Strange fantasy by Stephen King, one of his earlier books. He later revised it to correct some minor-sounding issues of consistency with later books in the series; I read the revised version, which has a fantastic short essay by King at the beginning. I love his nonfiction writing.

It has a justly famous first line: The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

Like it says: a gunslinger relentlessly pursues a man in black who is very bad news. That’s not to say that the gunslinger has clean hands himself.

It’s a weird western, somewhere on the border between dark fantasy and horror, in an incredibly bleak, post-apocalyptic landscape. It has a lot of elements I like and does capture the epic, mythic, movie Old West atmosphere he was going for, but it’s also overly gloomy for my taste— the atmosphere felt very oppressive, which was clearly deliberate, but still— and, very unusually for King and me, I was not grabbed by the characters. He was clearly going for archetypal (the gunslinger’s name isn’t revealed till something like halfway through), but for me it just read as flat. His characterization tends to work via specific details and unique speech patterns, and this had few details and most people spoke more or less the same way. The characterization made sense given the overall conception, but it didn’t play to King's strengths as a writer.

However, I gather that the sequels go in very different directions. Should I read them? Am I more likely to like them? I also have a vague impression that the series ending was widely disliked. If you read it, without getting too spoilery, 1) did you hate it if you got that far, 2) did you hate it enough to retrospectively ruin the entire series, 3) if yes to both, is there a good pre-ending stopping point?

There have been rumors of a movie for forever, but it’s now actually happening and Idris Elba plays the gunslinger. This ups my interest in the series quite a bit. Of course I could just see the movies, but that’s a long wait for a lot of installments.

The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower)
genarti: Roland Deschain with animated text cycling through several emotions (picture unchanging). ([dt] many moods of Roland)

From: [personal profile] genarti

The sequels do indeed go in very different directions. Also, they become more ensemble-y, which helps with making Roland a more humanized character instead of just a craggy archetype. (He stays that, too.) Because I like ensemble stories and I like a lot of the characters who show up in the later books, I like the rest of the series better than the first, but opinions vary. Opinions also vary about whether it's the first half or the second half of the series that's better, because the weirdness does a definite gearshift near the end of book 5.

They remain very weird. Sometimes funny and sometimes dark, gory in the way King does, and very weird. I think The Gunslinger is the most emotionally bleak, though. Also, King has grown a lot in his ability to write e.g. women over the years, and that's on display over the course of the series, in both positive and negative ways.

I have very mixed feelings on the ending, but it didn't ruin the series for me; it was the kind that felt right but that I didn't want to feel right, if that makes sense. (It's made for fix-it fic in a lot of ways.) IMO there are a few pre-ending stopping points, but IIRC there's a good one that skips the very ending and lets you imagine it instead. Personally I would read it and decide whether to mentally retcon out the very ending or not based on that, but YMMV depending on whether that's a thing your brain is willing to do.
musesfool: Mal with gun (i aim to misbehave)

From: [personal profile] musesfool

I enjoyed it up through the 5th book (and there's a later, interstitial book I also enjoyed). I don't necessarily regret reading books 6 and 7 because I wanted to know how it ended, but on the other hand, I do kind of regret reading them because 6 had some awful and tedious stuff in it (it uses a trope I am so so so exhausted of and the eventual payoff is not worth the awfulness of getting there at all), and I also hated the ending of 7. Not to mention the other thing King does that I found super irritating. (Note: I am not a big reader of his books? So some stuff was lost on me.)
sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)

From: [personal profile] sholio

I adore the second and third books. Yes, they're different, but different in a very good way -- and I'm like [personal profile] genarti, I was a little lukewarm on the first book and didn't really kick into high gear until the second. The second book is an h/c extravaganza. At the very least do yourself a favor and read that one.

