The Gunslinger (Dark Tower Series #1)by Stephen King
Soon to be a major motion picture starring Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba
“An impressive work of mythic magnitude that may turn out to be Stephen King’s greatest literary achievement” (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution), The Gunslinger is the first volume in the epic Dark Tower Series.
A #1 national bestseller, The/i>/i>/b>
Soon to be a major motion picture starring Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba
“An impressive work of mythic magnitude that may turn out to be Stephen King’s greatest literary achievement” (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution), The Gunslinger is the first volume in the epic Dark Tower Series.
A #1 national bestseller, The Gunslinger introduces readers to one of Stephen King’s most powerful creations, Roland of Gilead: The Last Gunslinger. He is a haunting figure, a loner on a spellbinding journey into good and evil. In his desolate world, which mirrors our own in frightening ways, Roland tracks The Man in Black, encounters an enticing woman named Alice, and begins a friendship with the boy from New York named Jake.
Inspired in part by the Robert Browning narrative poem, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came,” The Gunslinger is “a compelling whirlpool of a story that draws one irretrievable to its center” (Milwaukee Sentinel). It is “brilliant and fresh…and will leave you panting for more” (Booklist).
Beginning with a short story appearing in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1978, the publication of Stephen King's epic work of fantasy -- what he considers to be a single long novel and his magnum opus -- has spanned a quarter of a century.
Set in a world of extraordinary circumstances, filled with stunning visual imagery and unforgettable characters, The Dark Tower series is King's most visionary feat of storytelling, a magical mix of science fiction, fantasy, and horror that may well be his crowning achievement.
In The Gunslinger (originally published in 1982), King introduces his most enigmatic hero, Roland Deschain of Gilead, the Last Gunslinger. He is a haunting, solitary figure at first, on a mysterious quest through a desolate world that eerily mirrors our own. Pursuing the man in black, an evil being who can bring the dead back to life, Roland is a good man who seems to leave nothing but death in his wake.
This new edition of The Gunslinger has been revised and expanded throughout by King, with new story material, in addition to a new introduction and foreword. It also includes four full-color illustrations in the hardcover and trade paperback formats.
Read an Excerpt
The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.
The desert was the apotheosis of all deserts, huge, standing to the sky for what looked like eternity in all directions. It was white and blinding and waterless and without feature save for the faint, cloudy haze of the mountains which sketched themselves on the horizon and the devil-grass which brought sweet dreams, nightmares, death. An occasional tombstone sign pointed the way, for once the drifted track that cut its way through the thick crust of alkali had been a highway. Coaches and buckas had followed it. The world had moved on since then. The world had emptied.
The gunslinger had been struck by a momentary dizziness, a kind of yawing sensation that made the entire world seem ephemeral, almost a thing that could be looked through. It passed and, like the world upon whose hide he walked, he moved on. He passed the miles stolidly, not hurrying, not loafing. A hide waterbag was slung around his middle like a bloated sausage. It was almost full. He had progressed through the khef over many years, and had reached perhaps the fifth level. Had he been a Manni holy man, he might not have even been thirsty; he could have watched his own body dehydrate with clinical, detached attention, watering its crevices and dark inner hollows only when his logic told him it must be done. He was not a Manni, however, nor a follower of the Man Jesus, and considered himself in no way holy. He was just an ordinary pilgrim, in other words, and all he could say with real certainty was that he was thirsty. And even so, he had no particular urge to drink. In a vague way, all this pleased him. It was what the country required, it was a thirsty country, and he had in his long life been nothing if not adaptable.
Below the waterbag were his guns, carefully weighted to his hands; a plate had been added to each when they had come to him from his father, who had been lighter and not so tall. The two belts crisscrossed above his crotch. The holsters were oiled too deeply for even this Philistine sun to crack. The stocks of the guns were sandalwood, yellow and finely grained. Rawhide tiedowns held the holsters loosely to his thighs, and they swung a bit with his step; they had rubbed away the bluing of his jeans (and thinned the cloth) in a pair of arcs that looked almost like smiles. The brass casings of the cartridges looped into the gunbelts heliographed in the sun. There were fewer now. The leather made subtle creaking noises.
