The Dark Tower: The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King

I’ve never read Stephen King’s horror books. It’s not that I have an aversion to horror – I’ve enjoyed quite a few horror films and short stories – I’ve just never been interested enough to read a whole novel. So while King is widely regarded as a literary master craftsman, most of his work has passed me by.

So it’s a good thing he likes cowboys, because few things pique my curiosity more than cowboys appearing in genre fiction.

Dark Tower 2

Smooth prose

The Drawing of the Three is the second of King’s Dark Tower series and, not coincidentally, the second of them that I’ve read. It’s the continuing story of the gunslinger Roland, cast adrift in a world that in strange to the reader and increasingly distant from Roland’s own familiar life. He’s a man on a mission, though what that mission is remains elusive, and to fulfil that mission he has to reach the Dark Tower. But first he has to ‘draw the three’, bringing allies to him from our world.

At least they might be allies. And it’s probably our world. And meanwhile there are hideous lobster monsters prowling the beach, looking to make a lunch out of Roland.

As with the first volume, there’s a smoothness of prose on display here that’s very pleasing on the mind. While King summons up powerful images he doesn’t do so through reaching for the thesaurus or trying to impress us all with wacky metaphors. It’s the details of place, of character, of action, that make this story come alive.

Hooray for coherence!

The Gunslinger, King’s first Dark Tower novel, showed its origins as a series of short stories. It was disjointed in places, both in story and tone, held together by the thin thread of Roland’s pursuit of the Man in Black.

This is a far more coherent whole, clearly written as a single piece. Structure, characterisation, foreshadowing, it’s all that bit more connected. That, along with King’s smooth prose, kept me completely engaged in a story that goes in some weird directions.

The characterisation helps. The three people Roland draws to him aren’t empty plot vessels. They all face interesting personal challenges and are fascinating characters from diverse backgrounds – more on that tomorrow.

Expanding the range of fantasy

I’ve written elsewhere about the stodgy repetitiveness that sometimes overtakes fantasy. But The Dark Tower, a series that has been slowly growing for decades, is a reminder that there have always been innovations with the genre. That for all the snobbery we sometimes face, and the familiar tropes we sometimes trap ourselves in, there have always been writers who will say ‘I don’t want elves and orcs, I want a cowboy, a schizophrenic, giant lobsters and portals into people’s minds’. The new weird isn’t all that new. It’s right here in a novel from 1987.

I think this is a great book. Tomorrow I’m going to get a bit more analytical and explore one of the things it does particularly well – internal conflicts. In the meantime, here’s some listening to go with your Dark Tower reading – music inspired by and composed to accompany the first book, because when work in one medium inspires an artist in another that’s pretty cool.

Have you read this book, or others in the series? What did you think?