Mon
Nov 14 2011 11:00am

A Read of The Dark Tower: Constant Reader Tackles The Drawing of the Three, The Pusher: Bitter Medicine

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.

When we last saw Roland at the end of “Reshuffle,” he’d left Eddie on the beach with a warning to stay alert for the missing Detta, and had gone through the third door. This week, we’ll read “Bitter Medicine,” the first chapter of the section called “The Pusher.”

 

The Drawing of the Three — “Bitter Medicine,” Section 1

A little catchup: We’re reminded that when the gunslinger entered his first host, Eddie had gotten nauseated and experienced a sense of being watched. When he entered Detta, Roland had been forced to “come forward” immediately to keep her from getting arrested for shoplifting at Macy’s.

Jack Mort, we’re told, didn’t feel a thing, because he was busy watching the boy — a boy he wanted to push.

What Constant Reader Learns: Okay, so the word-play is becoming clearer. The name of the Man in Black’s third card was “Death,” and the word death in French is mort. And Jack Mort is fond of pushing, literally.

I have a feeling the boy is Jake. Didn’t he get pushed in front of a car? But wasn’t it the Man in Black who pushed him? Is our MiB about to make another appearance?

 

The Drawing of the Three — “Bitter Medicine,” Section 2

Roland, looking from the back of Jack Mort’s eyes, sees the boy and it is Jake (knew it!). The boy was holding his lunch in a paper bag and a bookbag, and he was waiting to cross a busy street. At first Roland passively thinks this is his punishment — to watch Jake die again. But “the rejection of brutish destiny had been the gunslinger’s work all his life — it had been his ka, if you pleased — and so he came forward without even thinking, acting with reflexes so deep they had nearly become instincts.”

And only then does he have a horrific thought: what if the body of the man he’d entered was the Man in Black, and that he saw his own hands reach out to push Jake to his death?

What Constant Reader Learns: Roland recognizes New York City as being the same city as the one from which both Eddie and Odetta came, but can’t spend much time pondering it because he needs to intervene with Jake.

Roland’s guilt over Jake comes rushing back when he realizes Jack Mort is about to push Jake in front of a car. “That’s to be my punishment for murdering him in my world — to see him murdered in this one before I can stop it.” It’s interesting, and in character I guess, that Roland doesn’t try to sidestep his role in Jake’s death by splitting hairs between whether failure to save Jake is as much murder as if he’d actively killed Jake.

I’m dying here. Surely, Ro’s not having to possess the Man in Black, is he? Is Jack Mort just another name for Walter?

 

The Drawing of the Three — “Bitter Medicine,” Section 3

When Roland comes forward, Jack Mort loses his concentration for what he thinks is an instant but was in fact seven seconds — enough time for the stoplight to change and his opportunity to push Jake to slip away. Annoyed, he turns back down the street, pushing people out of his way.

What Constant Reader Learns: A little about Jack. He’s ill-tempered and has a scar above his chin. And by profession he is a successful accountant. “Pushing was only his hobby,” we’re told.

So, Jack has been stalking Jake for a while, watching his habits, planning his “push.” Which begs the question: why Jake? Is it personal, or is Jake just a random “innocent” target he’s fixated on? More questions than answers so far.

 

The Drawing of the Three — “Bitter Medicine,” Section 4

After his brief move forward, Roland moves back again and faints. He’s relieved the man he’s invaded isn’t the Man in Black, but is horrified at the other realization: that divorced of his body, his mind and spirit was healthy and sharp and he knew that Jack Mort was also the one who pushed the brick on five-year-old Odetta — “a connection “too fantastic and yet too hideously apt to be coincidental.” He understands what the real drawing of the three might be and who they might be.

Roland realizes that Jack Mort is not the third in his ka-tet. The third was Death, and he — Roland — had become death. He believes himself to be the third.

What Constant Reader Learns: I wish Roland had fainted before he figured all that out, because now I have a headache trying to follow his logic. So… Jack is the same one who pushed Odetta when she was a child and who pushed Jake. Roland is now Jack Mort. So Roland is death. So does Jack have a role other than for Roland to come to this amazing realization? Is Roland going to stay in Jack Mort’s body so that he can continue on his quest and let his gunslinger body die? *headdesk*

 

The Drawing of the Three — “Bitter Medicine,” Section 5

Roland, while he’s in a faint, I guess, is pondering what it means that he has stopped Jack Mort from murdering Jake — if that means everything that happened later, after he met Jake at the weigh station (including the meeting with the Man in Black) didn’t happen. So Roland looks around at the other people in the intersection to make sure Walter isn’t hanging out under the Do Not Walk sign. And he realizes that this wasn’t the right when for Jake to die at Walter’s hand.

