Some readers of the Gunslinger have complained that the book is dark, gloomy, and a bit of a slow read. While I do believe that book is a bit dark, and a bit gloomy, and the first chapter is a bit of a slow read, the rest of the book is quite the opposite. Many have also said that The Drawing of the Three is actually the starting point and that the Gunslinger is more or less backstory, and that readers could start with The Drawing of the Three and read the Gunslinger later. I suppose they could, but you miss out on so much of the story if you do that.
In the Gunslinger, we learn that Roland has left behind all of those who started the quest with him, who joined him along the way, or who helped him. Most of them are dead. We learn and sense that Roland is, in fact, more than capable of leaving those he cares about, even killing those he cares about, or leaving them to die. Roland is also more than capable of completing his quest alone, and in some ways seems to prefer it, even seems to reject companionship. But in the Drawing of the Three, Roland is forced to find the “Three.” The book runs parallel with Walter’s Tarot Reading. King even names a major section “Shuffle.”
The Drawing of the Three takes place primarily on the Western Sea or in New York… Jake’s “There are other worlds than these.” Eddie’s New York is set in the 80’s. Before we get to the Prisoner’s Door and Eddie Dean, we find ourselves cringing when Roland is severely injured by the Lobstrosities and loses his gun fingers on his dominate hand (his right one). And worse, his bullets get wet. The Lobstrosities don’t stop with his fingers, they take a chunk out of his calf, he loses a toe and his boot to them. In the Gunslinger we see Roland as more of an Anti-Hero, but at this point in the book things change. Roland, the last gunslinger, has been injured to the point that we’re not sure if he’ll be able to continue as a gunslinger…”What had once been a thing so easy it didn’t even bear thinking about had suddenly become a trick akin to juggling.” Deep down we know that Roland, whose aim is true, will be able to shoot just as well with his left hand, but we know he’s changed and that his injuries have altered the chances of his success in reaching the Dark Tower. I cried in frustration and pain when he was injured. I remember being pissed and saddened in a completely different way than when I was pissed that Roland let Jake die.
Yes, Roland’s training helps him keep from losing control, and enables him to function even when others, including some gunslingers, might have been pushed over the edge, but he’s not perfect. He almost lost it after Jake fell to his death. And now, he’s so enraged that he actually takes a rock and smashes the lobstrosity with it, and then takes his remaining boot and crushes its head, over and over again. “IT was dead, but he meant to have his way with it all the same; he had never, in all his long strange time, been so fundamentally hurt, and it had all been so unexpected.” Ka? Some kind of weird atonement for letting Jake die?
Roland heads North. The MIB, who tricked Roland into thinking he is dead, watches Roland as he struggles on the beach, then heads in the opposite direction. Roland’s journey towards the Three, his new ka-tet. The first door is the Prisoner, which is Eddie Dean. The “grinning face of a baboon” is upon that door, which implies “a monkey on one’s back.” That monkey is not only heroin, but his brother Henry. The door allows Roland to see through the eyes of the person that he is supposed to draw. Once he crosses the threshold of the door he actually enters that person’s body and mind, leaving his body behind where it lays near the Western Sea.
Roland can assert himself and take control while inhabiting the body of the drawee, as well as communicate with the drawee. Roland soon learns that Eddie isn’t weak, but he does have weaknesses–heroin and Henry. Eddie is in big trouble, and Roland needs Eddie’s help, time is running out for the both of them. Roland convinces Eddie to go into the bathroom and to walk through the “magical” doorway into Roland’s world. They quickly rid Eddie of the drugs that are taped to him, while the plane’s crew are banging on the bathroom door. Roland gets Eddie back through the door mere seconds before they burst through the bathroom door. Eddie thinks quickly. Roland, however, is frustrated with Eddie and his clumsiness.
Between Eddie and Roland, they handle the Customs interrogation. Roland’s strength gives Eddie the courage and strength to withstand the questions and the withdrawal he feels from the drugs. Roland doesn’t trust Eddie. He knows that Eddie has an inner strength, that he’s a survivor, but you can hear the mistrust when Roland tells himself, through Cort’s voice, “You did yourself ill to feel well of those to whom ill must eventually be done.” And Eddie fears and likes Roland, and thinks that in time he might even grow to love Roland like a brother.
Though Roland takes Eddie and Detta/Odetta through the doors without their explicit consent, he tells himself that he’ll release them once he’s reached the Tower, and that they might even be able to go back to their own worlds and times… he’s honest enough with himself to know that that is not likely though. “Neither, however, could the thought of the treachery he contemplated turn him aside from his course,” and we see how Roland’s quest is all Roland can think about, all he allows himself to be concerned with. Ka? We wonder about that, especially after the MIB’s voice creeps in to remind Roland that he’s already sacrificed Jake for the Tower, and now Roland is ready to sacrifice his new ka-tet to a life in an alien world and time, where they might die and never return home…Roland is a prisoner of his quest for the Dark Tower.
