The Dark Tower: The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King

Posted: July 10, 2014 in reading
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I’ve never read Stephen King’s horror books. It’s not that I have an aversion to horror – I’ve enjoyed quite a few horror films and short stories – I’ve just never been interested enough to read a whole novel. So while King is widely regarded as a literary master craftsman, most of his work has passed me by.

So it’s a good thing he likes cowboys, because few things pique my curiosity more than cowboys appearing in genre fiction.

Dark Tower 2

Smooth prose

The Drawing of the Three is the second of King’s Dark Tower series and, not coincidentally, the second of them that I’ve read. It’s the continuing story of the gunslinger Roland, cast adrift in a world that in strange to the reader and increasingly distant from Roland’s own familiar life. He’s a man on a mission, though what that mission is remains elusive, and to fulfil that mission he has to reach the Dark Tower. But first he has to ‘draw the three’, bringing allies to him from our world.

At least they might be allies. And it’s probably our world. And meanwhile there are hideous lobster monsters prowling the beach, looking to make a lunch out of Roland.

As with the first volume, there’s a smoothness of prose on display here that’s very pleasing on the mind. While King summons up powerful images he doesn’t do so through reaching for the thesaurus or trying to impress us all with wacky metaphors. It’s the details of place, of character, of action, that make this story come alive.

Hooray for coherence!

The Gunslinger, King’s first Dark Tower novel, showed its origins as a series of short stories. It was disjointed in places, both in story and tone, held together by the thin thread of Roland’s pursuit of the Man in Black.

This is a far more coherent whole, clearly written as a single piece. Structure, characterisation, foreshadowing, it’s all that bit more connected. That, along with King’s smooth prose, kept me completely engaged in a story that goes in some weird directions.

The characterisation helps. The three people Roland draws to him aren’t empty plot vessels. They all face interesting personal challenges and are fascinating characters from diverse backgrounds – more on that tomorrow.

Expanding the range of fantasy

I’ve written elsewhere about the stodgy repetitiveness that sometimes overtakes fantasy. But The Dark Tower, a series that has been slowly growing for decades, is a reminder that there have always been innovations with the genre. That for all the snobbery we sometimes face, and the familiar tropes we sometimes trap ourselves in, there have always been writers who will say ‘I don’t want elves and orcs, I want a cowboy, a schizophrenic, giant lobsters and portals into people’s minds’. The new weird isn’t all that new. It’s right here in a novel from 1987.

I think this is a great book. Tomorrow I’m going to get a bit more analytical and explore one of the things it does particularly well – internal conflicts. In the meantime, here’s some listening to go with your Dark Tower reading – music inspired by and composed to accompany the first book, because when work in one medium inspires an artist in another that’s pretty cool.

Have you read this book, or others in the series? What did you think?

  1. Ben Burston says:

    Read the first four and loved them – havent got to the end ones yet. There are a lot of references to King’s other work tucked away in some places and screamingly obvious (literally transplanted characters) in many others. Which sort of gives the whole series a feeling of being inside Kings own personal dream. It’s very bizarre when you consider how different this all is to everything else he’s written. Almost feels like he’s wirting these stories for himself and not for any audience in particular. The rest of his work is for the most part pretty commercial and very much written to entertain others – these books are indulgent and I think most readers will either adore them or else hate them with a passion. Not your average King stuff. If you like Gunslinger though and want to find more out about Flagg – then I recommend that you check out his novel “The Eyes of the Dragon”.

    • Ben Burston says:

      Oh – I was told as well that Joe Hill, King’s son, (I’m a big fan of his), references the Dark Tower in his new (ish) Book NOS4ATU

    • I’ve read elsewhere that this is the work King is most attached to, which probably explains its strange, distinctly individual quality. In some ways, only reading the thing he’s passionate about makes sense (OK, I’ve read his On Writing too, but that’s practically compulsory for writers these days.

      Think I’ve also read some Joe Hill – didn’t he write Locke and Key?

  2. Steve Hartline says:

    Andrea has been telling me I need to read this for quite some time. I really don’t know why I have put it off. I have read a few of his works (Richard Bachman) and enjoyed them. I guess I might be a bit stodgy in that I never thought of Stephen King as anything but horror, and without any substantive reasoning, just never gave him a chance.

    Two recommends now, I guess it’s time to ‘get off the couch’* and add this to my Good Reads Want to Read list.

    * When I was in the military, my sponsor used to use this phrase, along with many others I had never heard before. To this day I have never traced the origins and would love to do so (assume it is something very regional – he was from the upper midwestern states best I recall). Sorry, didn’t mean to go down a twisted side-road on this thread.

  3. Sue Archer says:

    I haven’t gotten around to reading this series – I’m glad it’s been worthwhile! Although I am not a fan of horror, I have read and enjoyed King’s novels The Dead Zone, Firestarter, and The Stand. Time to add this one on the list!

  4. Jared says:

    I have quite the relationship with these books. I’ve read the first one a few times, and thought it was excellent. Book 2 was alright, more a question of taste than anything. I don’t care for the crew the gunslinger picks up, but the Wastelands is my favorite. Love the world, the way it merges with ours, and the sense of history, plus the ending. It’s a hell of an adventure.

    But something about Wizard and Glass really turned me off. It would be years before I realized I’d read my first novel that actually disturbed me; some day I have to reread it for the sake of catharsis. But, for all that, I still wasn’t jiving with the characters.

    And book five, in all honesty, bored me to madness. But I read it, and drove through book 6 with the same hunger as the early ones.

    So it’s a bit of a rollercoaster, a unique one at that. The books are varied and mysterious, like the way they work with multiple genres. Someday I hope to finish it, as my trip to the Tower has been long and wondrous, but that path is a ways off.

  5. […] King’s Dark Tower fantasy series, with its broken narrative and its intriguing ideas. I loved the second volume, with its intense study of a small group of characters, their personal struggles and their […]

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