When we saw him last, Roland the gunslinger was sitting on a beach, alone, pondering a prophesy. The man in black, whom he’d been pursuing throughout The Gunslinger, told him his future in three cards: The Prisoner, The Lady of Shadows, and Death (“but not for you”). In The Drawing of the Three, we see that future come to fruition. Roland meets the people who will come with him on his quest for the Dark Tower, and he gets his first actual glimpses at our world.
Teresa: The Drawing of the Three and The Wastelands are probably my favorite books in this series. One of the great things about this book is how funny it is. Roland’s reactions to the simplest things in our world, from “tooter fish” (tuna fish) to “astin” (aspirin) kill me every time. I love when he first drinks a soda and wonders why anyone would fight over cocaine and heroin when there’s this SWEET available for so cheap. It’s wonderful to see this dour and intimidating figure expressing child-like glee in such simple things.
Jenny: That’s why it’s my favorite, too! Every single time I read this book I happily repeat the phrase “tooter fish” to myself. It’s seeing our world with new eyes, from neon signs (and no sign is to be taken lightly) to rituals like the Crossing of the Customs.
The other reason this book is so enjoyable and satisfying to me is the wonderful characterization. The Gunslinger is like a few strokes of charcoal, sketching the beginnings of a world and a person and making us want to know more. The Drawing of the Three gives us more — not about Roland’s past, but about what kind of person he is. And of course we get to know Eddie and Susannah, too, the two he draws, whether they like it or not.
Teresa: I had tooter fish for dinner this week in Roland’s honor, and I ate it with a big smile on my face. Something about that just makes me happy.
The characterization is another wonderful aspect of this book. I like the way you contrast The Gunslinger and The Drawing of the Three. This book fills in the details of Roland’s personality—his drive, his humor, his loyalty and care, his intelligence, his love. I was interested in him in The Gunslinger, but I wasn’t sure I liked him. This is the book that made me fall in love with him.
And I fell in love with Eddie and Susannah, too. Eddie is particularly wonderful in this book. I love everything about him. Susannah is less lovable, but she’s just as interesting—and a risky character to include in all kinds of ways. Both of them are such unlikely heroes when we meet them. Who’d ever guess that a heroin addict and sometime drug smuggler and a wheelchair-bound woman with multiple personalities could become steely-eyed gunslingers?
Jenny: And, of course, Jake from The Gunslinger is the same: it’s clear that there’s gunslinger mettle in him, too, and he’s only a sheltered child. What could be more inappropriate, or more perfect? Ka, or destiny, calls whom it calls. You stand or you fall. It’s nothing to ka, but everything to Roland. And the fact that King makes Roland more lovable in this book is crucial. We’re going to go through a lot with these people.
I am kind of interested that Stephen King chose to draw people from essentially the same time and place: New York, within a few years of each other. Obviously, it would have made things much more difficult if he’d decided to draw someone from medieval France, or ancient Egypt, or, say, another galaxy. Are we supposed to infer that there’s something special about New York at this time?
Teresa: Oh that’s a good question. Surely there would have been excellent potential gunslingers at other times and places. As the story develops, we see some of the reasons 20th-century New York could be important, but at this point, how much of its significance did King have organized in his mind? Everything he’s written about the process of writing the series indicates that the story just came as it came and when it came and that it was out of his control; but having read the whole thing, I could see hints of what’s ahead. He does say in the afterword that he had a plan for the next couple of books, and I suspect he had a general sense of the conclusion. How much did he know then?
One last thing I want to mention is that I found the suspense in this book to be almost unbearable at times. The Gunslinger is a great book, but I never sensed that Roland himself was at risk, except psychologically. In this book, he’s in almost constant physical peril, and Eddie frequently is as well. The lobstrosities, for instance, are such a simple creation—giant, hungry, possibly intelligent lobsters—but they’re so scary. And they’re not nearly the scariest thing in this book! The road to the tower is a dangerous one and will continue to be so.
Jenny: You’re so right. This book never edges over into overt horror, but there are a lot of frightening things here. I think the main thing that changes in that respect from The Gunslinger to this book is Roland’s loss of control. He goes from being a solitary traveler, in charge of his own fate, to being forced to surrender a part of his ka and a part of his heart to two new people. This happened to some degree in the last book with Jake — and we saw what happened then. Roland’s peril comes partly from his fanaticism, and partly from his vulnerability with others. This is a theme we’ll continue to see as he goes his long road.
We discussed The Drawing of the Three this month as part of our Dark Tower readalong. Please join us at any time! If you read The Drawing of the Three for June (or if you’ve just been drawn into our Ka-Tet), please leave a link to your post in the comments.