Three. This is the number of your fate.
Welcome to A Read of the Dark Tower series. Join me each week as I, Constant Reader, tackle the magnum opus of Stephen King’s career for the first time. If you want to discuss in general terms or talk about these first sections, join me by commenting here. If you want to talk spoilers, please head over to the Tor.com forums for the spoiler discussion for the spoiler discussion so my Dark Tower-virgin ears won’t hear anything before I read it.
When we last saw Roland at the end of Chapter 2 in the section of The Drawing of the Three called “The Prisoner,” he had been rambling around in Eddie Dean’s head, had learned that he could indeed take items from Eddie’s world through the door on the beach and back to his own failing body, and he’d caught the attention—in a bad way—of stewardess (aka “army woman”) Jane Dorning).
This week, we’ll look at the third chapter of “The Prisoner,” entitled “Contact and Landing.”
The Drawing of the Three—The Prisoner, Chapter 3 (“Contact and Landing”), Section 1
Eddie has been asleep awhile, and he wakes up to hear the pilot announce they’ll arrive in New York in about 45 minutes. Eddie starts getting nervous about Customs and the pile of cocaine he has taped under each arm, and thinks he’d be much calmer if he had a little snort of his own drug of choice, heroin. He pays another visit to the john, but the snort doesn’t help his nervousness. As the plane banks over Long Island, he has another period of blankness.
What Constant Reader Learns: Well, Roland and Eddie are flying Delta. Shoulda known it wasn’t Southwest or there would’ve been no tooter-fish and Ro would have had to misunderstand the words “salted nuts.”
We learn that Eddie had made the drug deal with an American named William Wilson, who’d done a sturdy job of strapping on the drugs and then giving Eddie the special paisley shirt that supposedly wouldn’t show those unsightly drug bulges. So far, Eddie doesn’t seem to realize the stewardess Jane is watching him. Time for Roland to step up.
The Drawing of the Three—The Prisoner, Chapter 3 (“Contact and Landing”), Section 2
When Jane passed Eddie coming out of the john she got another look at his eyes, and they were back to hazel. She’s still considering the colored contact lens option, but just senses something off about the guy so she makes preparations to stop him from...whatever it is he’s going to do. She fills a Thermos with hot coffee and barely screws the lid on—the better to scald Eddie with.
Jane sits in the jump-seat by the exit door as they land, holding the Thermos in front of her so she can throw the hot coffee on Eddie as soon as he pulls out his grenade or gun. When Eddie reaches under his seat and pulls out his bag, Jane is sure he was going to be “one very surprised Friend of Allah rolling around on the aisle floor of Delta Flight 901 while his skin boiled on his face.”
What Constant Reader Learns: OMG. How did I miss this? Eddie is sitting in seat THREE-G.
I thought I was going to be really smart and say that Stephen King took the scalding coffee idea from the famous McDonald’s coffee lawsuit, but the book was written in 1987 and the lawsuit was in 1994, so...forget that theory.
A then-current event King did reflect, however, was what was going on in the Middle East—specifically Iran—during the writing of this book. The Ayatollah Khomeini had ordered a Muslim college group to seize the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and had held Americans hostage for 444 days, and the Iran-Iraq war was in progress. It’s probably safe to assume these events influenced King when he wrote Jane’s thoughts about a fundamentalist terrorist overtaking a plane. Chilling given what happened ten years ago on September 11.
The Drawing of the Three—The Prisoner, Chapter 3 (“Contact and Landing”), Section 3
Roland has a brief moment of respect for Eddie Dean, who he thinks probably is more of a survivor than the rest of the candy-asses on the air-carriage, but Eddie’s still not sharp enough. Roland realizes the “army woman” is suspicious but Eddie’s sitting there looking at a “magda-seen.” Roland wants to come forward and take charge, but he holds back.
He knows he might not be able to hold back long because he looks in Eddie’s head and realizes Eddie must complete a ritual called Clearing the Customs. And if the army woman stops him, Eddie will be in gaol, and Roland will die for lack of medicine. Finally, Roland puts the pieces together and realizes the drugs Eddie’s carrying will be the thing that might stop him from clearing customs—so the drugs are going to have to make a trip to the beach.
