The Gunslinger
March 13, 2016 12:09 PM - by Stephen King - Subscribe

“An impressive work of mythic magnitude that may turn out to be Stephen King’s greatest literary achievement” (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution), The Gunslinger is the first volume in the epic Dark Tower Series.

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.
posted by nubs (73 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Man, what an interesting book to re-read for me; I likely haven't read it in 10+ years or so, and everything takes on new dimensions as a result.

The opening line is iconic, but the description of the desert that follows is equally important I think:

"The desert was the apotheosis of all deserts, huge, standing to the sky for what might have been parsecs in all directions. White; blinding; waterless; without feature save for the faint, cloudy haze of the mountains that sketched themselves on the horizon and the devil-grass which brought sweet dreams, nightmares, death. An occasional tombstone sign pointed the way, for once the drifted track that cut its way through the thick crust of alkali had been a highway and coaches had followed it. The world had moved on since then. The world had emptied."

There's so much about the opening that invokes westerns, but there are pinches of other genres in here as well, which just sets the stage for this saga.
posted by nubs at 12:24 PM on March 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


Because I like being pedantic, there are two textual versions of this novel: the one that was published from 1982 to 2003, and the revised version published from 2003 onwards. The 1982 text is weirder, more cross-genre-y, and less classic King; the 2003 text has some extra scenes and parts of scenes that tie in to later novels and stories in the series. Here's a comparison.

I almost think we could discuss this book story by story, the way we did with the first three Foundation fix-up novels.
posted by infinitewindow at 3:31 PM on March 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


Ooh yeah lets do story by story! I'm currently overseas so, far away from my books. But I will definitely chime in later this week. And the original version is so much better. So much better. It kills me that new readers will probably just read the new edition. Ugh, it's like the version of Blade Runner with the terrible voice overs.
posted by silverstatue at 3:52 PM on March 13, 2016


I've got six hours on the road tomorrow and will be picking up the audiobook (read by Frank Muller!) for the trip.

I feel like I should nicname the rental car Mule.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:47 PM on March 13, 2016


Zoltan et the headlights
posted by infinitewindow at 8:01 PM on March 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


Dug out my copy and will give this a re-read. Looking forward to the discussion.
posted by jazon at 8:42 PM on March 13, 2016


I'm a little bit more sanguine about the revision, in part because, well, without spoiling, it does tend to work better with later books, and in part just because the beginning is one of the earliest-written things of his to be published--he wrote it in 1970, around the time he graduated from college. Some of the earlier stories in Night Shift date to that time--one was even published in the student literary journal--but they're stand-alone stories, not something that was part of a larger work that would be completed some thirty-four years later. (Here, incidentally, is a poster that King posed for on behalf of his fellow students around finals time.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:52 PM on March 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


Another thing about these books is that they were heavily illustrated, somewhat like Bernie Wrightson's full-page splash panels for the revised edition of The Stand, but throughout, with The Gunslinger having five full-color paintings and black & white line art by renowned illustrator Michael Whelan. That was something I had not seen since I was a child, and the paintings were great. I bought the trade paperbacks of the first three novels and was lucky enough to score a hardcover of Wizard and Glass, with illustrations by Dave McKean. Now that was a book. Acid-free paper. Smyth-sewn bindings. Not a widow or orphan to be found. And one character's dialog was all in Matrix.

Twenty years later, I have a collection of inscribed first and artist editions for a number of writers I enjoy. The Dark Tower is the jewel of my collection. 1st editions of everything except The Gunslinger. 1st and 2nd editions of The Drawing of the Three (I made a post about that illustrator). 1st editions of Little Sisters of Eluria, both the version in Legends and the standalone with the revised Gunslinger. How many books can make you take up a new hobby?

Anyway, that was a little derail about these storybooks as physical artifacts of import, not just as text encoded as UTF-8 or patterns of ink in a mass-market paperback. I swear I'll discuss the story with my next comment.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:52 PM on March 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


Wow, somehow I guess I've never read the revised edition? Looking at that list of changes...ugh. I don't mind the additional terminology and references to stuff in later books, that's just continuity, but it seems like he's just trying to make everything a lot clearer, and less ambiguous- which makes it less interesting. And I don't think he intended it this way but it seems almost insulting to readers, to assume they need everything spelled out for them (then again I just finished The Malazan Book of the Fallen, so I might be calibrated towards ambiguity right now).

And I'd almost argue that the most "important" ie annoying new parts-- the dizziness, etc-- aren't even needed, because I ran across this bit from the original that I'd totally forgotten. In the tarot reading-

Walter: “Death, but not for you, gunslinger. Never for you. You darkle. You tinct. May I be brutally frank? You go on.”

Soooo....huh.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 6:19 AM on March 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Hey, just a boring aside, but how do you all pronounce "Alain" and "Cuthbert"? I've always mostly mentally pronounced them "uh-LANE" and "CUTH-bert" but something in me wants to say "CYOOTH-bert" and give Alain a little French-y flair ("uh-LANN"?). What do the audiobooks say?
posted by Rock Steady at 6:28 AM on March 14, 2016


Oh wait that was the oracle, not Walter. Regardless.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 6:55 AM on March 14, 2016


I've always said "key-youth-bert," but ymmv.
posted by dogheart at 7:41 AM on March 14, 2016


"CUTH-bert", definitely.

I don't think I've ever read the revised edition of this book; that being said, Roland as portrayed here (particularly in the early sections) does not feel like the Roland of the later books. Roland in Tull especially. I have mentally chalked that up to whatever passes between Roland and the Man in Black during the decade-night of their palaver; that Roland learns some things about the Tower and himself that change him. Somewhat.

