The Dark Tower
The Drawing of the Three
Donald M. Grant • 1987 • 400 pages
A Novel Critique
The Drawing of the Three begins roughly seven hours after Roland's confrontation with Marten in the bony golgotha at the end of The Gunslinger. Immediately, we sense a shift in tone from the first volume. Whereas The Gunslinger seemed sparse in story and words (even in the revised edition), the first pages of Drawing hint at a new richness and depth. In this early solitary section, creatures called "lobstrosities" roll out of the ocean and attack Roland, eating several fingers and infecting him with poison. Additionally, the ocean itself hinders him by wetting his bullets, rendering many of them duds. As with the writer Paul Sheldon in Misery - whose typewriter throws keys and whose captor severs his thumb - Roland is divorced from the things that make him who he is, and effective at what he does. Also like Paul Sheldon, Roland must push ahead on his mission, in spite of his pain. Roland's new circumstances lend the novel a greater sense of urgency; he is now not only searching for the Dark Tower, he is also racing against death.
The odd combination of mysticism and Western imagery in The Gunslinger here gives way to a high science fiction concept: doors standing alone in intervals along the beach that lead into "our" world at different time periods in American history. Though The Gunslinger dropped hints that it had some relation to our world - a man singing "Hey Jude," for instance - it here that we begin to uncover how closely these worlds (and others) are related. The decades Roland finds through the doors put King on familiar turf. Within the context of the larger Dark Tower mythos, King furthers his interest in the social and political backdrop of the 1980s (as in It, and later, The Tommyknockers), the 1970s (The Dead Zone), and the 1960s (touched on in King's earliest stories, and fully explored later in Hearts In Atlantis).
The people Roland "draws" from these doors are representative of their times, each in some way as mentally and spiritually damaged as Roland is physically. Through the door marked The Prisoner, Roland finds Eddie Dean, an ostensibly weak man done in by heroin and the obsessive hero worship of his older brother. Through Roland's interference, Eddie is able to discover true bravery and courage within himself. A final shootout in our world, reminiscent of Roland's firefight in Tull, goes a long way toward proving Eddie's worth. That Roland understands this - and reluctantly trusts Eddie with his gun - demonstrates growth on Roland's part, as well.
This thoughtfulness serves him well with Odetta Holmes, whom Roland draws from a door marked The Lady of Shadows. She is confined to a wheelchair: Odetta explains that she was once pushed in front of a subway train, her legs severed just above the knees. She is also, in 1960s parlance, a schizophrenic, suffering from multiple personality disorder so complete that neither personality is aware of the other. As Odetta, she is sweet and kind, if a little pretentious. As Detta Walker, she is violent and dangerous, hindering Roland and Eddie's journey up the beach and in ways hastening Roland's illness. Her personalities' refusal to notice one another is reminiscent of Eddie's blindness to his brother's failings ... and, in a way, Roland's single-minded quest to find the Dark Tower.
That Roland is given the chance to atone is interesting. The final door on the beach reads The Pusher, a word that has hideous dual meanings for both Eddie and Odetta. On the other side of the door is New York of the 1970s, and a terrifying murderer named Jack Mort, who likes to kill by pushing. When Roland first encounters him, Mort is preparing to push Jake Chambers - the boy Roland let fall near the end of The Gunslinger - in front of a car. This is the act that sent Jake into Roland's world in the first place, but despite the repercussions, Roland cannot let himself take part in Jake's death again. Stopping Mort from killing Jake creates a paradox King will explore to great extent in The Waste Lands. This also signifies a dramatic shift in Roland the gunslinger, who has - for the first time - subverted his quest in order to save someone's life. The man readers meet at the start of The Gunslinger has subtly but fundamentally changed. This incremental shift in personality - and a growing understanding of his own nature - will come to characterize Roland's journey throughout the series.
While the book is titled The Drawing of the Three, the overarching theme is not drawing but merging. As his encounter with the lobstrocities at the start of the book involved subtraction, the remainder of the novel is about addition: forming a fellowship, preventing a murder, and, maybe most importantly, bringing the two halves of Odetta and Detta together as one. Here, the title's second meaning emerges. Roland's deeper understanding of the human psyche (not to mention the properties of the doors) allows him to draw a third, whole personality from The Lady of Shadows, a woman named Susannah.
Second meanings abound in The Drawing of the Three. Both Detta Walker and Jack Mort have darkly symbolic names. Tower imagery is plentiful, as with The Leaning Tower bar, or towers built from cards (an image directly referencing the tarot scene at the end of The Gunslinger). Much later in the series, Eddie tells Susannah that "coincidence has been canceled." The first evidence of that is here: 1964, the year Odetta is drawn into Roland's world, is also the year Eddie Dean was born. Jack Mort not only attempted to murder Jake, he was also the man who pushed Odetta in front of subway train, and dropped a brick on her head when she was young, creating her fractured personality in the first place. The connections between Jake, Susannah, and Eddie only intensify as the series continues.
One of King's most character-driven novels, Drawing hammers home the message that the journey is sometimes more important than the destination - a motif King will return to again and again in the series. The Drawing of the Threet is a much more complete and satisfying volume than the first in the series, feeling and reading more like a novel than the Gunslinger's series of stories bound together. By tying the world of the gunslinger so closely to our own, King allows Drawing to be a more accessible introduction to the series - although, admittedly, his revisions to The Gunslinger have gone a long way toward correcting those concerns. Though much of the narrative relies heavily on the prophecies foretold in The Gunslinger and setting up scenarios that will become central to the next volume, The Waste Lands, The Drawing of the Three is very much its own book, with a tone and rhythm distinct from all other books in the series.