"Listen carefully. And if you would remain safe, let your face show nothing which might further rouse the suspicions of those army women."
I'm just about 100 pages into Wizard and Glass in my 2019 Dark Tower re-read, and I figured it was about time to get cracking on this here Drawing of the Three post lest I get too far ahead of myself.
LET'S TALK ABOUT THE ART FIRST
I more or less had the same reactions to this book in 2019 that I had when I first read it in 2012. With one exception: 2012-me seemed to really like Phil Hale's art. 2019-me really did not. Let's tackle that first.
The moments chosen were all so odd, although that's a general complaint for the Dark Tower series art altogether. It's like they had zero idea what moments of the book were iconic, or how characters were supposed to look. Let's say you were an illustrator and were hired to produce 5 or 6 illustrations to accompany a new edition of The Hobbit, to choose something fairly universally known. Would you a) draw the most notable monsters of the book in a way that is directly contradicted by the text description? b) have one of the drawings be a close-up grin of a character who's not even in the book? and/or c) have the rest be odd-angle close-ups of only one of the action sequences, say the dwarves fighting the goblins under the mountain? In a way where you can't tell who's who or what's going on, not like an epic battle scene that conveys any of the scene's excitement.
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you and Phil Hale would seem to be on the same page.
|Does this look 4 feet long to you? Or like lobster/ vulture hybrids "with a coat of paint?"|
No offense to Mr. Hale, whose reputation is world-class. But this time around I was baffled by the selections and their execution. Thankfully I enjoyed revisiting the text a lot more than the pictures.
LET'S START AT THE BEGINNING
Things get off with a bang when Roland walks along the edge of the Western Sea (and I don't quite understand how it's the "western" sea, but cardinal directions - like the flow of time - are all kablooey in Roland's world) and meets the lobstrosities, some of my favorite things from any King novel. I love these guys and their "lawyerly questions" ("dad-a-chock? dad-a-chick? dad-a-chum? dad-a-cham?") and the little things, like how they all raise their arms up when the surf comes in. One of them takes a sizable chunk out of Roland's hand and poisons him. Exciting beginning and a rule of the monomyth ("You have forgotten the face of your father") : grievously wound your protagonist near the start of his journey.
From there Roland finds the first of The Doors. Not Manczarek and the gang but actual doors hanging into space, leading, it seems, into one of the "other worlds than these" Jake mentioned last time. Let's spend a moment on the doors themselves.
The whole business with this first door and everything that goes with it (going back and forth, testing what can be brought and how, carefully considering the physicality of everything described - including a surreal, shimmering door following Eddie in a taxi cab, etc. - "coming forward" etc.) is like a peak at King's inner writing process. We're seeing the struts and the beams of the novel-in-progress. He's asking questions of his concept and answering them, in "real time" as it were, allowing the prose itself to pose the question and provide the answers. All of this stuff is great fun - and it's something he will revisit, both less successfully and more, in The Regulators, Dreamcatcher, and End of Watch - and the way King breaks up the sections is also fun. Like this:
King has mentioned the importance to the reading eye of occasional (and well-strewn) white space between blocks of text a few times in interviews or introductions. Here, it helps with the whole POV shifting in play. (I also like how Roland is expressing the author's own sleight-of-hand in pt. 10 up there. By emphasizing and isolating his relief that Eddie Dean is buying the whole set-up, he is extending the same acceptance to the reader. Jedi Mind Trick. I approve.)
That said, some of the stuff with the Doors (reading the 'Mortpedia' etc. It'd be like getting a thesaurus in a whole different language. Can he read "pictures" in Mort's mind? If so, are they limited? It's referred to as pictures from a menu. How can he interpret these things? Or with Eddie, how can he know so much but be so confused/ vague on things?) is just too much. It's magic, and King doesn't need to make sense, but the illusion of sense that he weaves is sometimes so strong that he ends up illuminating the ways it doesn't add up.
I have very few complaints with this section. Eddie is introduced well, and I like pretty much everything that happens and how it unfolds. The army women quote up there amuses me muchly. Everything with the gangsters and Eddie's inner world and Henry and his interactions with the customs folk = A+. Loved it.
Three things, though:
(1) "O great sage and eminent junkie..." You know when King seizes on a phrase and drives it so far into the ground that it goes through the center of the earth and causes earthquakes in China? He doesn't quite do that here, but you see him almost losing it. At one point, though, he gets tired of this little tic he gave himself to work with and it becomes "great sage and eminent blah-blah", then he drops it altogether. I was grateful.
