Thursday, November 25, 2010
The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King
I have a soft spot in my heart for world-crossing stories. Perhaps it's the remnant of the same childhood fantasy that everyone has - you know the one, "My family is not my family, my hometown is not my hometown - I'm really a lost prince of a strange magical kingdom and one day my true identity will be revealed and I'll be able to go do something more fun than this...."
Escapist fiction of this sort usually does really well, mostly because so many of us are unsatisfied with the way our lives are going right now. Harry Potter blew everyone away for the same reason that, say, Star Wars did - they spoke to that desire that we all have for a destiny, a reason for being in this benighted universe other than to consume, procreate, and die. It's a very powerful dream, that dream that we can lead a life better than the one we're living now, and it's one that very few of us get to realize. So we turn to fiction to realize that dream for us.
Of course, nothing comes without a price. In hopping from world to world, you may have to resist the temptations of a Snow Queen or fight off the forces of Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada. You may discover that your father is the greatest force for evil in the universe, or that you've been born into a genetic cohort that scares the hell out of everyone. Crossing from one world to another - whether literally or figuratively - always comes with a price.
For Eddie Dean, Detta Walker, and Odetta Holmes, that price could very well be their lives.
When last we left the Gunslinger, Roland was sitting by a vast and gray sea at the end of the world. He had already sacrificed young Jake Chambers for his quest, and had been shown a vision of the universe that would have blasted the mind of a lesser man. Without any other direction, Roland continues on his journey - but not without some difficulty.
Wounded and ill, Roland has to go through three strange doors and draw out new companions to replace the ones he lost so long ago. If he is successful, he will draw out a new ka-tet - a group bound by the forces of destiny - that will stand with him on the way to the Dark Tower. If he fails, he will face total obliteration, to say nothing of being devoured alive by huge mutant lobsters.
Through door number one, Roland meets The Prisoner - young Eddie Dean, a junkie who has to bring a couple of pounds of cocaine through customs at JFK airport in New York. If he can do that, then the men holding his beloved big brother will let them both go, well-paid and well-loaded with the drugs that they so desperately want. Eddie can't do it without Roland's help, however - help that turns out to make the whole endeavor much more complicated and lethal than it might have been before.
Through door number two, Roland must bring the Lady of Shadows, a woman who is two minds in one body. One of these minds is Odetta Holmes, an upper-class African-American woman (though in her era of the early sixties she would probably prefer to be called a Negro) who has thrown her efforts and her fortune behind the growing civil rights movement. She is cultured and civilized, a little bit snobbish and prudish, but far, far better than her alter ego, Detta Walker.
Detta is the dark half, the evil twin who relishes in her misdeeds and embodies the worst qualities that can be found in a person. She likes to hurt people, to break things - partly out of the sheer enjoyment of hurting and breaking, but also out of a cruel sense of revenge for the ills the world has done to her. For the brick that was dropped on her head when she was a child, for the train that robbed her of her legs when she was an adult. Of all the people Roland has met so far, Detta Walker is the one who poses the most danger to him and his quest. Only by bringing the two women together can he have any chance of making it to the Tower.
Through door number three, Roland must meet death - but not for him - in the form of The Pusher. The aptly-named Jack Mort has a hobby - anonymous murder. Planning and executing the suffering of others is what brings joy to his heart and a stain to his jeans, and he has intersected with Roland's quest even before Roland reached the beach. He was the one who pushed Odetta Holmes under a subway train. He was the one who pushed Jack Chambers in front of a speeding Cadillac. Now, Roland has control of this man's body and will use it to get what he needs from our world so that he can carry on in his. A little poetic justice along the way is just icing on the cake.
If Roland succeeds, he and his new group will push on to find the Dark Tower and do... whatever it is that Roland needs to do there. If he fails, they will all die, and the hopes of Roland's world will die with them.
Like I said, I enjoy tales of crossing worlds, and so this book felt good to me. I liked seeing not only how Roland dealt with the unfamiliar reality of New York in three different decades, but how the stories of Eddie, Odetta/Detta and Jack intersected with each other. At one point in his section, Jack thinks, "Who was to say he had not sculpted the cosmos today, or might not at some future time? God, no wonder he creamed his jeans!" Crude though it may be, Jack is more right than he knows - a few simple pushes altered the destinies of not only the people he pushed, but those of entire worlds. So if you think small actions can't have big consequences, well, look to Jack Mort.
Actually, his section of the book was my favorite. While Roland vs. Eddie was an action-packed shoot-em-up, and Roland vs. Detta was a hostage drama, Roland vs. Jack was almost a dark comedy. Taking over Jack's body and keeping the man's mind at metaphorical gunpoint, Roland carves a swath of confusion through New York City. The mental disconnect people have between Jack Mort's appearance as a well-off CPA and his behavior as a seasoned gunslinger is enough for some moments of gold.
By the end of the book, we're not much closer to the Dark Tower than we were at the beginning, but we are very nearly ready to get started on the journey. Not quite there yet, but Roland now has people he can count on when things turn bad. And they will turn bad, you can set your watch and warrant on it.
"Well, what was behind Door Number One wasn’t so hot, and what was behind Door Number Two was even worse, so now, instead of quitting like sane people, we’re going to go right ahead and check out Door Number Three. The way things have been going, I think it’s likely to be something like Godzilla or Ghidra the Three-Headed Monster, but I’m an optimist. I’m still hoping for the stainless steel cookware."
- Eddie Dean, The Drawing of the Three
The Drawing of the Three on Wikipedia
The Dark Tower Portal on Wikipedia
Stephen King on Wikipedia
The Dark Tower homepage
The Drawing of the Three on Amazon.com