The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger

dark tower book 1 the gunslinger cover first edition stephen king michael whelan art slow mutants
7.0 Overall Score

Start of the series, well-developed characters

Rather generic fantasy

Book Info

Book Title:   The Dark Tower I:  The Gunslinger

Publisher:  Donald M. Grant, Publisher, Inc.

Writer:  Stephen King

Artist:  Michael Whelan

Release Date:  June 1982


Don’t get in Roland’s way…

Gunslinger Roland Deschain is on a mission.  He’s pursing the Man in Black through the wasteland deserts and hopes that the Man in Black could be the key to finding the elusive Dark Tower.  Roland’s journey is coming to an end as he closes in on the Man in Black.  He is joined by a boy named Jake Chambers who comes from another world that appears to be similar to Roland’s.  The Man in Black nears, and Roland will do anything to reach him!

Written by Stephen King with illustrations by Michael Whelan, The Dark Tower I:  The Gunslinger was originally just released as The Dark Tower:  The Gunslinger which collected five short stories published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (“The Gunslinger” October 1978, “The Way Station” April 1980, “The Oracle and the Mountains” February 1981, “The Slow Mutants” July 1981, and “The Gunslinger and the Dark Man” November 1981).  The novel became a series and in 2003, Stephen King revised The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger to fit the flow and fix continuity problems in The Dark Tower series.

The Dark Tower was a bit of a break in format for Stephen King who had already established his name as a horror writer in 1982.  The release of the book followed his Richard Bachman penned The Running Man in May and Cujo in September of 1981 and took a pretty traditional fantasy approach to storytelling.  The book did not receive wide release until 1988 when Plume published it (and I first read it).  I can remember going into The Gunslinger expecting horror and though there are some horrific moments, it is primarily a fantasy…something I wasn’t expecting as a young reader.


Save you now, let you die later!

I have to admit that fantasy often makes my mind wander while reading it.  The names, the creatures, and the situations often feel forced and cliché.  There is a bit of that fantasy aspect to The Dark Tower:  The Gunslinger, but I think Stephen King does a good job keeping people who don’t necessarily read fantasy engaged in the story.  It is short and to the point.

King has always had a talent for characters and you find the seeds for Roland in this volume.  There are flashbacks involving Cort, Cuthbert, and others who are expanded upon primarily in The Dark Tower IV:  Wizard and Glass.  The novel also begins to establish the second novel in the series The Dark Tower II:  The Drawing of the Three.  It is a bit of this forward thinking that sets up a good series, and King does this (though it seems a bit random at the time).

An important part of fantasy (to me) is the imagery and King has always done a good job with this.  He is aided by illustrations that fill the oversized editions of The Dark Tower series.  In this volume, the illustrator is Michael Whelan who does have a pretty traditional fantasy element to his art.  It is a bit cheesy, but honestly, I find The Gunslinger’s story a bit cheesy so it does work with the imagery.  It really helps you get a feel for Roland and his world.

The Dark Tower I:  The Gunslinger will not appeal to all Stephen King fans who want horror.  The book however does a good job segueing into a fantasy world to “trick” his regular readers into not realizing he’s just switched genres.  I have to say that I get The Dark Tower burnout a few books into the series as it gets more and more fantasy based, but The Dark Tower is a quick read and an interesting read to see Stephen King’s range.  The Dark Tower:  The Gunslinger was partially adapted in 2017 in the critically panned The Dark Tower and has been adapted by Marvel Comics in a number of limited series.  King followed up The Dark Tower:  The Gunslinger with his car horror novel Christine in April 1983 but released The Dark Tower II:  The Drawing of the Three in May 1987.

Related Links:

The Dark Tower (2017)

The Dark Tower Volume 6:  The Gunslinger—The Journey Begins

The Dark Tower Volume 7:  The Gunslinger—The Little Sisters of Eluria

The Dark Tower Volume 8:  The Gunslinger—The Battle of Tull

The Dark Tower Volume 9:  The Gunslinger—The Way Station

The Dark Tower Volume 10:  The Gunslinger—The Man in Black

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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