The Drawing of the Three
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"Roland's story is my Jupiter, a planet that dwarfs all the others…"
A General Introduction to Stephen King's The Dark Tower Novels
The Dark Tower books have followed a publishing arc unique in modern literature. Beginning with a now-legendary series of five short stories published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fictionfive stories which now comprise the first volume of the novel cycleStephen King has spent thirty-three years writing The Dark Tower. It stands today as a singularly ambitious work of quest literature, matched only by J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings fantasy epic. A series that operates beautifully as a single, stand-alone saga, The Dark Tower series also ties into and informs many other novels in Stephen King's fictional universe. King's vast galaxy of overlapping realms and charactersa galaxy that has been exhaustively annotated and analyzed by the author's peerlessly avid fan-baseoutstrips even Faulkner's fabled Yoknapatawpha County as a wonder of narrative interconnectedness.
Though inspired by a wide range of literary antecedents and cultural archetypes, The Dark Tower saga was initially sparked by a course on the romantic poets at the University of Maine. It was here, King has said, that he first encountered a deeply enigmatic, richly symbolic poem by Robert Browning called "Childe Roland to The Dark Tower Came" (1855). King's object, dating back to his sophomore year in college, was to fashion a long novel that played on the conceits and constructs of the romantic aestheticto attempt a work that echoed the epic tone and atmospherics of Browning's poem, if not its explicit narrative line. Volume I, The Gunslinger, first appeared in hardcover in a limited edition from Donald M. Grant in 1982. The Plume trade paperback edition was published five years later and became a #1 national bestseller.
With Scribner's 2003 release of the fifth volume, Wolves of the Calla, and the culminating sixth and seventh volumes both slated for publication in 2004, Stephen King nears completion of what many argue is the crowning masterwork of a matchlessly prolific career. Of the undertaking, King has reflected, "I have written enough novels and short stories to fill a solar system of the imagination, but Roland's story is my Jupitera planet that dwarfs all the others (at least from my own perspective), a place of strange atmosphere, crazy landscape, and savage gravitational pull. Dwarfs the others, did I say? I think there's more to it than that, actually. I am coming to understand that Roland's world (or worlds) actually contains all the others of my making."
Forging the ka-tet: the One made of many…
About The Drawing of the Three: The Dark Tower II
In every way a far weightier undertaking than its predecessor, The Drawing of the Three makes abundantly clear from the start the epic ambitions, which fuel The Dark Tower as a whole. A strikingly unusual novel with a liberating narrative technique, Stephen King's second volume is thematically playful, nonlinear, and full of time-leaping conceits. As diversely populated and wide-ranging as it seems, The Drawing of the Three can nonetheless be viewed as a singularly contained and intricate rendering of one man's tenacious commitment to the realization of a straightforward (if wholly fantastic) aim. The one man, of course, is Roland of Gilead. And the aim is to reach the Tower, that mysterious construct which stands at the nexus of Time.
Volume II further develops the dark fantasy established in The Gunslinger and fuses with it the kind of richly textured realism readers have long associated with many of King's other novels. King's trademark juxtaposition of the humdrum and the supernatural is on masterful display here, as Roland's quest finds him passing from his own eerie, post-apocalyptic world into twentieth-century New York. Also in effect is King's matchless gift for making readers squirm: The tide of the Western Sea in Mid-World brings with it hordes of crawling, carnivorous creatures dubbed "lobstrosities." In the opening pages of the novel, these creatures consume the first two fingers of Roland's right hand and infect the gunslinger's bloodstream with their venom. Already at a fever pitch from the start, the story transports readers along as Roland, facing imminent death, discovers a series of three doors standing freely on the beach. Passing through each of them in succession, Roland enters our world and sets about "drawing" the people who are destined to join him on his Tower quest. From late-1980s New York, as seen through the eyes of a heroin-addled young man called Eddie Dean; to the Manhattan of the early-1960s, where the schizophrenic, wheelchair-bound civil-rights activist Odetta Holmes awaits; to mid-1970s New York, where an icy serial killer named Jack Mort plots his next murder, Roland performs his drawing of the three (though it proves not to be the threesome that Roland, or readers, had expected).
The Drawing of the Three witnesses the forging of a makeshift family of sorts, albeit a highly unconventional one, with the gunslinger as its haunted and raw-boned patriarch. The three pilgrims comprise Roland of Gilead's ka-tet"one made of many"a kind of karmic family united by a single shared destiny: The Dark Tower.
By any measure, Stephen King occupies a central position in the recent history of literature in English, having produced a body of work that is as artistically vital as it is commercially prominent. His primacy in the horror-fiction canon in particular bears comparison to that of J.R.R. Tolkien's station among modern fantasy writers. And like Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, and Sinclair Lewis before him, King has demonstrated over the course of his career a rare talent for limning the cultural zeitgeist and expressing the characteristic concerns of his era. The fact that he has worked largely within the parameters of the horror and fantasy genres in pursuing these ambitious ends makes his achievement all the more remarkable. Since his earliest works in the 1970s, King has been an author of matchless international reach, enjoying an enduring brand of popularity that transcends all presumed literary and commercial boundaries.
For all the darkness and terror with which King's narratives are generally associated, many critics and fans have argued that King's often brutal fictional universe belies a fundamental optimism about human nature. Richly populating his novels and stories with all manner of pop-cultural signifiers and pitch-perfect minutiae of American middle-class life, King's writing holds up a mirror of sorts and reflects that, even in a world of cynicism, despair, and seemingly infinite cruelty, it remains possible for individuals to find love, discover unexpected resources in themselves, and conquer their own problems, along with the malevolent powers that would suppress or destroy them.
