The Gunslinger is the first installment of The Dark Tower Series written by Stephen King. The book was originally published June 10, 1982. The story centers on Roland Deschain and his pursuit of the Man in Black. The subtitle of this book is RESUMPTION
The book opens by introducing the gunslinger, Roland Deschain, who is on a journey to find the Man in Black. As he ventures across the desert with his mule, he meets a farmer who goes by the name of Brown with his crow, Zoltan. The gunslinger begins to tell of the time he spent in the town of Tull. When Roland first comes to Tull, he missed the Man in Black possibly by a week. It is later revealed to Roland by the barmaid, Alice, that during his stay the Man in Black brought a dead weed eater by the name of Nort back to life. Roland makes Sylvia reveal to him that she is pregnant with the Man in Black's child (more importantly the child of the Crimson King). Roland uses his gun and rips the unborn monstrosity out of Sylvia. Outraged, Sylvia convinces the entire town of Tull that Roland is the spawn of the devil. Roland guns down the entire town of Tull: men, women, children, and even his lover, Alice. The story refocuses on Roland at the dwelling of Brown. Roland goes to sleep and wakes up to Brown telling him that his mule died of heat exhaustion and wonders if he can eat it. Roland leaves on foot to continue his pursuit of the Man in Black.
As his journey continues, Roland happens upon a way station and sees someone there in the distance. Roland believes this to be the Man in Black, but finds out it is a young boy by the name of Jake Chambers. Roland is near death when he arrives at the way station and Jake brings him jerky and water from an atomic slug water pump. Jake tells Roland that the Man in Black passed by a few days before. The way Jake talks reveals that he is not from Roland's world. Roland asks Jake about where he came from, but Jake cannot remember anything. Roland proceeds to hypnotize Jake and learn about where he came from.
Jake reveals to Roland that he is from New York and was on his way to school when a man dressed like a priest snuck up on him and pushed him into the street. Roland believes this man to be the Man in Black. Jake is then hit by a car and dies, but not before the priest approaches him and blesses him.
As they prepare to leave, Roland goes down to the cellar and encounters a demon speaking to him from a hole in the wall. After their palaver, Roland reaches into the hole and pulls out a jawbone. They then depart from the way station, and eventually make their way out of the desert into somewhat more welcoming lands. Roland awakes in the middle of the night to find Jake gone. Roland tracks down Jake and finds him about to be taken by the Oracle of the mountains. Roland uses the jawbone to lure the Oracle away from Jake. He then gives Jake the jawbone to concentrate on while he is gone and couples with the oracle himself in order to learn of his fate and path to the Dark Tower. Once Roland returns, Jake discards the jawbone. Come morning, they continue their trek to the mountains.
Along the trek Roland tells Jake a bit about his past. He tells of Hax, the cook, who was hanged for being an aid to the enemy. Hax was to poison the town of Farson/Taunton. Roland and his friend Cuthbert overhear the plot and alert their fathers of the traitor. Hax is hanged and the boys are allowed to watch with permission from their fathers.
Roland also reveals how he became a gunslinger at the age of 14. As he is walking home, his father's advisor Marten Broadcloak calls Roland to see his mother, Gabrielle, in Marten's bed covering her shame. Angry, Roland charges off to challenge Cort so he may receive his guns. He defeats Cort with the use of his hawk, David.
Roland and Jake soon come to the mountains and enter a series of tunnels under the mountains riding on a mine cart. On their journey, they are attacked by a group of Slow Mutants. Roland battles the Slow Mutants and they move along without the mine cart. They eventually come upon the exit from the tunnels. Jake trips and is left dangling from the tracks. As Roland tries to help him, the Man in Black appears and tells Roland that if he saves the boy then he will never catch him. Roland decides to let Jake fall; Jake knows this and spouts, "Go then. There are other worlds than these." Jake then falls to his death as Roland goes to talk with the Man in Black.