What Constant Reader Learns: This is an interesting little section of “what if’s” in a theme Stephen King has often seemed fascinated with: what if you had the chance to change something in the past — how would it impact the future, and would you do it if you could. Would you kill Hitler if you had the chance to go back in time and do so, knowing what you know now? It was a theme of The Dead Zone, and plays into his most recent book, 11/22/63.

 

The Drawing of the Three — “Bitter Medicine,” Section 6

Roland realizes Jack Mort had once sat inside the window of a deserted tenement room in an abandoned building, waiting for someone to walk past so he could bean that person with a brick. Of course, it’s Odetta Holmes’ family that comes by, and Jack Mort chooses the little girl to push his brick onto.

He delights in the perfection of his shot with the brick. He pauses just long enough to hear the screams of Odetta’s mother and to see the bright blood on the girl’s head, then hightails it away just in case there’s any suspicion it wasn’t an accident. He doesn’t care about the aftermath, anyway — he only cares about how the “thing which pushed changed the ordinary course of things,” knowing the effects will ripple out in a widening circle. He carefully planned his escape in advance — a trait that plays to his advantage in his vocation as an accountant — and it went off without a hitch.

What Constant Reader Learns: Jack has blond hair and darker blue eyes than Roland, and he’s a planner — even down to how to camouflage his thin body with baggy clothes before getting his jollies by hurting someone. He appears to be a sociopath who thinks of life in terms of (get ready for a “Sign That the World Has Moved On”) the old children’s TV show “Romper Room,” where an oversized bumblebee called Mr. Do-Bee admonished kids on right versus wrong.

 

The Drawing of the Three — “Bitter Medicine,” Section 7

Roland saw all that, and even more, before he can shut it all out.

What Constant Reader Learns: I learn only that Roland is shocked by what he’s seeing, which surprises me. Is he shocked at the brutality of it? Surely he’s seen worse. Even so, he wants to turn his eyes from it, so maybe it’s just the ugliness of the inside of Jack Mort’s head.

 

The Drawing of the Three — “Bitter Medicine,” Section 8

So now we get to see what else Roland saw in Jack’s head. He saw Jack cutting newspaper clippings of the Odetta incident and putting them in a scrapbook that looked to be full of other clippings. Roland realizes Jack has pushed a great many people — including Odetta twice: Once with the brick, and again when he pushed her off the train platform where she lost her legs. Roland is horrified. “What sort of man is this that I am supposed to use?” he asks himself. Then he thinks of Jake, and the push that sent Jake into his world, and hears the laughter of the Man in Black. Then he faints.

What Constant Reader Learns: Okay, so now Roland faints. I guess all that seeing was just done in the instants before he fainted and we were backtracking through his thoughts. Well, wasn’t that confusing. I guess I’m still a bit surprised that Roland would be so shocked after surviving so long in his own brutal world. But he seems horrified by what appears to be the insanity and evil occupying Jack Mort.

I kind of feel like I’m back in The Gunslinger again, with no idea what’s going on. Only without the religious metaphors.

 

The Drawing of the Three — “Bitter Medicine,” Section 9

When Roland comes to, Jack Mort seems to be at work, looking down at “neat rows of figures marching down a sheet of green paper.” (Another sign the world has moved on: computer spreadsheet and accounting programs!)

He wonders how long he’s been out, and comes forward to find out. He directs Jack Mort’s eyes to a clock. Roland freaks a little to see that it’s after one-thirty, and he wonders if Eddie’s been able to stay awake. So he turns to look behind him at the door to the beach. Standing outside the door are two shadows: a wheelchair, and a legless human supporting itself on its arms. Roland whips his head around so Detta won’t see anything if she looks in the door except the back of Jack Mort’s head.

Then he realizes if Detta looks in she won’t see Jack; she’ll see whatever Jack is seeing. But Roland doesn’t want Detta to see Odetta, even in his head. He ponders going back to save Eddie but realizes that’s what Detta is counting on. Since he saw only her shadow, he realizes she’s lying beside the door with one of his revolvers and as soon as his Roland-body moves, she’ll shoot. Then she’d torture Eddie before she killed him.

