Background and publication
The novel was inspired by Robert Browning's poem "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came" (1855), which King read as a sophomore at the University of Maine. King explains that he "played with the idea of trying a long romantic novel embodying the feel, if not the exact sense, of the Browning poem." King started writing this novel in 1970 on a ream of bright green paper that he found at the library.
The five stories that constitute the novel were originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction:
- "The Gunslinger" (October 1978)
- "The Way Station" (April 1980)
- "The Oracle and the Mountains" (February 1981)
- "The Slow Mutants" (July 1981)
- "The Gunslinger and the Dark Man" (November 1981)
It took King twelve and a half years to finish the novel. The finished product was first published by Donald M. Grant, Publisher, Inc. as a limited edition in 1982. The following year, as the Pet Sematary cover noted The Gunslinger among King's previous works, many fans called the offices of King, Grant, and Doubleday wanting more information on the already out of print book. This led to another run of ten thousand copies. In 1988, Plume released it in trade paperback form. Since then, the book has been re-issued in various formats and included in boxed sets with other volumes of the series.
In 2003 the novel was reissued in a revised and expanded version with modified language and added and changed scenes intended to resolve inconsistencies with the later books in the series. It is dedicated to Edward L. Ferman, long-time editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.