And yeah, that line from the Oracle really stood out for me too Dormant Gorilla.

Also, I love the phrase of "a world that had moved on"; it just speaks about loss and nostalgia and regret as well as being a really interesting way of describing the state of the world that Roland inhabits.
posted by nubs at 8:16 AM on March 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


I read through the series about a year ago. Not sure it's been long enough to start a reread, but glad to have a place to discuss it.

One thing that is kind of fun about these books, especially the early ones, is you can feel the world being built as King thinks it up. Unlike, say LotR or ASOIAF, they don't feel like stories where every detail is mapped out from start to finish. I can see why this might turn off a person for them. And some inconsistencies bugged me at times, but mostly it felt like I was discovering the story at the same time that SK was. This also seems to fit with the overall narrative and the revelations at the end.
posted by 2ht at 8:45 AM on March 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


The aching nostalgia and sense of loss captured by "the world had moved on" is one of the most crucial things for me about all the Dark Tower books and one of the things that I find funny about re-reading Gunslinger has been remembering just how much of the backstory is captured in this first book. The bits about Gilead just before the fall, of the hanging of Hax and of Roland winning his guns are all stuffed along with the main plot into what is really a fairly short book.

That feeling of world building for a world that has been lost and will not be seen again is one of the things I've loved about this series since I read it the first time.
posted by Inkoate at 9:09 AM on March 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


That feeling of world building for a world that has been lost and will not be seen again is one of the things I've loved about this series since I read it the first time.

Yeah, and I actually think the updated version does a better job of that than the original version. More of the unique speech patterns of Mid-World, billy-bumblers, Arthur Eld, etc. It really makes it feel more like a fully-realized "world" than just an abstract "not our world", if that makes sense.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:03 AM on March 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


I've never read the revised version, and I'm sad to hear King chose to lucas it. The original Stand is dramatically better than the '90s one, which brings us little but graphic rape scenes and Stephen King's Jim Morrison fanfic (plus another 300 pages of...whatever) so I presume this also blows. The Gunslinger is nothing like King's later work for sure, but -- and I say this as an admirer of King's work for more of my life than not -- that isn't a bad thing.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 12:52 PM on March 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


I presume this also blows

I suppose you can presume all you want, but it's nothing like the expanded version of The Stand. Wikipedia lays out a pretty good [spoilers for the book and the series] comparison. Basically, he has changed a good deal of terminology (England, Polaris, Halloween) into more Mid-World appropriate lingo. The biggest changes are regarding the identity of The Man in Black (let's just say some ambiguity has been introduced, to avoid too many spoilers) and the way the events in Tull finish up. That one was actually my biggest complaint with the revision, as I think it treats Roland a bit too kindly, now that King has fallen in love with him over the seven books. I preferred the problematic morals of the original, I think, but it's hard to say over time and with the knowledge of how the rest of the series would play out.

If you are going to re-read the first book, and you've only read the original, it's not a bad idea to try out the revised version, in my opinion, but if you aren't interested in a re-read, it's not worth seeking out for the differences, if that makes any sense.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:21 PM on March 14, 2016


Yep.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 2:10 PM on March 14, 2016


"The Gunslinger"

Re-reading the first story, it actually seems very much like the thing a college dude would write and a high school kid would love, but there is a shiny glint of King's talent and discipline that led to his meteoric career—and of course the rest of this book.

We have Our Hero, a Man With No Name (yet), who when we meet him has just killed every man, woman and child in an entire town and is chasing a man who freely gives the gift of Life. We suspect that the motives of the gunslinger and the man in black are meaningful and change the morality of things they do, but there's a possibility that this is just the reader projecting the monomyth onto the story as it is told. This book is full of meta-myth and meta-narrative, but this particular story more than most.

Good guys have guns and get the girl, bad guys wear black and run like cowards—that's the myth of the American West. But the world in the story no longer has America, only its cultural wreckage. The gunslinger has done so many bad-guy things over his lifetime that killing an entire town has become little more than a reflex. The man in black delights in spreading chaos and pain to those who have already been profoundly scarred by both. Tull is named after the man who made industrial agriculture possible; it is dry, lethargic, and waiting to die as the used-up world covers it in dust. Is the man in black evil for prolonging Tull's suffering? Is the gunslinger good for putting the townspeople out of their misery? Where is the God who has given the townspeople their useless Jesus and their insane preacher?

Brown listens to the gunslinger's story and chooses not to get further involved. After their palaver, the gunslinger fatalistically trudges into the desert to the point in the story where we entered. He walks off on a quest he barely understands but intends to see through, and one we may never understand but wish to follow anyway. It's the entire saga in microcosm. I'm not sure it works 100% as a stand-alone story, but it is explosive as a narrative manifesto and as an introduction to the larger story.
posted by infinitewindow at 2:15 PM on March 14, 2016 [5 favorites]


I'm not going to go out there and say the Dark Tower series are the only books of Steven King I enjoyed, I actually like quite a few of his books, especially the ones that get away from the horror archetypes in his most workmanlike books. But, the Dark Tower series, along with The Stand, are certainly among my favorite books. I admire King for buckling down and just finishing the series, regardless of if there was a drop in quality or not (there was) unlike some other famous series authors I could name. I also think the ending was a fantastic way to end an epic tale, even if maybe he didn't have the gumption to fully commit to it.

