Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Penguin Books
Upon closing The Gunslinger, I needed a breather, I admit, from a type of prose that offered a bit of disappointment for every element I liked. Insensitive to my procrastination, book two of The Dark Tower, The Drawing of the Three, opens mere hours after the final scene of the previous novel. Coming to consciousness on a beach, Roland is confronted by a “lobstrosity”, a nice little play on words to describe a monstrous lobster thing, and gets grievously injured almost immediately, losing the middle finger in his right hand as well as most of a big toe.
It’s rare for a series in the high fantasy tradition to start a book off with the protagonist weaker than in a previous volume. After beating a big boss at the end of the previous instalment, your hero should sport kick-ass new armor, something that shoots lightning bolts, and maybe (because we all need one) a magical bag of holding. Stephen King pushes the narrative momentum in the opposite direction, diminishing the Gunslinger’s effectiveness by half before setting his story in motion. We know right away that we’re in store for a very different style of book: different in all ways to book one, which, to me, means different in all the right ways.
Still every bit the killer, a diminished Roland prevails over his attacker and sets off on his ongoing pursuit of Man in Black. Progress is slow, and his wounds quickly grow infected. Feverish and further weakened, he struggles on. Stephen King has already shown he can cannily get himself into Roland’s mind and keep us entertained while describing a person just putting one foot in front of the other with very little change to the bleak landscape. Here he does it again, and he’s firing top-notch drama on all cylinders. The through line is the hike, but the dots that need connecting only become apparent with the discovery of three doors standing creepily in the middle of the desert.
Each serves as a gateway to a different person’s mind, and pushing the door open allows you to look out through his or her eyes: that of Eddie Dean, Odetta Holmes, or Jack Mort. As all three individuals are residents of New York City at different points in history (1987, 1964, and 1977), this presents an opportunity for King the short-story writer to showcase what he does best. I like how every version of New York is similar, yet different to the one before, a strange reflection of the world Roland calls home.
Stepping over the threshold let’s you slip into the person’s body, assert a degree of control, and even draw things back with you through the door. Walking first into Eddie Dean’s mind, Roland encounters the unimaginable and finds himself aboard a plane high above the sky. The idea of air travel drives home the otherworldly split between here and there. Close your eyes upon take off, and then open them to discover you’re thousands of miles away. By the same token, one minute, Roland is dying in a desert, and, the next, he’s in a healthy body somehow suspended above the clouds. Nothing in his world is analogous to this experience.
For my part, I began reading, The Drawing of the Three at home in Canada and finished it while landing in India. Perhaps because of my jet lag, the sense of surreal floating between places, cultures and time was very vivid to me. As the opening ceremonies for the London Olympics drew all eyes to the nearest television set, I was digesting King’s account of Roland drawing together his companions for his quest. I lapped up this slice of solipsism. There are a few themes I found interesting in the novel, and I’ll dedicate a second entry to those. For now, I’ll just apologize for the delay, and pull the door shut.