Here’s Part I of my journey through Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. These are my thoughts on rereading The Drawing of the Three, the second book in the series — and as such, there may be spoilers ahead.
The Drawing of the Three opens precisely where the first book left off, with the gunslinger Roland alone, collapsed from exhaustion on the shore of a great ocean. As the tide rolls in, he is woken by the incoming tide (which douses his bullets) and is greeted with horrors that drag themselves out of the water. These lobstrocities with their strange questioning sounds attack him as he’s waking — and this attack, which happens in the first five pages, is brutal, leaving him catastrophically wounded.
Undeterred, Roland continues his long, plodding journey toward the Dark Tower. As walks up the beach, with infection from his injuries spreading, he discovers the first door, the first drawing.
In the first book, The Gunslinger, the man in black laid out Roland’s future using a form of tarot cards, presenting three cards in particular that represent the people he would need on his journey to the Dark Tower — The Prisoner, The Lady of Shadows, and Death (but not for the gunslinger). Each door represents one of these cards. When opened, the doors reveal our own world at different time periods, from where (and when) he must draw out the people destined to join him in pursuit of the Tower.
In the afterward to The Drawing of the Three, King wrote, “This longer second volume still leaves many questions unanswered, but I feel that it is a much more complete volume than the first.” And I am in agreement with this sentiment. I enjoyed my reread of The Drawing of the Three more than I did the first book. Where The Gunslinger felt a little disjointed, as though all the pieces didn’t quite fit together, The Drawing of the Three feels whole. The storyline is simple on the surface, with the gunslinger finding three doors and opening them, but each door presents it’s own complications in terms of how the gunslinger can obtain who and what he needs. As new companions are added to the story, things become increasingly character driven, with their flaws driving much of the conflict — as they tend to do in relationships. It makes for interesting character growth for all three of the main characters, and that growth more than anything else is what makes this such a great novel.
The gunslinger remains wholly himself in The Drawing of the Three, but we get a clearer sense of who that is. The aspects presented in the first book — his plodding determination, his focus, his willingness to sacrifice what he loves to achieve his goals — are expanded upon here. Injured and suffering from infection, we see Roland struggle onward despite his pain, moving forward despite all else in his way.
When he draws first Eddie Dean, and then Odetta/Detta from behind the doors, we see even more clearly his capacity to love. Furthermore, he is able to express this openly, as he tells Eddie near the end that he loves them both — although what he does not say out loud is that his obsession with the Dark Tower is stronger than that love.
One of my favorite moments is right after Roland has drawn Eddie through the door. Both Roland and Eddie are in a state of recovery — one healing from infection, the other coming down from an addition to heroin. As they continue the journey toward the second door, Eddie begins to talk about his brother, who has just died. It’s a long rambling monologue breaking down the pieces of his life and his love for the brother he lost.
“… the gunslinger could have stopped him, could have told him: Don’t bother, Eddie. I understand everything.
Except that wouldn’t have helped Eddie. Eddie wasn’t talking to help Henry because Henry was dead. He was talking to bury Henry for good. And to remind himself that although Henry was dead, he, Eddie, wasn’t.
So the gunslinger listened and said nothing.” (page 189)
Another hero in another story might have told Eddie to suck it up, to just get over it already, but the gunslinger gives Eddie space to process his feelings. It takes compassion to recognize when another person needs that kind of space to talk, and a further level of compassion to patiently listen. Roland does not see Eddie as weak for this need to express himself, in fact, he sees courage and strength in the young man (due to a battle they fought together).
As Roland continues to get to know both Eddie and Odetta/Detta, and his affection for them grows. Yet, the gunslinger’s nature is such that despite his love, he knows that, if necessary, he will sacrifice them to his goal of reaching the Dark Tower. This novel seems to set up just how important that internal conflict will be for Roland as the story moves forward into subsequent books.
(A brief reminder about spoilers being ahead.)
As I already mentioned, The Drawing of the Three is driven by emotionally complex characters and relationships, and Odetta/Detta is not the least of these. Odetta Holmes is a black women who lost her legs just above the knee in a train accident. Odetta is wealthy and kind, and has started to take active part in the growing civil rights movement of the 1960s. What Odetta is completely unaware of is that her personality is split — that for a portion of her life, sometimes weeks at a time, she is Detta who is all rage and grit.
Detta makes every day into a struggle for Roland and Eddie, harassing them with vulgarities and threats of violence, and creating obstacles at every turn. It would be easy to favor Odetta over Detta in a situation like that, to wish Detta gone in order to make the journey easier. However, Roland recognizes the strength that Detta brings, the anger and grit a valuable asset rather than a detriment — provided it could be controlled. The aim, then, is to merge the two halves of Odetta/Detta into a single, complete woman with the virtues of both.