His shirt, the no-color of rain or dust, was open at the throat, with a rawhide thong dangling loosely in hand-punched eyelets. His hat was gone. So was the horn he had once carried; gone for years, that horn, spilled from the hand of a dying friend, and he missed them both.
He breasted a gently rising dune (although there was no sand here; the desert was hardpan, and even the harsh winds that blew when dark came raised only an aggravating harsh dust like scouring powder) and saw the kicked remains of a tiny campfire on the lee side, the side the sun would quit earliest. Small signs like this, once more affirming the man in black's possible humanity, never failed to please him. His lips stretched in the pitted, flaked remains of his face. The grin was gruesome, painful. He squatted.
His quarry had burned the devil-grass, of course. It was the only thing out here that would burn. It burned with a greasy, flat light, and it burned slow. Border dwellers had told him that devils lived even in the flames. They burned it but would not look into the light. They said the devils hypnotized, beckoned, would eventually draw the one who looked into the fires. And the next man foolish enough to look into the fire might see you.
The burned grass was crisscrossed in the now familiar ideographic pattern, and crumbled to gray senselessness before the gunslinger's prodding hand. There was nothing in the remains but a charred scrap of bacon, which he ate thoughtfully. It had always been this way. The gunslinger had followed the man in black across the desert for two months now, across the endless, screamingly monotonous purgatorial wastes, and had yet to find spoor other than the hygienic sterile ideographs of the man in black's campfires. He had not found a can, a bottle, or a waterbag (the gunslinger had left four of those behind, like dead snakeskins). He hadn't found any dung. He assumed the man in black buried it.
Perhaps the campfires were a message, spelled out one Great Letter at a time. Keep your distance, partner, it might say. Or, The end draweth nigh. Or maybe even, Come and get me. It didn't matter what they said or didn't say. He had no interest in messages, if messages they were. What mattered was that these remains were as cold as all the others. Yet he had gained. He knew he was closer, but did not know how he knew. A kind of smell, perhaps. That didn't matter, either. He would keep going until something changed, and if nothing changed, he would keep going, anyway. There would be water if God willed it, the oldtimers said. Water if God willed it, even in the desert. The gunslinger stood up, brushing his hands.
No other trace; the wind, razor-sharp, had of course filed away even what scant tracks the hardpan might once have held. No man-scat, no cast-off trash, never a sign of where those things might have been buried. Nothing. Only these cold campfires along the ancient highway moving southeast and the relentless range-finder in his own head. Although of course it was more than that; the pull southeast was more than just a sense of direction, was even more than magnetism.
He sat down and allowed himself a short pull from the waterbag. He thought of that momentary dizziness earlier in the day, that sense of being almost untethered from the world, and wondered what it might have meant. Why should that dizziness make him think of his horn and the last of his old friends, both lost so long ago at Jericho Hill? He still had the guns-his father's guns-and surely they were more important than horns ... or even friends.
The question was oddly troubling, but since there seemed to be no answer but the obvious one, he put it aside, possibly for later consideration. He scanned the desert and then looked up at the sun, which was now sliding into a far quadrant of the sky that was, disturbingly, not quite true west. He got up, removed his threadbare gloves from his belt, and began to pull devil-grass for his own fire, which he laid over the ashes the man in black had left. He found the irony, like his thirst, bitterly appealing.
He did not take the flint and steel from his purse until the remains of the day were only fugitive heat in the ground beneath him and a sardonic orange line on the monochrome horizon. He sat with his gunna drawn across his lap and watched the southeast patiently, looking toward the mountains, not hoping to see the thin straight line of smoke from a new campfire, not expecting to see an orange spark of flame, but watching anyway because watching was a part of it, and had its own bitter satisfaction. You will not see what you do not look for, maggot,
Cort would have said. Open the gobs the gods gave ya, will ya not?