I mainlined the series (as it then existed) right after the release of book 4, and then there was a very long wait between books 4 and 5, to the point where no one was really sure if we ever WOULD get a book 5; that was when he had his near-fatal car accident, and I think the direction of the series changed a lot at that point -- there's something semi-autobiographical about the whole thing, but that's when it becomes obviously part biography, part catalogue of his fictional influences. Having had that long gap, though, for canon to settle in my head, I still kinda think of the series as having ended with book 4. I definitely didn't hate the ending like a lot of people did; I agree 100% with [personal profile] genarti's assessment, that it feels right -- I think it's actually a better ending than a lot of King books have, since he has a tendency to go off the rails pretty badly in the last quarter of his books -- but it's also a lot of ouch. However, I think you can pretty easily stop with the 4th book. My favorite part of the series ends with the first few chapters of book 4 and the characters getting out of the mess they're in at the end of book 3; then most of book 4 is a book-within-a-book with a whole different set of characters, who you may like, but for me it was a digression and led into the entire rest of the series feeling like a digression from what I actually wanted it to be, if that makes any sense. So book 4 is a good place to stop, and there is also a built-in stopping place in book 7 -- there's a point where the narrative voice actually points out that if you want a happy ending, you should stop reading now, and HE'S NOT JOKING. That's also an option. The ending didn't taint the series for me, but I've also never accomplished a reread that went beyond the first few chapters of book 4.
genarti: Orange harvest moon viewed through grass or grain, with text "Come.  Reap." ([dt] demon moon)

From: [personal profile] genarti

Ha, that's right, I forgot that the IF YOU WANT A HAPPY ENDING, STOP HERE is literally in the text. And it's true! You can stop there. And, if you want a happy ending, you definitely should. The stopping point I was thinking of was right at the very end of book 7, but before the very VERY end.
dhampyresa: (Default)

From: [personal profile] dhampyresa

That opening line is amazing. Too amazing even, because every time I read it I go "no book can live up to that" and so I've never picked up the book.
gehayi: (Default)

From: [personal profile] gehayi

I never liked the first book. The gunslinger killing a woman by shooting a gun up her vagina was just too much for me. As a result, I could never entirely see Book!Roland as a good person--just better than his opponents. (RPG!Roland is a different story altogether.) I got interested in Roland's companions in the later books, and I enjoyed the interstitial book Musesfool mentioned, but--the memory of that one action kept getting in my way.

Also, women suffer a great deal in this series, and often in ways that are hard to deal with. forewarned.
skygiants: Sheska from Fullmetal Alchemist with her head on a pile of books (ded from book)

From: [personal profile] skygiants

My memories of what happens in these books is very, very fuzzy (I read them -- all seven! -- small chunks at a time in my college bookstore, for reasons known only to my past self and now lost in the sands of time) but I suspect you will find it interesting/entertaining whether or not it actually works for you. I mean. As Gen said, they're definitely very weird. (And, in a lot of ways, very self-indulgent, which I find interesting to read/observe?)
kore: (Default)

From: [personal profile] kore

'Self-indulgent' is perfect, yeah, and from what little I remember, the women characters aren't treated very well. But I bounced off them hard, so.
kore: (Default)

From: [personal profile] kore

Unlike everyone else ever, I loathed these books, and you know I'm a King fan. I didn't like the GoT books, either, tho, so maybe it's just me and a particular kind of popular fantasy written by dudes. I think they're an example of his worst side -- when he tries to write "artsy" and it gets horribly meta and just winds up purple. Did you ever read Dr Sleep? Now that was fantastic.
cyphomandra: boats in Auckland Harbour. Blue, blocky, cheerful (boats)

From: [personal profile] cyphomandra

I love books 2&3 (the six years or so waiting for the resolution of the cliffhanger at the end of three was a very long time!). I would definitely recommend them. The rest of the series - well, there are some great bits, but there are also some dire ones; bailing after reading the start of 4 is a perfectly reasonable option. For me, the ending worked but I was pretty grumpy about getting there.
torachan: (Default)

From: [personal profile] torachan

I definitely would give at least the second book a chance before making a decision, since the first one is so short and was written so much earlier. I enjoyed the entire series and didn't dislike the ending, but my favorite books were the second and third (especially the third, which is one of my favorite books ever) and I felt like the rest of the series never quite lived up to those two.
unforgotten: (Default)

From: [personal profile] unforgotten

You don't know me, but I saw this post on my network page and wanted to chime in. Hope that's okay!