What he isn’t sure about is whether or not he can bring the drugs back from the beach, so Ro takes over Eddie’s hands, pulls a coin from the pocket and takes it to the beach for a test.
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland’s fascinated with the “magda-seen” and would like to see more of it if he had time. He’s fascinated with all the paper in Eddie’s world.
Roland, sharp as ever now that he’s floating around outside his damaged, pain-wracked body, realizes Eddie’s carrying drugs he’ll give to his brother Henry, who’ll in turn give them to a man named Balazar who will trade them the heroin they crave for it.
Balazar is our drug czar, but it’s also the name of one of the three wise men in biblical lore. Don’t know that it’s significant here, but I’m going through “obscure biblical reference” withdrawal after The Gunslinger. Interesting that Roland knows not only what is in Eddie’s head but what isn’t: namely, that Eddie’s going to have to accompany Henry to see Balazar, and that Henry won’t like it. Hm....
The Drawing of the Three—The Prisoner, Chapter 3 (“Contact and Landing”), Section 4
Roland sits up on the beach, back in his own body, and he feels like crap even though his tooter-fish had revived him somewhat. He studies the coin, which appears to be a quarter, and cries out “in a rusty, croaking voice” at seeing the eagle on the back side because a similar image had decorated his own banner back in the day. But he doesn’t have time to hang around daydreaming—he goes back through the door carrying the coin and one of his guns.
What Constant Reader Learns: Well, the eagle bit was interesting, but the big question here is whether he’ll be able to get back into the plane with the coin and the shell. I’m betting not, because it would make things too simple and convenient.
The Drawing of the Three—The Prisoner, Chapter 3 (“Contact and Landing”), Section 5
Roland is able to bring back the coin, but the shell stops at the door. At least he knows Eddie Dean can hide his drugs on the beach and clear customs.
What Constant Reader Learns: I don’t yet see the significance of him not being able to bring things from the beach to Eddie’s world...except it makes me wonder if Roland can bring his body through the door. If not, wouldn’t that leave him on the beach to be eaten by lobstrosities? Not sure what this wrinkle will mean yet. Also, if the plane’s already about to land, how’s Eddie supposed to get to the beach and unload his stash before being dowsed with coffee or arrested?
The Drawing of the Three—The Prisoner, Chapter 3 (“Contact and Landing”), Section 6
The plane lands.
What Constant Reader Learns:Uh, the plane lands?
The Drawing of the Three—The Prisoner, Chapter 3 (“Contact and Landing”), Section 7
Jane’s still waiting for Eddie to draw a gun or grenade—in fact, she imagines him with an Uzi before realizing he’d brought nothing out of his bag except a passport wallet. She has told another stewardess, Susy, about her suspicions, and now she feels stupid. Except Susy is watching Eddie too, and she’s the one who noticed when Eddie bent over to get his bag, he was “carrying enough stuff under there to stock a Woolworth’s notions counter.” So she knows he’s carrying drugs.
What Constant Reader Learns: Too bad Susy had to get in on the act, because she’s a lot sharper than old G.I. Jane. She gets Jane to tell the captain, who’ll call customs, who’ll have folks waiting to arrest old Eddie as soon as he disembarks. Jane, box-of-rocks-dumb, thinks it’s a pity since Eddie was kinda cute.
Signs the World Has Moved On, #4: Woolworth’s, a five-and-dime conglomerate, went out of business in 1997.
The Drawing of the Three—The Prisoner, Chapter 3 (“Contact and Landing”), Section 8
Roland’s getting impatient with Eddie—he needs his host to Clear the Customs and get him some medicine, after all, and Eddie still doesn’t realize he’s been made. Ro can tell those two army women are up to something. Finally, Roland realizes a problem he’d missed. He can’t take the drugs off Eddie Dean without Eddie freaking out. He’s going to have to make contact. (Oh boy!)
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland realizes all these people are so complacent and unaware because they live in the light, in a world that has not moved on. And even though he grew up admiring the light of civilization, he now wonders if he doesn’t prefer the darkness of his own world.