But there was nothing. He was close, but only relatively so. Not close enough to see smoke at dusk, or the orange wink of a campfire.
He laid the flint down the steel rod and struck his spark to the dry, shredded grass, muttering the old and powerful nonsense words as he did: "Spark-a-dark, where's my sire? Will I lay me? Will I stay me? Bless this camp with fire." It was strange how some of childhood's words and ways fell at the wayside and were left behind, while others clamped tight and rode for life, growing the heavier to carry as time passed. He lay down upwind of his little blazon, letting the dreamsmoke blow out toward the waste. The wind, except for occasional gyrating dust-devils, was constant.
Above, the stars were unwinking, also constant. Suns and worlds by the million. Dizzying constellations, cold fire in every primary hue. As he watched, the sky washed from violet to ebony. A meteor etched a brief, spectacular arc below Old Mother and winked out. The fire threw strange shadows as the devil-grass burned its slow way down into new patterns-not ideograms but a straightforward crisscross vaguely frightening in its own no-nonsense surety. He had laid his fuel in a pattern that was not artful but only workable. It spoke of blacks and whites. It spoke of a man who might straighten bad pictures in strange hotel rooms. The fire burned its steady, slow flame, and phantoms danced in its incandescent core. The gunslinger did not see. The two patterns, art and craft, were welded together as he slept. The wind moaned, a witch with cancer in her belly. Every now and then a perverse downdraft would make the smoke whirl and puff toward him and he breathed some of it in. It built dreams in the same way that a small irritant may build a pearl in an oyster. The gunslinger occasionally moaned with the wind. The stars were as indifferent to this as they were to wars, crucifixions, resurrections. This also would have pleased him.
He had come down off the last of the foothills leading the mule, whose eyes were already dead and bulging with the heat. He had passed the last town three weeks before, and since then there had only been the deserted coach track and an occasional huddle of border dwellers' sod dwellings. The huddles had degenerated into single dwellings, most inhabited by lepers or madmen. He found the madmen better company. One had given him a stainless steel Silva compass and bade him give it to the Man Jesus. The gunslinger took it gravely. If he saw Him, he would turn over the compass. He did not expect that he would, but anything was possible. Once he saw a taheen-this one a man with a raven's head-but the misbegotten thing fled at his hail, cawing what might have been words. What might even have been curses.
Five days had passed since the last hut, and he had begun to suspect there would be no more when he topped the last eroded hill and saw the familiar low-backed sod roof.
The dweller, a surprisingly young man with a wild shock of strawberry hair that reached almost to his waist, was weeding a scrawny stand of corn with zealous abandon. The mule let out a wheezing grunt and the dweller looked up, glaring blue eyes coming target-center on the gunslinger in a moment. The dweller was unarmed, with no bolt nor bah the gunslinger could see. He raised both hands in curt salute to the stranger and then bent to the corn again, humping up the row next to his hut with back bent, tossing devil-grass and an occasional stunted corn plant over his shoulder. His hair flopped and flew in the wind that now came directly from the desert, with nothing to break it.
The gunslinger came down the hill slowly, leading the donkey on which his waterskins sloshed. He paused by the edge of the lifeless-looking cornpatch, drew a drink from one of his skins to start the saliva, and spat into the arid soil.
"Life for your crop."
"Life for your own," the dweller answered and stood up. His back popped audibly. He surveyed the gunslinger without fear. The little of his face visible between beard and hair seemed unmarked by the rot, and his eyes, while a bit wild, seemed sane. "Long days and pleasant nights, stranger."
"And may you have twice the number."
"Unlikely," the dweller replied, and voiced a curt laugh. "I don't have nobbut corn and beans," he said. "Corn's free, but you'll have to kick something in for the beans. A man brings them out once in a while. He don't stay long." The dweller laughed shortly. "Afraid of spirits. Afraid of the bird-man, too."
"I saw him. The bird-man, I mean. He fled me."
