King is an interesting guy. It’s almost like he’s become so famous a writer that he can put whatever he wants in his stories because he knows it’s going to sell. This freedom gives both high and low points to his books, high points in that he’s not limited in what he can add to his narratives, low points in that this can make his stories a little odd and more than a little self-aggrandizing. Either way, having finished the newer unedited version of The Stand recently brought me back to the good old days of reading The Dark Tower series, one of the first fantasy series I read and considered by King as his magnum opus.
The Gunslinger, Roland Deschain, the titular character of the first book and main character of the rest of the series is pretty much what would happen if you threw Sergio Leone’s Man with no Name in the post-apocalyptic future of Thomas Malory’s myth of King Arthur. He is searching for The Dark Tower, an object that links all of King’s worlds and the characters in them. To do this, he must gain clues from The Man in Black, an incarnation of the main villain from The Stand as well as the Darth-Vader-like figure in a lot of King’s worlds, draw three individuals, which were suppose to help him find The Dark Tower but really just end up slowing him down, and destroy the remnants of his old enemies, enemies from new worlds and, in a way, himself to reach it.
In a way, King uses Roland’s world as examples of worst case scenarios to a lot of different fairy tales, being a western-fantasy wasteland where all heroes have failed since the time of Arthur. He brings his own stories into it with cameos, as well as putting cameos from The Dark Tower into his other stories to link them in. For those that haven’t read all of King’s bibliography as I hadn’t when I first read it, this creates a world of curiosities as abstract as the The Dark Tower is itself. Through its ambiguities and ending that was hated and loved alike by those who read to the end, it makes the background of King’s mythos memorable through his characters and their Adventures of in Stephen King Land.
Besides Roland, there is Eddie Dean, an ex-junkie turned gunslinger savant, Susan Delgato, a black paraplegic with multiple personality turned sassy-amazonian warrior, and Jake Chambers, a kid that dies in this series more times than I can remember. These characters are 3 dimensional and fleshed out throughout the series, each with a knack that ends up being used in the adventure in way that is some times well executed and some times ridiculous, e.g. telling nonsensical riddles to defeat a train controlled by an artificial intelligence gone mad. However, the real thing that makes these characters interesting is how they play off each other, and this is when we get into controversial territory for casting choices in the up-coming television series.
When I say that casting Idris Elba would be a bad choice for Roland in the television series, I don’t say it because he’s a black actor, I say it because Roland is a distinctly white character. His race comes into play as an important plot element when dealing with Susan, a post-emancipated black woman who, through many parts of the story, acts violently and argues with him because he is white. These interactions are important for their relationship and many other elements of the story. If race didn’t change anything in the dominant narrative of the series, I wouldn’t mind, but it does, so unless you want to annoy A LOT of Dark Tower fans, don’t do it. If you say you don’t care what his race is, that’s as good as saying you don’t care about the story itself, in which case, fuck off. On another note, if the lore and dialect aren’t kept then the same thing applies. The characters, lore and culture are all interlinked and if you remove one of these things, the rest will suffer because of it.
Let me conclude this retrospect by saying that the reason I didn’t do a review, like with my anime retrospects, I have lot of nostalgia for The Dark Tower series and don’t trust myself to do a relatively objective review. What I can say is that it’s good. Most who have read it will say that, but whether you think it’s great or okay really comes down to if you like King’s style of writing and are willing to put up with the author putting himself into the story as it’s god, claiming that he has no say in the ending but putting a deus ex machina in anyway. In the end, the journey is more important than the ending and, for a first book The Gunslinger works great as a stand alone for anyone who wants to give it a try. I recommend the audio book read by Frank Muller, his voices suits the narrative perfectly.
The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed…? Yeah, right.
More like; Cowboy walks into troubled village, people with guns appear… and kills EVERYONE.
That sounds like a more accurate summary to me.