Anyway, The Gunslinger. As others have already stated, this is a fantastic first book of a series. It builds a world, sets a stage, and gives you just enough to want more. It's probably a bit too enigmatic to be taken on its own, but as the appetizer for a series it's just right.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 2:22 PM on March 14, 2016


It is 'Cuth-Bert' by my watch and warrant and all the beatings Cort administered in the name of our fathers!

But seriously, if this Bluetooth in the rental car doesn't sync up then I'm going to go all ka like a wind up in this piece.
posted by RolandOfEld at 2:42 PM on March 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


Canonically Key-youth-Bert as we shall find in a later volume. Sorry, "cuhth" fans.
posted by infinitewindow at 3:55 PM on March 14, 2016


Yea. Muller narrates cyuthbert. I still maintain my rightness.
posted by RolandOfEld at 5:46 PM on March 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


An interesting point about Brown in the story that only just occurred to me: he listens calmly as Roland tells him of the massacre of Tull and doesn't seem to react at all to the fact that his only source of nearby (relatively) civilization, not to mention the occasional beans, has been wiped out.
posted by Inkoate at 6:03 PM on March 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is due a reread, but I'm not sure the revised edition will ever win me over. I totally concede it's more polished and in line with the rest of the series' worldbuilding, but when I first read it (which was, admittedly, when I was like eleven years old and on my first King binge) I loved it because it was so raw and weird, and that appeal has stuck for me. If I'd read the revised edition first, maybe I'd feel differently.
posted by jameaterblues at 7:24 PM on March 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Again, I don't have my books handy so I'm going off memory but...the reason I love the original version and hate the new one is a reflection of my feelings towards King's writings over all. I've read just about every book he's written except for a couple recent ones, and his narrative voice got more and more irritating as the decades went by. His early books are just the stories and they're crisp and smart and chilling. But somewhere over the past fifteen years or so, he started doing this super irritating forced folksy thing in his writing where every five minutes he's like "and I tell you dear reader, wink wink nudge nudge" that drives me up a wall. It's not in the original version and it's all over the revised one. Just this cutesy little self aware tic that ruins his later writings for me, like he's so delighted with himself he just can't help it. You can see it start happening in the 5th book and right away I was like, uh there we go. And then it's way worse in the last two.
posted by silverstatue at 2:58 AM on March 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yeah, silverstatue, completely agree and that's something it was hard for me to find words to explain. Folksy and smug and overt. The original gunslinger IS raw and weird and not perfectly defined, but that's what makes it great, and it makes me sad that SK has completely lost touch with that.

The original has the same sort of weird, post-apocalyptic/medieval/western dark comedy feel as Eyes of the Dragon aka the best book ever that nobody likes. There's probably a parallel universe where he went further down that path and all seven DT books are like that.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 7:37 AM on March 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


What are our feelings on discussing later books in the series within the threads of earlier books? I'd like to talk about how some of the revisions tie in to the very end of the series, but I don't want to spoil anybody doing this as a first read...
posted by Rock Steady at 7:59 AM on March 15, 2016


Eyes of the Dragon aka the best book ever that nobody likes

I'll come sit by you. Eyes remains one of the top five books of my adolescence (and The Once and Future King is another, and there's probably a correlation), and the first two books of the DT series made me think something amazing was happening but it turned out not so much. Maybe in the world next door...
posted by Lyn Never at 9:58 AM on March 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


The revisions are interesting. I also have not read it since reading the original since the 80s. I recall it feeling at the time like a one-off, given that the man in black is fairly unambiguously communicated to be the big bad from The Stand. I'm not willing to re-read to see if that survives but my sense was that there was a stone that changes like an eye and it's a very big this is Flagg signpost.

Given that sense, I think maybe the edits are a good idea.

I've finished the series, Rock Steady, but my feeling is that it would be kinda bad form to give stuff away. I feel like the ongoing revelations about everyone are part of the fun and the desire to learn those things is enjoyable. Better to point backwards from those books' threads IMNSHO.
posted by phearlez at 9:59 AM on March 15, 2016


I've finished the series, Rock Steady, but my feeling is that it would be kinda bad form to give stuff away. I feel like the ongoing revelations about everyone are part of the fun and the desire to learn those things is enjoyable. Better to point backwards from those books' threads IMNSHO.

You're probably right. Cry pardon.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:01 AM on March 15, 2016


The original gunslinger IS raw and weird and not perfectly defined, but that's what makes it great,

Raw and weird get at it, I think. I remember when I read it for the first time being struck by how weird it was - taking elements of different genres (that I knew and loved) and bending them into one story; Roland is kind of an anti-hero and yet not, and you aren't entirely sure if his obsession and willingness to sacrifice all to get to the Tower is a good thing. He does some shit in Tull that is downright creepy and disturbing, as is his encounter with the Oracle, as is his abandonment of Jake. It goes beyond the normal gritty anti-hero stuff, to have him step over a child who is about to fall to his death; to have him conduct an abortion with a gun; I don't know how to describe his relationship with Allie, it feels cynical and unworthy.

The world feels weird and off-kilter and strange, as does Roland - in short, as if things have moved on and nothing really is the way it should be nor the way it seems.

What are our feelings on discussing later books in the series within the threads of earlier books? I'd like to talk about how some of the revisions tie in to the very end of the series, but I don't want to spoil anybody doing this as a first read...

My impression from the discussion thread was that we were doing this in sort of a #SpoilersAll fashion, but I could be wrong. Certainly, reading through the list of changes, I understand how they build consistency, but I don't feel things are out of place in the original either.
posted by nubs at 10:01 AM on March 15, 2016


and the first two books of the DT series made me think something amazing was happening...