"Yar, he's lost his way. Claims to be looking for a place called Algul Siento, only sometimes he calls it Blue Haven or Heaven, I can't make out which. Has thee heard of it?"
The gunslinger shook his head.
"Well ... he don't bite and he don't bide, so fuck him. Is thee alive or dead?"
"Alive," the gunslinger said. "You speak as the Manni do."
"I was with 'em awhile, but that was no life for me; too chummy, they are, and always looking for holes in the world."
This was true, the gunslinger reflected. The Manni-folk were great travelers.
The two of them looked at each other in silence for a moment, and then the dweller put out his hand. "Brown is my name."
The gunslinger shook and gave his own name. As he did so, a scrawny raven croaked from the low peak of the sod roof. The dweller gestured at it briefly: "That's Zoltan."
At the sound of its name the raven croaked again and flew across to Brown. It landed on the dweller's head and roosted, talons firmly twined in the wild thatch of hair.
"Screw you," Zoltan croaked brightly. "Screw you and the horse you rode in on."
The gunslinger nodded amiably.
"Beans, beans, the musical fruit," the raven recited, inspired. "The more you eat, the more you toot."
"You teach him that?"
"That's all he wants to learn, I guess," Brown said. "Tried to teach him The Lord's Prayer once." His eyes traveled out be- yond the hut for a moment, toward the gritty, featureless hardpan. "Guess this ain't Lord's Prayer country. You're a gunslinger. That right?"
"Yes." He hunkered down and brought out his makings. Zoltan launched himself from Brown's head and landed, flittering, on the gunslinger's shoulder.
"Thought your kind was gone."
"Then you see different, don't you?"
"Did'ee come from In-World?"
"Long ago," the gunslinger agreed.
"Anything left there?"
To this the gunslinger made no reply, but his face suggested this was a topic better not pursued. "After the other one, I guess."
"Yes." The inevitable question followed: "How long since he passed by?"
Brown shrugged. "I don't know. Time's funny out here. Distance and direction, too. More than two weeks. Less than two months. The bean man's been twice since he passed. I'd guess six weeks. That's probably wrong."
"The more you eat, the more you toot," Zoltan said.
"Did he lay by?" the gunslinger asked.
Brown nodded. "He stayed supper, same as you will, I guess. We passed the time."
The gunslinger stood up and the bird flew back to the roof, squawking. He felt an odd, trembling eagerness.
"What did he talk about?"
Brown cocked an eyebrow at him. "Not much. Did it ever rain and when did I come here and had I buried my wife. He asked was she of the Manni-folk and I said yar, because it seemed like he already knew. I did most of the talking, which ain't usual." He paused, and the only sound was the stark wind. "He's a sorcerer, ain't he?"
"Among other things."
Brown nodded slowly. "I knew. He dropped a rabbit out of his sleeve, all gutted and ready for the pot. Are you?"
"A sorcerer?" He laughed. "I'm just a man."
"You'll never catch him."
"I'll catch him."
from The Gunslinger: The Dark Tower I by Stephen King, copyright © 1982, 2003 Stephen King, published by Viking Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher.
Meet the Author
Stephen King is the author of more than fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. His recent work includes The Bill Hodges Trilogy—Mr. Mercedes (an Edgar Award winner for Best Novel), Finders Keepers, and End of Watch; the short story collection The Bazaar of Bad Dreams; Revival; Doctor Sleep, and Under the Dome. His novel 11/22/63 was named a top ten book of 2011 by The New York Times Book Review and won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Mystery/Thriller. His epic series, The Dark Tower, is the basis for a major motion picture from Sony. He is the recipient of the 2014 National Medal of Arts and the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. He lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife, novelist Tabitha King.
- Bangor, Maine
- Date of Birth:
- September 21, 1947
- Place of Birth:
- Portland, Maine
- B.S., University of Maine at Orono, 1970
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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While I thought this was a good story, it is definitely weird. In my opinion, it was a little slow at times, but it definitely picked up at other times. The book appears to be setting up a great story. I will definitely read the rest of the series. By the way, the 175 page book is the expanded edition, and is not a sample. King added around 30 pages. I had the original ebook version which was around 130 pages. Keep in mind, the number of ebook pages are generally less than paperback.
