Book Fight!

Tough love for literature

Episode 9: Stephen King, The Dark Tower Book One: The Gunslinger


“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

This is the opening line that came to Stephen King as a nineteen-year-old college senior, and one he followed for the next thirty-odd years, resulting in a nearly 4000-page book series–The Gunslinger–considered by many to be King’s magnum opus.

But will the opening book in the series withstand the harsh desert-sun glare of the Book Fighters’ critical eyes? Will their critiques bring the book to its knees, begging for water and mercy or perhaps a multiverse portal through which it can escape to friendlier terrain? Will the whole thing wither and die under the strain of this increasingly terrible metaphor?

Don’t worry about spoilers: neither Mike nor Tom has read the entire series, so they couldn’t spoil it for you if they wanted to. Mike actually read (and enjoyed) Books One through Three in middle and early high school–The Waste Lands came out in 1991, when he was fourteen–but between then and 1997, when Book Four was released, he managed to get interested in other things (girls, beer, college, etc.) and never caught back up with the series. Tom never made it past the first fifty or so pages of Book One.

Among the many topics discussed in this episode: oracle handjobs, Tom’s fear of sea creatures, revision, Mike’s hatred of italics, the word “bookbag,” Joyce Carol Oates, what makes something “literature,” and why does everyone wanna pick on Stephen King, anyway?

Click on the link below to download, or listen right here on the site. You can also subscribe to the show via iTunes (and while you’re there, how about writing a brief review?).

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Thanks for listening!

Download Episode 9 (right-click, save-as)

Music featured in this episode comes from The Nighttime Adventure Society (“She’s In Mind”) and Shark? (“Hey Grrl”). Check ’em out!

Author: mikeingram25

writer, editor

2 thoughts on “Episode 9: Stephen King, The Dark Tower Book One: The Gunslinger

  1. Great episode, enjoyed it much. I haven’t read the DT series in a while, but I’m a nerd for it. I love that King couldn’t stick to the rules of the fantasy genre, even though he sometimes tried.

    There are lots of connections between the Dark Tower series and King’s other work. (I know there’s a big hairy chart around somewhere, but it turns out Wikipedia is easier to find.)

    I’ve never read the original versions of either The Gunslinger or The Stand, but I’ve wondered if the rebooted versions were tweaked to make it clearer that the villain in both is essentially the same guy. The Stand’s Randall Flagg has a very similar aura — in that book, one of the supporting protags meets him for the first time and bursts out laughing because he’s underwhelmed. It’s interesting to me that this type of villain can still shock an audience — you’d think by now we’ve seen everything.

    Roland’s moral ambiguity goes away in much of the rest of the series, unfortunately. I suppose it has to because his ka-tet (aka, posse, clique, lunch table, scout troop) comes together in The Drawing of the Three, but I think that’s also why The Gunslinger is the only potentially stand-alone book in the series. And plenty of people who have read the whole thing would tell you to stop there.

  2. So The Stand was revised, too? I seem to remember a longer version being released at some point, like a kind of “director’s cut,” but maybe I’m making that up.

    It’s a shame that Roland’s potential dark side gets ironed out, because I was really interested in that dynamic. I remember being pretty into books 2 and 3, but I was also like 14, so I don’t know if they would hold up or not. Just from looking over the Wikipedia summaries of the later books, it seems like they get increasingly ridiculous. Maybe one day I’ll tackle them.

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