(2) Eddie gets off heroin kind of fast, doesn't he? I get that there are extenuating circumstances (and how), but yeah: I don't know of anyone who had a junk habit, kicked it cold turkey, and then took care of a fever-sick gunslinger (or anyone) during their weeks of withdrawal. I'm not saying it's impossible, just improbable to such a degree where I feel King should have addressed it more.
(2.5) While we're here, do Eddie and Odetta fall in love a tad too conveniently and quickly? Do they ever. But I can shrug this one off. Truth be told, I can shrug off the accelerated pace of his heroin recovery as well. If only King's quickened pace (for either) had a real world analog.
(3) In the span of one half a page, Eddie references Christa McAuliff, Walter Payton, and the movie The Shining. (And mercifully doesn't bash it.) That plus all of Eddie's endless wisecracking (with about 1 of every 100 being actually funny wisecracking) I think King is (or maybe was) a lot like Ritchie Tozier. I wonder if that's his purest how-he-is-in-real-life analog. I don't think there is one perfect one, but I'd love to pick his wife and loved one's brains on the topic.
At one point Eddie says Roland has "eaten an apple from the fever tree." That sounds like some down-home expression that I should have heard before and hell maybe I have and forgot. It's a good one, though. Sort of like the mirror universe of The Sweetheart Tree.
During the fever "shuffling" sections, Roland's diseased body and scattered POV put me in mind of certain passages in The Tommyknockers or Misery, and I wondered how much this was the real-world author of 1985-1986 peeking through. (Which is kind of funny given the actual author's later appearance - is this foreshadowing of a certain kind?) I wasn't sure exactly when he was writing Drawing of the Three, though, so I turned to The Truth Inside the Lie maestro Bryant Burnette who sent me the following:
"There is an appendix (in Bev Vincent's The Road to the Dark Tower) containing a timeline of the series' creation. It lists the dates of the writing of The Drawing of the Three as June 15, 1986 to September 1986. The corresponding dates for the other books you mention aren't listed, but each of those individual books do have their dates listed at the end (which Drawing itself does not):
It -- September 9, 1981 - December 28, 1985
The Tommyknockers -- August 19, 1982 - May 19, 1987
Misery -- September 23, 1984 - October 7, 1986"
It -- September 9, 1981 - December 28, 1985
The Tommyknockers -- August 19, 1982 - May 19, 1987
Misery -- September 23, 1984 - October 7, 1986"
So yeah that would put the writing of DOT3 smack-dab in the middle of "the end of my adventures" section described in On Writing. There might be some of King's real world anguish in this part. (All the odder, then, that he'd give an inaccurate read on Eddie's heroin withdrawal. Perhaps it was wishful thinking - my kingdom for a door to a world where I can't score and have to kick and have a gunslinger to save.)
Skipping ahead to Jack Mort for a second. What an unsung creation from King's catalog this guy is. All the Do-bees do it right stuff and all the rest: an unpleasant but solid creation. You really have to give him massive credit for how individuated each of these new characters is. Jack, especially - and you'd be forgiven for not even noticing given where he falls in the book and all the other stuff that's already happened/ is happening by that point.
I guess I find it a little silly that Jack is responsible both for dropping a brick on Odetta's head when she was a young girl and also the accident that took her legs. But here King has given himself an out: "it's all ka, brother." Okay fine.
The scene where the ammunition in Roland/Mort's explodes, and he drops his pants to reveal he's wearing ladies' underwear made me laugh. I pictured it Quantum Leap style, i.e. the viewer would see Roland, with a confused but very serious look on his face, but he'd be dressed in Mort's clothes.
The scene where he orchestrates Mort's suicide to fuse Odetta and Detta makes zero sense. I read it three separate times, but it's lost in magic and vagaries. Still: cool to see the fucker get what was coming to him.
Okay, so I mentioned the similarities between certain sections of DOT3 and Misery and The Tommyknockers. Here's the one that unfortunately is the equivalent of the sewer gangbang in the other book he was writing during this time. Everything above I more or less loved, even the parts I take mild objection to. I'd have no problem saying I love this book, it's an A. Here's the part that singlehandedly drops that grade to just about a 'C,' though, and baffles me:
THE LADY OF SHADOWS
(ODETTA HOLMES and DETTA WALKER)
Holy goddamn moley. Look: Detta Walker is just a mess. Not just as a character, but as an indication of King's synapses woefully misfiring. Just a real wtf, and possibly the only other wtf of the big man's catalog I can say is equal to the sewer gangbang in It. (And that neither can totally sink either work is truly amazing: how good do the other sections have to be to not sink the ship with these two complete missteps? Pretty effing good.)