Roland stays forward in Jack Mort’s body, feigns illness to a fellow accountant (after realizing Jack’s coworkers are afraid of him without really knowing why), and then leaves to set his plan in motion.

What Constant Reader Learns: Roland is starting to formulate a plan, but he needs some time. I can’t wait to see how he handles this, and how he uses Jack Mort.

Also, what’s to keep Detta from just killing Roland’s body anyway, trapping his spirit inside Jack Mort, and then stalking Eddie on little stump legs as slowly as she wants to? Why doesn’t that occur to Roland?


That’s it for this week! Next week — same time, same place — we’ll read “The Honeypot,” the first chapter of the section entitled “The Pusher.”

29 comments
strongdreams
1. strongdreams
This is what I meant before about convenient unconsciousness. It wouldn't do for the story for Roland to get his business done in 20 minutes and get back to his own body before Eddie fell asleep. So the writer intervenes and puts Roland to sleep long enough to put Eddie in jeopardy. Why exactly Roland gets the vapors here and not any other times (past or future) is never addressed.

I think Detta knows or suspects that if Roland dies, the door will close with her on the wrong side. She needs Eddie hostage to make Roland take her home. So she's waiting...
Tricia Irish
2. Tektonica
Romper Room! OMG. Flash back. I don't believe you're old enough to remember that!! I bet you were a good do-bee.

Thanks Suzanne.....I wish we had more.....you're such a tease!! Guess I should just go pick up the book, eh?
Tricia Irish
3. Tektonica
Strongdreams@1:

Perhaps Roland passes out because his real body is in such a weakened, fevered state. Maybe? Anyway, it is convenient!
Suzanne Johnson
4. Susannah Sandlin
@strongdreams @Tektonica...Yes, the unconsciousness was very convenient for the storytelling (if not for Roland). I wondered, too, if the illness and weakening of Roland's body back on the beach was impacting his mental stamina as well. There's no other explanation for him passing out.

RE: Romper Room. LOL. Oh yeah, I do remember it but never watched it enough to even be a "do-be"--it sounded vaguely familiar so I looked it up on Wikipedia :-) And I was an ornery kid so I'd probably have been a "don't be" just on principle.
Marcus W
5. toryx
I think it's one thing to experience terrible events and evils and another thing to dwell within the mind of one who glorifies in it. We're all on the outside, after all, limited to our own perspective.

Roland is experiencing something completely different. He's seeing the world through someone else's eyes and experiencing someone else's thoughts within himself. It seems to me that'd be like waking up with a monster inside your head (even if it's vice versa with him) and it's not just witnessing real horror but breathing it. He's not just "seeing" or observing these things that Jack Mort does. He experiences them as the one who does them.

At least, that's how I always saw it. To me, that makes the horror a lot more...intimate.
Marcus W
6. toryx
Let's not forget what a shock it must be to see the boy you essentially loved and killed suddenly alive again. And how horrible it'd be to have to do it all over again. Essentially, Roland is in shock and I don't care how much a veteran he might be, he's still human.
strongdreams
7. strongdreams
@all,
I think it is established that freed of his diseased and worn out body, Roland's ka is clear-headed and functioning at peak. Certainly the rest of his actions in this section indicate that. My recollection of King's wording is that Roland was shocked by the cosmic coincidences that obviously aren't, and I don't buy the fainting spell at all.

I think Romper Room was just ending as I was growing up. I had a pair of Romper Stompers, but I'm not sure I ever knew why they were called that.
Suzanne Johnson
8. Susannah Sandlin
@Toryx...Very good point about the shock of being inside the mind of someone like that, as opposed to viewing it or reading about it from outside. Also the horror of seeing Jake again and being afraid he'd have to kill him again and, in someone else's head, enjoy it. I'm still not sure, like @strongdreams, I'd buy that he's shocked enough to faint from it.

But faint he did, whether from shock or illness or because Stephen King needed to buy Detta time to hatch her (OMG) horrors to unleash upon poor Eddie. (Yes, I just finished the next chapter for next week's post. Holy cow.)
strongdreams
9. chosen
Detta has been doing a bit of braiding.
Suzanne Johnson
10. Susannah Sandlin
@chosen...Detta has been doing a LOT of braiding! And without spoiling next week's post, might I add that she has some amazingly strong teeth.
strongdreams
11. Lsana
@1,

In general I find this a section where my reaction "isn't that convenient." Roland's conveniet case of the vapors is really the least of it.