Book 1 is definitely the weak link in the series. I only got into it about 20 pages from the end, and only because it started hitting on a bulletproof (for me) trope. Books 2-5 I consider excellent, by far better than the first book; imo, they're absolutely worth reading if you're a fan of King's other work.

Books 6-7 have their moments, but don't match up to the rest of the series - and some large aspects of them are weird, even for Stephen King. He's never exactly been shy about gift wrapping his personal issues and presenting them in novel form, but it's really overt in these and I'm still not sure how well I think it worked.

I did not care for the ending - saw what King was going for, didn't think it worked in practice...but I've only read the series through once and might change my mind after a reread - but there is a very clear stopping place toward the end of the last book that would allow you to avoid the part of the ending that people objected to the most.

From: [identity profile]

these books do get progressively weirder and more unwieldy as they go on! but on the other hand, they lose this claustrophobic oppressiveness and there will be much more character interaction and certain... liveliness, you know? and roland won't stay alone for long. the ending is a typical king ending, wherein he doesn't quite stick the landing: i didn't think it Ruined The Series or anything, but it was anticlimactic and i could see why people would be disappointed.

the series suffer and win at once for being king's magnum opus: the further in you go, the more of the overarching myth he tries to pack into it, tying literally every damn other book he wrote to it, expanding on the whole turtle-vs-tower dichotomy, et cetera. it... sometimes works and usually doesn't, because that kind of thing worked REALLY better in coy references. and there's a literal self-insert in one of them! not even a character-based-on, straight-up king himself, it was kind of hilarious.

THIS SAID, i think if anybody deserves to write a really rambling, weird, shambling and yet wildly successful magnum opus in his own multiverse, it's stephen king, and it's very hard to grudge these books to him. i've enjoyed them all, to various degree, even though i'm not a fan kind of fan for them.

From: [identity profile]

ahahaha, also there's literally a pre-ending stopping point MARKED SO IN TEXT ITSELF. you won't miss it. king: a gigantic troll.

From: [identity profile]

I gather that the sequels go in very different directions

The sequels go in every direction known to man. Which I don't mean as a criticism: I consider the Dark Tower series to be King's magnum opus, not in the sense of it being his best work, but rather his Great Work. It eats genres for breakfast and spits them back out, and by the time it's done it has, in passing, made some pretty encompassing statements about his body of work and his own relationship to the job and calling of being a writer.

I also have a vague impression that the series ending was widely disliked. If you read it, without getting too spoilery, 1) did you hate it if you got that far, 2) did you hate it enough to retrospectively ruin the entire series, 3) if yes to both, is there a good pre-ending stopping point?

So here's the thing.

There can't be a good ending to the series -- not really. It's about a journey to the Axis Mundi; there's no possible ending to that story that is not either trite or unsatisfying.

King therefore gives you two endings. The first is quite literally followed by some text that urges you to stop there, to be satisfied with what you've gotten -- and there's a real argument to be made that you should listen. But of course we all read onward, to the second ending. I would say that both of them are unsatisfying, but I consider both of them to be the right kind of unsatisfying: they do, in their various ways, fit with the story that went before, and the metaphysical context of a quest to reach the Axis Mundi. I did not hate either ending, nor did either ending make me hate the series. If they didn't leave me feeling content . . . well, the closest comparison I can make is to the series finale of Angel. Neither ending of the Dark Tower series is the same kind of ending Angel had, with the "I'm gonna kill a dragon" cliffhanger, but they share in common a situation where you can't actually wrap things up in a neat little bow (or rather, you could, but then it would be unforgivably simplistic and dumb). So you find a way to stick a one-footed landing instead: off-balance, but maybe in a way that works.

