Tuesday, 29 September 2009

The Gunslinger - Stephen King

All in all, best book I've read since Good Omens (Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman), though considering that's the last book in English I've read most of the way through (I got distracted with about 20 pages left...), I do suppose that's not actually saying a lot...

But I really did enjoy it. It's nothing like Good Omens, by the way. Good Omens is, what would you even call it? Fantasy End-of-the-World comedy? The Gunslinger is, I would consider anyway, straight up fantasy. It's not elves and hobgoblins. Though there is a bit of magic in it, a sorcerer anyway, it's very much outside of the realm of traditional fantasy. It takes place in our world, actually I got a very distinct feeling of Nevada desert, Rockies, and California area, but that may just be me. But the whole story really is out of time. You can't tell at all how old the gunslinger is throughout the book, since it seems he's lived for several ages and, as he keeps saying, "the world has moved on" quite a lot since he was a child. Jake is a modern kid, I imagine from the time King started writing the book, who is technically dead, and I'm curious if he even really existed at all. He very definitely was a trap for the gunslinger by the man in black, but since he's dead, and clearly from a time thousands of "years" (I say that in the loosest sense of the word because, like I said, time is all out of whack in the story) prior to when he appears in the desert and runs into the gunslinger.

I liked the flow of the story. It didn't seem nearly as long as when I read it as a kid. The writing style was easy to read. There were no unwieldy sentences, really nothing structurally that made me go "huh???" while I was reading it. The editing, whether done by King himself or his editors, was really well done. Only a few things jumped out at me as "this really doesn't need to be here," or "stop beating me over the head with this," until the end part that I rambled about in my last entry. Even that may have a reason for it that I just haven't gotten to yet, so I'm waiting to count that as a positive or negative in the book. King kept saying the gunslinger was "unimaginative" or "without imagination" in the narration and dialogue. He also kept saying that he didn't think much, which showed mostly in the huge gaps of time where there would be no internal monologue from the gunslinger, or sometimes "three days of nothing passed" before any narration at all continued.

A lot of fantasy and sci-fi books make the mistake of dumping information on you about the world, characters, history, what-have-you in the first chapter or so. The Gunslinger didn't even teeter on that edge. You're dropped into the desert with the gunslinger and spend the first while going "Why the heck is he here?" King used a lot of flashbacks throughout the story to explain the gunslinger's background, a bit of the history of the places, and all those details, which at first struck me as a little awkward (the first major flashback when he's sitting in the dweller's hut with the bird), but the storytelling method he kept using throughout the book worked. In a way, I kind of found it contradictory to the gunslinger's "unimaginative" character who "doesn’t think much" to reminisce in the way the gunslinger kept doing for the flashbacks/stories. Yeah, he gets around it by letting it roll off the gunslinger and not affect his decisions, and in the end showing him acting almost without thought in regard to Jake. I'm not sure if it could have been done better and preserved the story, or if it's really not counter to his character at this point. Just a thought.

The story, so far (I have to keep reminding myself it's a ridiculously long, multi-book story...), amuses me in how it follows the hero's journey archetype while at the same time throwing up its own dark mantle over the Hercules and Frodo statues. It kinda sticks its tongue out at the archetypes. I liked it. It had all of the aspects. The call to adventure, the mother (multiples actually), the belly of the whale (I'd take Frodo's or Skywalker's any day!), the gate guardian who is also one of the guides and a part of the call to adventure (again, multiples). Everything was in order and fit, which is a part of epic fantasy and I think something I love about it but also something that drives me nuts because so many authors just write the same story with different colors. But things like the man in black, who appears throughout the gunslinger's life, spurring him into action over and over, setting him on the path to adventure and guiding him from beginning to end was twisted. He guided him, but he also guided him through things that he figured would kill the gunslinger. He set multiple traps for him that completely stripped down his pride and forced him to choose between his own life or dozens of other people's. Basically he was the world's worst counselor, and a jack-ass to boot. The other guide, who also serves as one of the gate guardians in his childhood, was a bit more normal in part because he was entirely human and had nothing spectacularly mystical about him. I say he's a guide, but maybe he was just more of a teacher. His instruction serves the gunslinger throughout the book though, and it's referenced in his inner monologue and flashbacks quite often. The mother, the gunslinger's real mother actually, appears mostly as nonsense rhymes in his inner monologue, but when she finally does appear in the flashbacks all I could think was "Saw that coming." I didn't get a sense of the gunslinger blaming his mother for anything though. The other character who I'd loosely consider tied to the mother archetype he ends up shooting in the face. Even the gunslinger as a hero is messed up. I don't think I'd even go so far as to call him an anti-hero at this point because he's driven to find the Tower, but it's not clear why - if it's even for a purpose, noble or otherwise, or something that could be remotely construed as noble. (For anti-hero, think Han Solo in Episode IV. He saves the princess for money, essentially - though he's not the main "hero." That would be Luke.)

There were also a lot of biblical references and parallels. The Tower at the nexus of all universes and time being given over to the control of a red king. Jake's character was a bit of a twisted form of Isaac. Throughout the whole text there were little drops that really made me go "Huh, King knows his bible... or random sections of it really well..." It was very culturally based, and I think, for example, Japanese fans here with a translation would miss a lot of the atmosphere. It's very apocalyptic and dark without being scary or creepy, but I wonder if you didn't understand the cultural references, and there were more than just biblical references, if you'd catch that feeling. There was also a raised hat to Tolkien at the end, if I may be so bold as to put that out there. The scene on the bridge most definitely felt straight out of the Fellowship and Khazad-dum. Really though, for all his forward brought up how he waited to write the story so he wouldn't write Tolkien's story again (fantasy writers, follow his example!!), I had completely forgotten about his even mentioning that until the bridge at the end. It kinda just felt like a nod. "Yeah, loved the books. Thanks for the good times." - type nod.

And I wonder how many of you bothered to read all the way through that! Ahah, I babble a lot. Yikes. It was a good book though, and like I said, not a hard read. And if you're thinking, "Ah.. Stephen King... It and scary stuff," don't let that stop you from reading it, because it's really not scary at all. The one part that might be scary in a movie (maybe? the picture in my head, now that I think on it, kinda resembled Gollum, mostly just made me giggle) really wasn't tense because you knew how it had to play out as part of the man in black's plan. It's dark, that's for sure. And the "ending" is good enough to be considered an ending, but it clearly is more "the end of the beginning." ... and it's not what I would call a happy ending... or a sad ending... just an "Ah... Yup..."

Anyway, I'd recommend it. I'm on to reading Terry Brooks's "The Sword of Shannara." I've just started chapter three, and I'm kinda going "1400 page book... Seriously?" and wondering if I'm going to finish it. It's really not grabbing me. Could be the writing style, which is clumsy, repetitive and inconsistent. It could be the characters, which are completely unbelievable and 2 chapters in I should care about them at least in some regard... which I don't. We'll see how long it keeps my attention. After that it's Moon Called by Patricia something-or-other, and then Terry Pratchett's... I forgot the title. Save the best for last. :P


Mimzy said...

My phone number: 214-3833 with the area code being that of home. (AKA, I don't want to post the entire thing here...)

BTW, if I ever get the chance to breathe I'm going to have to read this book now....

Also, also, you should read 'To Say Nothing of the Dog.' It was the first time-travel book I read where the issues of screwing up history was dealt with in a way that worked. It totally blows 'A Sound of Thunder' out of the water.

shakespeare.gurl said...

I looked up "To Say Nothing of the Dog." Connie Willis, right? Nothing of hers is in e-book, so I'm gonna have to wait till I get back and steal yours or something ;)