“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”
— Stephen King, The Gunslinger
This is my first experience of Stephen King’s work. I am myself surprised that it isn’t one of his pure horror stories, but I also had a feeling I was going to end up exploring the Dark Tower universe before anything else. With an adaptation in the work, starring both Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba—two formidable actors, might I add—I vowed I’d get my hands on this series before indulging the movie. The first book in this series, The Gunslinger, introduces us to two mysterious figures. While their motives and their personalities remain ambiguous right from the beginning, you quickly get a grasp of who you’re dealing with as you tag along in their cruel and enchanted adventure. One thing ultimately drives this story forward and it all lies in the gunslinger pursuing the man in black through a desolate universe. Poetic and enigmatic, the first book in the Dark Tower series is a character-driven story that lays out a world that has yet to be fully understood.
Talk about a book that fills your mind with more questions than answers. In all honesty, I started this book with a lot of expectations. Not for the first installment alone, but for the series as a whole. Having completed this, I felt hooked to a strong desire to find answers, similar to what the gunslinger Roland Deschain seeks from the Man in Black. What on earth is going on? Where the hell are they? Who is the Gunslinger and the Man in Black? It’s truly astonishing how every bit of information thrown at me was quickly snatched and gulped. The atmosphere was completely intangible, blurry and abysmal. Knowing that Roland Deschain has been following the shadows of a man in black for countless days gives you the impression that the history between the two characters must have been truly abhorrent. However, the most frightening part of it all is that catching up to the man in black is only the beginning of something much more grand.
I was truly intrigued by the idea of a whole world within a world and how stories were told within the story itself. The universe in which the narrative takes place is fascinating, timeless (literally; you can feel the world stagnant in space and time) and purely mysterious. Something about facing the man in black to get the answers to all the questions that have been accumulated and finding the mystical nexus of all worlds gave this first book a truly mouthwatering flavor. What I truly loved about the first book is the tone of a prophecy slowly unfolding that enveloped the whole narrative. It felt like every single character that crossed paths with the gunslinger had a role to play and a message to give. Jake, a little kid who finds himself in the same world as Roland, yet came from a place much more similar to our present days, is the perfect example. While our protagonist knew what Jake represented, his connection to the kid was inevitable. There are also some fantasy elements sprinkled around this essentially western-themed book. While these parts contributed to the lore and the world-building, their presence also reminded us that the reality in which they live is a world that has “moved on” and added a layer of complexity to the whole universe.
The Gunslinger should definitely not be the last stop for anyone’s expedition into the Dark Tower series. The first book (even if I got my hands on a revised edition that adds in some extra elements to make the story more fluid for newcomers) is definitely a prologue to something much bigger. While this is Stephen King’s epic fantasy saga, the little bits of horror that were present in the story were truly fantastic. The universe is spell-binding, completely mesmerizing. It shows that you don’t need to feed a reader a mountain of information for them to fall in love with the landscape. All you need to do is tickle the curiosity within all of us. The Gunslinger is Roland Deschain’s quest to uncovering the fine and fragile fabrics of his reality. I definitely can’t wait to see what The Drawing of the Three has in store for me. One thing is for sure. My first experience of Stephen King’s work has been an excellent one.