If that makes any sense.

From: [identity profile]

Wow. I don't mind open-ended endings if they're done well and fit with the rest of the book. Like, I really liked the end of Angel because the entire story was about fighting the good fight whether you win or not, and trying being more important than succeeding.

From: [identity profile]

I'm trying to decide whether I would call either ending "open-ended," and . . . I'm not sure? They are and they aren't. They're weird, is all.
thornsilver: (Default)

From: [personal profile] thornsilver

OMG, I am going to look forward to seeing this movie, especially with Idris Elba!

I've read *some* of the other books in the series, and the ones I've seen kind of get even weirder than "Gunslinger". I mean really weird monsters and mutants, and kind of different in tone from the first one.

From: [identity profile]

It was all too much for me. I read the first two when they came out in the 80s and wasn't tempted to read more, either then or when the revised versions were published in the early 2000s. I agree with swan_tower's characterization of it as King's magnum opus, or even his Gesamtkunstwerk, but I didn't engage with it the way I engaged with Tim Powers's take on many of the same themes.

The movie definitely appeals, both because I love Idris Elba and think he's a great choice for a metaphysical gunslinger role, and also because I think King's a very cinematic writer.
sovay: (Otachi: Pacific Rim)

From: [personal profile] sovay

However, I gather that the sequels go in very different directions. Should I read them?

I read them in high school, but I loved the first three. [edit] By this I mean The Gunslinger plus the first two sequels, The Drawing of the Three and The Waste Lands. I missed Wizard and Glass and by the time Wolves of the Calla came out, I had lost track of the series and nothing I heard thereafter about the last three books in it made me want to go back.
Edited Date: 2016-06-14 09:23 pm (UTC)

From: [identity profile]

These are among my formative books-- well, the first four are; I initially read them when Wizard and Glass had just come out.

I have never read the revised version of The Gunslinger because I don't think writers should go back and do that to their books, and also because the original has a very pure, mythic, archetypes-playing-out-but-with-real-people-who-are-also-three-dimensional-characters thing going on and I was very much afraid he'd fuck that up in revisions. I don't know whether he has or not, but I'm not prepared to risk it. The thing I mean, well, the characters in the first book all have similar voices, but the voice is so purely stripped down to the bone that at one point during high school I could probably have recited every word Roland says in the novel.

The others do not in any way resemble this. They change genres at the drop of a hat, and they change tones positively recklessly, and somehow it works-- for a while. I admire but do not often reread Book Two, which feels to me like a very specific kind of seventies movie, usually containing Pacino and/or De Niro, if you put that in a blender with high fantasy and hit frappe. Book Three is one of my favorite novels of all time, period, and I can't really give a genre description because it does not remotely resemble anything else I have ever read. There was a while when I reread the entire sequence every year specifically to get Book Three in context. Book Four is great but way more conventional. Book Five is a love-it-or-hate-it, and should not really be taken as separate from Book Six; I come down on the side of loving it, though with reservations.

And when I got to the bit in Book Seven where it said in letters of fire STOP READING HERE YOU IDIOT, I stopped. On account of I don't know why he bothered writing any further. I have not taken the bit of that book behind that page out and thrown it away, because I feel that all readers should have the chance to make this sort of decision for themselves, but the thought did cross my mind.

You should keep reading, IMO, but I am not unbiased, because there are bits from these books I not only can recite to myself, but do, on a regular basis, because they are useful to my life. Also, either I like Book One way more than you do or the revisions were destructive. So I cannot really say.

From: [identity profile]

I'm not sure. King's foreword made the rewrites seem pretty minor - stuff like the name of a town turning into the name of a person, based on him getting a better idea later - but he might also not be the best judge. It felt mythic but the characters didn't feel 3-D; however, that could just be a difference in interpretation rather than text.

I love those 70s Pacino/DeNiro movies and have seen most of them, even the terrible ones, so you are making that and the sequels sound very potentially appealing even if you do just like book one more than I did.

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