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Onyx reviews: The Gunslinger: Resumption by Stephen King

The Dark Tower series forms the creative core of Stephen King's writing career. Even his non-series books are strongly influenced by it and he has persisted with the story at widely spaced intervals for over twenty years. However, comparatively few people—King estimates about half of his hardcore audience—have read the four currently published books in this fantasy western epic.

The series tells the story of Roland, the last of a long line of gunslingers, who lives in a barren, post apocalyptic world once somewhat like our own. Roland, modeled after a young Clint Eastwood, is on a quest to find the Dark Tower, a quasi-mythical building that supports the infinite and varied universes that comprise reality. Something has gone wrong with the Tower, and its decline is responsible for the decay in Roland's world and in others.

King wrote the opening line to The Gunslinger, the first volume, in 1970, shortly after he graduated from college. The book was originally published in limited edition in 1982 because he didn't think it would appeal to his fans. Lean, moody, and dark, with few sympathetic characters, it bears some of the responsibility for the series' lack of a wider readership. Some people skip it and start with The Drawing of the Three. Others abandon the series completely. King says he finds himself apologizing for The Gunslinger, telling readers to stick with it for the payoff in subsequent books.

With the impending release—between November 2003 and November 2004—of the final three Dark Tower books, King has rewritten The Gunslinger, hoping to bring more readers to his magnum opus. The changes affect almost every page and the new edition is 9000 words longer than the original. It contains a new introduction and a preface discussing the changes and his rationale behind them. These two pieces are classic King and worth the price of admission alone.

King says that The Gunslinger in its original form was written by someone trying too hard to create something really important. Following his own advice in On Writing, he deleted most of the adverbs, clarified vague pronoun antecedents and modernized 1970s lingo. He uses more active voice and conveys information by showing rather than telling, one of the prime directives given to young writers.

Some changes fix continuity errors that crept into the story over the years. In other places, he blends in elements of his fictional universe he hadn't yet conceived when he started three decades ago. In the original edition's afterword, he confessed that he didn't know the story of Susan Delgado, Roland's teenage love. Now that he has written about her in Wizard and Glass, he's woven some of these details into Roland's memories.

The confusing relationships among Roland's adversaries—Marten, Walter and the Ageless Stranger—are clarified. Some changes foreshadow events later in the series.

While there are a few new scenes, King hasn't changed the book's plot. Roland doesn't meet new characters, nor does he behave differently or perform new deeds. Jake, a boy he meets during his travels, is a little stronger than in the original, but his destiny is the same. King—who has revised much-loved books like The Stand in the past—knows that his changes will probably outrage Dark Tower purists. They, however, are not the intended audience for this revised and expanded edition.

Has he made the book more accessible to first time readers? Only time will tell.

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