Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower #1)

The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower #1), Stephen King
Reread: 4 April to 8 April 2012
5 / 5 stars

I first read The Gunslinger almost five years ago, not knowing that it would indelibly alter my opinion of Stephen King's literary merit. I was so taken with the titular character and so wrapped up in his story that I finished the book in a matter of hours, immediately and hungrily scrabbling for The Drawing of the Three because I couldn't bear not knowing what happened to Roland next. When I returned to the introductory novel for a second helping of the series a few years later, it was like coming home to dearly missed friends. I rarely reread books -- let alone seven-book series -- these days because there's simply too much I still need to read for a first time but I will always find a reason to travel the path of the Tower again.

It was the expanded-and-revised edition of The Gunslinger that I'd twice devoured with a nerdish urgency; my husband's copy of the original, which I'd never read, slipped into the nether regions of our dormish apartment to remain unfound for years. When the moving process unearthed all sorts of forgotten or lost treasures by the metric shit-ton, my husband's discovery of this original introduction to Sai King's magnum opus was among the most celebrated finds.

I didn't think that the tale of the last gunslinger could have been improved upon: I was half-right. In truth, it didn't need any tweaking in the first place. Yes, the revised version is more canonical in terms of where the series wound up heading (and, given how long King toiled at this series -- I mean, it's a thing measured in decades and a near-fatal car accident -- I can understand why the series's first installment needed to be reworked for the sake of the overall story) but the original is perfect as a standalone piece. Its sparseness and terse voice suit both the atmosphere and Roland's character perfectly. It's creepy in all the right places, heartbreaking where it needs to be and an all-around tighter narrative. It's the strongest possible argument in a series of strong arguments to lob at King's naysayers who've written him off as a one-trick author rather than a damn good writer.

There's something special about seeing a familiar story in a new light. It's a double joy when that experience comes with finding that a much-loved tale can be told even better than the first two times one has both heard and loved it.

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