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“Did-a-chick? Dum-a-chum?” The Dark Tower Book II: The Drawing of the Three

September 13th, 2010
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Click here for my description of the beginning of my journey to the Dark Tower, and here for my thoughts on The Dark Tower Book I: The Gunslinger.

Although all of the Marvel Comics’ Dark Tower prequel comics (The Gunslinger Born and subsequent mini-series) were set entirely in the Wild West meets Lord of the Rings fantasy world (and I am aware, by the way, that I’m doing an enormous insult to the vastness of Stephen King’s fully-realized creation to try to encapsulate it in such a gross oversimplification) of Gilead and the Gunslingers, I knew from pop-culture osmosis that eventually the Dark Tower series connected in some way to the modern world.  I wasn’t sure how or when in the series it happened, but I knew it was coming.  (Actually, even the very first novel of the series, The Gunslinger, had a connection to the modern world in the form of Jake, who grew up in New York City before mysteriously appearing in Roland’s world at the Way Station.)

To be honest, I was sort of dreading that coming cross-over with modern-day characters.  Through the Marvel Comics series and through Book I: The Gunslinger, I had quite fallen in love with the world of Gilead and the men and monsters who inhabited it.  I was desperate for more of the history and back-story of this strange and wondrous and terrifying fantasy “world that had moved on,” and didn’t see the need for this fantasy series to connect in any way to modern-day characters or locations.

So I was disappointed, at first, to discover that in the early pages of The Dark Tower Book II: The Drawing of the Three, a grievously injured Roland Deschain (the Gunslinger) begins assembling a new ka-tet via mysterious doors that lead to the U.S.A. in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s.  Urgh, I thought, here we go, so much for this fantasy series I had been enjoying so much.

I really shouldn’t have doubted Mr. King, and I cry his pardon that I did so.  The Drawing of the Three is a wonderful novel, gripping from beginning-to-end, and one that opens up the developing saga in intriguing ways.  (Being a newbie to the Dark Tower series, I have no idea where any of this is going — but for now I am really enjoying my ignorance!)

The first door that Roland encounters leads him to Eddie Dean, a junkie in the process of smuggling heroin into the U.S.  The second door leads Roland to Detta Walker/Odetta Holmes, a crippled African American woman who also happens to be a dangerously split personality.  The third door leads Roland to Jack Mort, a man who may have been involved with the fate that befell Jake (from Book I).  The Drawing of the Three is split into three sections, with each section devoted to introducing Roland (and us) to these three new characters.

Here is where my appreciation for Mr. King’s skill as a writer really expanded.  I always knew that he was a great writer, but the way in which he is able to fully develop each of these new characters, and suck the reader so powerfully and completely into their worlds and situations, is astonishing.  In the opening pages I was upset at the prospect of leaving the world of Roland Deschain… but by the end of the first section of the novel (titled The Prisoner), I couldn’t bear to leave the world of Eddie Dean!  And I felt the same way upon reaching the end of section two (The Lady of Shadows) — I didn’t want to leave the world of Odetta/Detta!

Mr. King knows how to create characters — but more than that, he demonstrates in this novel his mastery at dropping the reader right into staggeringly compelling situations.  The Drawing of the Three is a page-turner if ever there was one — I was swept along by the story-telling, desperately wanting to learn more about the characters, about how the heck they’re going to get out of the tense situations in which they find themselves embroiled, and above all to learn more about the larger, mysterious world that Mr. King has created — a world filled with gunslingers, man-eating lobstrosities, doorways into other worlds, and all sorts of other weird goings-on.

I must also say that I just love the hell out of Mr. King’s prose.  I can recognize a good story when I see one, but it’s rare that, when reading a good story, I’ll also stop and admire the language being used.  But boy did that happen numerous times while reading this novel.  Mr. King has a jaunty, engaging style.  It’s naturalistic — and entertainingly profane at times!! — and is, above all else, compellingly readable.

If The Gunslinger seemed like the briefest of introductions to the world of The Dark Tower, then The Drawing of the Three — while a much more complete story — still feels like just an introduction to a much larger saga.  The main characters of this epic, it seems, are still being assembled, and to this point we’ve been given only tiny hints of back-story.  But what an introduction it is.  I sped through The Drawing of the Three, and I am eager to begin Book Three: The Waste Lands. I’ll be back with my thoughts on that novel soon!

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