The Gunslinger
Stephen King
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Buy *The Gunslinger: The Dark Tower, Book 1 (revised & expanded)* online The Gunslinger: The Dark Tower, Book 1 (revised & expanded)
Stephen King
231 pages
June 2003
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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An objective outsider might question the need for revising Stephen King's now-classic The Gunslinger, the opening book of his "Dark Tower" epic. But when you're an author with the megawatt bestselling star power of Stephen King and you want to "fix" the literary foibles of your youth, your publisher is gonna go along with you - and be happy for the opportunity to reissue a proven work to a ready-to-buy if somewhat rarefied audience.

By and large, the pluses and minuses resulting from King's decision to touch up The Gunslinger balance each other out. The quest's purpose and milieu are clarified, side roads from the original that ended up being dead ends in the larger story have been taken out, and characters have been enriched and made more human - especially the last gunslinger himself, Roland of Gilead. Still the beginning of a long tale of flawed good versus shadowy evil, of fate and choices and consequences, this Gunslinger has obviously been honed by an older, more experienced hand.

But purists may argue that the very ambiguity of the original is part of what made it so intriguing, that those unexplained side roads made that other world seem as - or more - complicated as our own troubled home, that Roland's inscrutability somehow made him a larger hero - and that the admittedly atmospheric, richly pulp-comic style illustrations come perilously close to shattering internalized visions of any given reader's "real" Roland.  Those who argue such things may be right, but they will probably also buy the revised book; if there's one thing diehard "Dark Tower" fans are suckers for, it's more insight into this incredible world that King has crafted, a world his fans half-wish will somehow never move on.

And insight into the Dark Tower's inception, at least, is something every King reader constant or new will get, at least in the new introduction and foreword.  King unsurprisingly cites Tolkien as a major influence on the work, but, more interesting, he gives a shout-out to Sergio Leone's spaghetti-Western classic The Good, the Bad and the Ugly for inspiring the larger-than-reality landscape that is so central to the Tower story. Readers are also treated to the tiniest bit jaded walk down memory lane with the author as he recalls the grand arrogance of being nineteen and believing you have something of monumental importance to say. [Reviewer's aside: I first read Thr Gunslinger at just that pivotal age, which may be why the quest for the Tower has resonated with me so strongly over all these years.]

On balance, The Gunslinger in either version is still a fantastic book in all senses of the word. If a revised edition is what it takes to call readers back to the book that started such a grand journey, or to summon new travelers, then a revised edition was, in the end, the right idea.

© 2004 by Sharon Schulz-Elsing for Curled Up With a Good Book

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