Stephen King is still getting Roland’s quest for the Dark Tower up to speed in “The Drawing of the Three”, but for a really long prologue, it’s compelling reading. Roland gathers his Fellowship of the Tower this time out, but I’d try not to get too attached to any of them. King makes no guarantees as to who will survive and what will become of them.
Roland’s quest to assemble this mini-brotherhood gets off to a sorry start right off the bat, as he’s attacked by a lobster-like monstrosity that severs a toe and two of the fingers of Roland’s right hand after a night on the beach. That’s a substantial liability for a Gunslinger and worse, the wounds become infected, and Roland’s sure to die within days unless he comes up with a miracle cure.
The strength of Roland’s obsession is enough to sustain him for the time being, though. Along the course of his trek along the vast beach, Roland discovers three doors hovering in mid-air, from which he’ll find his companions, connecting with them as his own consciousness takes up residence in their heads. The first candidate is Eddie Dean, a hardcore smack addict who’s trying to smuggle a heaping helping of product into the country. Somehow, Roland’s going to have to get Eddie through this virtuous endeavor if he’s going to be able to bring Eddie back to his world. Eddie’s actually a pretty decent guy at his core, but as soon as he began his love affair with heroin, (to ingratiate himself to his older brother – nice going, Einstein) any bright future he might’ve had went down the crapper. It’s a good sequence, fraught with tension as Eddie’s caper goes bad in a big ugly way, and with Eddie, the series introduces its most sympathetic character. Really. He’s got reserves within him that’ll impress you later.
Okay, one down. Next, Roland opens a door onto the New York City of 1963 where he finds Odetta Holmes, a paraplegic civil rights activist. Sure, her physical limitation will make Roland’s trek difficult, but Odetta’s a bright, even-tempered woman who could be a genuine asset. We’ll work something out. Looks good until Detta manifest. That’s right, with Odetta, you get two personalities for the price of one. Odetta has no idea that she’s got an evil doppleganger lurking inside her head, the product of a head injury she suffered as a little girl when some asshole dropped masonry onto her skull. Where Odetta is kind and conscientious, Detta is a nightmare from Hell, a foul-mouthed caricature of an African-American woman and pure, unadulterated evil.
I get the whole idea of Detta using speech and behavior being patterned after the worst stereotypes of African Americans as a means to express contempt, but it’s still pretty jarring and it’s not that great of a dramatic device. It’s hard to take Detta seriously until she’s got a knife to somebody’s throat. This aspect of the character would’ve been scarier and had more dramatic impact if King had dialed down the Stepin Fetchit dialogue.
Moving right along, the third door opens on New York in 1977, where Roland has the distinct displeasure of crawling through the thoroughly icky mind of Jack Mort, the sadistic bastard responsible for killing Jake Chambers, whose shade appeared in “The Gunslinger,” and he was the guy who dropped that mortar onto Odetta, then pushed her onto the subway tracks years later. Great catch, Roland. It’s probably the best piece of the novel, though. King comes up with some ingenious ways for Roland to use and abuse our buddy Jack and the resolution holds true to Roland’s Gunslinger ethos, an evocation of the mythos we’ve created around our own western heroes.
“The Drawing of the Three” basically amounts to a 400+ page prologue, but it’s a compelling one, riveting at best and readable even at its cheesiest. Much more than “The Gunslinger”, this book really shows us what Roland’s made of. Fiercely obsessive, willing to sacrifice anything or anyone to reach the Dark Tower, but still placing a priority on his code of honor. The four connected novellas are enjoyable on their own and as an extended work, they promise plenty of good things to come from King’s epic saga.