Jan 14, 2018

Cryptic, Ambiguous and Hypnotic - The Gunslinger

The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed. This is the first line of The Gunslinger and is an excellent summary of everything that happened in this book.


The book confused me at first, and continued to confuse well into the main section. I kept looking for a complex plot but the story kept wandering around, much like our protagonist, the Gunslinger.

I enjoyed reading this book, and what kept me reading was the prose, the way King put his words together was excellent. It placed me into a sort of trance, it gave me the same hypnotic feeling you get watching one of those old fashion Westerns, where the cowboy has lost his horse and is shown as silhouette again the sun, staggering in an empty, lifeless place, being forced to his knees by the visible heat waves as they try to push him into the sand. He is permanently dazed from lack of water.


I felt like the cowboy, making my way through the desert, there is a hypnotic sense of serenity, but in order to stay alive I needed water... I mean I needed a plot to hold on to!

This book was pleasant to read and very poetic in places, full of nice words but also crammed with ambiguity and mysterious information.

What genre does this story fit into? 

Is this a fantasy, is it science fiction or is it a western? When I started this book I was expecting a western, with a twist, what I got was a mixture of all the previously mentioned genres. The Gunslinger has travelled through many places. It is implied that the desert is one of many different realities he's been too, the desert and the other lands he travels through seems to be part of some post apocalyptic landscape where bird-headed men and mutants roam. There is evidence of super advanced technology, yet at the same time, the Man in Black is described as a sorcerer, a necromancer who can raise the dead. Someone who can implant deadly hypnotic commands and summon demons to fight the Gunslinger. Parallel universes, magic, futuristic technology, and post apocalyptic landscapes... so much ambiguity and competing ideas, yet it seems to work.


The ambiguity continues with the main characters. Here we have the Gunslinger, he is the 'hero'. As we progress through the book we get flashbacks of his past, his childhood and coming of age, and we find he's a knight on a quest but with a pair of six-shooters rather than a sword and shield. We're lead to believe he's the hero but he's like the 'heroes' of The Walking Dead, he leaves a trail of death and destruction in his path. His quest is to catch the Man in Black, another ambiguous character who we’re told is evil, yet when he speaks he seems more logical, more reasoned than our hero. He is the reason the Gunslinger wipes out entire townships as his mind tricks leave our hero with no choice except run a scorched earth policy, in order to protect himself, and to continue his quest. Are you still a hero if you end up being no different as the evil you're chasing?


I finishing the book but was left unsatisfied. It wasn't until I read a bit more about what the author Stephen King has to say about this book and writing in general that I had my 'aha' moment and the story made more sense.

In a foreword to this book, Stephen King wrote:
The younger man who dared to write this book 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.

Ah, right, it's meant to be ambiguous and flowery in its prose, Okay so what about the meandering plot?

In his book, On Writing, Stephen King says:
Writers should not obsess over the movement of the plot. My books tend to be based on situation, rather than plot, I want to put a group of characters... in some sort of predicament and then watch them try to work themselves free.

Yes, I can see that now, this novel starts in the middle of the story with two characters and looks for a way out. Nice, I now have a better appreciation of the story and understand it even better.

What Do You Think?

I heard or read somewhere that this is a book more for writers or aspiring writers and I would tend to agree.

I've also heard this book is better read as part of The Dark Tower series, not as a stand alone. What do you think is it worth reading as a stand alone novel or as part of the entire series? Should I have started with Book 2 The Drawing of the Three?

The Gunslinger: (Volume 1)

(The Dark Tower) by Stephen King
The Dark Tower, introduces one of his most enigmatic and powerful heroes: Roland of Gilead, the Last Gunslinger.

Roland is a haunting figure, a loner, on a spellbinding journey toward the mysterious Dark Tower, in a desolate world which frighteningly echoes our own.

On his quest, Roland begins a friendship with a kid from New York named Jake, encounters an alluring woman and faces an agonising choice between damnation and salvation as he pursues the Man in Black.

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