The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger
First edition cover
|Cover artist||Michael Whelan|
|Series||The Dark Tower|
|June 10, 1982|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
|Followed by||The Drawing of the Three|
The Gunslinger was first published in 1982 as a fix-up novel, joining five short stories that had been published between 1978 and 1981. King substantially revised the novel in 2003, and this version is in print today.
The story centers upon Roland Deschain, the last gunslinger, who has been chasing after his adversary, "the man in black," for many years. The novel fuses Western fiction with fantasy, science fiction and horror, following Roland's trek through a vast desert and beyond in search of the man in black. Roland meets several people along his journey, including a boy named Jake Chambers who travels with him part of the way.
Background and publication
The novel was inspired by Robert Browning's poem "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came" (1855), which King read as a sophomore at the University of Maine. King explains that he "played with the idea of trying a long romantic novel embodying the feel, if not the exact sense, of the Browning poem." King started writing this novel in 1970 on a ream of bright green paper that he found at the library.
The five stories that constitute the novel were originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction:
- "The Gunslinger" (October 1978)
- "The Way Station" (April 1980)
- "The Oracle and the Mountains" (February 1981)
- "The Slow Mutants" (July 1981)
- "The Gunslinger and the Dark Man" (November 1981)
It took King twelve and a half years to finish the novel. The finished product was first published by Donald M. Grant, Publisher, Inc. as a limited edition in 1982. The following year, as the Pet Sematary cover noted The Gunslinger among King's previous works, many fans called the offices of King, Grant, and Doubleday wanting more information on the already out of print book. This led to another run of ten thousand copies. In 1988, Plume released it in trade paperback form. Since then, the book has been re-issued in various formats and included in boxed sets with other volumes of the series.
In 2003 the novel was reissued in a revised and expanded version with modified language and added and changed scenes intended to resolve inconsistencies with the later books in the series. It is dedicated to Edward L. Ferman, long-time editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
The main story takes place in a world that is somewhat similar to the Old West but exists in an alternate (future) timeframe or parallel universe. Roland exists in a place where "the world has moved on." This world has a few things in common with our own, however, including memories of the old song "Hey Jude" and the child's rhyme that begins "Beans, Beans, the Musical Fruit." Vestiges of forgotten or skewed versions of real-world technology also appear, such as a reference to a gas pump that is worshipped as a god named "Amoco," and an abandoned way station with a water pump powered by an "atomic slug."
As Roland travels across the desert in search of the man in black whom he knows as Walter, he encounters a farmer named Brown, and Zoltan, his black crow. Roland spends the night there, and recalls his time spent in Tull, a small town which Roland passed through not long before the start of the novel. The man in black had also stayed in the town; he brought a dead man, stricken by addiction to the opiate-like "devil grass," back to life and left a trap for Roland. Roland meets the leader of the local church who reveals to him that the man in black has impregnated her with a demon. She turns the entire town against Roland; men, women, and children, and Roland is forced to kill every resident of the town. When he awakens the next day, his mule is dead, forcing him to proceed on foot.
Roland arrives at an abandoned way station and first encounters Jake Chambers, a young boy. Roland collapses from dehydration, and Jake brings him water. Jake does not know how long he has been at the way station, nor exactly how he got there and hid when Walter passed through. Roland hypnotizes Jake to determine the details of his death and discovers that he died in a different universe (which appears much closer to our own) when he is pushed in front of a car while walking to school in Manhattan. Before they leave, Roland and Jake search for food in a cellar and encounter a demon. Roland masters it and takes a jawbone from the hole from where it spoke to him.
Roland and Jake eventually make their way out of the desert. Roland rescues Jake from an encounter with a succubus and tells him to hold on to the jawbone as a protective charm. Roland couples with the succubus, who is also an oracle, to learn more about his fate and the path to the Dark Tower. In a flashback, it is revealed that Roland was the son of Steven Deschain, a Gunslinger and lord of Gilead; and of the brutal training Roland received at the hand of his teacher, Cort. Roland reveals how he was tricked into demanding to prematurely declare his manhood by dueling with Cort at the age 14, earlier than any other apprentice. He was provoked by Marten, who served as Steven's wizard, who cuckolded Roland's father by sleeping with Roland's mother, Gabrielle Deschain. It is established that this was a time of instability and revolution. Roland succeeded in defeating Cort in battle through weapon selection - sacrificing his hawk, David, to distract Cort.
Jake and Roland see the man in black at the mountain and he tells them he will meet just one of them on the other side, which aggravates Jake's fears that Roland will either kill him or abandon him. They make their way into the twisting tunnels within the mountain, traveling on an old railway handcar. They are attacked by "Slow Mutants," monstrous subterranean creatures. At the tunnel's exit, as the track on which they are traveling begins to break, Roland decides to let Jake fall into an abyss, and continue his quest.
