• The Gunslinger by Stephen King; narrated by George Guidall
• Audiobook: 300 pages
• Publisher: Penguin Audio, 2003 (originally published in 1982)
• ISBN: 0142800376
• Genre: Fantasy/Horror
• Recommended For: Any serious Stephen King fan who wants to truly understand the Stephen King universe via reading the Dark Tower series; fans of fantasy and/or westerns.
Quick Review: Earns an 88 %, or 4.4 stars out of 5. Check out my rubric for my detailed assessment. The Gunslinger Review Rubric
While this book is my least favorite of the Dark Tower series, it is still very good, and is obviously essential as book 1 if you want to read the rest of the amazing series!
How I Got Here: When I found out that King has written a new edition to the Dark Tower series, The Wind through the Keyhole (book 4.5), I knew I had to re-read the entire series this year. A re-read was due anyways, as it has almost been ten years since I last read The Dark Tower. In addition, I wanted to brush up on my Dark Tower knowledge after finding connections to it in 11/22/63. Luckily, Leighanne’s Lit announced a 2012 Dark Tower reading challenge, so I have buddies to read along with!
The Book: Goodreads’ Synopsis
Thirty-three years, a horrific and life-altering accident, and thousands of desperately rabid fans in the making, Stephen King’s quest to complete his magnum opus rivals the quest of Roland and his band of gunslingers who inhabit the Dark Tower series. Loyal DT fans and new readers alike will appreciate this revised edition of The Gunslinger, which breathes new life into Roland of Gilead, and offers readers a “clearer start and slightly easier entry into Roland’s world.”
King writes both a new introduction and foreword to this revised edition, and the ever-patient, ever-loyal “constant reader” is rewarded with secrets to the series’s inception. That a “magic” ream of green paper and a Robert Browning poem, came together to reveal to King his “ka” is no real surprise (this is King after all), but who would have thought that the squinty-eyed trio of Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach would set the author on his true path to the Tower? While King credits Tolkien for inspiring the “quest and magic” that pervades the series, it was Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly that helped create the epic proportions and “almost absurdly majestic western backdrop” of Roland’s world.
To King, The Gunslinger demanded revision because once the series was complete it became obvious that “the beginning was out of sync with the ending.” While the revision adds only 35 pages, Dark Tower purists will notice the changes to Allie’s fate and Roland’s interaction with Cort, Jake, and the Man in Black–all stellar scenes that will reignite the hunger for the rest of the series. Newcomers will appreciate the details and insight into Roland’s life. The revised Roland of Gilead (nee Deschain) is embodied with more humanity–he loves, he pities, he regrets. What DT fans might miss is the same ambiguity and mystery of the original that gave the original its pulpy underground feel (back when King himself awaited word from Roland’s world). –Daphne Durham
My Analysis and Critique:
Since I had read The Gunslinger before (about seven-and-a-half years ago), and I was already reading Bleak House, I decided to listen to The Gunslinger, via audiobook, this time around. I had forgotten that the first time I read The Gunslinger, it was the original version (King’s 1982 version), and this audiobook version was a reading of his updated/revised/expanded 2003 version. I didn’t think that this would make a difference, but it really did.
I didn’t like The Gunslinger the first time –it was stark and lonely, with the main character Roland (the gunslinger) coming off as too quiet and unemotional. However, King must’ve added quite a bit in 2003, as Roland was not quite as stoic and unfeeling this time around. He’s still kind of a mystery, but not as much. Roland’s new depth of character was an improvement to the book, although I still prefer the scenes when he’s travelling with Jake (the last third or so of the book) over the solitary Roland chapters. Me and Roland just don’t connect as well as I do with the other characters, even with all of the background knowledge I have of him from my previous reading of the series.
Yet, that might just be me. However, one thing that I didn’t think was an improvement was all of the added-in foreshadowing. It was too overbearing! In a sense, King gives away the ending of the series in this book, and I couldn’t stand it! Too much!
Don’t get me wrong, though–the plot in this novel is excellent. I forgot how well-written and action-packed a few of the scenes in The Gunslinger were. My favorites are one quick-paced scene in a desert town called Tull, and the horrors of the slow mutants. Awesome scenes!
In the end, this book is crucial in the Dark Tower series as an introduction to Roland and his long quest for the tower, and sets up all of the subsequent plot, characterization, and themes for the following books. Thus, this book is highly recommended as it is the beginning of a very, very highly recommended series!
Regarding the audio version, Guidall was a very good narrator, but I didn’t care for his voice changes. When he read as a young male character, such as the flashback to Roland’s youth chapters, his voice sounded like a little girl. I don’t think Roland ever sounded like a little girl. Not even when he was a kid! I guess I just prefer the voices in my head when I’m reading. Guidall was very good at pacing though, and was sufficient as I had already read this book before. But, if it’s your first time reading The Gunslinger, I’d recommend the print version over the audio.