Old School Wednesdays presents Thea’s epic reread of The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King. May we be well-met, fellow traveler. THIS MONTH ON THE DARK TOWER: The Drawing of the Three is one sweet, action-packed, world-spanning, drug-smuggling, gun-toting, lobster-shucking trip.
Old School Wednesdays is a weekly Book Smugglers feature. We came up with the idea towards the end of 2012, when both Ana and Thea were feeling exhausted from the never-ending inundation of New and Shiny (and often over-hyped) books. What better way to snap out of a reading fugue than to take a mini-vacation into the past?
Logo designed by the wonderful KMont
Inspired by the results of our March Old School Wednesdays Idea Poll, starting in March of 2015, Thea is rereading one of her favorite series’ of all time: The Dark Tower by Stephen King. Every second Wednesday of the month, the next book in the Dark Tower cycle will be reviewed and discussed here. All readers – those new to the Dark Tower, and those who have traveled the path before – are welcome to join the ka tet!
The journey back to Mid-World and beyond continues here with The Drawing of the Three (Dark Tower 2).
The Dark Tower Reviews:
Author: Stephen King
Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Speculative Fiction
Publisher: Plume (this revised edition)
Publication date: First published in 1987 (this edition 2003)
Paperback: 408 Pages
The second volume in Stephen King’s acclaimed, epic Dark Tower series.
After his confrontation with the man in black at the end of The Gunslinger, Roland awakes to find three doors on the beach of Mid-World’s Western Sea—each leading to New York City but at three different moments in time. Through these doors, Roland must “draw” three figures crucial to his quest for the Dark Tower. In 1987, he finds Eddie Dean, The Prisoner, a heroin addict. In 1964, he meets Odetta Holmes, the Lady of Shadows, a young African-American heiress who lost her lower legs in a subway accident and gained a second personality that rages within her. And in 1977, he encounters Jack mort, Death, a pusher responsible for cruelties beyond imagining. Has Roland found new companions to form the “Ka-tet” of his quest? Or has he unleashed something else entirely?
Standalone or series: The Dark Tower Book 2
How did I get this book: Bought
Format (e- or p-): Print
WARNING: Spoilers ahoy, baby.
The Drawing of the Three is the second book in Stephen King’s Magnum Opus, The Dark Tower series. A recap of the story to date: Roland is the world’s last gunslinger, who has doggedly, determinedly chased the man in black – a wizard, a magician, a conniver – across eons and realms. Roland has sacrificed his friends and acquaintances, lovers and family in his singular quest to find The Dark Tower. The Tower itself is unknown. It sits at the epicenter of time and space and size, and Roland will do all within his power to get there. After sacrificing the boy Jake, allowing Jake to fall to his death, Roland is able to catch up to the Man in Black and palaver.
A decade passes while they talk. When Roland awakens, he is on a stretch of beach, in the rising tide – and his pants, gunbelt, and all-precious bullets soaking in water.
Then come the lobstrosities.
The giant shellfish emerge from the emerging surf, questioning (Did-a-chick? Dum-a-chum? Dad-a-cham? Ded-a-check?) and hungry. And just like that, two of the fingers from Roland’s right hand and the large part of a toe, are gone.
Sickening from infection, running precious low on ammo and supplies, Roland embarks on the next leg of his path to the Dark Tower – and he comes across three impossible doors floating above the sand. The Prisoner, The Lady of the Shadows, and The Pusher are the three Roland must draw to aid him on his quest. They will become his friends, his family, his ka-tet…and possibly his enemy. But great peril mounts as Roland reaches each of the three doors; Roland and his newfound tet will be tested with every step of their journey.
The Drawing of the Three is what I like to think of as the “OH DAMN, YOU’RE HOOKED NOW” book of The Dark Tower series. I confess that after reading The Gunslinger for the first time, I was pleasantly entertained but mildly underwhelmed – I didn’t really see what all the hullabaloo was surrounding the Dark Tower books. With Book 2, however, that sense of banal entertainment changes.
The Drawing of the Three, you see, is one sweet, action-packed, world-spanning, lobster-shucking trip.
Involving floating, impossible doors that open in someone else’s mind, we readers glimpse a more familiar world than the post-apocalyptic, dust-ridden, forgotten backwater cowboy western town of Tull or the alkali desert that it borders. We see New York City – three New York Cities, in fact! We also meet new characters who will become Roland’s new companions and gunslingers on the long road to the Tower. I don’t know about you, but I get really, really excited when it comes to forming groups on grand missions. In fact, the grand formation of The Team is possibly my favorite trope in quest stories, be it the fellowship of man, elf, dwarf, and hobbit; an avenging group of super-powered superheroes and soldiers;
Or in this case, the collection of a heroin addict, a bilateral amputee with dissociative identity disorder, and a cold-blooded, determined killer with bombardier’s eyes.
