The Drawing of Three: A Look at Time

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© Copyright Penguin Books

© Copyright Penguin Books

A series thirty years in the making, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower has sparked the imagination of an entire generation. Along the way, it’s also inspired an inevitable cottage industry of marginalia and self-justification that, in turn, has spurred sales of the actual books and adaptations. The Drawing of the Three was published in 1987, a full five years after The Gunslinger was first collected into a book. What happened in the meantime?

One of the reasons I rekindled my interest in chasing the Man in Black myself pertains to Ron Howard’s quixotic attempts to sell a maxi-series comprised of three films and two television series spanning the entirety of King’s storyline. Initially set to star Javier Bardem, the ambitious project fell through with Universal, but Howard continued to shop the idea, this time with an Akiva Goldsman script and Russell Crowe as the lead. Warner Bros. is the latest studio to pass on the property.

Daunting in scope, the pitch was to have the television series fuel interest and develop an audience whereas the movies would finance the sets and effects. Matching that of King’s books, the sheer scale of this undertaking would mean a massive risk for any production company, one that’s tempted but eventually scared away most of the major studios so far. It’d be interesting to track the project and how it may affect plans for similar properties. I’m especially intrigued to see how budget concerns might warp Howard’s initial vision if it ever does reach the screen.

Time and distance change everything. It’s like some nightmarish high school math equation: if a writer sitting at desk A in year B begins working one series C, publishing books at points D, E, and F, at which points does he stand up, step away from his desk, and walk through the door to sit at a different desk and work on a different set of ideas? How often does this happen? At what junctions do the books and the books about books intersect?

According to King’s introduction in my edition of The Drawing of Three, Roland isn’t searching for the Man in Black anymore but for the Dark Tower. This certainly helps brand the series better, but it wasn’t as clear to me as it should have been. I interpreted that Roland sought the Man in Black, who might then lead him to the Dark Tower in that order. Still, it’s an interesting idea to make the tower a moving agent in its own right and every bit as clever and unpredictable as a man on the run.

The notion of the books themselves evolving is both seductive and inevitable, I think. As a writer working across such a stretch of time, King must’ve had to go back to his last entry, refresh, and then move on before writing the next. He likely used certain writer’s tics, such as landscape descriptions, to get back into the groove. As a reader with a deeply rooted sense of space-time, I differentiate this quality of being outside of time from that of being timeless.

At any rate, it’s proving one of the most fascinating aspects of The Dark Tower series, whose publication spans nearly my entire life. With every edition, new illustration, comic book, and report regarding Howard’s will-o’-the-wisp adaptation, the books develop fresh layers and pick up meaning, especially to the author. In point of fact, King’s introduction to my copy of The Drawing of Three is entitled, “An Argument.” Is that a justification to the reader or to himself?

The novel starts exactly seven hours after the first concludes. While this chronological detail is made specific, time, at a personal level, seems to stretch elastically as the characters battle individual demons like fever and withdrawal. The gunslinger is confounded by where he’s found himself, but “he [doesn’t] care about his own mental confusion.” Pragmatic to the end and so uninterested in such philosophical concerns regarding time and space, he worries only about his shells and the need to keep them dry. He does his best.

The story shuffles like the “lobstrocities” it evokes so vividly, then pauses, shuffles again, and pauses. The only fixed moments along the blurry landscape are three labeled doors, each rooted to a specific time. The one marked “The Prisoner” leads to 1977, “The Lady of Shadows” to 1964, and “The Pusher” to 1987. Inspired by tarot imagery in the book, I tried to find a numerological link between the three timelines and King’s birth year, 1947. I failed.

Rolland pulls through the doors the medication he needs, a heroin addict, an insane woman, and an adversary. It seems to me none but the former make him stronger. If a character is best defined by his or her faults, could our hero’s “single-minded and incurious resolve” represent as much of an ailment as those plaguing his companions? When the junkie, Eddie Dean, asks what the Dark Tower is, Roland answers as truthfully as he can: “I don’t know.” For the characters and readers alike, the idea of the thing has to be enough, at this point, to take the leap.

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