Lost Lit: Stephen King’s The Drawing of the Three (The Dark Tower II)

“If you have given up your heart for the Tower, Roland, you have already lost.”

And so our tale resumes. When last we saw Roland, he was asleep on a beach—sleep occasioned by the longest night of his life, spent talking to the man in black. When he awakes, the man in black appears to have died, skeletonized, and partially disintegrated. Without an intrepid CSI-tech handy, Roland assumes that appearances are reality.

Reality, of course, is precisely the topic of this installment of the Dark Tower series. Walter (the man in black) had drawn three cards for Roland in their Oceanside parley: The Hanged Man, The Lady of the Shadows, and Death: “Death, gunslinger. But not for you.”

Roland’s encounter with the lobstrosities destroys his red right hand and nearly kills him. What pulls him back together is the discovery of a magical door, jamb-less, hing-less, and existing in only two dimensions. He opens it, and we get one of the funniest lines in the whole damn series:

“The gunslinger looked, froze, uttered the first scream of terror in his adult life, and slammed the door.”

Slapstick is such a visual medium that it rarely works in novels. So when it does, I’m happy. This door gives us Eddie, a pre-gentrification Brooklynite with a nasty heroin habit and a heart of gold. But more importantly—well, maybe—we get a sense of the stakes of the game. The door opens into Eddie’s head, but it also opens into Eddie’s reality. That reality, as far as most casual readers can tell, is our own. Once Roland and Eddie get to know each other (more below) Roland explains the nature of his quest to his young new friend:

"If we win through this, Eddie, you’ll see something beyond all the beliefs of all your dreams.”
“What thing?”
“The Dark Tower.”
What is it?”
“I don’t know that, either—except that it may be a kind of…of a bolt. A central linchpin that holds all existence together. All existence, all time, all size.”

The Dark Tower is the center of the universe: it stands at the center of a series of wheels stack one on the other. Picture a wagonwheel—it’s helpful for the next book. Passage from one wheel or level of existence to another is possible through these doors, although who put them there, when, and why, is never really cleared up. The similarities between Roland’s world and our own, things like “Hey Jude” and a distant Arthurian past, point to the slipperiness of the levels and the likelihood that many, many people have traveled from one wheel to another.

A rudimentary time-travel is possible through these doors, as well. Eddie hails from the 1980s, but the next door leads to Odetta, who is mourning the recent death of “America’s last gunslinger,” John F. Kennedy. The final door, Death/The Pusher, leads to the 1970s. What Roland and his growing band of merry sidekicks can’t seem to do, however, is travel through time in Roland’s own world—the doors just don’t work that way.

The counterpoints to this large-scale picture of the Dark Tower universe are Eddie and Odetta (The Lady of the Shadows), both unwillingly shanghaied into Roland’s level of the Tower, both eventually his tried and true companions—his ka-mates. Sadly, this part of the book is also the part I like least: Eddie’s battle with heroin is rather dull reading, despite the exciting shoot-out at the mob boss’s restaurant. And Odetta/Detta/Susannah’s multiple personality disorder drives me absolutely batty. (And yes, it’s MPD, not schizophrenia, which is hearing voices and experiencing delusions, not having more than one persona.)

Both Eddie’s and Susannah’s angst seems unnecessarily drawn out; the “Detta” personality’s pseudo-ebonics just grates—as Eddie points out somewhere, it sounds like a caricature, not a person. But somehow, despite the unnecessary lengths we’re forced to undergo, I do come to feel extremely attached to both of these characters, if not by the end of this book, definitely by the end of The Waste Lands. So all that characterization and personal growth has a payoff, it’s just not evident here.

In fact, payoff is something of a problem for this installment, which ends with a different type of drawing for the final card, Death. Roland and Eddie slip back into America-level to take down Jack Mort, who, it turns out, injured Susannah twice: once, a blow to the head in childhood that lead to her split personality, and a second time, when he pushed her in front of the subway—which resulted in her losing most of her legs. Roland doesn’t draw Jack Mort into his world; he draws his gun and shoots him down (and then throws him in front of a convenient subway train).