The story starts by following a faceless man. He has no name, voice, or back story. He has only a quest, a mission. He pursues the "man in black." Why, we don't know. Having so little information on a main character should make him boring, but it doesn't. The gunslinger is presented in such a way that he draws you in, makes you want to know more. The vast wasteland desert that he treks across provides a sense of being lost and barren. Is this a post-apocalyptic version of our world? At this point, King isn't telling. But right from the start, this book definitely draws you in. As the book progresses (at a near perfect rate), the gunslinger comes upon the book's first real sense of civilization. The town of Tull, which eerily resembles a town from an old western movie. But something feels very wrong about Tull. The gunslinger enters the town tavern, where the song "Hey Jude" is being played. Now we have our first real connections to the real world. Through something as simple as a song, King has opened up a whole world of possibilities. But he decides to keep the reader in the dark, for now. It is also in this town that we get the first real look at who the man in black really is. He seems to have no real goals of his own, this man in black. He is the perfect, motiveless evil. He spreads chaos, terror. Even raises a dead drug addict, just for kicks. His only objective is to get in the way of the gunslinger, and this, along with the feeling of slight insanity that he irradiates, makes him an excellent character. In the end, the man in black forces the gunslinger, now finally identified as Roland, to make some very hard decisions. But he does make them, and this shows us what Roland really is. Cold hearted. An anti hero if ever I saw one. Now Roland leaves the town of Tull, and stumbles upon a waystation. Nothing more than an old barn and a half-wrecked house, and would be unremarkable. but for the boy. A boy named Jake, who can't remember who he is, where he's from, or how he got to the waystation. At first, we are meant to mistake this as simple amnesia, but that's not what it feels like. Roland hypnotizes the boy, and finds that he still remembers what happened, deep down below the surface. And it's certainly not a case of amnesia. In the last stretch of the book, Roland and Jake chase the man in black through desert, mountains, and tunnels, finding stranger and stranger things as they go. And when they finally do have him within reach, Roland is faced with yet another difficult choice. Let the boy fall to his death, or pursue the man in black, which he has chased for many long years. He has grown to love the boy Jake like a son. But with the end of a seemingly endless journey in sight, what is a man to do? This is the very climax of the book. The choice. I'll not spoil the surprise for you, but I will say that the book ends with a very supernatural and strange vision of what this series is really about. The Dark Tower. Our world, Roland's world, everything revolves around the Dark Tower.
Unlike previous reviewers have stated, this is not a mere sample of the book. It is the full book, and it is fantastic. I began the series about 15 years ago and was only able to read the first 4 books since the others had not yet been written. I am excited to go back and start the series over knowing that I will be rewarded with an epic conclusion.
I read before bed for about 30min to an hour until I can't fight it anymore and just fall asleep. Do not, I repeat do not read this book in that manner. It is meant to be read in one sitting. I read through the entire book and when finished was wondering if I had interpreted everything correctly or if I had missed a chapter here or there. Breaking it up into different sittings didn't help this issue. I later read a detailed review of the book and it is all clear now. The book is very subtle if that is the right word. Explanations are given then immediately followed up by the main character wondering if what was just said "is the truth or not", thus leaving the comment to be interpreted by you. Maybe mysterious is a better word. The Gunslinger himself is not described very well and I had a hard time trying to envision him during this journey. Most of all the time/frame and setting is never really explained until the end. Is this a future earth, is it earth in another dimension, is it an entirely different fantasy land. It is all left for your interpretation. After initially finishing the book I felt let down but now as I write this review the fact that it has caused me to put in this much thought is right now getting me slightly excited about seeing what the next installment has to offer.
This is the best series of books ever. I do not read at all. Video game type of guy. Fast and hard are the only things that keeps my attention. Except for this. I read every book until i ran out and had to wait on the next one, Wolves of the Colla. I have four of the seven and i am waiting until i can get all hard copies before I start reading again. Look, its a journey! Do yourself a favor and start here. Best choice you will ever make.
