Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Lisa's Take - The Dark Tower Book 1: The Gunslinger (Stephen King)

It seems to me that it's cheating to get to go back and "fix" the first book in your series years after it's released. How many authors would benefit from this? Especially epic fantasy writers, whose books span thousands upon thousands of pages over the course of many years - how many of them would love to go back and fix the little details, or re-introduce characters who have changed? I can think of a lot of authors who would surely love to, and a lot who probably don't care at all. One way or another, I think very few of them could get away with it, either from a publishing perspective, or a fan-base perspective.

And yet, that's what Stephen King did with The Gunslinger. Granted, he had a 30-odd year gap in there - he started The Gunslinger when he was a sophomore in college (1970), then the updated content was released in 2003. Maybe when you've been on The Scene that long, you can bend the rules a little - god knows that people change a lot in that many years, and that one's writing skills can come a long way.

Still, it seems like cheating.

In the introduction to The Gunslinger, King justifies just why he made the updated edition, mostly citing how the series had changed and developed on the way to the final book, as well as describing some of the first-time-writer mistakes he had made, and some character introductions he wanted to clarify, etc etc. Honestly, I wish he had done this justification -after- the text of the book, rather than at the start, as it left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. I would either have liked to have not known, or to have known before I bought the book so I could have looked for an older edition. Regardless, it got the story off on the wrong foot for me.

The general gist of The Gunslinger is that Our Hero, Roland, is chasing a mysterious Man In Black (not that Man In Black) across the desert. The story has a very "old west" feel to it, which also put me off initially (see my review of Territory for a ramble about Westerns), but I was intrigued enough by the first chapter or two to persevere. As the novel develops you start to get some interesting glimpses into Roland's past, and a the idea of Roland's world as a parallel world to ours begins to develop. There's also a very entertaining Dark Magic undertone that develops, which (predictably) appealed highly to my love of fantasy. I can't really say much more about the plot without starting to give things away, so I'll leave it at that.

The plot's subtones, the short length of the book, and the high praise I've heard for the Dark Tower series kept me reading through the end of the book, even though I wasn't wowed. I ended the book on the same note that I started it... interested, but a little sour.

I've rambled a lot in this review about some "meta" issues that aren't entirely valid for basing a whole review on, but I felt that they were worth mentioning, as they did influence my opinion of the book. Stripping those aside, I still feel like I can't give The Gunslinger a hearty thumbs up. I will say that it's goddamn impressive for having been written by such a young and inexperienced writer. Overall... I will also say that it's "pretty good" without any other qualifiers. Some of the themes King gets into are interesting, and the blending of genres is very fresh. I think it was good enough to convince me to try out the second book - though I'll admit I'm in no hurry at this point. Next time I'm looking for a foray outside of hard fantasy, and I don't have any other "fluff" books to fill in, I'll probably track down The Drawing of the Three.


Anonymous said...

I liked Gunslinger, but I've heard from a lot of other Dark Tower fans that they didn't particularly engage with the series until the Drawing of the Three. There are more characters later on, and while everyone's an archetype, they're no longer JUST archetypes.

If I remember correctly, in the original version of Gunslinger, if you read too fast you'll miss that the gunslinger has a name. :-)

LisaBit said...

You know, I think it would have been kind of cool not to know his name the whole time. It would have been an interesting air of mystery that would have fit well with the theme of the story.