Yeah. I read Eyes and the first three DT books when I was about 13, then read the Stand and realized This Whole Universe Is Connected! This was a fascinating new concept for me at the time. Then an agonizing wait for Wizard and Glass, which hit when I was around 15, and which would have been a really dangerous book to read at that age if I hadn't spent the whole book A. hating Susan and B. wondering why the hell she didn't go for Cuthbert, who is so clearly superior... so this stuff hit me in formative years. Which is why I, uh...took what happened in later books a wee bit personally.

Maybe the most interesting thing about the gunslinger is in fact how and how much it differs from what came next. I wish I could remember what I thought was going to happen when it was the first and only of them that I've read, but it was too long ago. I definitely remember thinking that Roland was an absolute dick.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 10:25 AM on March 15, 2016


What are our feelings on discussing later books in the series within the threads of earlier books?

Dude, I didn't even reveal the gunslinger's name in my post about the first story in the book.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:52 AM on March 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


(I thought we were a spoilers-all reread also.)

The world feels weird and off-kilter and strange

Yes. The book throws you straight into the story and straight into the world and it feels downright alien: everything is twisted off-true and you can't tell if this is history or future or alternate or fantasy, true or false.

I found the moment in Tull when he hears Hey Jude drifting from the speakeasy shocking: a sudden jolt of revelation that this world is connected to ours somehow.

It also feels like time works differently, and less reliably, in this world: it emerges over the course of the book that this is maybe a far-future/post-apocalyptic version of our world, but it's not at all clear how far future. And yet things seem to have fallen apart fast even in Roland's lifetime: his childhood memories feel like they're set in much more traditional genre of fantasy story, a courtly setting with codes of knightly training, but then we learn that the place had fallen into ruin when he left it -- infested with Slow Mutants etc -- and it's not at all clear how long that was after his coming-of-age duel.

It's all very unsettling and lends to a feeling that this is not a straightforward telling, it's more of a mythology filtered through the gunslinger's eyes.

(Maybe this is also an artifact of the episodic nature of the first book? My memory of the later books is that they are more straightforwardly linear, although still often wandering into the dreamlike.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:01 PM on March 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


I found the moment in Tull when he hears Hey Jude drifting from the speakeasy shocking: a sudden jolt of revelation that this world is connected to ours somehow.


YES. I think this is the exact moment where I realized I had something special on my hands.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:58 PM on March 15, 2016


I've only read through Tull so far, but I've noticed something different this time around. I'm actively trying to picture Idris Elba as Roland and Matthew McConaughey as the Man in Black. Surprisingly, both are working. Once I noticed that I was doing that, I tried to erase them from my mind and get my imagination characters back. I can do it pretty well with Roland, but the Man in Black may be permanently McConaughey now. I guess I never really had a strong image of him in my mind.
posted by MsVader at 8:13 PM on March 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


The image of the man in black jackknifing back and forth over Nort to bring him back to life kinda works in the book, by making him sound not-quite-human sinuously athletic, but would probably look ridiculous on film.

And poor Nort. The devil-grass addiction here reads very much like alcoholism, I feel.

I like that the truth that Nort speaks when Allie triggers the "nineteen" trap isn't written: King leaves it to our imagination but makes it feel both horrifying and incredibly, alluringly inevitable.

There's a nightmarish feeling to the whole Tull section, that Roland knows it's a trap but lacks the will and motivation to leave before it's triggered -- the hostler Kennerley hostile towards him from the start, the hostler's daughter trying to brain him with a chunk of firewood.

The attack of the townspeople feels to me very inflected by zombie horror: the unthinking horde, the single goal. And Roland himself sort of goes into zombie mode during it: he seems almost dissociated from the action while his fingers work by themselves doing the reloading trick.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 8:49 PM on March 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


Roland's gunwork is described as 'sleepy' during the Slow Mutants scene.
posted by mannequito at 11:35 PM on March 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


I see it has not been posted, so I give you the gunslinger reimagined. (Really belongs on the next book but I suspect I will have forgotten about it by then)
posted by phearlez at 8:59 AM on March 16, 2016


I definitely remember thinking that Roland was an absolute dick.

The line where he deliberately switches from thinking of "Jake" to "the boy" is chilling.

Speaking of dicks: I was struck this time how my attitude towards Cort changed during Roland's retelling. Initially we see him only as an abusive drill-sergeant bully. The coming-of-age duel reframes that as a job that he's undertaking, and one that exerts a physical toll on him: he exists to drive his charges towards the line, he wants them to cross it, he cares for them -- the effort he makes to fight unconsciousness to advise Roland -- but he takes a beating each time one does. Worst job ever; and how does one become a trainer-of-gunslingers anyway?
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:15 PM on March 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


It is an odd structure; usually a knight takes a squire for the purpose of training them to be a knight. But Cort is clearly a bondsman; he takes direction from the gunslingers, and trains the new potentials, and the successful ones go on to further apprenticeships with actual gunslingers. Master-at-arms, I guess, but what a testing process...I wonder if he's a failed applicant himself; one who maybe aged out of the process, but has the skills and the knowledge to be useful in winnowing out the weak and unworthy.

"I didn't train him. I friended him."

Anyways, it is interesting to me that the testing ground has two exits - one to the east, where the successful leave, pointed towards civilization, and one to the west, for the failures "broken and on a blind path". When we first meet Roland, he's a gunslinger, but headed deep into the west...
posted by nubs at 12:43 PM on March 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


Nthing the strangeness of the logistics of Cort's job.

