Denver Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Club

Gunslinger trade paperback

The Gunslinger (1982, 2003)
Dark Tower Book One

A New York Times Bestseller

Plume trade revised edition
cover art by Steve Stone
231 pages (left)

Signet books revised paperback
300 pages (right)

Gunslinger paperback

From the back cover of the trade revised edition:
       In the first book of this brilliant series, now expanded and revised by the author, Stephen King introduces readers to one of his most enigmatic heroes, 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 frighteningly mirrors our own, Roland pursues the man in black, encounters an alluring woman named Alice, and begins a friendship with the boy from New York called Jake.  Both grippingly realistic and eerily dreamlike, The Gunslinger leaves readers eagerly awaiting the next chapter.

From the inside of the revised paperback:
       In the first book of this brilliant series, Stephen King introduces readers to one of his most enigmatic heroes, Roland of Gilead, the last gunslinger.  Nothing will ever be the same.  Roland's quest for the Dark Tower takes readers on a wildly epic ride -- through parallel worlds and across time.  A classic tale of colossal scope -- crossing over terrain from The Stand, The Eyes of the Dragon, Insomnia, The Talisman, Black House, Hearts in Atlantis, Salem's Lot, and other familiar King haunts -- the adventure takes hold with the turn of each page.  And the tower awaits. . . .
       This heroic fantasy is set in a world of ominous landscape and macabre menace that is a dark mirror of our own.  A spellbinding tale of good versus evil, it features one of Stephen King's most powerful creations -- the gunslinger, a haunting figure who embodies the qualities of the lone hero through the ages, from ancient myth to frontier Western legend. . . .

Read for group discussion on April 28, 2004

Gunslinger Dark Tower cover Another cover - The Gunslinger
Dark Tower Book One

1988 Plume trade paperback
cover art by Michael Whelan
216 pages (left)

2003 UK revised paperback
New English Library
304 pages (right)

Gunslinger revised UK

How we each rated this book
Dan - Amy - stack of books 10   Wow! Don't miss it
8-9  Highly recommended
7    Recommended
5-6  Mild recommendation
3-4  Take your chances
1-2  Below average; skip it
0    Get out the flamethrower!
U    Unfinishable or unreadable
-    Skipped or no rating given
Cheri - Barb -
Aaron 8 Cynthia -
Jackie 8 Ron 9
Christine 7 Deb 6
Mike 8 Gary 9

Aaron's Commentary  Stephen King - The Gunslinger (Dark Tower Book 1)

This novel has a very effective mythic tone, with a memorably strange and ambiguous feel to the setting and characters.

The setting melds Western and fantasy motifs to create a place both bizarre and familiar.  King keeps the reader guessing whether this world is our future, an alternate universe, the afterlife, or a dreamworld.  Yet in the midst of this strangeness, King manages to work in thoughts we can all relate to ("The sun climbed to its zenith, seemed to hang there more briefly than it ever had during the desert crossing, and then passed on, returning them their shadows."; "Do grown men always have to play games?  Does everything have to be an excuse for another kind of game? Do any men grow up or do they only come of age?")

Roland the Gunslinger is a compelling protagonist.  I love how the narrator accepts Roland's self-image as a simple, black-and-white kind of guy, when he is clearly not.  He is a very contemplative man, prone to feelings of guilt and self-doubt, which the Man in Black uses as his main weapons against Roland.

I was absorbed in Roland's quest even though, or perhaps because, its meaning and purpose are deliberately obscure.  We don't know why Roland is so determined to reach the Dark Tower.  All we can say with confidence is that on some level, his journey represents every person's search for understanding (including, for instance, the reader's efforts to understand this book).

All of the flashbacks and foreshadowing are intriguing, but matters are so far from being tied together that the whole book feels like a prologue to a much longer book (which, I gather, it is).  The only part of the story that plays out in this volume is Roland's agonizing decision to continue the pursuit of the Man in Black even if it costs his companion Jake his life.  The Man in Black compares Jake to the biblical Isaac, but what compels Roland as strongly as Abraham's faith?  I'm looking forward to reading further in the series to see if Roland's goal was worth it.

What do you think? Your comments are welcome. Please send them to

Our book group has also read the following books by Stephen King
-- The Green Mile  in December 1999

Stephen King (1947-     ) is the world's best-selling novelist. He is a US writer of horror, dark fantasy, and fantasy.

1982 World Fantasy Award for short story "Do the Dead Sing?" ( "The Reach")
1988 Bram Stoker Award for novel Misery
1991 Bram Stoker Award for collection Four Past Midnight
1991 Bram Stoker Award for novelette "Lunch at the Gotham Café"
1995 World Fantasy Award for short story "The Man in the Black Suit"
1997 Bram Stoker Award for novel The Green Mile
1999 Bram Stoker Award for novel Bag of Bones
2001 Bram Stoker Award for nonfiction On Writing
2003 Bram Stoker Award for life achievement
2003 The National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters

The books in his dark fantasy series, The Dark Tower are: The Gunslinger (1982), The Drawing of the Three (1987), The Waste Lands (1991), Wizard and Glass (1998), Wolves of the Calla (2003) Song of Susannah (2004), and The Dark Tower (2004).  For serious fans, there's a reference book covering the first 4 books of the series, Stephen King's The Dark Tower: A Concordance, Volume 1 by Robin Furth.

The Eyes of the Dragon (1987) and The Talisman (written with Peter Straub, 1984) are straight fantasy.  The sequel to The Talisman, Black House (written with Peter Straub, 2001), is a dark fantasy with ties to King's Dark Tower saga.

Other novels by Stephen King are (in alphabetic order): Bag of Bones (1998), Carrie (1974), Cell (2006), Christine(1983), The Colorado Kid (2005), Cujo (1981), Cycle of the Werewolf (1985), The Dark Half (1989), The Dead Zone (1979), Desperation (1996), Dolores Claiborne (1993), Dreamcatcher (2001), Duma Key (2008), Firestarter (1980), From a Buick 8: A Novel (2002), Gerald's Game (1992), The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (1999), The Green Mile (1996), Insomnia (1994), It (1986), Lisey's Story (2006), Misery (1987), Needful Things (1991), Pet Sematary (1989), Rose Madder(1995), 'Salem's Lot (1975), The Shining (1977), The Stand (1978, Complete and Uncut Edition 1990), Tommyknockers (1987), and Under the Dome (2009).  Many of these titles have been filmed as movies.

His short fiction has been collected in the following books: Night Shift (1978), Different Seasons (1982), Skeleton Crew (1985), Four Past Midnight (1990), Nightmares & Dreamscapes (1993), Hearts in Atlantis (1999), and Everything's Eventual (2002), and Just After Sunset (2008).

The books Stephen King originally published under the pseudonym of Richard Bachman are: Rage (1977), The Long Walk (1979), Roadwork (1981), The Running Man (1982), Thinner (1984), The Regulators (1996), and Blaze (2007).

King has written the non-fiction books Danse Macabre (1980) and On Writing (2000).

Stephen King has also done numerous screenplays.

Our book club's page for The Green Mile by Stephen King
The Official Stephen King Web Presence
The SF Site Featured Review: The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger (before revised)
The SF Site Featured Review: The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger (2003)
The Gunslinger: The Dark Tower, Book 1 (revised & expanded) -- book review

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