Author: Stephen King
Type: Fiction, novel
Part of series: The Dark Tower (#2)
I read it: September 2016 (re-read)
We open with Roland on a beach, dazed and exhausted. He’ll spend most of the book this way, just one of the many ingenious tricks King chooses for The Drawing of the Three (an awkward title at best). Apparently Roland is represented by the Sailor card from the man in black’s tarot game, because he’s partly in the water and the waves are licking at him. It doesn’t matter really. What matters is the lobstrosity heading this way.
First, Roland’s bullet shells get wet in the ocean, which is a somewhat serious setback. He has limited stock. But then a four-foot long lobster-like creature inches toward him and the gunslinger lets his guard down at just the wrong moment. The beast moves fast and snips off two fingers from Roland’s right hand—his primary firing hand. Roland fights off the lobstrosity in time to escape with his life, but he won’t be the same.
And what a great (yet fair) trick to pull on the reader! We’ve only been with Roland for one book—we’ve basically just met him—and within three pages of the next installment he’s seriously disabled. It almost doesn’t seem possible, to both us and the character: “he had never, in all his long strange time, been so fundamentally hurt, and it had all been so unexpected.” Unexpected, for sure. But also resonant of the Roland name. In The Song of Roland, the titular hero inflicts this type of damage on his pagan foe: “He goes to strike him with a gallant show: the count swings down and cuts his right hand off.” Robert Harrison explains this injury: “Mutilation by cutting off the right hand was an accepted punishment for especially heinous criminals,” the “basest form of humiliation, with subtle social and psychological implications.”
There are also less subtle implications for Roland: he is a gunslinger, and a loner, and now he is a crappy gunslinger, and still alone. While he can still shoot with his left hand, he’ll never be as formidable as he once was, so he needs new tactics. He needs new weapons. He needs to turn people into weapons. First, he needs Eddie Dean.
Roland doesn’t know he’s going after Eddie in particular. All he knows is that he comes to a freestanding door with THE PRISONER emblazoned on the front. When he enters it, he enters the mind of someone from 1980s New York—and that person is a passenger on an airplane, and is very nervous. These scenes of Roland taking in so much information at once, and learning to sit behind the eyes of Eddie Dean while also realizing that he can “come forward” and take over his mind and actions, is incredibly original and exciting. To up the stakes, Eddie is trying to smuggle drugs and is going to get caught. Roland, the psychological backseat driver, is his only chance.
There’s a lot of great suspense while they try to make it off the plane and also mess with the portal back to Roland’s world. When the two of them (in one body) get to relative safety, Roland’s motives are mostly selfish: he needs food and medication. His body is dying back on the beach. He brings back hot dogs and a drink, and his description of the sugar rush of the soda is one of the great details to connect the alienness of Roland’s world to our own. He describes it as better than most drugs. Small wonders.
A lot more time is spent in the Eddie/Roland meetup. Further details of their worlds emerge. At a place called The Leaning Tower, Roland can read most of the words on the building’s neon sign, because they were made up of Great Letters, although he has trouble with the “h” in “The.” Eddie has trouble with pretty much the entire fact of Roland’s existence, understandably. He also witnesses the death of his troubled brother, which becomes the great emotional crisis for him over the course of the next book or so. He fights in a shootout alongside Roland, and does so naked, and Roland is very impressed. Eventually, Roland yanks him through the door for good.
Roland and Eddie on the beach is classic. It’s a buddy cop plot in which no one is having a good time. Roland is still sick, although he manages to bring back “astin” (aspirin), which strikes him as almost as miraculous as the sugary soda. Eddie is not only reeling from inter-dimensional travel but is also going through heroin withdrawal (he was “the prisoner” of the drug). He is also supremely skeptical of Roland’s intentions, and rightly so:
There are people who need people to need them. The reason you don’t understand is because you’re not one of those people. You’d use me and then toss me away like a paper bag if that’s what it came down to. God fucked you, my friend. You’re just smart enough so it would hurt you to do that, and just hard enough so you’d go ahead and do it anyway. You wouldn’t be able to help yourself. If I was lying on the beach there and screaming for help, you’d walk over me if I was between you and your goddam Tower. Isn’t that pretty close to the truth?
He has Roland’s number early on. At the same time, Roland has to effectively become Eddie’s Cort. He has to deliver a heap of tough love really quickly, and do so while dramatically unhealthy. But “When you planned rough, you allowed room for improvisation. And improvisation at short notice had always been one of Roland’s strong points.” Roland also lets the weapon do some of the convincing for him:
The sandalwood grips of the revolver were so smooth that Eddie’s first act upon receiving it was to nearly drop it on his toes. The thing was so big it looked prehistoric, so heavy he knew he would have to lift it two-handed. Yet there was some part of him that wanted to hold it, that responded to its perfectly expressed purpose, that sensed its dim and bloody history and wanted to be part of it.
