The Drawing of the Three

November 17, 2017 at 7:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

threeThe Drawing of the Three by Stephen King

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The world has moved on, but King is still there to tell us its story. Mostly. Because for a book that’s supposed to be part of an epic fantasy tale, it spends a lot of time in 20th-Century New York City. Yes, he flips back and forth between that city (in three different times, no less) and Mid-World, but most of the story is set in familiar places; much more familiar than that of Mid-World, at least.

Don’t get me wrong: I like this book, and I like it more than The Gunslinger; King had been on a string of very successful and well-regarded books by the time he published The Drawing of the Three, and it shows. His characterization and plotting skills are on point, and the book winds up being much more readable and relatable than the first book. Plus, it’s a singular story, not a story broken out over three short stories, and by this time King was getting more of an idea of what he wanted this story to be.

The story is told in three parts, each one devoted to the character he draws from New York back into Mid-World. First is Eddie, a junkie who’s been sent to mule some cocaine back from the Bahamas. He’s not the most inspiring of characters, but he is smart, and as Roland notes, he’s a natural gunslinger. The second is Odetta Holmes, a successful black woman from the 1960s who has a second personality, Detta Walker, who’s as profane and aggressive as Odetta is not. The third is a character called “The Pusher”, for reasons that would give too much away. Needless to say, he’s critical to the other two characters who are drawn into Mid-World.

(I should note that at this point in the story, this place isn’t called “Mid-World”. It’s yet another name that won’t come until later in King’s development of the story. In addition, the notion of ka and the ka-tet are first mentioned in this book.)

Another reason I find this to be a better book than The Gunslinger is due to how King creates his characters. He’s known for (and deft at) creating everyman characters, ordinary people put into extraordinary situations, and that’s where he puts his focus for this book. Eddie and Odetta are regular people, but Roland is an extraordinary person just doing his thing. It makes him less relatable, and when he’s the focus of the story, as he was in the previous book, it’s less interesting and less convincing. The way I remember these books is that Roland becomes more relatable, and now I wonder if it’s because he begins to acknowledge his faults. I’ll have to look for that in the later books.

I have problems with the character of Detta Walker. She’s supposed to be offensive, intended to be caricature of what white people think of black people, but it makes me wonder what modern black people think of her character. King doesn’t just make her a psychopathic Mammie character — he makes sure we understand her, even if we don’t agree with her — but it’s uncomfortable. Certainly that’s the point, but her presentation is a little more making-that-face-at-a-party-when-your-drunk-uncle-starts-talking-about-“those people” and less I-want-to-make-you-squirm-a-bit-and-face-your-own-prejudice. I don’t remember thinking much of it when I first read the book (nor when I re-read in the early 2000s, now that I think about it), but I wonder how she comes across now, when people are more “woke” to other cultures.

For an epic tale, the stories of The Dark Tower so far have been intensely personal. I feel like we’re still in the exposition stage of the larger story, so I’m willing to give it some leeway, but for something that’s considered to be King’s magnum opus, it’s not as widespread as it suggests. I’m starting to wonder if the reason it feels more significant is because of the way King expanded the themes to the rest of his books. Is that where the epic feel comes from? Or am I just not remembering the details from the other books as well as I think I do?

Either way, I look forward to The Waste Lands, where Jake becomes a part of the ka-tet. I have fond memories of all the books up through Wizard and Glass, and so far the stories have held up to them. I think it’s going to make a big difference once I get out of the books I read from high school and college, though, where the nostalgia has been replaced with the cynicism of age.

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