Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger by Stephen King

 (Book Review)
This is the first Stephen King book I’ve read, which obviously means I’m a bit behind the times. Since I share a juvenile fascination with his macabre subject matter, I’m not sure why I’ve waited so long to read one of his books. Probably just intellectual elitism I guess. I avoided him because he was popular.

Not having much of a base of comparison, it’s difficult for me to say with any certainty, but I don’t think this book is typical Stephen King. Apparently it was originally written when he was 19, and then published much later in 1982 after he had become famous with his other books. And the 2003 edition, which I read, was expanded and revised by the author. So at times it is difficult to know which Stephen King I am reading, the young one or the old one.

I found the book a very difficult read, which doesn’t square with my image of Stephen King as a pop fiction author. In the introduction to the revised edition, King says, “I should say a word about the younger man who dared to write this book. That young man had been exposed to far too many writing seminars, and had grown far too used to the ideas those seminars promulgate: that one is writing for other people rather than one’s self; that language is more important than story; that ambiguity is to be preferred over clarity and simplicity, which are usually signs of a thick and literal mind. As a result, I was not surprised to find a high degree of pretension in Roland’s debut appearance…”
So this might account for the confusing nature of the book. And yet King goes on to say that he cleaned as much of that junk up as he could, and so it is difficult to know who to blame for the muddledness, the young King or the old King.

It’s a shame the book is such a tough read, because the people who would enjoy it’s story most are undoubtedly younger readers. They wouldn’t want their parents to know they were reading it of course, but I would have really gotten a kick out of this kind of story 10 or 12 years ago. I’m not sure if I would have bothered to wade through the thick prose 10 or 12 years ago though.

(In a way, this is similar to what I call the “horror movie” paradox. When you’re young enough to actually be frightened by these movies, your parents won’t let you watch them. By the time you move out and can watch whatever you want, you find nothing really seems to scare you anymore.)

The plot of the book, at least as far as the forward moving story is concerned, is incredibly simply. I think I could summarize absolutely everything that happens in a couple paragraphs. (I’m not going to. That’s what Wikipedia’s for.)

The back-story is somewhat more complex. Who is this Gunslinger? Where did he come from? Why is he on this quest?

The back-story is hinted at and given in pieces throughout the book, yet when we come to the last page, we still don’t know what is really going on.

I’ve done my rant against serial novels before. I’d be more willing to forgive the Dark Tower because it’s an epic story, and epic stories always come in several books. But after working all the way through the book, the fact that I still don’t know the back-story is annoying. I could handle the suspense of “What comes next?”, but not knowing what is going on at all really bugs me. Now I’m going to have to track down and buy the next books in the series just to figure out what’s happening.

Or on the other hand…
King says he makes up all his stories as he goes along, and he himself didn’t know what was going to happen in the next installment of the “Dark Tower series” until he wrote it? Does this include the back-story as well?

King claims the best stories are made up as they go along, because that makes them seem real and character driven instead of slaves of the plot. And maybe he’s right. But as a reader it spoils the illusion for me. I like to think the writer has everything planned out perfectly from the beginning. I mean, if King’s just making this up as he goes along, I could do that myself. I could imagine my own end to the story and my own explanation of the back-story, and probably be just as satisfied with that as with the real thing.

Link of the Day
Sandra Day O'Connor, a Republican-appointed judge who retired last month after 24 years on the supreme court, has said the US is in danger of edging towards dictatorship if the party's rightwingers continue to attack the judiciary

Video Version


SN said...

i think you should try again with stephen king. read the obvious ones b/c they're the best... 'it' or 'the stand' -sn

Joel Swagman said...

Thanks for the advice. I'm actually half-way through "The Stand" right now, and finding it a lot better than "The Gunslinger" already. Hope to finish it up and post a review of it within the next couple weeks.

Otherside said...

Well, the first one IS sketchy as hell but once you get into the second, third, forth (I'm on the forth right now) It becomes WAY more clear. Don't be completely turned off by the first one. It's ambigiouty actually is what hooked me for some reason. I knew there was more and I had to take another bite.

I DO recomend reading a good chunk of his other books before this one. I actually haven't read all that he refrences to, but I've read a great deal of his books, which supposidly helps. Believe me, some day return to The dark tower series, but first, I recomend reading his other books.

My favorite non-series book is still IT. :p

but I also enjoyed Insomnia, salem's lot, a book of novellas--which includes Shawshank Redemption, apt pupil and the body, hearts in atlantis..amongst a few. ;)

(Yep, when it comes to stephen king, I talk A LOT!)