I can hang with the idea of Odetta, even if it's weird that King named her after an actual 1960s civil rights activist who she clearly is not. But okay - different levels of the tower, resonating (somehow), whatever. I'm sure there are those that object to a white guy authoring such a character, but I object to those objectors: at their heart of their objection is a bigoted, false premise they are not addressing. And I can sort of admire the idea (and the audacity) of trying to craft a character like Detta Walker / "Butterfly McQueen gone Looney Tunes" * nightmarish mess. And I like the idea of a "fused" Susannah Dean, but as we'll see, this fusion comes and goes at King's discretion (as even eventually her handicap does.) So, it's kind of a false resolution.
* And it's not enough (verdammt) to just have other characters recognize how goddamn absurd and over the top and insane and hateful she sounds. This is King writing this, about himself; it reminds me of reading Raymond Chandler flirt with himself for pages. It's a stupid feint to even have the characters comment on this.
Thing is, Detta Walker is not the only time in King's catalog where he bafflingly indulges this Stepin Fetchit/ Little Black Sambo Tourette's disorder (see The Plant, Mister Mercedes, et al) nor its equally cartoonish white counterpart (see Henry Bowers, Mister Mercedes and End of Watch, et al). It's kind of an insane part of King's head that he needs to never put on the page and you can't help but wonder just what the hell he thinks he's doing with this stuff. The dialogue he gives Detta ("GOAN, GRAYMEAT! GOAN, HONKY SONSA BITCHES!") is unreadable. These sections from her POV can only be skimmed. To look straight at them is to gaze upon the face of the Medusans.
And it sure does make me wonder how they figured on handling ANY of this in the movie. Especially when they cast Idris Elba as Roland and the whole conversation that kicked up. (I say conversation, but, as is all too often the cases in the media-academe environment of the 21st century, it was actually a monologue.) What gets me is that there are issues of substance and authorship and identity here, and instead of addressing them, King, when asked, chose to play the "Oh, the only thing that matters to Roland is how he treats is ka-tet" sentiment in response. Yeah. Lovely sentiment, but it sidesteps completely the this-is-only-there-because-you-WROTE-this-batshit-you-honky-mahfah issue. Not to mention he carelessly creates a false division between people who just read what King tweeted and clutch their pearls and get teary-eyed and anyone who actually cares about the novels or has a pretty reasonable question about this aspect of them. Suddenly, membership in the latter camp - previously open to anyone who, you know, cares about the books - is tied to the virtue-signalling bimbosity of the former. It truly angers me that instead of addressing this, King (and everyone involved in the looks-to-be-thwarted Dark Tower franchise) chose the false division path. We're only here because of you, big man; that wasn't an opportune time to fuck off back to la la land.
In addition to how stupid the character is and how appallingly (if spiritedly - he wrote her with gusto, but it's like diarrhea: it's not an excess anyone should be particularly impressed by. Its excess is a result of the sickness that causes it) she is written, the fact that she commando-style captures Eddie on the beach is also... well, how many different ways can I say stupid/ ridiculous, etc. I'm unsure why King makes her handicapped if any time he writes her into a situation (and the worst of this is yet to come, in bks 6 and 7) he can just shrug her handicap off.
On this, though, I defer to the actual handicapped. Is this a problem for them? Or is it no big deal or even pleasant to see such a shrug-off in fiction that the real world does not afford? I can't answer this. The English major in me, though, objects beyond this and for other reasons: you just shouldn't give characters traits you're prepared to jettison when you feel like it.
There was a better path - and in Detta's case, a non-crazy-as-mothereffing-hell path - and King should have found it. Detta Walker torpedoes this book, and it's a damn shame. The ship ain't sunk, but it's listing into port through an act of pure self-sabotage.
DARK TOWER STUFF
- My main question from last time about why the CK/ MIB steer Roland to these doors is answered satisfactorily in The Waste Lands. We'll cover that next time.
- Flagg and Marten are referred to as different people. That's not right, is it? Of course, when he wrote this, the 2003 revision of The Gunslinger (where the MIB tells Roland this explicitly) was still in the future. Perhaps that's why?
- The ending is suitably cliffhangerish and the book as weird as it is suitably bk2-ish. I don't know how else to describe it, but it seems to fit my hazy mental idea of what an acceptable pt. 2 of an 8 pt. serial should look like, even if - to its credit - it has no analog to any other pt. 2 I can think of. Although: the very last few pages with Eddie and Roland seemed to just run into the end of the book. I guess King had some immediate other concerns at the time.
So much for my re-read. See you in pt. 3.