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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  • I’ve heard the movie is terrible, and that it barely resembles the books. I have to say that reading The Gunslinger by itself isn’t the best way to judge the series. I did a binge read of all seven books about ten years ago (??) and it was an amazing experience.

    • The movie was indeed terrible, and doesn’t stick close to the books (at least the first one) at all. I’ve heard that the entire series is a good experience but honestly, I’m not that interested in reading a seven book series if the first one doesn’t appeal. There are legions of Dark Tower fans out there though so clearly it works for some people!

  • I haven’t read the book, but the movie was really rough. The pacing was a little off, and the magical powers / otherworldly elements felt poorly-explained.

    • I agree, the movie was something of a hot mess. I might have enjoyed it a *tiny* bit more if I hadn’t been expecting something closer to the world of the book (which was much more detailed), but it was disappointing regardless.

  • Karen

    I haven’t read the book but was looking forward tot he movie until I heard it was pretty bad.

    For What It’s Worth

    • If you still want to see the movie I recommend waiting until it’s on cable, hahaha.

  • MaddalenaSpaceandSorcery

    For some reason I never felt the drive to read this book, even though I used to be a huge King fan – this is one of the instances in which I heed my “book vibes”, that are rarely wrong. Your review just proved how right they were… It’s a pity about the movie, though, because sometimes a good script can breathe new life into a so-and-so story, but it seems this was not the case…
    A huge, disappointed sigh is indeed called for 🙂

    • I used to be a huge fan of King’s too, but this series never really called to me. Clearly I should’ve taken a page from your book and paid better attention to my book vibes, hahaha. I’m SO sad about the movie because I absolutely love Idris Elba and I was excited to see a black actor leading a sci-fi film, but even the best actors can’t do much with a thankless script.

      • MaddalenaSpaceandSorcery

        Yes, indeed. I, too, was drawn toward this movie – even though I knew nothing about the story – because of previous roles from Idris Elba, who is a very intense performer. Now, I’m afraid that the best of the movie might have been what I saw in the trailers…. 🙁

  • Hmmmmm, eh the movie one day

  • Oh no, sorry both the book and movie adaption weren’t hits with you. It has been a long time since I devoured a King book, which I loved the classics, so I’m sad to see this. I was told the movie really was not suppose to follow the book series by a Stephen King buff but rather and extension of the story?? Sounds like it did not work.

    • I loved his classic stuff too, especially The Shining, so I was definitely let down by The Gunslinger. It’s definitely not meant to follow the books that closely, which I actually would’ve been fine with…had the script not been *terrible.* My guy and I were literally cringing at some of the lines, hahaha. Oh well, hopefully the next book to movie adaptation I watch will be better!

  • Kaja

    Oof, a 2 and a 2.5 star ratings? That’s RARE for you, no? (Not saying you don’t rate books with what they deserve, just that you seem to know which stories appeal to you.)

    I’ve been toying with the idea of reading this and then seeing the movie, but NOPE, I’m not throwing time&money away on this. Thanks for the reviews, they told me all I needed to know! 🙂

    • It IS rare! You’re right, I’m usually pretty damn good at sensing which books will and won’t work for me…but this one totally took me by surprise with how much I disliked it. I just couldn’t believe how sexist it was, honestly. The movie was a major letdown too. Glad they could help! 🙂

  • Funny, I was actually just searching for SFF westerns like an hour ago, and this one showed up on a list. It doesn’t sound like it’s all that westen-y though. And I’m dying at “man pain” hahaha. That does sound pretty bad though, the way women are portrayed. And sometimes bad person characters can still be likeable in a way or at least interesting enough to make up for it, but clearly that wasn’t the case for you in this book, so that’s a bummer :-/

    • Well, this does have a vaguely western vibe about it (the lack of technology and gunslinging, mostly) but you’re right: I wouldn’t call this book an SFF western. Maybe the rest of the series is more in that vein? LOL ugh, Roland and his damn man pain. It’s been a while since I’ve disliked a protagonist so intensely, and normally I *like* morally grey characters. I know that this series has lots of dedicated fans but I’m definitely not one of them!

  • Oh no, I wanted the movie to be good because Idris Elba is in it, and I adore him to no end. I haven’t read the series, or a book of it, and I don’t particularly want to. King is an excellent author, of that I have no doubt, but his genre is not my cup of tea at all in print. As a movie I’ll watch this, but I will not go anywhere near IT (shudders)

    • YES, me too Verushka! I love Idris Elba, so it’s really saying something that I thought his performance was subpar in The Dark Tower. I’ve really enjoyed some of Stephen King’s work (although IT gave me nightmares for months!) but this one didn’t work for me at all. I don’t think you’re missing out on anything!

  • Way to dash my hopes for book and film. To be fair, I hadn’t got high hopes for the film. I’d heard lots of negative things and as much as I love Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey I don’t think they’re enough to draw me in to this one. If I see it on TV in a couple of years time I’ll give it a chance but otherwise it’s a miss from me. It sucks the book wasn’t better, though. I do love good world building and I don’t mind a morally grey character but I think having such negative representation of women as well would put me off completely. Just, ugh. I was hoping for more but good to know not to waste my time with either.

  • Lynn Williams

    A book, indeed series, that I’ve always wanted to read but I’ve heard the first one isn’t the best and in fact I’ve been told to avoid it by some people. A shame you didn’t like it – maybe one day I’ll give this a try – the problem is that everyone says the ending isn’t great too.
    Lynn 😀

  • THANK YOU! I tried to read the Gunslinger a couple of years ago and could just not get into it! I’ve felt very alone until now, lol. It IS a bummer the movie isn’t better because that cast is to die for! Way to squander great actors, scriptwriters!