Monday, June 27, 2011

Book Review: The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King - The Dark Tower Book II

This isn't a gaming related post, so I hope some of my regular readers might forgive me.  I actually finished this book a while back, but was on a posting hiatus at the time, hence the delay in this review.
I know I am in a minority amongst my peers in the fact that, until recently, I had not read any of the Dark Tower series.  The simple fact of it had always been, it was a series I had always wanted to read, but just never really got around to picking up.  I read the first book, The Gunslinger, last year, and found it to be a curious and interesting story.  You could tell that it was written by a young author still trying to find his way, and not entirely sure just where he was going with the story in the long-term.  Drawing of the Three appeared quite a few years after The Gunslinger, and while the prose is certainly more polished, and the book structure more likened to that of a seasoned professional writer, I couldn't help but get the feeling this was still being told by a writer who wasn't exactly sure where he was going with his story.  I think, however, by the end of this book, King had managed to discover, at least to a certain point, exactly what the tower was, why Roland needed to get there so badly, and why he couldn't do it alone.
I won't ruin much of the plot, but essentially after being told by the Man in Black in The Gunslinger that he would need "the three" in order to find the Tower he so desperately sought.  The book switches between the world of Roland and earth in different time periods in order to draw these three together.  If the Dark Tower is King's Lord of the Rings, then this was his Fellowship of the Ring, which distinguished itself for long periods of description of the travels of the hobbits and later the Fellowship.  The Drawing of the Three spends literally hundreds of pages in describing the journey of Roland and his companions across the beach of his world, wherever that is, in search of the next door, until all three of his required companions are together.  Again, I don't want to ruin much, but the climax of the book, and the big surprise on who the "three" actually are turns out to be just a very strange and somewhat cheesy element.
I'm not a huge fan of Stephen King's writing.  That said, many of the film adaptations from his works have stood out to be some of my favorites.  Such films as Stand by Me, The Shawshank Redemption, and The Shining are good examples of that (and yes I realize the Kubrick film was not King's vision).  While I found The Gunslinger an interesting if not puzzling story, I simply thought The Drawing of the Three drug on and on and on in parts.  The most exciting parts of the novel were the moments when Roland came to earth through the doors he found along the beach, which were placed seemingly at random with no rhyme or reason.  I found the character of Eddie Dean to be quite likeable, and the way he handles the split personality of Odetta Holmes and her evil alter ego "Detta" is interesting (until the end of course.)  Still yet, I didn't really think the series had progressed much at all from the close of the first book to the close of this one.  In fact, after putting it down, I found myself wondering if I'd ever even pick the series back up.  Certainly it will be a while before I get to The Wastelands, if I even manage to get back into the series at all.  I find Roland to be a fascinating character, and yearned to learn more of his past, his world, and what led to the destruction of it, and none of those were ever addressed in The Drawing of the Three.  Essentially the novel served to introduce some new characters and describe to exhaustion, their journey across a nameless beach in a nameless desolate world.
I really want to love this series.  I want to find out why Roland needs to get to the tower, what awaits him there, and why he needs these people to get there, I just don't know if I can labor through hundreds of more pages of Eddie Dean pushing Odetta in a wheelchair down a beach.  I understand how influential this series has been to many, and I want to believe that it's worth it to slog through the rest of the books, but at the present, I have been left rather unimpressed in a series which has been lauded so highly by so many people.
It just didn't work for me.


  1. This is one of my favorite fantasy series ever, but yeah, re-reading the first two now is really different than the first time I read them back in the late 80's.

    Back then, the desolation and mystery of Roland's world was enchanting, and Roland's personality, as assholish as he is compelling, drew me along.

    I doubt King's got it in him, but he revised The Gunslinger to be slightly more in line with the latter books, but Drawing of the Three never got that. It could use it, IMO.

    Still, the Wastelands is maybe the high point of the series for me. No more endless beach, and the quest really gets underway in it.

  2. The Waste Lands is probably my second favorite of the series (behind the first), although Wolves of the Calla and Wizard and Glass are two very good ones as well.

    I might be in the minority, but I prefer the flighty, surreal philosophical quality of the first novel to the relentless concreteness of the later books in the series which, even when drifting into worlds more thought than substance still feel like they were written by Dashiell Hammett.

  3. Well, you both make a compelling case for me to continue on with the series. I want to like the story, and even in this particular book, there were great moments. I like the idea of Roland as an anti-hero who is willing to sacrifice his friends if it means getting to his goal. It adds a characteristic you don't often find in literature. I suppose my main problem with the character has been the fact that he's an enigma of sorts. Don't get me wrong, I get the fact that his mysterious nature is written in a deliberate manner this way, but at times it has been hard to connect with him as a character. I don't know, I just felt like I was going to get more out of this second book than I actually got. I understand that in future books, Rolands past will be elaborated, as well as the events which led to the destruction of his world. Perhaps after I've caught up on some more items on my reading list, I'll get the third book and give it another go.