Stephen King’s The Dark Tower
Book One: The Gunslinger
I am “moving on” from Robert Heinlein to Stephen King, but will return to Heinlein in due time.
For me, writing about King is a far cry from writing about Heinlein or most other authors. Heinlein is an author I’ve recently been introduced to. But with King, I hardly can critique anything. It’s more like worship… his stories being magic carpet rides with all the action and tension he creates. Not that Heinlein doesn’t do those things, but King’s style is really entrancing. You could call it pulp fiction in the way it has more action and intrigue, but I would not. His detailed accounts of people and their faults, and the way he brings you totally into the story like you belong there, it’s phenomenal in ways I can’t put into words.
But speaking of people’s faults, King injects them into every one of his characters. That’s probably much of the reason they are so real. The people in his stories are often goofy, single-minded, and/or belligerent, but no matter what, they are human (except for the non-humans lol).
The gunslinger himself is rife with faults. Like everyone else, he is a mixture of positive and negative (if you want to put human traits on a spectrum of good-bad). His skills are pervasive and obvious, he is our hero, but he allows the boy Jake to die in order to continue his pursuit of the man in black and Dark Tower.
This is the big moral problem in The Gunslinger. We are introduced to Roland as he follows the man in black across the desert and we soon learn of his determination to catch his nemesis. Along the way, the man in black puts Jake in Roland’s path, and Roland, knowing full well it’s going to happen, allows Jake to fall to his death. Pre-meditated negligent manslaughter perhaps?
It’s as if King has given us an ultimatum. If you can’t handle a complicated hero, one who makes mistakes of a colossal nature, don’t go on. He’s setting up the gunslinger to be personally deep and satisfyingly unsatisfying, while being stiff and flat and dark in his mission.
Or perhaps it’s the gunslinger who is warning us. Hello, this is me, I will always pick the pursuit over you, even if you are my friend. Even if I love you.
More on Stephen King’s The Gunslinger in the next post…