The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed. – Stephen King, The Gunslinger: The Dark Tower I
My weekly post to help you decide the best format to enjoy a book. Without further ado:
Should you read or listen to The Gunslinger, by Stephen King?
The Afthead Summary:
I adore Stephen King. I’ve been reading his books since I was in my early teens, and attribute my cold-sweat fear of clowns (It) and aliens (The Tommyknockers) to his works. I have always loved King’s scary worlds. That said, The Dark Tower series is my absolute favorite of his works; it goes beyond horror to action, adventure, magical realism and moves toward epic. This is not a series to begin lightly, because once you start it will suck you in and you’ll lose huge swaths of your life until the last book is read. I read George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series (at least the first three) and The Lord of the Rings trilogy and this series trumps them both. If my child was a boy his name would have been Roland. I love the main character that much.
The Gunslinger is the first book in the series, and it’s a quick read. The slim volume begins the entire series by introducing us the gunslinger (Roland) and the first of his foils, the man in black (Walter/Marten). The first sentence, above, sets up the story and then the book is end to end heart racing action as the gunslinger travels across the desert and the mountains after the man in black. Through the journey you begin to learn a bit about Roland’s history and how his world has moved on. There is travel between Roland’s world and our own, magic, mutants, darkness, love (or at least lust), and death.
For all of you who think King is a hack, this book came forth from Robert Browning’s poem Childe Roland, which King studied as a sophomore in college. His stuff may not be literature by the narrowest definition, but the man has a reader’s soul. Only a serious reader can appreciate Browning’s poem. (I’m not sure I count myself in that “serious reader” column.)
This is the only one of the Gunslinger books I have read, and I was young when I read it. My copy is from 1982, and while I’m sure I didn’t read it when it was published, I know I was no more than fifteen. This is not a book for a fifteen year old girl, even one who loved Pet Semetary. This is a book for action loving young men and grown ups with a little life under their belts. Someday I’ll pick up the series and read it again, or I might just keep listening to it.
George Guidall, the narrator of this book, is one of the absolute best readers ever. I could listen to him read anything, which is good, since he’s recorded over 900 novels, according to his website. He also read American Gods, by Neil Gaiman, another of one of my top audiobooks. My spine shivers when I hear him start, “The man in black fled across the desert…” and it keeps shivering at varying intensities through the whole book. The reading of this book is masterful.
There is a scene that begins in a dark cave where Roland and Jake, a boy he meets during his travels, come across the Slow Mutants. Do not listen to this in the dark in your car. Do not listen to this alone in the house after sunset. This passage may be the scariest passage in any audiobook I have ever read and it will leave you breathless (if you are lucky) and crying (if you aren’t.)
Do yourself a favor and go download this book as soon as you are ready to commit hundreds of hours listening to one of the best series you’ve ever heard. It will be the only time you are thrilled you have a long commute.
As an addendum, there is an interesting story about the Dark Tower narrators. If you look on Audible, Guidall reads book 1, and 5-7, but Frank Muller reads book 2-4. (It appears from Muller’s website that at some point he also recorded book 1.) I don’t know why the reader changed, but if you listen to the series Muller was also amazing and I love his interpretation as much as Guidall’s. Mueller’s reading of the series ended in 2001 when he suffered head injuries from a motorcycle accident. For those of you who know Stephen King well, he suffered a serious accident in 1999, also while working on The Dark Tower. This series was fraught with tragedy and injury during its writing and reading, which just adds to the hyperreality of the work.