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 The Gunslinger, he had allowed the boy Jake to die, held a decade-long “palaver” with the Man in Black, aka Walter O’Dim, and experienced a hallucinogenic trip through as much as he could grasp of the infinite universe. He had crossed to the Western Sea and was sitting on the beach, waiting for the next phase of his journey to the Dark Tower to begin.
This week, we’ll look at the prologue to The Drawing of the Three, and the first chapter, “The Door,” in the section called “The Prisoner.”
The Drawing of the Three — Prologue: The Sailor
It is seven hours after Roland reached the edge of the Western Sea at the end of The Gunslinger.
He wakes up on the beach, after a confusing dream where he’s seen the image of the Sailor from the Man in Black’s tarot deck. He keeps hearing the man’s voice in his head, mocking him. In the dream, he was Jake and he was drowning. (Symbolic, much?)
When the cold ocean water douses Roland almost to his waist, it wakes him up and he realizes he’d fallen asleep at the high tide line. His first thoughts go to his guns — more specifically, his ammunition — which would be damaged if they’d gotten wet.
But — uh-oh — here comes a four-foot-long crawling lobster thing, dragging itself along the sand toward Roland. Stephen King likes creepy critters with eyes on stalks, so this thing has them, along with lobsterish front claws and a big serrated beak and a tail that curves up sort of like a scorpion. It seems to be asking him questions in an alien tongue: Did-a-chick? Dum-a-chum? And whenever it hears a wave breaking, it stops and raises its claws like the “Honor Stance” Cort had taught the fledgling gunslingers.
Roland’s still disoriented and focused on his wet ammo, so he doesn’t get away fast enough or take the creature serious enough until it has used its serrated beak to bite off two fingers of his right hand. Then it attacks in earnest, tearing through Roland’s boot, taking a bite out of his calf, and eating his right big toe. Roland struggles with his gun because of his missing fingers but finally draws with his left hand and pulls the trigger (three times, of course), but the shells in the chamber have gotten wet and it doesn’t fire.
Finally, Roland realizes the only time he can strike is when the “lobstrosity” raises its claws at the sound of the incoming waves. So he times his attack and manages to beat it to death with a rock and then crush it under his bootheel. In the moonlight, he can see more of the creatures, so he retreats farther away from the water and uses his remaining tobacco to stanch the bleeding of the stumps of his fingers and toe.
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland is not a happy beach camper. When he awakens from his dream, he likes that he dreamed he was a drowning Jake because “it would be far better to drown as Jake than to live as himself.” He’s still beating himself up for his betrayal of the boy.
Roland doesn’t seem to take Lobsterzilla seriously at first. He thinks it might not be dangerous, and notes — but doesn’t immediately recognize the significance — that ‘Zilla holds its claws up whenever it hears a wave coming in. So his senses are dulled and he pays for it dearly. Roland can fire his guns with both hands, but is otherwise righthanded. So he’s already paying a blood sacrifice for whatever’s to come. Roland is flabbergasted and angry that he had never in his “long strange time” been so fundamentally injured, and in such an unexpected way.
[Also, have to say: King’s writing has advanced light-years between these two books. It’s more confident, his voice more assured. Five years can do that!]
The Drawing of the Three — The Prisoner: The Door, Section 1
Roland, we think, is dreaming again, remembering the words of the Oracle she-demon, for our convenience: Three is the number of your fate. Three stands at the heart of the mantra. The first is dark-haired. He stands on the brink of robbery and murder. A demon has infested him. The name of the demon is HEROIN.
The vision morphs into a card floating from “nowhere to nowhere,” and it is the grinning baboon card from the Man in Black’s tarot deck. The baboon is grinning and holding a whip in one hand, while the other hand’s fingers are buried deeply in the flesh of a young man’s neck. The young man is The Prisoner.
What Constant Reader Learns: Forget biblical references. Now let’s do some beat-us-over-the-head drug references. Uh, monkey/baboon on your back, heroin demon? This was mostly a catch-up reminder for those of us who, back in the day, had to wait five years since we’d read The Gunslinger.
The Drawing of the Three — The Prisoner: The Door, Section 2
Roland wakes up, at first thinking lobstrosity is back, but it’s only a seagull. He sits up, and his hand and foot are throbbing with phantom pain from their missing digits. The bottom half of his shirt is gone, where he’d torn it off to bind his wounds, and his boots are a mess. He eats some jerky and finds his waterskins on the beach. One is empty but the other has a few sips left in it.
He makes sure he still has the Man in Black’s jawbone in his pocket, and clumsily cleans his guns and saves the twenty shells he thinks might still fire—but he acknowledges it’s going to be a crapshoot (yeah, pun intended). He wants to test-fire one of the twenty, but doesn’t dare.
Roland’s fighting unconsciousness as he gathers his few things from the beach, and he keeps falling — reminiscent of when he came upon the Way Station after the long, dry march through the Mohaine Desert. He sees a Joshua tree a few yards up the slope and rests there in its small bit of shade. He checks his right hand and sees the telltale sign of an infection setting in. Then he keels over and sleeps for the next sixteen hours.
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland has never seen the ocean before, and he takes a few moments just to ponder its vastness.
It’s interesting the handicaps Roland is going to have going into this next adventure, whatever it turns out to be. He’s short two fingers on his dominant hand, one toe is gone, he’s virtually out of food and water, and the twenty shells he has left might or might not even fire. Oh, and let’s not forget pending infection in those wounds.