Nnedi Okorafor describes Odetta/Detta/Susannah as one of Stephen King’s “most vibrant characters” in an essay published at Strange Horizons. Okorafor sums up the character perfectly in the essay:
King is not “politically correct” when it comes to Detta’s character. King does cushion the impact of her speech by saying that he wrote her to sound like a caricature, a stereotype, but that’s as far as he goes. Aside from the fact that some of the nasty things she says are just plain hilarious (where we are laughing with her, not at her), she is just crazy — the no-holds-barred kind of crazy. Odetta Walker is so sweet, and Susannah, the result of when the personalities merge, is strictly hard-core.
Since Susannah only comes into being as a whole person toward the end of The Drawing of the Three, we don’t get to see her full level of hard-core awesome until subsequent books — which makes me eager and excited to pick up book three, The Waste Lands.
Writing Style – The Single Line Section
The Drawing of the Three is broken up into Parts, Chapters, and then numbered sections. During the course of the story, Stephen King does this thing — a thing I specifically associate with The Dark Tower series — in which he writes a single, short sentence and makes it an entire section. This single line section is usually placed in the middle of a tense action sequence and, in fact, breaks action, to provide an answer to that tension, as you can see in the following sequence.
“This better not be another misfire, Roland thought grimly, and thumbed the hammer back again. Below the din of the gulls, he heard the smooth oiled click as the chamber revolved.
~ 16 ~
It was no misfire.
~ 17 ~
The gunslinger hadn’t aimed at Andolini’s head…” (page 151)
King uses this kind of sequence once in The Gunslinger, twice in The Drawing of the Three, and if I remember correctly, at least once more in one of the upcoming books.
When I first read this books many years ago, I thought they were brilliant. They seemed like perfect little moments, setting up a questions (will it misfire), answering the question (no), and then by leaving the answer on it’s own, giving the reader a brief moment to contemplate the implications of the moment might mean before King shows it.
But on the reread, I interpreted the moment a tiny bit differently, with the white space being moments of breath in between the action. In the exampled above, the action sets up a tension (will the gun misfire?), then the break between scenes gives space for an inhaled breath, followed by a release of the tension (it did not misfire), then another break between scenes for the exhale, before moving back into the action.
Whatever the interpretation, the technique didn’t quite work as well for me on the second read as they did when I was younger. One of the two times this technique was used, it dropped me out of the action for a moment, stopping the flow entirely. The technique doesn’t bother me, per se, but I don’t love it like I once did and now that I’m aware of it, I can see how it might feel overused if it continues to show up in subsequent Dark Tower books (which I know it does at least once). This is definitely a technique that needs to be used sparingly and with precision.
I had some fun noticing a couple of the Easter eggs King left in reference to his other books. The first one, I almost missed, which is that Eddie mentions The Shining as a pop culture reference:
“He was staring into the doorway, hypnotized, as an aisle of Macy’s rushed forward—he was reminded again of The Shining, where you saw what the little boy was seeing as he rode his trike through the hallways of that haunted hotel.” (page 253)
I smiled at the thought of Stephen King writing a character who has watched a movie adaptation of a Stephen King book. Super meta, but it also makes sense since Eddie is meant to be from our world and our world has King books in it.
The meta aspect gets even more interesting, when one considers that many of King’s novels are known to be a part of a larger multiverse. The Dark Tower is definitely a part of the multiverse, but The Shining could also be arguably included, as well — which would mean that Eddie was referencing a story that was both fictional (as it is in our world) and real (as it would be in the multi-verse) at the same time. (Does your head hurt trying to figure that out? Mine does.)
The second reference is to a figure that actually exists within the
In a scene in which Roland is remembering the past, Roland offhandedly remembers a creature he once saw, known as Flagg — a reference to Randall Flagg, who was the dark man or demon in The Stand. In both The Drawing of the Three and The Stand, Flagg represents a figure of apocalyptic destruction.
“The gunslinger had known magicians, enchanters, and alchemists in his time. … One of these men had been a creature the gunslinger believed to be a demon himself, a creature that pretended to be a man and called itself Flagg. He had seen him only briefly, and that had been near the end, as chaos and the final crash approached his land.” (page 412)
Flagg also appears in The Eyes of the Dragon, in which he is a villainous magician. Flagg is the same demonic character, existing in all three worlds, crossing between them, it seams, in order to weave destruction. It makes me wonder if Flagg apears in other novels or stories, as well.
Footnote: Page numbers are in reference to the first Scribner paperback edition of The Drawing of the Three, published in April 2016.
Have you read The Drawing of the Three? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
Eric Francisco examines how a 19th-century English poem by Robert Browning, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came,” inspired Stephen King to create the Dark Tower series.