Roland notes that the air-carriages are as impressive as the Grand Featherex, which had once lived in the “distant (and probably mythical) kingdom of Garlan.” The Featherex wasn’t man-made, though, so maybe it was a raptor and we’ll have some dinosaurs at some point. Hey, I’m up for anything now that I’ve seen the lobstrosities.
The Drawing of the Three—The Prisoner, Chapter 3 (“Contact and Landing”), Section 9
Eddie’s getting ready to leave when he hears a voice in his head, telling him to listen carefully and not arouse the suspicion of the army women. Eddie tries to find a rational explanation—you know, one other than being possessed by a gunslinger from another universe. Eddie sits up, and Roland assures him that he isn’t crazy and yes, Eddie, there is another person inside your head. He keeps a blank expression on his face but can feel Roland sifting through his thoughts and finding words for things.
So Roland tells Eddie that the army stewardesses know he has cocaine, and that they told the drivers, who will tell the priests who perform the Clearing of Customs ceremony. Eddie somehow gets the message. He has a final thought that this might be his imagination until Roland yells at him again, and he finally believes.
What Constant Reader Learns: Well, wouldn’t that just about make you do a bad thing in your airplane seat? I mean not only are you hearing a voice, but it’s yelling things like “Straighten up, maggot!” and “Shut your mouth, you damned jackass!”
I think Eddie handled it quite well. And Roland’s explanation of what was about to happen is hysterical. Still laughing. I hadn’t expected this humor after the grim and tense tenor of The Gunslinger, but I’m loving it. I’m sure it’ll get more tense soon enough.
The Drawing of the Three—The Prisoner, Chapter 3 (“Contact and Landing”), Section 10
“He believes,” Roland thinks, and is thankful.
What Constant Reader Learns: That Stephen King can turn any old sentence into a chapter.
The Drawing of the Three—The Prisoner, Chapter 3 (“Contact and Landing”), Section 11
The plane lands and the Fasten Seatbelt sign goes off.
What Constant Reader Learns: Please see notes from Section 10
The Drawing of the Three—The Prisoner, Chapter 3 (“Contact and Landing”), Section 12
Roland’s like a drill sergeant inside Eddie’s head, telling him to get his bag and jacket and go to the bathroom. Eddie starts to argue with him, but realizes they won’t break the door down right away because no one will want to scare the other passengers. It buys him a little time.
Eddie approaches the exit, realizing that the voice in his head was right—the stewardesses are watching him, and so is the captain. At the last moment, he feigns an oncoming upchuck and locks himself in the bathroom before anyone can stop him. He tells his Voice that he better come up with a plan. It takes Roland a few seconds to answer and Eddie starts to panic, thinking he really had imagined it all.
But Roland seems to have been figuring out how Eddie can come through the door. He has him turn around and Eddie is suddenly seeing with two pairs of eyes, feeling with two hearts and ten senses. He sees the doorway in the side of the bathroom, and even though he can hear someone yelling and thumping on the bathroom door behind him, he steps through “into another world.”
What Constant Reader Learns: I’m thinking Eddie’s being pretty reasonable and calm about all this. Maybe it’s shock. Maybe desperation. I’m thinking I’d be gibbering in my seat like an idiot when the customs officers came to take me away.
The Drawing of the Three—The Prisoner, Chapter 3 (“Contact and Landing”), Section 13
Eddie climbs to his feet, and sees a man next to him doing the same. The first thing he thinks is that the man is dead and just doesn’t know it yet. He asks Roland if he’s a ghost, to which Ro replies, “Not yet.” Eddie recognizes the signs of blood-poisoning.
Eddie’s pretty freaked (duh) but Roland realizes their time is short. He finally gets Eddie out of his shirt. They can hear the muffled shouts at the plane’s bathroom door. Eddie begins clawing at the tape but can’t get it loose, and he tells Roland he can’t do it.
What Constant Reader Learns: Fun to see Roland through someone else’s eyes since The Gunslinger was all from his own point of view. Roland is gaunt, his skin pale except for the blush of a fever, his eyes “full of terrible and tenacious vitality.” He wears dark homespun clothes with mostly empty gunbelts crisscrossing his hips.
