“I never knew any of the parts when they happened. Only later I knew that.”
Though it was initially released in parts between 1978 and 1981 and then as a single collection in 1982, I didn’t get my hands on Stephen King’s The Gunslinger until the mass-market edition in 1988. I remember stumbling on the book while helping out my grandmother at the church bazaar. I was in charge of restocking the tables. In the midst of countless Reader’s Digest publications and National Geographic magazines with their perfect yellow spines, I found what I now presume to be the abandoned contents of a young man’s closet: hundreds of horror and sci-fi classics.
I use the word “classic” lightly, but, in the sixty-watt flicker of a crowded church hall, these three boxes filled with lurid paperback covers were like a siren’s song. Coveting my neighbor’s booty something fierce, I claimed the boxes without even knowing who the authors were. These literary treasures became the first “adult” books I owned and didn’t just pilfer from my parents, maybe a step above the dusty Isaac Asimov pocket editions on my father’s bookshelves or a step down from the works of Frank Herbert and J.R.R. Tolkien sitting right next to them. To paraphrase, I didn’t realize this was the beginning of something, but it most assuredly was.
Flash forward a quarter of a century or so, as I re-watched Stephen Frears’ High Fidelity (2000), a film for which I had little affection the first time around. As Nick Hornsby adaptations go, I’ll take instead Chris and Paul Weitz’ About a Boy (2002) any day. On second viewing, however, one set piece in particular struck me: John Cusack’s character, Rob, arranging his albums autobiographically. It’s not that I find the premise awe inspiring or anything. As a book collector who’s had his share of moving and unpacking to do, I’ve stared at empty bookshelves enough times in my life to know that little conceit.
I’m on the brink of moving again, though, donating away rows of knickknacks and doodads I’ve carried with me for years. As I prepare for life in a new province, I find myself with the irresistible urge to dust off a series that once fueled my youth with its kinetic hack-and-slash fantasy, a decades long magnum opus that I “outgrew” around the time I was budgeting for my second tattoo. I’m referring, of course, to Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, which just spawned its eighth overachieving entry.
Does The Gunslinger still hold up today? How did the franchise evolve after my literary interests turned elsewhere? Did its fictional universe change as much as I did? Stephen King’s novels span nearly my entire life, but the only thing I know for sure is that the early entries have left a permanent mark on my childhood memories.