Blame it on ka. Things need to happend a certain way for things to progress, so the universe insures that they will. Or blame the author who gave himself such a conveniet out with ka. (Hmm...there's that word "convenient" again...)
craig thrift
12. gagecreedlives
Im not sure if its ever explained fully but maybe Roland not only has to deal with Morts mental sickness but also any feelings of physical excitement that might go with the memories. I imagine that at least would be quite a disturbing sensation if not a fainting worthy one.

Roland might be a trained killer but he isnt a psycho like Mort is.

@strongdreams.....speaking of psychos I give you romper stomper http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YXa-nAYdjrk
Suzanne Johnson
13. Susannah Sandlin
@Lsana...yes, "ka" covers a multitude of sins, which is, uh, convenient. :-)
strongdreams
14. Improbable Joe
These bits are a lot less fun taken in such small bites. It is sort of like watching 5 minutes of a Michael Bay movie once a week, except less crappy.
strongdreams
15. strongdreams
@gagecreedlives, Yikes.

At first I though it was one of those joke trailers where someone turns some innocent childhood memory or toy into an action movie. Sadly, no. Not my cup of dockey coffee, no thankee-sai.
Suzanne Johnson
16. Susannah Sandlin
@Improbable Joe...We can try speeding it up but the posts will be reaaaalllly long. I've been trying to keep them at about 2,000 words.
strongdreams
17. Improbable Joe
No, I get the point of the pace. You don't want to miss anything, and all that. :) I'm just saying that the book naturally feels clumsier and like King is sort of incompetent if you're actually reading it a few pages a week.

The stuff that feels most jarring feels less so if you're reading at a more normal pace, which is why before I read these posts I usually read much larger chunks, including the sections before and after this week's update. It helps me feel the flow of the narrative in a way that is lost if I'm just reading one small bit a week.
Suzanne Johnson
18. Susannah Sandlin
@Joe...That's a really good idea. I'd actually thought about that when we were all whining about how long it took them to get down the beach to the third door. If I'd read it at my normal pace, it wouldn't have seemed nearly so tedious. I guess it's one of the downsides of doing a slow read like this. Plus, next week's chapter has left me with a helluva cliffhanger!
aaron thompson
19. trench
Well personally I dont think you could write a post that is to long for me. I enjoy reading them enough and you make great connections ( I never even made the romper room connection). But of course that puts alot on you, so you should go at a pace that is easy for you. But yhea, more is always better IMO.
strongdreams
20. Jenny C.
Suzanne, are you under some contract that demands you make exactly one post a week? Cause if you don't want to make posts too long, I'd think you could just make more of them.

Also, I think the fainting can be excused for the reasons mentioned above. With the world moving on and all, it doesn't seem Roland has had a lot of opportunity to learn any psychology. He probably has no conception there's such a thing as psychopathy or sociopathy; has been unable to imagine there could be a creature so horrible as Jack Mort. Not that he wouldn't have seen the actions of such men, but he would have to have seen their motivations as, at best, unfathomable and therefore irrelevant to him. And then all of a sudden he's intimately inserted in that diseased mind. That should be traumatizing.
Suzanne Johnson
21. Susannah Sandlin
@JennyC...No contract, just an Evil Day Job plus my own writing=limited time. But I think I'll try to go a bit faster with The Waste Lands even if it means longer posts.

Now that I'm doing posts a little ahead of time to compensate for the upcoming holidays, I actually understand why Roland had the reaction he did to Jack, and you're right. He's seen men do evil things for selfish reasons, but being inside something as black and purely evil as Jack Mort's head was something totally foreign to him--and repulsive, since Roland is, despite his singleminded focus on the Tower, an honorable man.
Suzanne Johnson
23. Susannah Sandlin
It was turned in a week ago--not sure what happened to it. Am trying to find out!
aaron thompson
24. trench
Tor.com seriously droped the ball here. I need my reread jollies, dagnabit
Suzanne Johnson
25. Susannah Sandlin
@trench. LOL. I don't know what to tell you. I've emailed them a couple of times but no response. Maybe lots of people out for the holidays, and at least one on jury duty?
Suzanne Johnson
26. Susannah Sandlin
Hey guys--the update will be up this afternoon, then back to posting on Mondays next week. Thanks for your patience!
strongdreams
27. dogshouse
I begin to suspect Tor is a subsidiary of Sombra Corporation.
strongdreams
29. Wortmauer
dogshouse@27: Oh come on, if you're gonna go there, you could at least call it the Dark Tor. Featuring, I suppose, Stubby the Rose.

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