes four full-color illustrations in the hardcover and trade paperback formats.

My Review

I grew up reading Stephen King. But, somehow, never really got around to reading this particular series. (I also haven't read The Stand yet, either. So... judge away.) I knew it was out there, and I also knew that when I was looking into it, it wasn't finished. But once it was finished, I kind of just forgot about it.
My husband was actually the one that brought it up to me to read it. He decided he wanted to read it, and asked if I would, too. So I decided it might be fun! 
I have remained pretty much spoiler free about it, so it makes it exciting to finally be sitting down to read this. Even knowing he's gone back and changed it a bit- I won't know these changes because I never read the series.

The book overall is about Roland Deschain, aka "The Gunslinger", following "The Man in Black". This book takes place in a complete different world than ours. The story itself is broken down into five different parts: The Gunslinger, The Way Station, The Oracle and the Mountains, The Slow Mutants, and The Gunslinger and The Man in Black. As I'm going through, I'll review each part. This may mean that part of my "opinion" will be contradicted by another opinion, because I'm going to review as I read it. So, this should be interesting

WARNING: This is Stephen King, so it's a mature novel. If you're uneasy with sexual situations or harsh language, I would steer clear now of this review.

The Gunslinger

Roland is following The Man in Black through the desert. He comes across a hut after several days, and meets Brown and his raven, Zoltan. They converse, and Brown feeds Roland and gives him water. Brown seems to doubt Roland will ever catch The Man in Black. You also find out the Roland is from In-World, which may or may not still exist. Brown tells Roland of Tull, and how The Man in Black went through there and cured a man that died of weed sickness. I'm wondering at this point in the story whether or not this is literally meant to mean marijuana, or some other type of drug. After leaving Brown's, he goes to Tull, and has sex with a barkeep named Alice (or Allie). He finds out that The Man in Black didn't just heal the man that died of weed sickness (named Nort)- he brought him back to life. So, my thought here is now that this guy is Death, or some version of Death. And The Man in Black tells Allie not to say the word "Nineteen" to Nort or it would open up the secrets of what Nort saw on the other side. The Gunslinger eventually needs to move on, and when he makes that decision and is on his way out, it appears Allie did say Nineteen to Nort, because the whole town goes crazy.
And did I mention that a preacher says The Man in Black got her pregnant and Roland basically screws her with the barrel of his gun. So, abortion by gun, if she was in fact with the Man in Black's child. It's not entirely clear to me if this is what actually happened, or if the preacher was just hysterical. But the gun-screwing definitely happened.
Basically, this part of the novel took me the longest to read and kind of fucked with my mind the most. I had no idea what was real, or what wasn't, or what the hell was going on. It was definitely a "hang on for the ride" type of reading experience.

The Way Station
Roland is back in the desert. He's dehydrated and starving. He feels like he's going to die. Until he sees a building on the horizon. He moves towards the building until he passes out, gun in hand. He awakes to water on him and a cup waiting for him. This is where Roland meets John Chambers aka Jake aka 'Bama. We don't know much about him until we discover that he's dead. And that the Man in Black was there when it happened. So my thoughts at his point is that he's still death, and Roland is in some weird, purgatory world trying to catch The Man in Black so he can escape. Maybe that's why where he's from is called In-World? In the way station, Roland begins to think of his past, and of two of his friends, Cuthbert and Jamie. It is also specifically pointed out that Roland doesn't think of his past much. So is this is side effect of where he is? Not so sure. In going along with this, Roland speaks to a corpse in a cellar that sounds to him like Alice in High Speak, which is a language that appears to be possibly only known to a few people (including Nort, from "The Gunslinger". And the voice of Allie says to him "While you travel with the boy, the man in black travels with your soul in his pocket." And later, as he and Jake begin their travels, Jake says goodbye to the way station and says it's because he feels like something is watching them.
Then there's a part where you get a peak into Roland's past. It appears that Roland and Cuthbert are training with a man named Cort, and they also see a man get hanged. Honestly, this whole section was written in a way that confused me a bit. But I did get that this definitely helped shape the man that Roland becomes.
Oh, and we learn that Roland kills his mother. But not how, or why.

The Oracle and the Mountains
In this part of the story, Jake is taken over by an Oracle, Roland gets him away from it, and then Roland not only gets taken by the Oracle, but makes sweet, sweet love to it. Actually, it's not sweet love, it's regretful and disgusting sex, but still. Also, Roland realizes he loves Jake, which was very sweet, even though later we learn that he might kill him one day.
From the Oracle, Roland learns the number of his fate is Three. And that another number shall come later.
After the Oracle, Roland and Jake continue up the mountain, and eventually at the peak they reach the Man in Black. Roland shoots at him three times, but misses. (Is this the three the Oracle was referring to?) The Man in Black will not come down to Roland, but insists they'll speak on the other side, alone. So, not with Jake. This makes me wonder if Jake will die before we see the Man in Black again.

The Slow Mutants
Roland tells Jake about a party he snuck into where he saw his mother and father dance. Then they continue on their underground journey through some type of cave and run into (literally) a handcar on a track, and proceed to use that. While resting, Roland tells Jake a story about his mother and a man named Marten. And of his defeat of his instructor, Cort, using the bird David. This part really caught me interests, and I enjoyed it. 
After that story, Jake and Roland are attacked by the slow mutants, which are a troll-like creature that just seem to eat up any bullets that Roland shoots at them, and they get hit and pretty much just absorb the impact. There comes a moment where Roland is holding Jake from falling, and he does save him. However, the two of them run into the Man in Black again, and this time, Roland does not save him.

The Gunslinger and The Man In Black
Roland is dealing with the death of Jake, and the Man in Black is ordering him to build a fire. He is essentially keeping him trapped. They go through this very interesting part where the Man in Black reads Roland's tarot, which I think speaks a lot to what is to come in the future stories. It ends where we discover that they have been there 10 years. 

My overall thoughts of this were that, ultimately, it is just not for me. It took me a LONG time to get through it. I can regularly get through a book of it's size in a week or less, and this one took me almost a full month. And my husband kind of felt like I did about it- it was a good book, but we don't feel a pull to read the rest of the series. If I want to know what happens, I can wiki it. I just don't care enough to invest any more time in a book that ultimately didn't pull me in.

If you'd like to purchase a copy of this book, you can purchase a copy for Kindle here, or a paperback copy here.

FTC: I borrowed this book from my local library. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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