The Gunslinger

Stephen King
The Gunslinger Cover

The grit in the teeth of imagery


I have not read enough King to be a viable critic of his work per se, but this was excellent stuff. The tapastry was rich and textured, the characters were multidimensional, the plot, though a little predictable, was not cliche'd but came across as archetypal. It is a post-modern imaginative odyssey of the highest order. We see the gunslinger in both his every man and his super man guises. We also see him with all the self absorption and betrayal of which men are capable. And yet it was not sordid but conflicted. The reader is left understanding and yet hating Roland as much as we understand and hate ourselves.

This book deserves a place alongside The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and A Princess of Mars as a distinctively American fantasy. This story could not have been written anywhere else. In fact, it could not have been written by a person of any other generation, for all its spaghetti western influence and post-apocalyptic barrenness. And yet drawing as it does on Robert Browning and remaining faithful to that poetic vision makes it a global work as well.

It is a story for adults with its sexual content and yet it does not come across as titilating, at least not to me. Instead it demonstrates how people are sometimes bound by, even enslaved by their own sexual impulses. How sex is used as a game of power and manipulation instead of intimacy and beauty. But beyond the sexual facet of the book darker emotions galvanize the story into a thing of nightmares. I would not like to see the betrayal of Jake emplanted in the mind of a child.

Having recently read The Time Machine, I am once again taken with how we are haunted by our Morlock or Slow Mutant potential. Humans dread the possibility of descending into a beastial savagery, and yet are comforted by the idea that such a state is still subject to our higher nature, able to be overcome, escaped from if not defeated.

Read the Gun Slinger if you enjoy fantasy. If you don't there's no point. Those who appreciate King's more macabre side will probably be disappointed. I have my doubts that this book could serve as gateway fantasy for lovers of westerns. However, if you don't love fantasy, and you do love profound literature, you may just stand a chance of enjoying this novel.