The formation of The Team – especially forged in fire – are among my favorite story arcs in any sequence of tales, and such is true of the Dark Tower books. The most important message of any team-driven storyline is that one person cannot achieve success on their own; you’ll need the special skills and additions of each team member along the way. (Think Goonies when even the seemingly useless Andie makes a valuable contribution by playing the bone organ to get to the next stage of One-Eyed Willie’s treasure hunt.)
In the Dark Tower cycle, this is even more significant because Roland would go the road alone if he could. He uses people; he sacrifices them; he will do anything to achieve his goals. The problem is that he can’t go it alone. And so he draws three. Starting with…
Eddie Dean, The Prisoner
The first is young, dark-haired. He stands on the brink of robbery and murder. A demon has infested him. The name of the demon is HEROIN.
One thing that always stands out to me about Eddie Dean is his youth and his life so far. Eddies story – a twenty-some-year-old heroin junkie – is one filled with pain and codependency and sadness. Because of love and need for his brother, Eddie has made many questionable decisions in his young life. He got hooked on smack and finds himself acting as a coke mule aboard an airplane when Roland enters his mind. The thing about Eddie is that while he whines and makes bad decisions based on pure emotion and not enough thought, his heart is true and, as Roland would say, he has a vein of deep steel running through him. Eddie, like Susannah, like Jake, and like Roland, is a born gunslinger. And despite his impulsive decisions and dated humor, he’s the ka-tet‘s conscience and its heart – unlike anyone else in the group, Eddie is guided by his moral compass. Even if it means his own demise.
Odetta Holmes/Detta Walker/Susannah Dean, The Lady of the Shadows
She comes on wheels. I see no more.
Odetta Holmes is Detta Walker is Susannah Dean – one of the most complex characters in this series, and my personal favorite gunslinger of the group. In Drawing of the Three, we are introduced to Odetta Holmes – intelligent, young, beautiful heiress to Holmes Dental Industries, social and racial justice activist, and bilateral amputee. She’s also not the only one in her body – as Roland and Eddie soon discover, Odetta has a vicious counterpart named Detta Walker who emerges biting, screaming, cursing the men she perceives of as her captors. Odetta and Detta are fascinating characters – Detta was born before Odetta was pushed onto the subway tracks and lost her legs, but after the incident, Detta awakens more fully and frequently. While Odetta is calm manners and erudition, Detta is predatory rage and hate, her speech and mannerisms assumed from (or so we are told) movies and media portraying black people as cartoonish stereotypes (the cited example: Butterfly McQueen in her role as Prissy in Gone with the Wind). Detta is dangerous – but Roland recognizes how much he needs her, and her whipsharp rage, on his quest if only he can marry her with Odetta’s temperance.
There is plenty of meat for discussion with Odetta/Detta here – this book was published in 1987, but Odetta/Detta are from 1963. There’s discussion between Odetta and Eddie about being called black versus negro; there’s the fact that Odetta/Detta are personalities that are merged and solved by magic. Suffice it to say, there are problematic things here, and I would understand and respect anyone else’s choice not to engage with this type of novel and characterization because it is problematic and triggering.
But to me, at the end of the day: Susannah Dean is a black woman, married to a white younger man, a bilateral amputee, with dissociative personality disorder. She’s also the best goddamn gunslinger and the fiercest fighter Roland has on his side, and one of my favorite characters. I love Susannah Dean. Take that as you will.
Jack Mort, The Pusher
Death… but not for you.
The third card and door for Roland is the most vile and most dramatic of the novel. Jack Mort is an unassuming killer with a penchant for pushing people to their doom – he pushed Odetta/Detta, he would push Jake Chambers to his young death many years later.
Roland has no compunction when it comes to taking over Mort’s body and raising bloody hell in order to get the supplies he needs back to his own world – including a showdown at a gun shop, a holdup for penicillin, and a hilarious interlude with the police who would later remember Roland-as-Jack as The Terminator.
So how does The Drawing of the Three stack up?
I loved this book just as much this time around as I did the first time I discovered it. I hope you did too, and will join me next month for my personal favorite of the series, The Waste Lands.
Next: The Waste Lands on May 13.