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The Dark Tower: The Drawing of the Three
Stephen King
Viking, 406 pages

The Dark Tower: The Drawing of the Three
Stephen King
Stephen King was born in Portland, Maine, in 1947. He attended the grammar school in Durham, Maine, and then Lisbon Falls High School, graduating in 1966. King graduated from the University of Maine at Orono in 1970, with a B.S. in English and qualified to teach at the high school level. He met his wife, Tabitha, in the stacks of the Fogler Library at the University of Maine of Orono, where they both worked as students. Unable to find a teaching job, the couple lived on his earnings as a labourer at an industrial laundry, and her student loan and savings, with an occasional boost from a short story sale to men's magazines. In the fall of 1971, King began teaching high school English classes at Hampden Academy, the public high school in Hampden, Maine. In the spring of 1973, Doubleday & Co. accepted his novel Carrie for publication. A few months later, its paperback sale provided him with the means to leave teaching and write full-time.

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SF Site Review: The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger (2003)
SF Site Review: The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger
SF Site Review: LT's Theory of Pets
SF Site Review: Dreamcatcher
SF Site Review: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
SF Site Review: Hearts in Atlantis
SF Site Review: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
SF Site Review: Bag of Bones
SF Site Review: Storm of the Century
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A review by Matthew Peckham

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"Three. This is the number of your fate." So goes the demon oracle's prophecy to Roland Deschain in The Gunslinger, and when at the end of that book Roland sits in repose and dreams "his long dreams of the Dark Tower," we are left to wonder at the meaning of such numerology, Tarot palaver, and the Delphian "time of the drawing."

The Drawing of the Three is the second book in an extended sequence called The Dark Tower which concerns the quest of the world's last gunslinger -- Roland Deschain of Gilead -- to put right whatever is wrong with his world, which is in a progressive state of decay. At the center of space and time lies the Dark Tower, and presumably whatever force is behind the perversion of what Roland thinks of as "love and light." Having hunted and finally caught the "man in black," his portal to the tower in The Gunslinger, Roland is told he will be vested with the power of drawing.

This turns out to be the ability to conjure and open inter-dimensional portals, or "doors" through which Roland is able to make contact with humans in our world, each one at a different temporal point. The story begins on the same beach where the last book ended, seven hours later. King reintroduces Roland in a prologue, then does something completely unexpected and shocking -- he emasculates his anti-hero.

The gunslinger staggered to his feet. The thing tore open his dripping jeans, tore through a boot whose old leather was soft but as tough as iron, and took a chunk of meat from Roland's lower calf. He drew with his right hand, and realized two of the fingers required to perform this ancient killing operation were gone only when the revolver thumped to the sand.
Crippled, dehydrated, starving, and dying from blood poisoning, Roland manages to make his way up the beach several miles until he encounters the first door, labeled in accordance with the tarot reading, "The Prisoner."
It stood six and a half feet high and appeared to be made of solid ironwood, although the nearest ironwood tree must grow seven hundred miles or more from here... this door where no door should be. It simply stood there on the gray strand twenty feet above the high-tide line, seemingly as eternal as the sea itself, now casting the slanted shadow of its thickness toward the east as the sun westered.
When Roland opens the door, he see the earth from thousands of feet in the air, and panics before realizing that what he is in fact seeing is the ground from the interior of a flying machine (an airplane) through the eyes of another entity. That entity turns out to be Eddie Dean, also known as The Prisoner, in New York City circa 1987. Per the man in black's tarot reading, Eddie has been infested with a demon, the name of the demon: HEROIN. What ensues is a tense zero-sum game involving Eddie, drugs, drug lords, and Roland's desperate attempt to "draw" Eddie by bringing him over to Roland's world with enough medicine to stabilize Roland's rapidly deteriorating physical condition.

When Roland enters the door, he discovers that he has the ability to manipulate and even take full control of Eddie, which allows King to lead us on a merry and fascinating exploration of The Rules. For example, Roland can bring matter from our world back to his, but not vice versa. When he "comes forward" and takes possession of his host, the host's eyes change color to represent Roland's eyes. When Roland moves in his world, the door follows him. The door is only visible at 180 degrees from one side to the other -- moving behind it results in its "vanishing" until the observer returns to the front side. Only Roland can open the door.