I read this over 25 years ago, and the duel with Cort is the only part I remember other than the beginning. Something that struck me about choosing a falcon as the weapon: In Roland's case, victory was not a foregone conclusion because Cort thought that the falconer training had good poorly. What happens if you have a squire that you know is already really good at falconing or another form of deadly animal training? Do you just go out there and get your eyes ripped out? At that point, it seems like more of a test for Cort than for the squire.

Oh, also, I remember that Roland went out and had sex with what I thought was a prostitute right after that? I was around his age, so I was like whatever, but now, a sex passage with a 14-year-old is weird.
posted by ignignokt at 8:20 PM on March 16, 2016


And oh, oh! Foreshadowing. Roland deliberately sacrifices David the hawk, his friend, to serve his purpose. "I think you will die today. I think you will be made a sacrifice, like all those little birds we trained you on." SACRIFICES ALL THE WAY DOWN.

I remember that Roland went out and had sex with what I thought was a prostitute right after that?

One of the few straightforward sexual encounters in the book; all the others are tinged with sex magic. Roland feeds on, and exploits, Allie's sexual hunger -- as does the Man in Black (her hands working under the bar); the gunpoint abortion/exorcism of Sylvia (which now reads as QUITE RAPEY, no?); trading the Oracle sex for answers.

The ritualistic kid sex in IT (1986) feels kind of similar in an uncomfortable "maybe more about King working out his issues than it is about progressing the story" way.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 9:44 PM on March 16, 2016


a sex passage with a 14-year-old is weird.

My re[listen] of Book 1 also reminded me how much weird sex plays a part in the story and the ethos of Roland's backstory and present. I'm willing to chalk it totally up to, as others have said, the inclinations of a sophomoric and [relatively] inexperience as a writer/human King.

Back to a discussion of the book as I experienced it.... It's hard to qualify that precisely and I know that's due, in a large way, to the fact that I listened to it instead of reading it. Doubly so because I was driving later and farther into the evening.

Some, perhaps overly specific, notes on the audio book as I heard it. Muller does a really amazing job and I kept having to remind myself that I wasn't listening to The Talisman, also narrated by Mr. Muller. Even the sound effects that are listed in the book could have been much, much worse. The voicing of various characters from Brown&Zoltan to Sylvia Pittston to the hostler in Tull to the speaking demon/succubus was really great. That of the main characters, Allie and Cuthbert and Jake and even our hero and anti-hero was quite engrossing.

Now, to the niggly things that are, nearly always anyway, present in my mind as I read a book, any book, not just The Dark Tower specifically. Although something about DT's tone and setting does tend to make them even more prominent at various times. Like, how did Jake's clothes (but not his own *actual* clothes, just a 'world that has moved on' approximation) come across with him and not leave him Naked and AfraidTM at the Waystation? Or how would someone in Tull keep the piano functioning... or were parts still available from some Warehouse in the Northern Baronies of Costconia and shipped out via coach semi-annually? And why does no one have change for any type of currency (gold or silver)? Have smaller towns reverted totally to barter economies? And where did/does Roland get his cash from? Who would Brown's twinner be? Or Allie's? Not to mention how did Brown survive while he dug his well which, by Roland's estimate, must have represented years (I think?) of work?

The meta questions... well, they're not even questions, more general thoughts and ideas and concepts that I noticed more or less this time around... One thing is how Jake and Roland spent a bit of time, in the mountains, hunting and skinning animals, not unlike a similar time Roland spends hunting and skinning animals in the last book of the series.

The foreshadowing of things to come can be found in many forms... from Pittston, from the Speaking Demon, from the succubus, from the dreams, from the Man In Black, hell even to Brown and Zoltan. Is it the magnificent and well done planned crafting of a genius? Or was it ramblings that were abstract enough to allow for a writer, especially a skilled one like King, to make hay on it later?

What were the best parts of the book? Was it the visions/prophecy of the future, the hurdles and tribulations of the present, or the fond (but bittersweet) recollections of the lost past? I think the last one. Oh, and though he may not show it, I think Roland is seriously jealous that he never got to take his turn as a mature, perhaps even a leading, Gunslinger at the courtship ball. He doesn't say as much, he doesn't even hint it that strongly, but it's there. Farson denied him that and he knows it's the least of the [many] things that were lost and destroyed... but it hurts him all the same.

Oh, and got parallels to The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship much? Do I even have to specify? I can think of no less than 3 very strong parallels without even trying. There's also 2 or 3 smaller ones that are not as obvious but still valid perhaps. I recall King being no stranger, big surprise, to Tolkien so...*shrug*.

Favorite non-major character? The hostler for sheer humor value. Brown for depth and wtf factor.

Most representative passage? I may be forgetting something since I don't have a hard copy to review but the part in Tull where his hands do the reloading trick and he keeps on fighting. That part was momentous, moreso than I recall it being in previous reads. And, on preview, David. Quite true.

Another thing David's presence represents, that I'm going to be looking for from here on out (and hopefully it doesn't ruin things for me), is the factor that sheer, maybe even dumb, luck plays in Roland's continued existence and successes. I'm speaking to the fact that not only does David strike first and hard vs. Cort but that he is also at hand (pun intended) when the fight is going badly for Roland. Then again, isn't there a saying that there's no such thing as luck? "No fate but what we make" and all that (that's Terminator, not DT by the way). Or perhaps the influence of other parties are in play in moments like that a la deus ex machina and all that jazz.

