As much as I was looking forward to reading this series again, I wasn’t particularly excited about going through this book again. I had read it twice previously and found it rather boring both times. I guess the third time is the charm as it isn’t quite as bad as I remember it. It’s not an easy read, but it wasn’t as difficult as it was on the other go arounds.
It isn’t that the book is poorly paced, it’s fine in that regard, but the prose is quite dry. It doesn’t pull the reader in the way most of other King works do. I caught myself skimming from time to time and had to go back and actually read what was on the page as opposed to just glossing over it.
One of the highlights of the book was seeing all the little bits of foreshadowing. There were a few occasions where Roland experiences severe cases of deja vu and notes that he knows something even though he really should have no way of knowing it. I even enjoyed the references to Roland’s history with Susan.
On the opposite side of that particular coin is the continuity hiccups that pop up. One prime example is the flashback that tells us that Roland was present for Susan’s death, when that wasn’t the case. A smaller, though for me more jarring, example would be the mention of people I was completely unfamiliar with. In one instance, Roland is reminiscing about people from his past. The prose tells us that specifically he’s looking back on Cuthbert, check; Susan, check; Jonas, check; and Paul….wait Paul? Who’s Paul? I know, it’s just one line, I shouldn’t make that big a deal of it, but that really threw me off the track. King does it again later on in the book with someone named Randolph.
In hindsight, it’s not that big a deal. It makes sense that Gunslinger Academy has more students than just Roland, Jamie, Alain, and Cuthbert. As I was reading the book though, I found it perplexing as we saw no mention of these people in the future.
Another thing that threw me was the fact that the gunslingers all greet each other with by saying, “hai”. Now, ten years ago, this was not a big deal, and it fit in with the “high speech” pattern. However, after the rise of lolcats and Tommy Wiseau, I can’t take it seriously. In fact, the thought occurred to me that the actor/director should be worked in as a character in the film series, and that’s not right (though admittedly, it would be pretty funny. Can’t you just picture Marten uttering the line “it’s not true, I did not seduce her. I did naaht. Oh hai, Roland”?).
Revisiting the relationship between Jake and Roland was rather interesting as I got the sense that they didn’t really like each other all that much. Jake knows full well that Roland plans on letting him die and, at one point, Roland considers the idea of braining the kid with a rock. Maybe it’s just me, but things like this don’t come off as cornerstones in a deep spiritual bond. Even the fact that Jake sticks with him seems more like it is for self preservation. Roland’s the only thing Jake really knows in this weird world and he wouldn’t last very long without the gunslinger’s protection.
The highlight of the novel, for me anyway, was the palaver between Roland and the Man in Black. Here we see quite a bit of foreshadowing (though quite a bit of it is retconned) as well as an existential revelation about the nature of the multiverse (or I guess it all counts as a universe depending on how you look at it). While the concept itself isn’t convoluted or needlessly complex, the idea that beyond the barrier of our universe is the makings of an even larger universe which itself is but a fraction of an even larger one and so on; and that within each atom of each universe is an infinite number of universes extending on for infinity in both directions is quite trippy.
People often look up at the stars, marvel at the wonders of the universe, and comment on how insignificant it makes them feel. This takes that to the googleplexth degree, while at the same time bestowing great power on each individual as even the most insignificant act can have ramifications that send shock waves across an infinite number of universes. As I said, quite trippy.
Oddly enough, my favorite part of the book was the afterword, where King gives us a glimpse of the origins of the series. I guess that part would only appeal to you if you are a writer, aspiring or otherwise, but I found it fascinating. It was also interesting that even though reading this book suggested that he did have some idea of how the series would unfold, King admits that he really didn’t.
While this is one of the weaker books in the series, you do need to read it to understand what’s going on as it does set the stage for later events. It also ends on a high enough note that you are intrigued as to where the series goes from this point. I’m actually curious to read the revised edition that was released some time ago. Much like I did with The Stand, I’m working off of the original version first, though in this instance I haven’t picked up a copy of the revised edition yet. I will get to it in due time though.