The Drawing of the Three—The Prisoner, Chapter 3 (“Contact and Landing”), Section 14
Back on the plane, the pilot, Captain McDonald, is pounding on the door. The copilot and navigator assure him Eddie can’t really dispose of the drugs in any way the DEA can’t find, so the captain calls for customs agents to board the plane.
What Constant Reader Learns: The captain’s a jerk. He’s determined Eddie’s going to get away with something. Wants to tear the door down. Tries to throw Jane and Susy off the plane (but Susy’s not listening). If my McDonald’s coffee lawsuit theory had turned out to be valid I would have enjoyed that the captain’s name is McDonald. But, alas, no.
The Drawing of the Three—The Prisoner, Chapter 3 (“Contact and Landing”), Section 15
Roland tells Eddie to get his knife out of his “purse,” and he gestures toward his pack—and for the first time Eddie realizes Ro’s lost some of his fingers. Eddie’s decided again that he’s on some “flip-flop, hippety-hop” drug trip and he might as well go with it.
What Constant Reader Learns: Ha. Poor Eddie. He takes a second to admire Roland’s knife handle and—whap!—Roland punches him in the ear hard enough to knock him to the sand. I have a feeling Eddie’s going to really, really want a snort of China White before Roland gets through with him.
Eddie keeps wondering why Roland is calling him “Prisoner,” which makes me wonder how, when and if things settle down, Ro’s going to explain the unexplainable.
The Drawing of the Three—The Prisoner, Chapter 3 (“Contact and Landing”), Section 16
The last passengers are filing off the plane, including an old lady feeling much put-upon by the rudeness of the Delta staff. McDonald’s still strutting around like a banty rooster, as my grandma used to say, and orders the customs officers to stay in the jetway because it’s his plane. He knocks again, and says he’s going to break down the bathroom door if Eddie doesn’t come out.
What Constant Reader Learns: Think Stephen King had a bad experience with Delta Airlines at one time or another? Or at least a really obnoxious pilot? Hope we don’t see this guy again.
The Drawing of the Three—The Prisoner, Chapter 3 (“Contact and Landing”), Section 17
Eddie cuts himself trying to get the tape off, and Roland grabs his knife to do it himself. Eddie isn’t reassured to know Roland is using the knife in his left hand yet is right-handed. So Eddie closes his eyes. He gingerly pulls off the front of the tape and Roland strips off the back hard enough to pull off skin.
Roland orders him to put his shirt back on, and moans when Eddie fumbles with the buttoms. But it’s Eddie who figures out what to do. He unbuckles his belt and drops trou as he steps back into the plane with Roland inside his head.
What Constant Reader Learns: This is a cleverly written scene, where Eddie is hearing the dialogue of the preceding chapter in the background, so we know it’s all happening concurrently.
Glad to see Eddie stepping up and figuring out how to get out of his dilemma in a way Roland probably wouldn’t have thought of. Eddie also has an interesting moment of watching Roland gather his inner strength to stop his hand from shaking as he holds the knife, and he wonders how powerful Roland must be if he can do this in such bad physical condition.
The Drawing of the Three—The Prisoner, Chapter 3 (“Contact and Landing”), Section 18
Old McDonald finally succeeds in knocking down the door, and there’s Mr. 3A, as they call him, sitting on the toilet. When asked what he’s doing, Eddie says, “Well, I was taking a crap, but if all you guys got a bad problem, I guess I could wipe myself in the terminal.”
There’s nothing in the toilet, of course. The pilots throw Eddie into the jetway, where the customs guys haul him bodily into the terminal.
What Constant Reader Learns: Eddie’s a cool customer, smart-mouthing the pilot and even making a little sexist banter with the stewardesses. But inside, he can feel Roland inside, ready to take over if Eddie screws up.
Maybe it’s just me but I’m having a lot harder time stopping at the ends of these chapters than I did with The Gunslinger. It feels more like a cohesive story to me, where Gunslinger felt more like an episodic, symbolism-laden narrative. If that makes any sense.
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll read “The Tower,” chapter four of The Drawing of the Three’s first big section, “The Prisoner.”