Anyway, long days friends.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:59 PM on March 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


Re: Cort

I was struck this time how my attitude towards Cort changed during Roland's retelling. Initially we see him only as an abusive drill-sergeant bully. The coming-of-age duel reframes that as a job that he's undertaking, and one that exerts a physical toll on him: he exists to drive his charges towards the line, he wants them to cross it, he cares for them -- the effort he makes to fight unconsciousness to advise Roland -- but he takes a beating each time one does. Worst job ever; and how does one become a trainer-of-gunslingers anyway?

It is an odd structure; usually a knight takes a squire for the purpose of training them to be a knight. But Cort is clearly a bondsman; he takes direction from the gunslingers, and trains the new potentials, and the successful ones go on to further apprenticeships with actual gunslingers. Master-at-arms, I guess, but what a testing process...I wonder if he's a failed applicant himself; one who maybe aged out of the process, but has the skills and the knowledge to be useful in winnowing out the weak and unworthy.

I wonder if he's a failed applicant himself; one who maybe aged out of the process, but has the skills and the knowledge to be useful in winnowing out the weak and unworthy.


I don't think this is true per the canon/text. As I best recall, it is a position that is, at least as far as we know, passed down from father to son, not unlike that of the gunslingers... but parallel and subservient to it.

I recall that later books mention Cort's father Fardo and him sending candidates that failed into the west. I seriously disagree with the notion that Cort is a failed candidate. Failed candidates are sent west. Untried candidates fade into obscurity. My take is that Cort is one that is born from a long line of teachers of gunslingers, perhaps a bastard himself even, who served in the Gilead army/militia/whatever and was chosen to continue his father's work when his father retired and/or fell to an overeager student (as I also think Fardo did, to a stab wound that was unlucky/lucky [depending on your point of view]).

My question is how does Gilead handle the edge cases and rule benders, if any, like those that would attempt to challenge a still-recovering Cort or an inexperienced Fardo replacement to make their graduation easier? Perhaps honor simply doesn't allow it...
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:17 PM on March 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


And why does no one have change for any type of currency (gold or silver)? Have smaller towns reverted totally to barter economies?

Not entirely: Allie tries to charge Roland "five bocks" ("Dollars?" replies Roland) before he lays down the gold coin.

My guess is that Roland and Walter's gold and silver represents older, more courtly coinage than the townspeople are used to: not unknown, but unusual and a little archaic. That, and that Tull is a bad town -- another classical King trope, the evil place that has corrupted its inhabitants -- and the "ain't got no change for this" is a habitual rooking of passers-through.

I recall King being no stranger, big surprise, to Tolkien

My copy has the 2003 Introduction, which begins "Hobbits were big when I was nineteen." He writes of reading Tolkien in 1966 and 67: "I responded to the sweep of Tolkien's imagination -- to the ambition of his story -- but I wanted to write my own kind of story, and had I started then, I would have written his." And then he sees The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly in 1970: "I realized that what I wanted to write was a novel that contained Tolkien's sense of quest and magic but set against Leone's almost absurdly majestic Western backdrop."

(Oh, also: in the 2003 Introduction, King notes his description of Roland as "of a man who might straighten bad pictures in strange hotel rooms" and draws an analogy to his rewriting as picture-straightening. Interesting that he calls that out, because actually it struck me that the word "hotel" is modern and quite strongly anachronistic in Roland's world. It's a clever line, but it doesn't really belong there.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 10:37 PM on March 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


The East/West theme is also prevalent in The Stand - Flagg owns the West, Vegas vs. Boulder, Jim 'the West is the Best' Morrison. Somewhere in there is The Overlook. And The Kid is stuck in a traffic jam!
posted by mannequito at 10:39 PM on March 16, 2016


The east/west thing is big in the Talisman/Black House too. This is clearly a lifelong New Englander's distrust for California coming through.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 6:24 AM on March 17, 2016 [7 favorites]


I've now read through the Way Station part of the book and it's got me thinking a lot about Jake and Roland, and about characters to come.

I realized that in each read-through I've done, I always end up emotionally tied to Jake. If there's an audience surrogate in this series, it's definitely Jake for me. Is it that way for everyone? Is he supposed to be the audience surrogate?

I don't know, I guess it just surprises me a bit, since I generally always connect with the main female character (which is usually the ONLY female character of note, *sigh*). I'd think that as the lone woman in the ka-tet, I'd feel more in tune with Susannah. I wonder if it'll change this time - especially since I feel like my world view has shifted a bit since I last visited Mid-World.
posted by MsVader at 8:23 AM on March 17, 2016


And oh, oh! Foreshadowing. Roland deliberately sacrifices David the hawk, his friend, to serve his purpose. "I think you will die today. I think you will be made a sacrifice, like all those little birds we trained you on." SACRIFICES ALL THE WAY DOWN.

Which, to Jake's eternal credit, he calls out - David was a sacrifice for Roland's journey, as Jake will be. And on this re-read, Roland's actions - with David, with Jake, with Allie, etc. made me think of a different character from The Stand: Larry Underwood. There's something in you that's like biting on tinfoil, Larry.

The foreshadowing of things to come can be found in many forms... from Pittston, from the Speaking Demon, from the succubus, from the dreams, from the Man In Black, hell even to Brown and Zoltan. Is it the magnificent and well done planned crafting of a genius? Or was it ramblings that were abstract enough to allow for a writer, especially a skilled one like King, to make hay on it later?

I listened to a writer once who spoke about how, when he got stuck at a point in the story, he would go back over what he had already written and glom onto what had been an extraneous detail tossed out somewhere and build from it to solve whatever issue he needed to solve to move forward. Might be that King did that; I suspect, though, he went back and mined some of these images deliberately as he drew towards the end and knew what the outcome of the final scenes would be.
posted by nubs at 8:29 AM on March 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


If there's an audience surrogate in this series, it's definitely Jake for me. Is it that way for everyone? Is he supposed to be the audience surrogate?

