Picks and Pans Review: The Dark Tower: the Gunslinger

updated 11/07/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/07/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Stephen King

To get right to the point: Fans hoping to be scared out of their armchairs by the latest work from the king of horror are in for a letdown. But before proceeding, let's explain the title. The Gunslinger is the first stanza in a much larger work: The Dark Tower. In an afterword, his "brief synopsis of the action to follow" suggests that The Dark Tower's eventual length will be "3,000 pages, perhaps more." Heaven help us! The Gunslinger consists of five loosely connected short stories that have appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. They concern a good-guy gunslinger chasing a mysterious "man in black" over a forbidding frontier landscape. Novel idea, eh? The era is hard to pinpoint. At first, the setting appears to be the Old West, but then the gunslinger hears a honky-tonk piano playing Hey Jude. A few pages later, one finds this scintillating exchange: " 'How they hanging?' the gunslinger asked conversationally. No answer. 'You dudes live in town?' No answer." One finally learns that the time is a post-apocalyptic future, not that one really cares. This is hardly King at his best, but no wonder: He began the project as a college senior, inspired by Robert Browning's poem "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came." An uncredited inspiration might have been Clint Eastwood's spaghetti Westerns. Even in his less satisfying novels, King usually has the reader feverishly turning pages, eager to learn what happens. There is no such urgency here, and if there were, the reader would emerge unfulfilled, since this is very much a work in progress, with no appreciable denouement. A disappointed reviewer can't help but remind the author of The Gun-slinger's refrain: "But the world has moved on." So should you, Steve, so should you. (Plume, paper, $10.95)

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