The first third of the book focuses on Roland's acclimation to these mystical principles and their fantastical permutations. There's no attempt (yet) to make this function as science-fantasy in terms of some greater mechanistic axiom, and as John Clute notes in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, "[the] bleakly fantasticated, underpopulated landscape of the future... is an imprecise fantasist's future rather than a SF one." But what began in the first book as "strange events [occurring] among the decaying detritus of a lost technological age" begins to take on systemic weight as King develops his Dark Tower universe by augmenting its relationship to our own.

The most substantial changes occur at the level of narrative style. King is occasionally fond of singsong rambling bordering on stream-of-consciousness, but here -- as in the other Dark Tower books -- it is mitigated and refined, controlled and subservient to the story rather than overpowering it. Even so, the distant stoic pilgrim's voice has been replaced by a collection of American idioms that shatter the mythic ambiance and slacken the narrative structure compellingly. What follows is extracted from a scene in which Eddie, smuggling Cocaine taped under his armpits, has a momentary cynical lapse about the plan, and addresses the master planner, his brother Henry, in his mind.

Hey Henry, o great sage & eminent junkie big brother, while we're on the subject of our feathered friends, you want to hear my definition of cooked goose? That's when the customs guy[s] at Kennedy [decide] there's something a little funny about the way you look... and they say maybe you better take off your t-shirt... because you look like maybe you got some kind of a medical problem, buddy, those bulges under your pits look like maybe they could be some kind of lymphatic tumors or something... so you take off the t-shirt and hey, looky here, you're some lucky kid, those aren't tumors, unless they're what you might call tumors on the corpus of society, yuk-yuk-yuk, those things look more like a couple of baggies held there with Scotch strapping tape, and by the way, don't worry about that smell, son, that's just goose. It's cooked.
The remainder of the story and the second and third doors increase the stakes and put Roland through a gauntlet of increasingly bizarre events. Suffice to say that King uses Eddie and subsequent characters to grapple with racism, feminism and gender roles, obsessive sociopathic deviants, psychogenic fugues, unresolved adolescent baggage, and philosophical determinism (a pivotal theme throughout the series). The resolutions, when they come, are as unexpected as Roland's crippling mutilations in the prologue, the ending as satisfying in its romantic ambivalence as the first book's conclusion.

While the first, third and fourth books move Roland and his companions over vast geographic distances, this second book feels more like an interlude, a place for Roland to consider his mission and replenish his strength, relatively speaking. Like the revised edition of The Gunslinger, this edition of the second book also has a new subtitle: Renewal. The new introduction, "On Being Nineteen" is also duplicated here, but otherwise the story, complete with its opening "argument" synopsis and book-ending afterword are identical to the previous editions.

The Drawing of the Three was originally published by Donald M. Grant in 1987 as a hardcover with full color illustrations by Phil Hale. These tended to be edgy human forms awash in glistening panels of light blues and dusty oranges. A second edition was published by Donald M. Grant later with entirely new illustrations, also by Phil Hale, but starkly different -- a mix of browns and blacks, with character physiology (particularly the contorted hands and faces) packed full of kinetics and visualized in clenched fists and grimacing faces. The latter illustrations inhabit the new Scribner edition and are easy to linger over. Though I personally prefer Hale's original illustrations, it is his version of Roland, then as now, that comes to mind when I read these books.

Well worth price and time, the second book in The Dark Tower series is a masterwork of dark fantasy that continues King's homage to the western epic, now interlaced with gritty urban imagery and late twentieth century American colloquialisms. Fiction this compelling is rare, but compelling fiction with a literary pedigree is rare indeed.

Copyright © 2003 Matthew Peckham

Matthew Peckham is the pen name of Matthew Peckham. He holds a Master's Degree in English Creative Writing and is currently employed by a railroad. For more about Matthew, check out mattpeckham.com


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