Roland Deschain the Last Gunslinger
Roland Deschain of Gilead is the enigmatic title character in this, the first of King’s 7 novels in his Dark Tower series. The Gunslinger combines science fiction with the fantasy genre. According to King, the idea for the story came after seeing Sergio Leone’s The Good the Bad and the Ugly – the first in a trilogy of spaghetti Westerns, and starring Clint Eastwood. Roland then, like Eastwood, has his guns as his primary weapon, and shows an almost supernatural ability in the way he uses them, whether it’s to draw them from their holsters or reload them when the bullets are spent. Here Stephen King draws parallels with the fantastic characters of King Arthur’s roundtable, and like the knights Roland supposedly belongs to an order of skilled killers, the gunslingers.
Story of The Gunslinger
We follow the gunslinger as he embarks on a journey in pursuit of the man in black, a mythic creature that appears to be able to take on any form he wants. In one incarnation the man in black goes by the name Walter O’ Dim and seems hell-bent on making the hero’s path hard and full of troubles. Along the way he sets traps for Roland: in a town with a mad preacher who’s pregnant with a devil and who incites the whole town to murder him, and also with a boy who Roland becomes taken with and who arrests the warrior’s soul.
Roland will also encounter other colourful characters in his pursuit of his nemesis, like Zoltan, a talking bird, subterranean luminous creatures, pitiful in their existence but terrifying in that they seem to want Roland and Jake around for dinner, with those two being on the menu, or course, and a salacious oracle who will prophesy to the gunslinger only if he gives the lustful spirit the warmth of his flesh.
The boy who Walter O’ Dim sets on Roland’s path is Jake Chambers and he lived in the 20th Century in our time until he was killed by Walter O’ Dim, only to find himself trapped in Roland’s own reality. Roland’s not sure how the mischievous warlock will use Jake against him, but he’s unable to send him away because of his love for the boy. In the end he discovers the man in black intends for Jake to be Roland’s “Isaac,” and he must make a choice whether to sacrifice him or save him. If he sacrifices him then Roland will be given what he’s been searching for since his journey began and that is knowledge, knowledge of the tower. The series continues with The Drawing of the Three.
The Revised Edition of The Gunslinger
According to King in his introduction for the revised editions he had been approached by several people, not least an old woman who wanted to see the end of the series before she died. After he survived a horrible accident he decided it was time to get back to his series – one he has remarked is his magnum opus. But there was a need to revisit the original stories, mainly to ensure uniformity across the books. It’s for this reason The Gunslinger has had changes. In the foreword (2003) he wrote, “What I did want to do – and before the final volumes of the book came out, if possible – was to give newcomers to the tale of the Tower (and old readers who want to refresh their memories) a clearer start and a slightly easier entry into Roland’s world. I also wanted them to have a volume that more effectively foreshadowed coming events.”
So Which Edition Should You Buy?
This, of course, will be a matter of choice. The older editions may be cheaper and this may inform your choice. But if you can spare the extra buck or two I’d say get this one. Like Matthew Peckham observed in his 2003 article The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger on SFsite.com: “If you’ve never read The Gunslinger, this is the edition you should get. Is it better than the original? Without question, though as noted above, primarily because the story integrates better with the latter volumes. If on the other hand you’ve already read the original, you will still find the revised edition indispensable for its new revelations which affect the continuity of the latter books.”
The Gunslinger by Stephen Kind (copyright by Mercury Press for The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy. This edition 2003.), The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King, The Good The Bad and The Ugly (directed by Sergio Leone, and starring Clint Eastwood, 1966), The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger by Matthew Peckham (SFsite.com)