I don't know, I guess it just surprises me a bit, since I generally always connect with the main female character


I think we are definitely supposed to identify with Jake - he's the first person we meet from "our" world, and King goes to some pains in The Gunslinger to make Roland inaccessible to us - his violence, his heartlessness, his mysterious nature. I'm not surprised to find you had a hard time connecting with Susannah. Without spoiling too much, she is a difficult character to empathize with, especially when she is first introduced, but even in the later books there are aspects to her character that are more like Roland than any other character. I think Roland says as much at one point - that (other than himself) she would make the best gunslinger out of the members of their ka-tet.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:40 AM on March 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


Muller does a really amazing job and I kept having to remind myself that I wasn't listening to The Talisman, also narrated by Mr. Muller.

Interesting. My Audible copy of The Gunslinger is narrated by George Guidall, then Muller does 2-4 (up through his accident, I believe), King did 4.5 (The Wind Through the Keyhole), and then Guidall comes back for the rest.

They sound a whole lot alike, though Muller is generally better and his women don't all sound constipated and sarcastic, but is there a Muller-narrated Gunslinger out there somewhere? (Holy smokes, there's a King-narrated cassette out there.)
posted by Lyn Never at 9:02 AM on March 17, 2016


is there a Muller-narrated Gunslinger out there somewhere?

I just finished listening to it. So, yes!

Holy smokes, there's a King-narrated cassette out there.

I've listened to King narrate his own stuff and... didn't like it much. It's neat in a visceral artist talking of/about his art type of way, but it's also like a composer that can also play the piano going through his latest symphony. The composer might be able to do it, and that's great, but give it to a concert pianist and it becomes something quite different, usually in a good way I think.

That said, just wanted to pop in and say that I hope the Man in Black had this tarot deck in the Golgotha.
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:07 AM on March 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


And The Kid is stuck in a traffic jam!

I can never think of that scene without Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" in my head.
posted by nubs at 11:46 AM on March 17, 2016


I think we are definitely supposed to identify with Jake - he's the first person we meet from "our" world

And the most normal of them: Eddie and Suzannah are both deeply flawed, which makes them useful to Roland but harder to identify with. Jake's boyish innocencemakes him very appealing as an audience surrogate. (The addition of Oy reinforces this, too, in a boy-and-his-dog way.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 12:18 PM on March 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


Oh, and I can't watch any of these Matthew McConaughey ads for the Lincoln MKX anymore without thinking of him as the Man in Black.

Does he travel with Roland's soul in the trunk, I wonder.
posted by nubs at 12:20 PM on March 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'm going to speak sacrilege here. This is my first time reading DT and...well maybe it is my age but I just felt like it was passable. I mean I finished it, and I intend to read the others, but I certainly didn't pick up book two immediately after finishing the first.

I generally like ambiguity, but in the case of The Gunslinger I feel kind of like the book lacks purpose. I mean obviously Roland is chasing the man in black and he wants to get to the dark tower, but it seems like there was a whole lot of nothing going on for such a short book. I guess it will get filled in by the later novels, but right now I am not exactly loving it.

At any rate, even though I am unfamiliar with the series, feel free to spoil away. I am not one who ever really gets bothered by knowing that Darth Vader killed Dumbledore or whatever.
posted by Literaryhero at 6:14 PM on March 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


The palaver does rather kill the momentum for me: like, Roland spends the whole book chasing the Man In Black across the desert and through the mountains, and then when he finally catches him ... instead of the showdown we've been expecting, they sit around a campfire for a night/decade talking philosophy. Wait, what?
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 7:23 PM on March 18, 2016


It didn't really get going for me until they enter the mountains. The early sections with Brown, Tull & Hax were nice for nostalgia, but the last three were fully enjoyable in a clumsy surreal way. I loved the palaver much more than I did when I first read this 20 or so years ago. Everything in this book takes on a lot of weight and importance as the story is told.

Finished The Gunslinger at like 1am last night and immediately jumped into TDOT3. There's no way I'll hold to month-a-book?
posted by mannequito at 10:24 PM on March 18, 2016


There's no way I'll hold to month-a-book?

There will be.
There will be.
posted by Mezentian at 1:20 AM on March 19, 2016


I'm going to speak sacrilege here.

Not sacrilege at all. It just kind like if Lucas made the first starwars movie while he was in college and then the rest of them as larger hollywood productions.

Same world, notably evolving approach. I say, if you can, to stick with it for 2 more books (Drawing and Wastelands) and then, if it's just meh, you've done your part. Book one is a bit of an anomaly.
posted by RolandOfEld at 5:09 AM on March 20, 2016


I'm going to speak sacrilege here. This is my first time reading DT and...well maybe it is my age but I just felt like it was passable

Not at all; I know many people who tried and didn't like the Gunslinger. It's an odd book, partly because King was young and not fully in control of his talent when he started it, and partly because it's a great example of what I have learned is the "New Weird." The mishmash of genres is something that fascinated me when I first encountered it, as an avid reader of SF/F/H (and it still does, honestly), but it also makes it hard. And Roland is a...difficult protagonist, especially in the first book.

The Drawing of the Three continues with some of the high weirdness, but it is also (IMHO) more accessible.
posted by nubs at 9:49 AM on March 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


I've actually encountered a number of people who counsel new readers to start with Drawing of the Three and only go back to The Gunslinger afterwards, once they've invested a little more in Roland via a story where he's a little more sympathetic. Or not at all, if they don't feel they need it.