Born in Portland, Maine in 1947, Stephen Edwin King is the second son of Donald and Nellie Ruth Pillsbury King. After his parents separated when he was a toddler, King and his older brother, David, were raised by his mother. He spent parts of his childhood in Fort Wayne, Indiana; Stratford, Connecticut; and Durham, Maine.
King graduated from the University of Maine at Orono in 1970, with a degree in English. In January of 1971, he married Tabitha Spruce, whom he met in the stacks of the university library. Shortly after graduation, he began selling his first short stories to mass-market men's magazines. Many of these stories later appeared in the Night Shift collection and elsewhere. In the spring of 1974, Doubleday published King's first novel, Carrie. He has since written more than thirty-five books, all international bestsellers. His recent works include Everything's Eventual, From a Buick 8, Dreamcatcher, Bag of Bones, The Green Mile, and the nonfiction work On Writing. He is also the coauthor, with Peter Straab, of Black House and The Talisman. Under the pseudonym Richard Bachman, King has published several more bestselling works, including The Regulators, Thinner, and The Running Man. Most of his books have been adapted for the screen, including: Dreamcatcher (2003), Hearts in Atlantis, The Green Mile, Misery, Stand by Me (from "The Body"), Thinner, The Shining, Carrie, Christine, The Stand, The Dead Zone, Pet Sematary, Cujo, and Firestarter. Among King's forthcoming books are Wolves of the Calla: The Dark Tower V; Song of Susannah: The Dark Tower VI; and The Dark Tower: The Dark Tower VII.
A celebrated philanthropist and the father of three children, King lives in Bangor, Maine and Florida, with his wife, novelist Tabitha King.
- What are the elements of the traditional quest narrative, dating back to Homer? Consider Roland's quest in light of the centuries-old tradition that informs it.
- More specifically, compare and contrast The Dark Tower series with other individual works of quest literaturefrom The Odyssey and Dante's The Divine Comedy to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene to Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn and L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. How does King's work echo, riff on, complicate, and/or further the traditions established in these and other works?
- Compare The Drawing of the Three with The Gunslinger: What themes, patterns, and symbols were established in Volume I, and in what ways do they evolve, mature, and accumulate new symbolic weights and meanings in the course of the second book?
- Also, consider the ways King's writing style has shifted from the first book to this one. How, to begin with, has King's characterization technique expanded in The Drawing of the Three, particularly in his lushly written evocations of the inner lives of Eddie Dean and Odetta Holmes?
- Why do you suppose King made this narrative choice, to evolve so dramatically from the spare, lean prose of The Gunslinger to the expansive, richly appointed, and psychologically incisive The Drawing of the Three? Are the styles and tones of each book organic to their different subject matters? [Imagine a retelling of Drawing written in the understated style of The Gunslinger. In what ways would it be different?]
- What is Eddie Dean's backstorywhat is it that informs his character? How did he come to be the Prisoner?
- "There are people who need people to need them," Eddie tells Roland, shortly after he's been drawn through the door into Roland's world. What does he mean? What kind of a person is Eddie Dean?
- Chart the complex evolution of Roland and Eddie's relationship as King's novel unfolds.
- What role does memory play in the action of The Drawing of the Three? For the novel's principal characters, Roland, Eddie, and Odetta, what special risks and consequences attend the act of remembering? And for each of them, what are its end results? As each looks back on the past life he or she has abruptly left behind, do solace and understanding finally outpace devastation and regret?
- Operating strictly within the particular reality of the Dark Tower universe, how can we make sense of the mind-warping paradox that is Jake Chambers? What are the possible implications of the decision by Rolandwho first met Jake only after he'd died and left New Yorkto prevent Mort from killing Jake in New York in the first place? What do you imagine will come of this confusing development in future volumes?
- King makes a practice in this second volume of revisiting scenes from different angles and perspectives, doubling back to show us something we hadn't seen before.
- What is the effect of this style? Consider, for example, Eddie's plane ride into Kennedy Airport. How does King's Rashomon technique play out here?
- Discuss the narrative techniques by which King immerses readers in the different time periods of the novel's three New York set-pieces. How does his use of vastly disparate cultural signifiers (from Trivial Pursuit to the civil-rights movement) aid in placing readers in a particular time and place?
- At different points in the novel, what qualities does Roland observe in both Eddie and Odetta/Detta/Susannah which seem to suggest their inherent proclivities to eventually become gunslingers?
- Revisit the scene in the "Death" section of the novel where an amazed Rolandin the body of Jack Mortwalks into a New York drug store. Roland's reaction to the rows and rows of "quack remedies" is comic, but King spikes it all with a measure of poignancy. Ours is a world full of technological wonders that astonish the gunslinger. But Roland looks into the jaded faces of New Yorkers and muses that "the newest wonder was simply that…wonder had run out." What is King up to in this scene?
- In connection with the previous question, discuss the effect of the various moments throughout the novel where King manages to show us our own world from the gunslinger's fresh, often awe-struck perspective.
- Decipher the elements involved in the resolution of Odetta and Detta's ferocious struggle with each other. How is it that, in Roland's desperate final act in the New York subway, the deep fissure in Miss Holmes' psyche can finally be bridged?
- Discuss the emotional and psychological dynamics King establishes to make Odetta/Detta's sudden redemption credible.
- What is ka? What is its significance in King's Dark Tower universe?
- What lies ahead for King's three pilgrims? Are Eddie and Susannah Dean's misgivings about Roland's trustworthiness when it comes to friendship justified? Why or why not?
- With Roland, Eddie, and Susannah united in their ka-tet and resolved to move ahead, what are your expectations for The Waste Lands?