To be part of that history: what a description of the wicked appeal of guns. The series is in the constant state of romanticizing the gunslinger’s abilities, yet is also takes on the responsibility to illustrate the deadly force of such.
Also: Eddie is only 23. Twenty-three years old! I had finished reading the entire series before I was 23. At the time, I must have pictured Eddie as around age 30 or so. Now, the character is ten years younger than me. Ka like a wheel.
Up next on the long beach path is Detta/Odetta. I’d forgotten that Odetta Holmes was once rich and well-known, heir to a dental industry and a prominent black activist in 1960s New York. She suffered two crazy (but not coincidental) accidents: some creep threw a brick on her head when she was a girl, and then later she was pushed in front of a subway train and her legs were chopped off. The first accident caused her to sprout an alternate personality, by the name of Detta. Because of this, the door that Roland and Eddie find is dubbed THE LADY OF SHADOWS.
This adventurer is a tough one to draw through the door because Detta, when she has control, puts up a nasty fight. When they do get her through, they have to tie her to her wheelchair for hours on end. She doesn’t care so much about the otherworldly setting as she does two white men who she thinks are just waiting to subdue and rape her. When Odetta is the mind in charge, she has no memory of Detta at all. She has suppressed her crazier half.
Eddie falls for Odetta quickly, and their romance is one to root for. They have their obstacles to be sure. When Eddie calls her black, she can’t stand it because the when she came from hadn’t used that term yet. So he realizes that “the difference between them was much wider than color; they were speaking to each other from separate islands. The water between was time.” Not to mention that pesky little multiple personalities thing.
By the time they arrive at the third door, THE PUSHER, they are all strung pretty thin. Roland is still sick. Eddie has to do the physical work of getting the wheelchair across the sand and being trusted with one or both guns. Detta is as wild as ever, and the lobstrosities are always close by. It’s Roland who once again goes through the door, and that’s where he enters the head of Jack Mort. “The Pusher” is not a drug reference, but rather this is the man who pushed Odetta/Detta in front of the train, and also dropped the brick on the young Odetta and caused all her misery. The whole plotline of Jack Mort is fun because it’s Roland taking full control of this terrible human being and using his body to get what he needs. (What he needs most is bullets.) The action sequences are as exciting as the initial thread of Roland pulling Eddie, and there are nice details about gunslinging. Roland recognizes police as gunslingers of our world, though the ones he encounters are shabby. He can also do things that are not realistic for puny humans to perform, like shoot a weapon out of the hand of a person. He’s the real deal like that.
Eventually, the trio survives the trial of the final door, and most importantly, Odetta/Detta has a reckoning with her mind which causes her to have a breakthrough and take control as a single person. She is renewed as Susannah (a name of some import later) and agrees to join the crew. She seems to do so with less hesitation than Eddie, or perhaps that’s just because there were fewer pages left for her do her protesting.
Eddie is kind of an everyman for the reader, asking the hard questions, swinging back and forth from acceptance to stubborn fright at who exactly he is falling in with. At one point he levels at Roland “You’re just another kook singing ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ with a flag in one hand and a gun in the other.” That’s pretty accurate. Another time he asks, “What’s on the other side of that door for me?”
And Roland, honest as ever, answers:
Probably death. But before that happens, I don’t think you’ll be bored. I want you to join me on a quest. Of course, all will probably end in death—death for the four of us in a strange place. But if we should win through, you’ll see something beyond all the beliefs of all your dreams.
Probably death. But let’s go along for the ride, what do you say? At least, let’s get off this beach and onto the journey proper.
Mid-World Roundup (brought to you by the bold lobstrosities):
- 19: RENEWAL (not only for Roland finding a new crew, but for King coming back to his gunslinger story and cranking up for a whole ride)
- Epigraphs: None, apparently.
- Mid-World travel dictionary: Roland always enjoys a good “popkin” (sandwich).
- Pronunciation station: “Astin” is great.
- Know your gunslinger:
- Roland has a “single-minded and incurious resolve that had driven him across the desert and all the years before the desert in the wake of the man in black.”
- And at another point: “So he was the last, and perhaps he had survived because the dark romance in his nature was overset by his practicality and simplicity. He understood that only three things mattered: mortality, ka, and the Tower.”
- Meditations on the Tower: Roland describes the tower as “A kind of…of a bolt. A central linchpin that holds all of existence together. All existence, all time, and all size.”
- Gettin’ meta: Eddie’s internal dialogue references movies “like Halloween and The Shining.” Now, referencing The Shining may not be strictly metafictional, as it’s a legitimate part of popular culture (King & Son did it here as well), but still.
- Foreshadowing: Roland killed one of his own when he and Cuthbert shot their fellow gunslinger, Alain. Eddie is already realizing the need to tread very lightly around this guy. Or at least to never expect to return from the odyssey.