Dark Tower: The Gunslinger
Donald M. Grant, Publisher
June 10, 1982
Despite spending most of my life reading almost everything I could get my hands on I had never read a Stephen King novel… until The Gunslinger. When I initially heard there was going to be a film adaptation I was mildly intrigued but then I heard Idris Elba was going to star as Roland, so I decided I might as well read the book before seeing it on the big screen. In this way I could achieve two goals at once – I would finally cross a Stephen King novel off my list and I would be ready for 95 minutes of Idris Elba.
There were a number of things that I really enjoyed about this novel. For starters I liked that it started in the middle of the story. When you dive in you don’t know who these men are, why one is chasing the other, or even what world you’re in. It’s a really challenging way to start a book as it really requires you to work for it. But I always appreciate when an author doesn’t underestimate their readers.
On the other hand, however, this style eventually begins to work against the novel as a whole. There isn’t a lot of character development – you learn a little about Roland’s background throughout the novel. The small looks into his younger days, when he was just learning to be the gunslinger were fascinating. They were dark yet emotional and had some interesting surprises, but who he is at the beginning of the novel felt very similar to who he was at the end and you know even less about the man in black. I know this is only first in a series but I was still left unsatisfied at the end.
Ultimately it wasn’t the style or format that turned me off this book: it was just how truly awful its portrayal of women was. If I’m being honest I didn’t expect there to be any women in this novel at all. It’s not like Stephen King is known for his range of female characters and the Western-style setting and movie trailer weren’t promising either.
The first woman we meet is Allie. Roland meets her after arriving in a new town and stumbling into her saloon. He knows the man in black had been through and that she has information about him. King goes to the trouble of describing how down and out the place is, how rough around the edges everyone is. He even talks about how everyone hungrily watches Roland, while he eats his disgusting meal, but when he asks Allie what she knows and she says:
“”I guess maybe you know my price…I got an itch I used to be able to take care of, but now I can’t.”
This made me raise an eyebrow. This woman is barely hanging on, barely surviving, but the only thing she wants in exchange for information is sex. Don’t get me wrong sex is important and you can’t blame a woman for wanting to get some. But it seemed unlikely this would be her first demand from this dust covered stranger, heavy with guns.
The second woman he comes across is Sylvia. A preacher-like woman who has also encountered the man in black. When Roland goes to see her she says:
“She smiled up at him lazily. “He said you would want to bed me. Is it true?”
Since sex is the first thing on these women’s mind it makes you wonder if it’s not really guns the gunslinger is known for.
I think Sylvia could have been a really interesting character, initially it seems like she has the power to lead an entire community. But she’s quickly reduced to nothing more than a shrieking lunatic so you never see her presence used to its full potential.
The third woman I want to mention is Roland’s mother. We meet her in some of the flashbacks to his younger days. At one point he goes to see her and their family’s man – who he hates – is there with her. There is something going on between the two that Roland doesn’t approve of so while there he purposely taunts and angers the man. Then “as he closed the door and went back the way he came, he heard his mother wail. It was a banshee sound. And then, unbelievably, the sound of his father’s man striking her and telling her to shut her quack.”
Like I said I didn’t expect a lot of women to be present in this book at all. But I also didn’t expect it to be this dismal. I haven’t brought myself to go see the movie yet, but I know it’s more of a sequel to the series than a direct adaption. Hopefully it will do better.