For a lot of people, The Gunslinger has been a barrier to entering the Dark Tower series. Not so for me. When asked to name my favorite book in the series (and I’m very bad at picking favorites of anything), I usually fall back to this one. It was the first, and for a number of years it was the only.
I was like a lot of people in that I didn’t know anything about this book until I saw it listed at the front of Pet Sematary among King’s other works. I’d only been reading King for four years at this point, but I was hopelessly addicted. I had already written him a fan letter and received a bibliography from his office, which I kept folded in my wallet for any time I went to a used bookstore so I could track down uncollected stories, essays and interviews.
Once I began my quest for The Gunslinger, I must have driven those poor bookstore owners crazy. The guy who owned my favorite, Back Pages on Queen Street in Halifax, said he thought he might have heard of the book, but didn’t know how to get a copy. I pored over the Books in Print catalogs (remember those?) in other bookstores, hoping the book would magically appear from one week to the next. I tried to get the Halifax Public Library to track a copy down. No joy in H-ville.
Finally, I wrote King. Thanks to his response to my previous fan letter, I had his office address, so I wrote to him there, instead of via his publisher, which is probably where I sent my earlier missive. I don’t have any memory of the content of this letter, but knowing me it was probably brief and to the point. How could I get my hands on a copy? » Read more
THAT WAS THEN…
An admission: despite being a lifelong Stephen King fan, I didn’t read The Dark Tower series until just about ten years ago.
I know, I know—I should be ashamed of myself.
To make matters worse, the long delay made absolutely no sense.
I loved Stephen King books. I devoured each new title as soon as they were published.
I loved westerns. Especially movies like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The Wild Bunch. The Unforgiven.
And, of course, I had read and heard all the rave reviews (especially from trusted readers, Brian Freeman and Bev Vincent). Heck, I had even published a bunch of those reviews in Cemetery Dance.
But for some reason, I still wasn’t sold on The Dark Tower.
Something kept making me hesitate. Maybe it was all that chatter about talking trains and crystal balls… » Read more
When he was a student working in the University of Maine library, Stephen King inherited a ream (500 sheets) of oddly sized bright green paper, almost as thick as cardboard. (His future wife, Tabitha Spruce got one, too, except hers was robin’s egg blue.) This eccentric material seemed to invite him to write something special.
Two years earlier, in a sophomore course on the romantic poets, he’d studied the Robert Browning poem “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came.” He wanted to write something long that embodied the feel of that poem, if not its exact sense. Seeing The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (while flying high on mescaline, he told an audience at Yale in April 2003) made him wonder if he could blend two different genres. He wanted to capture Tolkien’s sense of quest and magical fantasy set against Sergio Leone’s “almost absurdly majestic Western backdrop.”
He started the book during his final year at university. In March 1970, he wrote the iconic first line and the rest of the sections ”The Gunslinger” and “The Way Station” while living alone in a cabin on the banks of the Stillwater River (his three roommates had flunked out one by one, a progression reminiscent of the novella “Hearts in Atlantis”). In that cabin, he experienced ghostly, unbroken silence that undoubtedly affected the mood of what he was writing—unbroken, that is, except for the music of Johnny Winter. He believed at the time he was embarking on the longest popular novel in history, something he estimated would approach 3000 pages. » Read more