After sacrificing Jake in the mountain, Roland makes his way down to speak to Walter. He reads Roland's fate from a pack of cards, including "the sailor," "the prisoner," "the lady of shadows," "death," and the Tower itself. Walter states that he is a pawn of Roland's true enemy, the one who now controls the Dark Tower itself. The man in black also reveals he was also Marten. He then sends Roland a vision of the universe (zooming out past a red planet covered in canals, a ring of rocks, a large stormy planet, a ringed planet and then to galaxies, etc.), attempting to frighten Roland by showing him how truly insignificant he is, and asks him to renounce his quest. Roland refuses, and the man in black tells him to go west, before sending him to sleep. When Roland awakens ten years have passed, and there is a skeleton next to him — what he assumes to be Walter. Roland takes the jawbone from the skeleton before traveling to the shore of the Western Sea.
Revised and Expanded edition
King revised The Gunslinger in 2003. In his introduction to the new edition, King stated that he felt the original version was "dry" and difficult for new readers to access. He also made the storytelling more linear and the book's plot more consistent with the series' ending. Other changes were made in order to resolve continuity errors introduced by later volumes. The added material was over 9000 words (35 pages) in length.
Some changes include:
- Roland suffers a dizzy spell at the beginning, a reference to his cyclical quest.
- Removal of a reference to Roland reading a magazine in Tull. Later information presented in The Drawing of the Three suggests that paper is a scarcity in Roland's world.
- Reference to 12 years having passed since the fall of Gilead, which happened when Roland was a teenager, is changed to "untold years." Otherwise, it would be deduced that Roland is in his 30s, when later books imply that Roland is ancient.
- Likewise The Man in Black originally says he is "nearly immortal," while in the revision he says this of both himself and Roland.
- "[Roland] didn't know where Cort was" is changed to "Cort was dead," as the Fall of Gilead was not completely fleshed out until later books.
- Roland's cold-hearted killing of Allie is changed to make him appear more humane. Originally, when the town of Tull turns on Roland, Allie is seized by a townsperson and used as a human shield. She begs Roland not to fire before he ruthlessly guns down both her and her captor. In the revised version, she has been driven mad by Walter by the time she is seized and begs Roland to put her out of her misery.
- The town of Farson is changed to Taunton, as John Farson was a character in the later books in the series.
- References to the Beast were changed to refer to the Crimson King, who otherwise is not mentioned in the series until The Waste Lands.
- "Blue Heaven" and "Algul Siento," terms that are revealed in the final books, are mentioned.
- A single Taheen appears early in the revised version. The Taheen are a race of creatures which wouldn't originally appear until the final three books.
- A major textual change is the fate and identity of the Man in Black. In the original text, Walter's death at the end of the story is of no uncertainty to Roland. In the revised edition, Roland speculates if his discovery of Walter's bones is some trick or if he has truly died. The original text also kept Walter and Marten Broadcloak completely disambiguated. Even after the death of Walter, Broadcloak was still to be found and killed. Later in Wizard and Glass they, along with Randall Flagg, are all revealed to be one-and-the-same person. Though no reference of the name "Flagg" is made in the revised edition of The Gunslinger, all references to Walter and Marten are altered so that it is plausible they are the same man.
- Jake Chambers, originally nine years old, was made 10–11 years old in the revised edition.
- In general, the world the gunslinger walked through in the original text was a run-down version of our own - the text mentions England, the star Polaris, Mars, Jesus and other biblical figures, Easter, All-Saint's Eve (Halloween), and Greek and Egyptian Gods. In the revision, most of these references were removed to make Roland's world only vaguely like our own.
- In the expanded edition of the novel, on the last page before the text the single word RESUMPTION appears; in the "Argument" foreword of Wolves of the Calla, King explains that it is the subtitle of the novel.
Stephen King and Nikolaj Arcel have confirmed that the 2017 film The Dark Tower is a sequel to the events of the Dark Tower book series, following Roland Deschain on his "last time round" the cycle to the titular Dark Tower, equipped with the Horn of Eld. The film was released on August 4, 2017 by Columbia Pictures. The film has been stated to be a combination of the events of The Gunslinger, and of the third novel The Waste Lands, while also incorporating significant story points from The Wind Through the Keyhole.
- "Stephen King Biography". Archived from the original on 2012-10-25. Retrieved 2008-06-23.
- Rojak, Lisa. Haunted Heart: The Life and Times of Stephen King. p. 115. ISBN 1429987979.
- "Stephen King's THE DARK TOWER Book Profile: THE GUNSLINGER". Let Us Nerd. 19 September 2014.
- King, Stephen (2003). The Gunslinger: Revised and Expanded Edition. Toronto: Signet Fiction. xxii. ISBN 0-451-21084-0.
- "The Gunslinger: A Side by Side Comparison". The Dark Tower.net. Retrieved 16 April 2019.
- Trumbore, Dave (14 July 2016). "'The Dark Tower' Movie Is Actually a Sequel". Collider.
- Reyes, Mike (2017-01-13). "2017 3D Movie Schedule: The Full List Of Titles And Release Dates". CINEMABLEND. Retrieved 2017-04-01.
- King, Stephen (1989). Afterword. The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger. New York: Signet. ISBN 0-451-16052-5
- Comparison of the original 1982 text and the 2003 revised edition