For a rabid Stephen King fan, I took a really long time to get to the Dark Tower series. I wanted to wait until it was all done — I’d heard the gasps of Dark Tower fans when King was struck by the van, and I didn’t want to be one of the many stranded with an unfinished series. But then he did finish it, and still I drug my feet, until my best friend (hi Cat!) told me to read the damn thing (I think she even gave me her copies of the books, although I’ve since purchased my own) back in 2005 or 2006 (I remember reading the whole thing in a semester of college). She even gave me some great, very true advice: the first book sucks, but get through it anyway.
“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”
The Gunslinger is the first book of the series, and it’s basically one long introduction. It doesn’t suck, but it’s certainly not as interesting as the rest of the series, nor is it as good as most of King’s work as a whole. The first half of the book is just the gunslinger, who takes some warming up to (he’s kind of dull, to be honest), as he travels across a post-apocalyptic desert in search of the man in black. There’s some action when he takes out a small town full of people that have set as a trap by the man in black, but mostly it’s wandering and musing and devil grass.
But then he meets Jake Chambers, and it gets a lot better, especially if you’ve read the series before (as I have, once), and you know what’s coming. I love Jake Chambers. I love all of King’s boy heroes — Jake Chambers, Bobby Garfield, Bill Denbrough (and Ben Hanscom!), Jack Sawyer — I loved them when I was a young girl, and I love them now that I have boys of my own. Something about the way he writes 11 year olds — and girls, too, although only Beverly Marsh and the girl who loved Tom Gordon spring to mind — has just always resonated with me. And Jake Chambers is probably one of my favorites (plus he has a pet bumbler. way cool).
When the gunslinger meets Jake, he becomes more human, which improves the novel and the character (although he knows consciously that this will be his downfall). Jake is from another world — our world. When the gunslinger hypnotizes him with his bullets, Jake recalls the rich parents who sent him to school in a city with buildings that scraped the sky. He also recalls his death, which led him to the world of the gunslinger (he was “drawn” there by the man in black — a trap for the gunslinger). The two team up, as the gunslinger continues his quest, and while they do get separated (horrifically), we know it can’t be the end (after all: “Go then, there are other worlds than these”).
The Gunslinger ends when our man meets up with the man in black, and they have a “palaver” that lasts for a good chunk of the book (it was over an hour read aloud on the audiobook). It’s a lot of King at his rambling-est, sounding like a philosophy student high at a party, but I always did like the man in black’s speech about size and how it defeats us (even if it goes on for a bit longer than necessary). The man in black gives us a glimmer of the Dark Tower which the gunslinger seeks, then he’s gone. The gunslinger is alone again, but he must prepare for the drawing of three, which is the second book and one of the best.
Anyway, my advice to you: if you haven’t read the series, you should, and you should start with book one. Just don’t let it’s slow start turn you off of the rest. And if you have read the series through once, it’s wonderful to revisit after a decade or so. Like coming back to old friends.