Roland sees his right hand swelling and turning red, knows an infection is setting in, and his first thought is “I jerk off left-handed — at least that’s something.” That’s our boy!
The Drawing of the Three — The Prisoner: The Door, Section 3
When Roland wakes up again, another night has passed and it’s almost sunrise. He’s dizzy, and the infection is spreading. “I need medicine, but there is no medicine here,” he thinks. He can’t believe he’s come this far just to die. In his head, the Man in Black taunts him: “How remarkable you are, gunslinger! How indomitable!” To which Ro croaks, “F*** you.”
He drinks a little of his remaining water, buckles on his gunbelt one-handed, and manages to get to his feet by holding onto the tree. He eats the rest of his jerky and stumbles to the beach. Which way should he go? His heart says: North. And he begins to walk.
What Constant Reader Learns: Well, Roland’s mulish determination gets him going once again, and he pretty well sums up his own predicament: “I am now a man with no food, with two less fingers and one less toe than I was born with [Suzanne shouts that’s THREE lost digits]; I am a gunslinger with shells which may not fire; I am sickening from a monster’s bite and have no medicine; I have a day’s water if I’m lucky; I may be able to walk perhaps a dozen miles if I press myself to the last extremity. I am, in short, a man on the edge of everything.”
Man, Roland. That is some pathetic.
The Drawing of the Three — The Prisoner: The Door, Section 4
Roland walks for THREE hours, and thinks he’s gone about four miles along the shoreline heading north. He’s feverish, and knows the infection from his hand is spreading. The lines of infection have reached halfway to his elbow. After another mile, he drains his waterskin.
As in the desert, when he fell and saw the Way Station as in a mirage, this time he falls (for the THIRD time) and in the distance sees something standing upright on the beach. The words of the oracle come back to him, and he manages to get to his feet again, weaving toward it. It is a long and tortured walk, but finally he sees that it is a door. After falling again, he crawls to it.
The door is six and one-half feet high and seems to be made of solid ironwood, with a gold knob filigreed with the shape of the baboon. The door doesn’t lead into anything visible — Roland is able to walk around all sides of it. Written on the door in black letters is: The Prisoner. And again Roland hears the words of the oracle: “A demon has infested him. The name of the demon is HEROIN.”
Roland hears the sound of motors, and realizes it’s coming from behind the door — but of course there is nothing literally behind the door — only through the door. As he studies it, Roland notes that the door shows up when he looks at it from some angles, but not from others.
Finally, he reaches out and grasps the knob — its metal is “deadly cold” and the engraved runes “fiery hot.” He pulls the door open toward him and looks through it. “The gunslinger looked, froze, uttered the first scream of terror in his adult life, and slammed the door.”
What Constant Reader Learns. WTH? No! I’d originally planned to stop here for this week’s post but. Must. Keep. Reading.
The Drawing of the Three — The Prisoner: The Door, Section 5
What Roland had seen through the door was the earth from some high distance that he felt he could fall into. “No, you saw more,” he tells himself, sitting on the sand in front of the door. The infection lines have reached above his elbow now, headed toward his heart — and his death.
He hears Cort’s voice in his head, telling the young “maggots” that if they become true gunslingers, they’ll see more in a glance than some men see in a lifetime. So he thinks of what he saw and remembers not only the earth, but white edges as if he looked through a window. He reaches up and opens the door again.
What Constant Reader Learns: So Roland sees Earth, and recognizes it. He sees a different Earth, though (there are other worlds, Ro) — one that is lush and green with interstices of water. So maybe our Earth at a different point in time? An alternate version of our Earth existing simultaneously? I have no answers.
The Drawing of the Three — The Prisoner: The Door, Section 6
This time, he does not see the same vision of Earth through the door/window. Instead, he looks at words he almost — but can’t quite — understand. Above the words is a picture of a “horseless vehicle,” an automobile like had filled the world before it moved on. Roland remembers Jake’s recollections of his own world back when he’d been hypnotized at the Way Station, and he realizes this could be Jake’s world he’s seeing in a photograph.
Except then the photo moves further back in his vision and now he sees an aisle with seats on eiether side, which we — but not Roland — can recognize as an airplane. Some of the seats are occupied by men in strange suits and ties. None of them are armed, which seems to surprise Ro more than anything. That and the fact they’re writing on paper and reading paper. Paper is like gold in Roland’s world, and he’s angry and horrified when a guy rips off a sheet of paper, wads it up, and tosses it aside. *Cue environmental message music.*
A woman wearing pants (gasp) approaches the door and as she walks past, she looks at Roland and asks, “What would you like?”
And a voice answers, “Gin.”
Suddenly Roland understands. He isn’t looking through a door. He is looking through his own eyes, and he is the prisoner.
What Constant Reader Learns: Whoa. Okay. And here we go, into the next phase of Roland’s journey, where he’s apparently sitting on a plane headed somewhere in an alternate reality. Will he be the one addicted to heroin? Will, like the passengers of the “Lost” Oceanic Flight 815, zoom back and forth between worlds and memories? Will his injuries travel with him? Is he really in an alternative reality or is he lying on the beach having delusions from his Lobstrosity attack? Stay tuned!
That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll read “Eddie Dean,” Chapter Two of The Drawing of the Three’s first big section, “The Prisoner.”