I didn’t realize it until recently, but The Gunslinger makes a peculiar bookend for my time here in Japan. The last time I picked it up, it was January 2006, and I was looking ahead, not back, to heading overseas. And now here I am, a couple months to go before I leave for good, and I’m back on the trail to the Dark Tower.
You could say that I didn’t really “get” The Gunslinger the first time around. It’s hard to digest a nuanced story when you’re half-asleep at a security guard desk, and Roland’s adventures make for some odd company on the night shift anyway. I came away bemused, hoping that it would get better, which it actually did. I rolled through the whole series all the way into Japan, and was treated to one of my favorite conclusions to a series ever at the end of a mostly depressing Dark Tower VII.
I found The Gunslinger difficult to judge, though. I couldn’t decide whether it was actually dull and confusing, or if I had just missed the subtleties while reading it at three a.m. But on closer inspection, it seems like The Gunslinger isn’t so much boring as it is the purest example of an emotion that pervades the entire series: loneliness. The Gunslinger is about one guy, the last of his kind, crossing a desert in a world that has essentially ended. You’d better believe that he’s going to be lonely.
Once you embrace that melancholy atmosphere, Roland becomes sympathetic rather than distant. You start to notice all of the little details of Stephen King’s “world that has moved on.” It doesn’t seem quite as clumsy or pretentious as it did before, and it’s easy to understand Roland’s world of broken dreams.
Weirdly enough, it’s the same feeling that I get with Watchmen, which I also happen to be reading right now (nope, not finished with that one yet). They’re both dark, introspective, and apparently intent on showing us the true nature of humanity. They’re also both incredibly difficult pieces to adapt to film, but are getting movies anyway. But if it makes you feel any better, I have more faith in J.J. Abrams’ vision for The Gunslinger than I do Zack Snyder’s for Watchmen. At the very least, I expect that he’ll get the emotions right. And I’m starting to think that the emotions are the most important part of Dark Tower.
In any case, I’m moving on to The Drawing of the Three, the second book in the Dark Tower cycle. This is where it starts to get “good.” Here’s hoping that holds true while my time here in Japan comes full circle.