There is a lot to be said in praise of Stephen King, but one of his most admirable talents is his ability to vest his heroes with such unlikely and frustrating vulnerabilities. King certainly wastes no time castrating the recently victorious Roland Deschain in The Drawing of the Three, the second of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower novels.
We barely have time to blink at the mountains and the ocean before we find Roland, the last gunslinger in Mid-World, under attack from “lobstrosities.” Though he survives, Roland loses an index and middle finger to these sea monsters, a significant loss for our pistol-bearing hero. The wounds fester as Roland doggedly continues his journey, and he eventually finds three doors that carry him to New York.
On the other side of these three doors, Roland finds himself transported from the post-apocalyptic western setting of The Gunslinger into three different 20th century versions of New York. Heroin addict Eddie is smuggling cocaine, paraplegic civil rights activist Odetta Holmes is unaware of her violent alter ego Detta Walker, and Jack Mort kills random strangers. It’s a villainous and compromised world that we have entered. And yet from this world, Roland will draw three companions to help him reach the Dark Tower.
Sequels are difficult to pull off and The Drawing of the Three is a potentially polarizing extension of Roland’s story. Fans of The Gunslinger may find themselves at a loss to explain how King managed to turn his back on the radioactive Mid-World across which Roland followed the Man in Black. There are no wizards, no flashbacks to Roland’s childhood home of Gilead, and no lone wolf tale. Instead, King trades in the lonesome wanderer motif in order to recruit a posse of New Yorkers.
If The Gunslinger is an unusual novel within King’s body of work, The Drawing of the Three brings Roland’s tale into sync with the rest of King’s bizarre universe. After all, addiction, self-doubt, and petty murderers run rampant throughout King’s fiction. The Drawing of the Three ties Roland’s quest to Stephen King’s oeuvre of murderers, telekinetic children, and alcoholic writers. It is a decision that changed the life of Roland and the career of his creator.