Once they finish with Balazar, which was one hell of an action scene, Roland’s life is in Eddie’s hands. Roland fights with his infection and Eddie fights the withdrawal from the drugs. Eddie hates Roland for kidnapping him and leaving him stranded in a world where he has no access to his drugs. Yet Eddie continues to take care of Roland, including killing lobstrosities so they can eat. Eddie even builds what Roland calls a travios and drags Roland north. Eddie’s resourcefulness would have met with Cort’s approval, Roland thinks, but Roland ridicules it in his mind. Eddie thinks about killing himself, but the fact that Roland needs him keeps him from doing so. Eddie tells Roland of his life, tells him about Henry. Eddie hopes to get a response from Roland, perhaps and agreement about Henry, but Roland says, “What’s past is past, and what’s ahead is ahead. The second is ka, and takes care of itself.” Eddie grows to hate Ka.
The second door is called the Lady of the Shadows. Eddie thinks it’s a way back to his world and a way to get drugs. Roland places his life in Eddie’s hands, even turning over his guns to Eddie. He tells Eddie that his old life is over. After they reach the Tower Roland doesn’t care what Eddie does, but until then that part (meaning the drugs) of your life is over. Roland says, “You could be a gunslinger. I needn’t be the last after all. It’s in you, Eddie. I see it. I feel it.” High praise coming from Roland.
Eddie threatens to kill Roland once he passes through the doorway, especially since Eddie knows he can’t pass through the doorway without Roland, but Eddie can’t kill Roland.
Detta/Odetta is a prisoner within her own body/mind. She lost her legs from the knees down when she was pushed in front of a train. Later in the book we find out that it was in fact Jack Mort who pushed her. We learn of her history through a series of flashbacks. Roland was able to enter Eddie without being noticed, but Detta detects him right away. Roland sense her other personality, “not the way one would look at her reflection in a mirror, but as separate people; the window became a windowpane and for a moment Odetta had seen Detta and Detta had seen Odetta and had been equally horror-struck.”
Roland warns Eddie that she is dangerous, but Eddie is smitten with Odetta. He “hears with his ears, but not with his heart.” Roland hears Eddie’s story about Detta’s and Odetta’s brief awareness of each other and knows that he has to somehow make her two personalities face each other.
Jack Mort. The Death door. Jack Mort is a sociopath, and Roland picks up on this. Mort does not know that Roland is there, he’s too intent on what he’s doing–he’s about to push Jake Chambers in front of a car. Ka? Roland worries that he’ll be forced to watch Jake’s death, and fear that it is punishment for sacrificing Jake beneath the mountains. But Roland pushes forward, distracting Mort long enough that he misses his chance to push Jake, and Jake isn’t crushed beneath the wheels of the Cadillac Sedan. Roland wonders about things… if Jack Mort had been meant to kill Jake then he won’t be able to stop, but he knows he can’t be responsible for Jake’s death a second time, and pushes forward–this is a selfless act, and because of his contact with Eddie it makes him wonder about the implications of his decision. He also doesn’t think about the paradox that he’s created.
Jake entered the Way Station by sort of being reborn into Roland’s world after dying in his when he was killed because Jack Mort pushed him in front of the Cadillac. Saving Jake’s life means that Roland has changed things so that Jake never actually entered Roland’s at the Way Station. Roland contemplates much about what has just happened, but he sees that Detta has Eddie tied up and at the mercy of the lobstrosities. Roland knows it’s a trick to get him to come back. Roland knows that Jack Mort is not meant to be part of his ka-tet. Mort, who caused both of Odetta’s injuries (the one that made her personalities split, and the one that caused her to lose her legs). Mort represents Death. Death for the split personalities of Odetta and Detta.
One of my favorite parts of this book comes now: The gun shop scenes, the pharmacy scene, and the scene with the cop who shoots at Jack Mort but the cigarette lighter saves Morts life and yet helps end his life at the same time. Once Roland projects the message to the Lady of Shadows, calling her by both Odetta and Detta, she turns to look and Roland jumps Mort’s body onto the tracks. The train cuts him in half at the waist, but Roland has crossed back with boxes of bullets and antibiotics. As Mort is cut into two, Odetta and Detta split into two physicalities and struggle with each other as they witness through their own eyes and through Jack Mort’s–Odetta hugs Detta and tells her “I love you” and they become one again. She goes down to the beach with Roland’s guns and saves Eddie from the lobstrosities.
The newly combined personality of Odetta and Detta, takes on her middle name, which is Susannah, and then ends up taking on Eddie’s surname. She’s strong, has heart, but is able distance herself from her emotions. Roland believes that Susannah is the third person he was supposed to draw. But… and here it is y’all… what we’ve all been waiting for…
When Roland killed Jack Mort, he changed Jake’s situation. The real third person to be drawn into Roland’s ka-tet, and back into Mid-World, is Jake.
Though Eddie has tremendous respect for Roland, he knows that Roland would sacrifice all of them for the sake of the Tower. Eddie tells Roland, “if you kill what you love you’re damned.” Roland believes he might already be damned for sacrificing Jake but he sees the possibility of redeeming himself. He promises Eddie that he won’t consider sacrificing them, and wouldn’t have considered sacrificing Jake, but there is more than only one world to win, that his mission is bigger than just the Tower, that it’s to save everything, all worlds.
In the back of my mind, throughout both books, I keep wondering if the Tower is salvation for all worlds but damnation for Roland, or if it’s salvation for Roland but damnation for all worlds, or a bit of both for both…
*Note: much of my information has come from the books, the afterwords, Robin Furth’s Stephen King’s The Dark Tower A Concordance Vols I and II, and Bev Vincent’s The Road to the Dark Tower.