Book and Movie Review: The Dark Tower by Stephen King

The Gunslinger/The Dark Tower by Stephen King (The Dark Tower #1)

Genre: Fantasy, Horror

Publisher: Simon and Schuster Canada 2017 (originally published 1982)

Source: Library

Set in a world of extraordinary circumstances, filled with stunning visual imagery and unforgettable characters…

  

Enigmatic, intriguing, and highly metaphorical, Stephen King’s THE GUNSLINGER is the first book in his horror-fantasy series The Dark Tower. Despite the fascinating world building and fine writing, I found it to be a plodding story narrated by an unsympathetic protagonist.

The basic plot of THE GUNSLINGER is exactly as advertised: a mercenary-type figure known as the gunslinger crosses a desolate wasteland in pursuit of the man in black, a sorcerer whose evil deeds must be avenged with his death. Roland Deschain is the last gunslinger, and he carries that knowledge with him like the weight of the world on his shoulders. The brief glimpses we get into his past and the events that made him into the determined, largely unfeeling man he is today were compelling, and I’d love to know more about the world of Gilead where he grew up. The world building in this story is wholly unique, combining portal fantasy, parallel universes, and horror elements to create a vaguely Western-feeling post-apocalyptic world of rusted over machines and defunct courts. Unfortunately, no amount of creative world building can redeem a protagonist like Roland…at least not in my opinion.

A slow-moving plot and a literary style I could’ve handled just fine, but Roland’s personality and attitude towards others – especially women – was unbearable. King has clearly tried to craft a morally grey character who does the wrong things for the right reasons, but I found it unconvincing given Roland’s willingness to discard any and all human life standing between him and the man in black…including a child he claims to love. As if that weren’t enough, Roland’s attitude towards women is sexist and problematic, such that every time a woman entered the story I cringed at King’s description of her. Every woman in this story is a) Roland’s lover whose death is used to further explain his man pain or b) a “whorish” character who tries to force Roland to have sex with them. No thank you.

Readers who find themselves drawn to well-written stories and intriguing world building may find THE GUNSLINGER a more enjoyable reading experience than I did, but as someone who considers characters the most important part of any story, I struggled to finish this one and would not recommend it.

 

The Dark Tower

Starring: Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor

Director: Nikolaj Arcel

Writers: Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen

I had high hopes for this film adaptation and I’m sad to say that they were mostly dashed.

Idris Elba is perfection, and Matthew McConaughey also has some serious acting chops…so why did their performances in THE DARK TOWER feel so wooden? It’s the script, y’all. The dialogue was painfully trite at times, and the effects left a lot to be desired. The world building, which was my favourite aspect of the book, is also very surface-level. Sure, we see the mutants, get some vaguely-formed idea of “seers” or psychics, and some of the man in black’s sorcery, but that’s it.

Everyone knows by now that film adaptations of books aren’t going to stay completely true to the source material — nor should they, in my opinion. One of the more successful points of this adaptation for me was shifting the narrative perspective from Roland to Jake: seeing Roland through Jake’s eyes makes him more awe-inspiring and minimizes the annoying man pain-filled elements of Roland’s POV from the book. It was also great to see that the women in this film (Jake’s mom, a seer named Aura, and a lackey for the man in black) aren’t just there to be objectified. They definitely don’t fare well though, make no mistake.

I feel like THE DARK TOWER would’ve been much stronger had the creative team avoided the whole franchise pitfall; a lot of the gaps in the storytelling and world building were clearly intentional and designed to make viewers interested in further stories about these characters and the world. Unfortunately, it wasn’t an effective strategy for this viewer.

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