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Cannonball Read #36: The Gunslinger by Stephen King

I had been trying to avoid the Dark Tower series, and had managed to do so for...well, let's put it this way: The Gunslinger, the first book in the series, was published in 1982, nearly three years before I learned to read. Why have I been resisting the work of an author I usually unabashedly love? Surprising though it may be to the few of you that follow this blog, but I really do try to put a cap on my nerdiness. I am perfectly happy to admit that I read most of King's novels, but...a fantasy series? Really? I felt as though getting involved in the Dark Tower books would push me over into the world of Trekkies, fanboys, and people who dress up like wookies.

Fortunately for me, my undeserved prejudice was undone by a bus trip. Last weekend, I went to the North Country with The Boyfriend for his cousin's wedding. The bus takes about 4.5 hours each way, and when I was gathering reading material for the journey I discovered I was fresh out of books I hadn't read. Normally, I love re-reading old favorites, but since I started Cannonball Read I've managed to consume nothing but new all year. I discovered The Gunslinger sitting on a shelf amidst my rather formidable King collection--purchased for The Boyfriend who LOVES fantasy novels--and decided I might as well give it a whirl.

I am glad I did.

The story is about Roland, who is a gunslinger (sort of like a knight in his world.) He is on a quest to catch "the Dark Man," and is in the process of chasing him across a wide desert when the story begins. The plot winds a bit, and there are a LOT of unanswered questions throughout--it is clear this is meant to be part of a series and not a stand-alone novel. As the reader quests along with Roland, we slowly begin to pick up pieces of his past and about the events that led to the post-apocalyptic world he now travels. The book definitely achieves what King states in the re-written introduction he'd attempted: a book combining the fantasy and scope of Lord of the Rings with the dusty, dangerous atmosphere of Sergio Leone's "Man with No Name" trilogy. Roland certainly comes across as an old-school Clint Eastwood character, but the magical, questing feeling of J.R.R. Tolkien's famous works is also well represented.

On the whole, I enjoyed the book more than I thought I was going to. In any case (much to The Boyfriend's delight) I think I will need to go ahead and purchase the rest of the series.

Looks like I am going to have to clear yet another shelf in my bookcase for the master of horror.

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