It was one of those cheap paperback reprints with the flimsy bindings, pulp for the bestseller mill. Still, I figured I better sample Steven King’s Dark Tower series, the horror-writer’s own foray into epic fantasy. King himself attributes Tolkien and the trilogy that kicked it all off as a huge inspiration on his own imaginative writing. However, instead of elves and orcs, King preferred Clint Eastwood and John Wayne.
Hence, we have a mashup of genres and conventions. In place of the steadfast and bold knight/ranger/farmboy-turned-sorcerer is the wind worn gunslinger. King opens with the iconic line – “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed,” and from there we follow both through a wasteland of lost souls and decaying towns. Exposition is as sparse as life in this landscape, and comes fleetingly, like a mirage in the heat. Even by the end of the novel we know little, aside from the gunslinger’s name and his vague quest for the Dark Tower.
King holds true to his “On Writing” method – organically growing the narrative as he clings to his characters, letting it evolve and flow. This is one of his earlier books, and it shows – at times the telling is jagged and rough, either overwrought prose or awkward transitions. But there’s intensity in his tale, a young man in awe of the power of the pen. The stark violence of the land and its people are testament to his drive.
The Gunslinger, while flawed, is still an interesting work – the start of what I’ve heard to be an epic series. Better yet, it’s actually completed (a rarity for these things). If I do pick up the Drawing of the Three, I’ll be sure to post an update and comparison.