I am not one of those people - I love The Gunslinger, at least partially because of its weirdness and roughness, and I've never cared much for Drawing of the Three (for reasons that are more appropriate to discuss in that book's post) - but I can see where they're coming from. Getting through seven increasingly long books of adventures like the ones in this installment would be one hell of a bleak-ass slog.
posted by darchildre at 12:35 PM on March 20, 2016


Next?
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:08 PM on March 25, 2016


I'm going to speak sacrilege here.

I loved The Gunslinger more than a lot of the books (it and The Wind Through The Keyhole tie as my favourties), but if people don't like The Gunslinger I suggest giving The Little Sisters of Eluria a crack (assuming they like King).

It's what hooked me into the series, is essentially continuity-free, and clues you into the world.

and I've never cared much for Drawing of the Three

I'm going to guess your reasons involve Lobsters.
posted by Mezentian at 2:59 AM on March 26, 2016


The palaver:
"This is not the beginning but the beginning's end. You'd do well to remember that... but you never do."
"I don't understand."
"No. You don't. You never did. You never will."
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 6:01 PM on March 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


I am a more-or-less lifelong Stephen King fan (I certainly don't love everything he's ever written, but he is generally at worst reliably entertaining, and at his best he is a genius). I have put off reading The Dark Tower books because I had in the back of my head that one day he would stop writing, and then I would have a whole series of books of his that I had never read to console myself with, plus, the series was written over the arc of his career more or less, so should prove to be an interesting look at how things have changed over time.

Well this thread prompted me to finally start reading. I am halfway through The Drawing of the Three now.

I really enjoyed The Gunslinger. It is obviously an early book, in the sense that much of it is a bit raw and ragged, but I thought that was in some ways part of why it worked for me. I found Roland a really compelling character, and he reminded me a bit of the Hitman in the sense that he was molded from an early age to be a shark and not a fully-fledged person. You wonder who he could have been if not for the culture he was raised in.

I definitely noticed the Jake/The Boy thing. It read like a skill Roland had been taught, to make it possible for him to do what his mission dictated he must do. Similar to what happened with David.

It's a short and lean little book, and there's a lot in there left to the imagination, but I really found it very richly visual as I read it, especially the trip through the underground.
posted by biscotti at 5:38 AM on March 28, 2016 [2 favorites]


I have been thinking about this since reading the series all the way through for the first time and I have an idea about what may be going on, but it might be just wishful thinking on my part.

This is going to involve what is probably the ultimate spoiler, so fair warning.

I think that Stephen King knew that he wouldn't be satisfied with the Dark Tower the way that it was written, but he felt like he had to finish it. He even wrote himself having to write the story into the story. So, I think he left himself an out and I think it's a doozy.

This book was rewritten because all the books will be rewritten. The end of the last book is the beginning of the first book, but that doesn't mean that things happen in the same way the next time through. Maybe Roland learns, slowly and with difficulty according to his nature. Maybe Roland falls with Jake instead of dropping him and they take a different route. Maybe Roland keeps his fingers. Maybe the Unfound door is found sooner.

There are things that have to happen for the story to end, he has to bring the horn to the tower and sound it. He hasn't made it so far, but that doesn't mean that he won't ever make it. Who knows how many times Roland has gone around this wheel, but maybe the next time things will be different. Maybe the next time he starts at a different point. Maybe to read the whole story from beginning to end you would need to own all the versions of all the books and read them in the right order.

Nah, that sounds too crazy.
posted by jefeweiss at 9:32 AM on June 14, 2016


Oh, hey - I did a post for the Drawing of the Three a few months back, didn't think to link it here.
posted by nubs at 10:06 AM on June 14, 2016


This seems like the best place to put this (maybe?) from the upcoming Entertainment Weekly feature on the movie-

NOTE: EW refers to this as a "vague spoiler" but yeah no, it is literally the biggest spoiler in the series, so if you haven't read to the end you should look away




"By the end of the books, Roland has come into possession of an artifact known as the Horn of Eld, which (vague spoiler warning) symbolizes a cosmic reset button. Every time Roland starts the quest over again, the journey changes in big and small ways. In the movie, he already has this tool (you can see it peeking out of his bag in the image above), which means the film is not so much an adaptation as a continuation.

“The hardcore fans of The Dark Tower series will know that this is actually a sequel to the books in a way,” Arcel says. “It has a lot of the same elements, a lot of the same characters, but it is a different journey.”

Welp. THAT raises some interesting questions. I hope they didn't do it just so this Roland can be less of a dick.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 7:06 AM on July 15, 2016


Back when the casting news broke, I remember there being some clues to the fact *Spoilers ahoy*






that this would be another iteration of Roland's journey, not a direct adaptation of journey we see in the books.

I think it's a good move, overall - it allows them a lot of latitude to do things and explore themes/ideas in ways that might work better on film than in the books, and gives them cover from the fans who might scream about it being wrong. That being said, it can cut both ways; the Star Trek reboots found a way to distance themselves from the original series, but (IMO) have gone on shit the bed in terms of getting the fundamental philosophical core of Trek wrong and watering it down to an action-adventure franchise. They could do the same with the Dark Tower.

For me, the fundamental question that I've pondered at times about Roland is how much less of a dick he can be and still drive through his quest; because he needs to be a dick to some degree or he either wouldn't survive or would turn aside (which is a temptation thrown at him in the first book a few times).
posted by nubs at 8:19 PM on July 16, 2016


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