(The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of The Three)
If it’s a question of quality, I personally think that the second Dark Tower book is far better than the first. It might be because the first one has been re-edited — it always feels a bit disjointed to me, and the second one flows better. It might simply be because the author had matured in the time between writings. 19-year-old King was undoubtedly a talented writer — that’s indisputable. But the most talented 19-year-old is still going to have a better handle on his craft later, as the years go on. As they would say in the Territories, it’s axiomatic. It might also be that by this writing, King has abandoned even trying to be a “literary” writer. That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t write beautiful passages. It means that the passages are made all the more beautiful by the fact that they’re in service to the actual story and not simply in service to the language and mood.
The Drawing of the Three is action-packed. You feel the characters’ desperation as they travel in-between the mysterious and magical doors. When they are actually at a door and moving between Roland’s world and ours is when a lot of the action happens, and it’s riveting. Some of the best and most interesting scenes in the book take place in Eddie’s when, in Odetta/Detta’s when, and in Jack Mort’s when. But in-between, there is desperation. During those times, the characters are always on the verge of something — death by infection and disease, murder, starvation, something. And it’s incredibly meaty and interesting how they cope with it.
There are bright lines between this book and others, both future and past. Balazar — the dealer holding Eddie’s brother Henry — is connected to Ginelli, a name we’re familiar with from Thinner. Roland notes that two men named Dennis and Thomas are following Flagg. We know those men — Thomas is the former King Tom, from Eyes of the Dragon, and Dennis is his butler. Roland also reflects on Alain’s death, on Cuthbert, and on Susan, none of which we know much about at this stage, but we’ll learn all of the details in Wizard and Glass.
It’s not perfect. Some of the language that King chooses to use in both description and dialogue around Odetta and Detta is uncomfortable at best. It’s clear that he’s not trying to be racist as an author or even as a narrator. He’s trying to depict racist characters at some points, and show the black experience from that point of view at others. It’s also fairly clear that he’s a white man writing a black woman, and doing it rather badly at some points and in a way that’s simply outdated at others.
His handling of mental illness has problems as well. I’m actually not sure if, at the time when he wrote this, schizophrenia was what they called the different personalities in one body that Odetta/Detta (in the future, she’ll be known as Susannah) displays. Today, I think we call this Dissociative Identity Disorder. I’m more familiar with the (now less commonly used) name Multiple Personality Disorder — that’s what we called it when I was growing up. Was it ever called schizophrenia? Because that term is still around — it’s just used for something different. To put it crudely, since I’m far from an expert, I think it relates more closely to hearing voices than having multiple distinct personalities, although that’s probably a gross oversimplification. But, you know, these things change over time, so I’m not sure if King made a mistake here or was working with the descriptions and language being used at the time of writing. King is not a mental health expert either, so he was probably just working with whatever the popular understanding was at the time. That doesn’t make it a better depiction, but it does explain some things. I can forgive the eventual merging of Odetta/Detta in a way that’s certainly not prescribed by mental health experts because it was basically a result of magic, and magic has its own rules. King isn’t breaking his own rules of magic here, so I don’t think it actually matters that this part – as important as it is – doesn’t have much to do with real psychiatric treatment for this disorder. But the rest of the handling of this illness in this character is… pretty rough. I do think that as Susannah, she gets better. King’s depictions of women and minorities both still need work, but I want to give him credit for trying and growing over the years and stories. I’d wager his depiction of people with disabilities isn’t always perfect either, but at least he unfailingly depicts her as someone who isn’t dependent on other people or things to just be a person, and I think that’s good.
This book so makes me wish that they would make a Game of Thrones style series out of this book series. I am not certain if I’ve said that before, but I will definitely be saying it again. Wouldn’t this book make a wonderful season of television? Not a movie, not an episode, but an entire season, with each door and each stretch between doors given all of the time and attention they deserve?
I’m almost disappointed that I can’t stay in Roland’s world — that I’m working in an order and need to move onto Misery now instead of The Wastelands. I’ll probably forget that at soon as I get into Misery — it’s awesome — but right now I just want to hear more about the growing ka-tet in mid-world. Sadly, I’ve got a while to go. In the meantime, long days and pleasant nights to you!