The Gunslinger by Stephen King is the first book in the Dark Tower series. It is also the shortest book in the series by about 500 words. It is also extremely awesome and a fantastic start to one of the most enjoyable series I have ever read. The Dark Tower books definitely have their low points (see 95% of book five) but overall I am a huge fan.
I read The Gunslinger for the first time when I was 16 or 17. I was curious when I saw Stephen King’s book in the fantasy section. I was a huge fan of his books already–I borrowed The Tommyknockers from the bookmobile while I was in elementary school, to my mom’s horror–but I always thought of them as horror fiction, not fantasy.
I would say that the Dark Tower books have elements of both, but overall I agree with whatever librarian put The Gunslinger on the fantasy display way back when in Elko, Nevada.
Plot Summary of The Gunslinger
The man in black fled across the desert, and The Gunslinger followed.
That’s the opening line from the book, and it also encapsulates the entire story of the 7 volume series. Roland is the guy with the gun, and he is following the man in black, because the man in black knows about The Dark Tower, the object of Roland’s quest.
In the early books it is not completely clear why he must find the tower, but it is his obsession. It consumes his thoughts, and drives his actions, many of which require impossible choices and sacrifices, such as the scene with Jake below the mountains.
For me, the real charm of this book are the glimpses of the landscape and the world that was. Hey Jude plays in a saloon. Pop culture artifacts make cameos. If you’ve been reading World’s Strongest Librarian for very long you know that I’m an apocalyptic fiction nut, and this is just one more entry in the nightmare future canon.
I am often asked by fans of Stephen King if they will like the Dark Tower books, departing as they do from traditional horror. I always say “I have no idea,” and that’s the truth. For me, these books contain all of the traits that make me love King’s writing, and occasionally groan and roll my eyes at it (see my book review of Cell).
If you like fantasy, however, and you’re a fan of big sprawling series, I highly recommend the Dark Tower to you.
PS: There is also a graphic novel series based on DT now, but I haven’t checked it out yet.