In September, I suggested a reading order for the extended universe of Stephen King's The Dark Tower, a series I loved, but hadn't read any of since Volume 7: The Dark Tower came out in 2004. I realized that I missed the characters from the series, and wondered if the reading order I suggested would really hold someone's interest all the way through. I scoured some local bookstores, and then the internet for the hardcovers of the books, and prepared for my quest to read a Super Long series of books.
Part 4 involved reading one of my least favorite Stephen King books, The Eyes Of The Dragon, which, sadly, I did not gain an appreciation for as I've aged. I hoped that The Gunslinger, the book that starts the official Dark Tower series, was as appealing to me as it was when I first read it. Short answer: No, BUT I enjoyed parts of it even more than I remembered. So, The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.
I haven't seen the movie. I don't know that I ever want to see the movie But I will probably see the movie.
Stephen King movies are not known for their excellence. Even so, the reviews for The Gunslinger movie were pretty terrible. The movie that's been inside my head since I first read it was so good that I don't want to have to reconcile it.
I don't think the first section of the book, "The Gunslinger", has aged particularly well in either my memory or in the world of pop culture. The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed. is still a great opening line. And the scenes that focus on Roland and his journey through the desert still resonate. The man with the raven scenes are great, but the focus of the first section, the flashback to Roland's time in Tull is a little grueling to read.
Like in The Stand, King's use of Christianity is clumsy and hard to read. I think, if King and I ever had a conversation, we'd agree on how we see Christianity, but I hate reading about it from his perspective. And that made the climax of the Tull flashback very difficult to read, as well as the final section, "The Gunslinger And The Man In Black".
But "The Way Station", "The Oracle And The Mountains", and "The Slow Mutants" is Stephen King at his best. A Westernish fantasy tale (not scifi, this is straight post-apocalyptic fantasy) about coming of age in a dystopian society. Roland in a timeless barony that resembles The American West myths, and a boy he meets named Jake, who was in the process of coming of age in 1980's New York. The story of their fast forming bond, and their sharing of their upbringings and how they came to meet is worth rereading several times. Unlike the religious sections, King is able to express much of his character's intentions and personality through dialogue and plot developments. The words in the three middle sections of the book seem as scarce as paper in Roland's world. There are no unnecessary adjectives, and the moral decisions don't involve religion just common human decency vs. the desire to achieve long-term goals.
-- As I mention in the original post about reading this chronology, try and track down a printing of this book from before 2003. King decided to revamp The Gunslinger in 2003, and those his tweaks seem small, they do change your perspective on Roland. He appears to be trying to make Roland more heroic by giving him a more moral reason for his actions in Tull. Fuck that noise. You should know right from the get-go that Roland is willing to do anything to get to The Dark Tower. That he is mostly a hero is an accident of fate. From the outset of this series he was ruthless in his devotion to the quest, and King shouldn't have changed that anymore than George Lucas should have had edited New Hope so that Greedo shot first, or suggested that The Force wasn't a religious thing, but a scientific force that depended on midifuckenchlorians. Sometimes someone becomes heroic by doing shitty things for what they imagine is a noble purpose. I think the story is much more powerful when it doesn't give Roland a way to feel justified.
-- Forget a movie, the Roland/Jake/Man In Black portion of this book should have been a mini-series or part of a long-form television series. It's such a cool way to explore Roland's humanity, and the ability to crossover between worlds that is essential to the upcoming The Drawing Of The Three.
-- You really should read the first section, "The Gunslinger" for continuity purposes, and for the good parts. But feel free to skip "The Gunslinger And Man In Black" entirely, it's mostly just King being unnecessarily grandiose about the world he's building, and foreshadowing the events of The Drawing Of The Three. But it's not necessary, you're going to read the book, do you care that a character in the previous book tells you the major arc of the next book?
--251 pages is Chump Change once you've flown through The Stand and suffered through The Eyes Of The Dragon, right? We're 1,891 pages closer to The Dark Tower than we were when we started.