Was sometimes a little slow but it was needed for the later novels. Also it is the full book it was just compressed a little. It was still all there.
First off, I loved the Dark Tower series - really great stuff. It got a bit weird as it went along, but whatever. I read The Gunslinger years ago, in high school. So I was excited to get into it again, and just recently picked up this version. I also just recently returned it - here's why: King did something I hate. He took the original novel and revised it. Reading the first section, I was aghast to see that it wasn't some minor factual errors or grammar mistakes he had corrected. Instead, he had basically rewritten the book, changing scenes, characters, dialogue, and the plot. It's just like what they did with the Star Wars movies, but worse. It's a different book, written by a different man, King today as opposed to King in the 70's. I hate this kind of revisionism. What was done cannot and should not be changed. What's more, I found some of his revisions laughable and absurd. I'll go back and find the original. Shame on you, Mr. King, for a lack of artistic integrity - and for this book, you'll not get my money. Hope this helps someone.
I am a huge Stephen King fan and I bought this book on a whim. I'd read a bunch of review saying it wasn't very good (I disagree, just so you know) but I figured that it was a King book so it had to be good. I was way wrong. It wasn't good it was GREAT. I'm now addicted to this series and I can't wait to read the rest. Christmas can't come quick enough! If you like fantasy or horror or just Stephen King you have GOT to read this book. It was amazing and I might even read it again while I'm waiting to get the rest.
I am halfway through the 4th book in The Dark Tower Series and i cannot put these books down! im a highschool student and i was supposed to read 2000 pages this semester so i decided to red stephen king novels and im well over 2500 and the semesters not done yet! normally i have trouble reading books for school but i had no trouble reading this series. i would recommend the series to anyone that is a stephen king fan or interested in action, mystery, suspense and adventure. To start with the first book in the series is sort of a slower book to read and you really have to pay attention to what you read or you'll get lost in whats happening. i would say that to read this book you also have to be tolerant to bad language and have a good set of vocabulary and comprehension skills. stephen king does a great job keeping the reader guessing throughout this novel and not losing the readers interest throughout.
I own the actuall book and it is great. It has so many different twists and turns you never know what to expect.
Anyone interested in fantasy/science fiction will be captivated
When i first started reading this book, I thought "What is going ON!?" I knew it took place in some kind of arid desert, but it also had a western movie feel to it, as well as magic and sorcery. Intrigued by this interesting mix of options, I kept turning the page one after another, simply fascinated by this world that Stephen King has spent the majority of his life creating. This first book starts off a little slow, I'll give you that, but as it goes on it builds momentum and soon enough you discover that you don't want to put it down because you want to know what happens next. I HIGHLY recommend you read this book. Try not to think too deeply on it- King does all of the work for you- just prepare yourself for one hell of an amazing adventure with some truly remarkable characters. I can't believe I'm about to say this, but I will compare this to the legendary Harry Potter- they're both amazing works of art and should not be missed.
I am a big fan of Lord of the Rings and The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly is my second favorite movie of all time, so The Gunslinger is a reading experience that I will never forget. I always enjoyed Stephen King and in this book, and hopefully in the other six Dark Tower books, King writes with great prose that reminded me of Cormac McCarthy. I would definitely recommend this book to others with similar interests as me.
Stephen King is always a favorite author. Big fan of his works.
Very good book. Couldn't put it diwn
A wonderful blend of science fiction, post apocalypse with a strong dash of the supernatural, wrapped up in a western package. It's easy to see the influence that this work has had on so much that has come after it. Although confusing at times, I very much enjoyed the story and the characters. Looking forward to the next installment of the series.
Finished the entire series. Great story. I'm so impressed with this engrossing story.
One of my favorite reads.
My second favorite in the series definitely the one that sucked me in
NAH --- I never quite got this, King should stick with his genre. This is just not the King I come to expect!
The start of a great journey