The gunslinger is not a whole man.
For years he quested after the man in black, whom he thought was his key the Dark Tower. Along the way, he lost bits of his humanity. First, he sacrificed his hawk David to earn his guns by defeating his teacher, Cort. Then he lost his friends Cuthbert and Alain, on the road to the Tower, and with them, much of his capacity for joy and love. And then there was the boy, Jake, who died under the mountain, sacrificed by Roland so that he could catch the man in black.
The Drawing of the Three begins after Roland’s palaver with the man in black ended — long after. Decades, if not centuries, have passed in Roland’s world as the two men talked. Roland has wandered down to the Western Sea, and made a terrible mistake — he fell asleep on the shore. There he was attacked by huge lobster-like creatures, to whom he loses part of his right hand and foot. He manages to escape from the creature, but soon finds that his body has been contaminated by a poison that threatens to kill him.
It leaves him fractured in body as well as in soul.
But the man in black, also known as Walter, has given him the keys to make himself whole again. Not in body, no, that may never happen. But he does tell him that Roland must summon three who will aid him on his quest for the Tower. These three will lead Roland to the Dark Tower, and will give him companions to replace those lost earlier in his quest.
From Myth to Man
King presents a tightly written, compelling story in The Drawing of the Three. The gunslinger evolves from a solitary, noble warrior into a friend and companion as the novel progresses. He stops being simply the mythical “Gunslinger” and becomes Roland of Gilead. This transition was more pronounced before the revised edition of The Gunslinger was released, which humanized Roland ever-so-slightly, but it’s still there.
Roland’s quest takes him a handful of miles, but space and time mean little when the Tower is involved. He treks slowly up the beach, and as the Man in Black predicted, he “draws” his three. He does this by traveling through doors to our world, with each door entering our reality at a different time and in a different mind — Roland doesn’t travel physically, he does so mentally.
The first encounter is with the drug addict Eddie Dean, a guy who never had much of a chance in our world as he’d dedicated most of his life to trying — and failing –t o keep his feeble, drug-addled older brother out of trouble. Eddie’s the sort of character you want to slap — to say “snap out of it man — live your freaking life!” and fortunately, that’s exactly the sort of thing the gunslinger says (though naturally, Roland would admonish him by demanding that he remember the face of his father).
There’s gunplay in the first third of the book, but the real battles are fought within the bodies of these two men: Roland trying to defeat the infection that’s slowly killing him, Eddie trying to throw off his imprisoning addiction. It makes for heated, dramatic moments as the two men’s wills clash, both internally and externally, and it’s easily just as compelling as the hails of gunfire unleashed as Eddie confronts his former employers.
The next of Roland’s three, Odetta Holmes (“the Lady in Shadows”) is a soul far more conflicted than either Roland or Eddie, and even though she’s in a wheel chair because of paralyzed legs she proves to be a lethal challenge to the two men. Though potentially deadly, it’s the third of Roland’s three that is actually Death personified … and the thread that binds the gunslinger’s new found friends together.
Combined, the three that Roland draws personify different aspects of the books major themes: self-discovery and redemption. Roland, Eddie and Odetta all come to realize truths about themselves — Roland that he needs friends now as much as he did as a child, Eddie that he has the strength of will to defeat his addiction and realize his potential, and Odetta, who confronts a mirrored horror in her own mind, and emerges as a new, emerges as a new, energized whole greater than anything she’d been in her earlier lives.
But it’s also equally about redemption. Roland, who has made so many sacrifices on his way to the tower, is given the chance to take back one of them — the sacrifice of the boy Jake under the mountain. Eddie’s forced to confront his addiction and the self-sacrificial love for his brother, which he comes to realize is just as destructive as the injected heroin. And Odetta? She finally comes to terms with a rage that’s unknowingly been destroying her since she was a child.
The final theme isn’t exactly a theme, it’s more of a trend. Roland’s trip from myth — the last gunslinger hunting an iconic villain across a wasted landscape — to man may or may not have been intentional on King’s part. I think its most likely that he humanized Roland simply because that’s the way that King’s always written his characters. It would have been impossible for him to write a seven-tome series in the style of the Gunslinger, and I suspect that not may of us would have wanted to read it. What’s romantic in one book would feel pretentious and overly-literary stretched out of several thousand pages.
Some may disagree (but probably only those whose primary source of enjoyment comes from writing post-modern dissertations in college literary journals) but I think this transition — this trend — works. After The Drawing of the Three and its kin were published, The Gunslinger mythical feel grew, and that mythology — contained in only a handful of pages — provides us with an epic backdrop. We have a sense of this huge, dying world, one that Roland spent so much time wandering through that the journey took on aspects of a never-ending dream.
The Drawing of the Three drops Roland and us out of that dream, forces our hero to remember his humanity, and to start to care about his quest because it affects not only his world, but his friends. It’s a re-birth of sorts for Roland, and its something we get a front-row seat to. It makes for an excellent read.
- The Drawing of the Three
- By Stephen King
- 406 pages
- ISBN: 0452284708
- MSRP: $17.95
- Buy it from Amazon.com