Killing Jack Mort, however, has some radical consequences, and it’s these consequences that make this book relevant to Lost. Jack Mort was the Pusher who killed Jake (this guy really got around). So if Roland kills Mort before he has a chance to push Jake…

“Thoughts of what might happen if he stopped the man in black from murdering Jake did not come until later—the possible paradox, the fistula in time and dimension which might cancel out everything that had happened after he had arrived at the way station…What changes? Impossible even to speculate on them…If it sent all to hell, the hell with it.”

It’s worth it to Roland to save Jake, even if it means never having met him, even if it means ripping a hole in the fabric of reality (as they say in Angel, Season Four). The consequences of Roland’s actions are left unstated—like this season of Lost, we have to wait for the next installment before we have any idea what the results will be.

But the lengths Roland goes to, and the risks he runs, to save his beloved Jake also encapsulate this novel’s greatest boon: we get to know our hero, and we see that he is a man of great loyalty, strong love, and caring devotion to the people that destiny, or ka, bring into his orbit. He is a pure man, although not an innocent one. His character is strong, forthright. He is willing to risk even himself, and his quest, for his ka-mates.

Roland’s interior voice, early in the novel tells him:

“Don’t make the mistake of putting your heart near [Eddie’s] hand…There is steel in him…But there is weakness as well.”
But by the end of the next novel, we will see Roland’s inability to prevent himself from opening his heart to his ka-mates, and, in this novel, we’re beginning to see how that is the necessary requirement for him to reach the Dark Tower.

Random Thoughts:

• This is a damn hard installment to review, as all of the threads that begin in this novel carry over into the first part of The Waste Lands. I would have reviewed them together, except that the second part of The Waste Lands is really the first part of the Wolves of the Calla, which leads into the Song of Susannah…and then I just got confused.

• I’ve got it in my head to finish all my Dark Tower reviews before Comic-Con next week. No, I’m not going. Why not? Because by the time I realized I should buy a ticket, they were all sold out. (If you happen to have an extra, though, email me....) Maybe next year. I’ve said that four years in a row.

• Speaking of Comic-Con, with the implicit Lostiness of any ComiCon comment (ComiComment?), I’ve always wondered how the Lost Powers that Be, who own the rights to the series, would cast Roland, Eddie, and Susannah. My votes are for Alexis Denisof as Roland and Gina Torres as Susannah.

• No, I’m not dead, for those of you who have been wondering. I moved, and then I came down with a horrible bout of the dreaded lazy virus. If you’re not familiar with the disease, symptoms include re-watching the entire run of Angel, reading every Douglas Preston/Lincoln Child thriller (even though they are truly awful), and not wearing any make-up for weeks. It’s been delightful.

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

3 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Welcome back, Josie! I've said the same thing to myself about ComiCon for the past few years myself; I have yet to actually get there. It's just hard to get it together to go for the first time, I think. I used to go to a great fan-run con every year when I lived on the east coast. Shore Leave in Baltimore. How I miss it.

Gus Brunetti said...

Hi, Josie
I'm glad you said this is the part you like the least, because I liked The Gunslinger much better than TDotT, for the same reasons you stated. Are we through with the Detta/Odetta personalities, or do they come bak all the time?

Something that confused me: Walter drew The Hanged Man card, but Eddie's door said "The Prisoner". Is this relevant to the plot?

When I was reading the book, I was already anticipating what I'd read in this review, and now I'm surprised you didn't mention all the similarities between Eddie and Charlie: both are heroin addicts, got hooked because of their older brothers, and got sucked into a world where they had to go cold turkey, etc. But there's something said about Eddie that can give us some insight on Charlie too: he always needs to be taking care of someone to function properly. LAlso, the scene in the airplane, where the flight attendant realizes he's got drugs on him and he goes to the toilet to flush them is taken directly from the book.

And thank God there's no Detta/Odetta equivalent in LOST!

I'll read the next review as soon as I finished The Waste Land.

Thanks for the review!

Josie Kafka said...

I would love to say that the similarities are so obvious that I didn't deign to mention them. But, as best I recall, I simply didn't put 2 and 2 together on that.

(Slaps forehead.)