They meet in a golgotha and palaver. The Man in Black reads Roland's fate from Tarot cards. Roland's fate includes The Sailor, The Prisoner, The Lady of Shadows, death, life (which the Man in Black burns), and the Tower at the center of everything. The Man in Black tells Roland he is only a pawn for Roland's true enemy who now controls the Tower itself. The Man in Black tries to convince Roland to give up on his quest by creating a representation of the universe and showing him how insignificant he is. Roland refuses and is forced into sleep. When he awakens, ten years have passed and there is a skeleton next to him, which he believes to be the Man in Black. Roland departs from the Golgotha and sits at the edge of the Western Sea contemplating the next step in his quest for the Dark Tower.
2003 Revision: King released a revised edition of The Gunslinger in 2003. In the introduction of the new edition, King states that he felt that the original version was 'dry' and difficult for new readers to access. He also made the storytelling more linear as well as making the plot of the book more consistent with the series' ending. Other changes were made in order to resolve continuity errors introduced by later volumes. The added material is about 35 pages in length.
Changes include (Warning plot spoilers for later books follow. Do not read if you are not done the series):
- Removal of a reference to Roland reading a magazine in Tull. Later information presented in The Drawing of the Three suggested that paper is scarce in Roland's world.
- Reference to twelve years having passed since the fall of Gilead, which happened when Roland was a teenager, is changed to "untold years." Otherwise it would be deduced that Roland is in his 30s, when later books imply that Roland is ancient.
- Likewise, The Man in Black originally says he is "nearly immortal," where in the revision he says this of both himself and Roland.
- "[Roland] didn't know where Cort was" is changed to "Cort was dead", as the Fall of Gilead was not completely fleshed out until later books.
- Roland's cold-hearted killing of Allie is changed to make him appear more humane. Originally, when the town of Tull turns on Roland, Allie is seized by a townsperson and used as a human shield. She begs Roland not to fire before he ruthlessly guns down both her and her captor. In the revised version, she has been driven mad by Walter by the time she is seized, and begs Roland to put her out of her misery.
- The town of Farson is changed to Taunton, as John Farson was a character in the later books in the series.
- References to the Beast were changed to refer to the Crimson King, who otherwise is not mentioned in the series until Wizard and Glass.
- Allie is given a note by Walter after he revives Nort; the note tells Allie to tell Nort "Nineteen" to find out what's on the other side of death. Nineteen is an important number in the final three books.
- "Blue Heaven" and "Algul Siento", terms that are revealed in the final books, are mentioned.
- A single Taheen appears early in the revised version, the Taheen being a race of creatures which wouldn't originally appear until the final three books.
- A major textual change is the fate and identity of the Man in Black. In the original text, Walter's death at the end of the story is of no uncertainty to Roland. In the revised edition, Roland speculates if his discovery of Walter's bones is some trick or if he has truly died. The original text also kept Walter and Marten Broadcloak completely disambiguate. Even after the death of Walter, Broadcloak was still to be found and killed. Later in Wizard and Glass they, along with Flagg, are all revealed to be one and the same person. Though no reference of the name "Flagg" is made in the revised edition of The Gunslinger, all references to Walter and Marten are altered so that it is plausible that they are the same man.
- Jake, originally nine years old, was made 10–11 years old in the revised edition.
- Sheb, the piano player in Tull, is recognized as the piano player from Mejis in Wizard and Glass.
- In the original version the Ageless Stranger is told to be Maerlyn, a minion of the Tower even more powerful than Walter. In the revision, it is said he's Legion, a creature of End-World.
- In the original, the world the gunslinger walked through was literally a run-down version of our own - the text mentions England, the star Polaris, Mars, Jesus and other biblical figures, Easter, All-Saint's Eve (Halloween), and Greek and Egyptian gods. In the revision, these references were removed to make Roland's world only vaguely like our own.
- All references to Aileen have been removed in the revised edition. She is simply referred to as Roland's dance partner and the girl his parents wanted him to marry.
- In the early edition Roland's father is Roland the Elder, but is changed to Steven Deschain.
- Allen, a member of Roland's ka-tel, was the one who saw Roland earn his guns in the original. Allen is changed to Alain Johns in the revision.
- In the expanded edition of the novel, on the last page before the text the single word RESUMPTION appears; in the "Argument" foreword of Wolves of the Calla, King explains that it is the subtitle of the novel.
- The opening page is altered to include a moment when Roland mentions having felt dizzy a short while ago. This links the opening to the end of Book VII.