Off the Shelf

The Dark Tower I - "The Gunslinger"

By Marcus Pan

The GunslingerSounds cheezy as hell, doesn't it? "The Gunslinger." Here's a subject that has been tarnished, stomped on, replayed, re-scripted and redone so many times in the past thirty years that even The Duke's tired of hearing about it. Therefore I started Stephen King's new fantasy series, The Dark Tower, with much trepidation. I was never into westerns…I found them to be, well, boring. "Look, injuns! Everyone into a circle!" Again and again. Why did I pick it up? Two reasons…I'm a pretty darn hardcore fan of Stephen King and the black bird that sits on Roland's shoulder on the book's cover resembles a crow. You figure it out.

Roland is the namesake of the story; the last gunslinger in a world that has "passed on." Whether this world is one that was once the one we live in now or whether it is a parallel or different one all together you never do find out. We do know that there are left overs from a world that once was similar to ours…the man who achieved high priest status by worshipping an old metal box with the letters A-M-A-C-O on it for example. Then there's Jake, the boy Roland meets at the way station who accompanies him across the desert. He came from a world very similar to ours, spirited away to the Gunslinger's world by the Man In Black. Was this from another time or another place? By the end of this novel that's a major point to wonder about, and you never do find out in the first story of the Dark Tower series.

Roland is after two things; first there is the elusive Man In Black. He is a wizard with the power to raise the dead, as he did in the small town of Tull to Nort the grass eater. It seems the plant life of this world, or at least the one they call "devil-grass," has addictive and life ruining properties. The heroin of the gunslinger's world. Tull, unfortunately enough, gets wiped out by the bullets Roland loads with such precision and ease you wouldn't know he reloaded in the first place. Strangely enough the Man In Black that Roland has been after for over a decade turns out to be more of a friend than a foe…or at least an ally that imparts visions to Roland that nearly breaks his mind.

The other item Roland is after is the Dark Tower. The Dark Tower is unknown to him except in myths and legends. The Man In Black claims to know of it as a true and existing entity. A nexus of sorts. And it is during the description and visions of the Dark Tower that the Man In Black gives to the gunslinger where the book becomes intriguing to the point of forcing me to immediately begin the second book in this series immediately. Even before I wrote this review.

By the end of "The Gunslinger," Roland catches up to the Man In Black. In a field that is filled with the crushed bones, skulls and other clichés of fantasy (every good fantasy series needs a fabled battlefield of times past, you see), they discuss what's to lie ahead in Roland's life. With the cards of the Tarot the gunslinger is read his future. And more importantly he is told of the Dark Tower. There are many fantasy and science fiction novels and stories that tackle the question of time and the relevance of it on thinking man. There are others that tackle the theories and theological ramifications of infinite size, both bigness and smallness. But few combine them. After his vision of The Dark Tower, and only a small part of it, he speaks of what he saw. "One single blade of grass that filled everything. And I was tiny. Infinitesimal." Then it is the Man In Black's turn to speak: "If you fell outward to the limit of the universe, would you find a board fence and signs reading DEAD END? No. You might find something hard and rounded, as the chick must see the egg from the inside." Think about that a bit…are we really that big? Maybe here…but who's to say that our entire universe isn't just a tiny part of something larger…something so big that we can't even comprehend it? It's not something we can answer…but it is something that we can think about.

I wouldn't suggest reading this series to anyone with self esteem or faith issues. As the Man In Black says further, "If a God watches over it all, does He actually mete out justice for a race of gnats among an infinitude of races of gnats?" And the crux of it all. The very thing the gunslinger has sworn to find in order to save his world that has "passed on" and continues to rot further every day. "Suppose that all worlds, all universes, met in a single nexus, a single pylon, a Tower." The Dark Tower sits as the nexus of time…and of size. Somehow it is the connection point for all universes big and small, and the justice bringer to all gnat-races of an infinite number. "Could it be that somewhere above all of endless reality, there exists a Room…?" he asks the gunslinger solemnly.

Would you dare find that room? Take the stairway that leads to the Godhead itself? Will you visit the nexus? Will Roland? I guess we're going to have to find out as the tale of the Dark Tower continues in "The Drawing of Three."

"The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger" by Stephen King
Published by the Penguin Group
Copyright © 1982 by Stephen King
ISBN 0-452-27960-7

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