At the end of The Gunslinger, Roland – the title character, the last gunslinger in his changing world – met up with the man in black (not Johnny Cash), and fell into a deep sleep; when he awoke, it seemed that a long time had passed, maybe years. This is the beginning of The Drawing of the Three; we’ve lost no time, except what Roland lost while he slept. As the man in black read in his tarot cards, the gunslinger will now encounter three individuals who will shape his future, and enable him – maybe – to reach the dark tower, his only goal.
He awakens on a beach with a strange creature approaching him – something like a giant lobster, with the ability to verbalize nonsensical questions, and with menacing claws. These figures he will call the lobstrosities (I love it), and they’ll be a constant threat. Roland does encounter the characters that the man in black predicted: the Prisoner, the Lady of Shadows, and Death (though Death will come under a different name). I’ll leave the plot alone at that.
This is a fantasy novel with all the captivating elements I mentioned when I reviewed The Gunslinger. It is perhaps less overtly a genre mashup; this struck me more as a whimsical mashup of worlds. Roland travels back and forth between his world, which shares characteristics with ours but is clearly other, and a New York City that the reader recognizes. This world-shifting fascinates me. I am reminded of a book I read as a kid called Eva, by Peter Dickinson. I was transfixed by the question of whether Eva lived before our time, or after our time; it could have gone either way. Similarly there was another “chapter book” called Enchantress from the Stars, by Sylvia Engdahl, around the same time that raised the same questions for me: is the enchantress from our planet? before or after our time? or another “star” altogether? Something along these same lines struck me with The Drawing of the Three.
What I think I’m trying to say here is that Stephen King, as always, excels at representing both realism, and fantasy or “other”, all at the same time. The backstory for each of the four characters in this book – Roland, the Prisoner, the Lady, and Death – is meticulous. King doesn’t give the Prisoner a life just as he relates to Roland, our star; he gives him a history, and it’s magnificent. As for plot tension, there’s nothing higher-stakes than the fate of the world, which is the epic conflict of this series.
If The Gunslinger was slightly less impressive than The Wind Through the Keyhole, this second in the series more than recovers. I am transfixed; I am riveted to Roland’s world, committed to his costars (I hope King doesn’t kill them off too quickly!), and even though I’ve read a few books since this one as I write this review, I can’t stop thinking about the Dark Tower series. I can’t get my hands on book 3, The Waste Lands, quickly enough. Stephen King continues his winning streak.