A Read of The Dark Tower

A Read of the Dark Tower: Constant Reader Tackles The Drawing of the Three, The Lady of Shadows: Chapter 1

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 the section of The Drawing of the Three called “Shuffle,” he was opening the second door on the beach while Eddie stood next to him, threatening Roland with one of his own guns.

This week, we’ll look at “Detta and Odetta,” the first chapter of the section called “The Lady of Shadows.”

The Drawing of the Three—The Lady of the Shadows, Chapter 1 (“Detta and Odetta”), Section 1

Actually, before section 1 begins, Stephen King treats us to some psychological theory—Alfred Adler’s definition of the perfect schizophrenic, then the comment: “Adler should have met Detta Walker and Odetta Holmes.” Oh boy.

Starting Section 1, we’re listening to a (very) disjointed conversation between a man named Andrew—ironically talking about the “last gunslinger” in relation to something he’d read in a newspaper—and a woman named Odetta. It takes a while, but we finally figure out he’s talking about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and that Andrew is Odetta’s limo driver.

Odetta only half listens to Andrew, but she’s apparently fond of him. She isn’t sure she agrees that JFK was the world’s last gunslinger—she thinks of him as a peacemaker. A gunslinger was more the Barry Goldwater type. This world, she thinks, is not a place for gunslingers—there are “too many shaky hands holding lighters near too many fuses. This was no world for gunslingers. If there had ever been a time for them, it had passed.”

Odetta feels a headache coming on. She’s just returned from a THREE-day trip to Oxford, Mississippi, for a civil rights protest that ended in her arrest. She admits to Andrew that she was held in a cell long enough that she wet herself. “The lesson,” she tells him, “is that you’re just an animal in a cage, no more than that…They think we are descended from the monkeys, you know.”

What Constant Reader Learns: So, the second door apparently opens onto a New York of early 1963, THREE (ha) months and two days after John F. Kennedy’s assassination—an event that made both of them cry. We learn that Andrew, the driver, is white, and Odetta is black and wealthy—she has a renovated Victorian off Central Park South.  

So, I wonder if there really was a story in the NY Daily News in February 1963 that referred to JFK as the “world’s last gunslinger”? Gonna look this up if no one knows and see what I can find.

Andrew’s analysis of how JFK was a gunslinger was interesting: “He would draw, but only if someone weaker needed him to draw, and only if there was nothing else to do…Kennedy was savvy enough to know that sometimes talking don’t do no good…Kennedy knew if it’s foaming at the mouth you have to shoot it.”

For Odetta, Roland will be a Barry Goldwater-like character. Does not compute. Head exploding.

 

The Drawing of the Three—The Lady of the Shadows, Chapter 1 (“Detta and Odetta”), Section 2

Detta Walker, unlike Odetta Holmes—has no interest in the civil rights movement. She lives in the loft of an aging apartment building in Greenwich Village. Detta and Odetta both seem isolated enough that no one notices when one is gone for days at a time—except Andrew, and I don’t get the impression he’s figured it out yet. We learn that Andrew worked for Odetta’s father before her, and he does realize she disappears occasionally—once the previous summer for THREE weeks. But when he asks her where she’s been, it confuses her. That time, she’d returned with a big bruise on her face.

What Constant Reader Learns: I’m assuming Detta Walker is the other “half” of Odetta Holmes. So I’m thinking about Roland and Eddie, possibly sharing a body, and then the two of them possessing a woman with a split personality? The mind boggles.

I’m not sure of Odetta’s age yet—I’d decided she was an older woman because Odetta is kind of an old-fashioned name, but she’s wearing a spaghetti-strapped sundress, which makes me wonder if she isn’t younger after all.

 

The Drawing of the Three—The Lady of the Shadows, Chapter 1 (“Detta and Odetta”), Section 3

Andrew stops at Odetta’s building and gets her suitcases out of the trunk—they’ve been kicked around, looks like—probably courtesy of the good ol’ boys of Oxford, Mississippi, doing to her luggage what they wanted to do to her, but didn’t dare because she was too well known.

Then he takes a wheelchair out of the trunk, and we learn that on Aug. 19, 1959, Odetta had lost her legs from the knees down.

What Constant Reader Learns: Odetta is the heiress to the Holmes Dental Industries empire and, in this world of 1963, is as well known as Medgar Evers or Martin Luther King—she’d been on the cover of Time magazine.

A musical nod to Bob Dylan, who wrote the song “Oxford Town” in response to an open invitation from Broadside magazine to write songs about the 1962 enrollment of James Meredith as the first black student at the University of Mississippi. In this section, Odetta’s driver Andrew thinks of Oxford, Mississippi, as “Oxford Town” several times.

Uh…Odetta not only has two personalities; she has no freakin’ LEGS? Okay. I’m down with that. No problems.

 

The Drawing of the Three—The Lady of the Shadows, Chapter 1 (“Detta and Odetta”), Section 4

Odetta Holmes doesn’t know about Detta Walker, and vice-versa—but Detta knows something is wrong. Where Odetta makes up imaginative things to explain her absences and what happens to her body while Detta’s in charge, Detta is not so clever (more Roland-like?). She is aware of the blanks in time.

She remembers slipping a china plate into the pocket of her dress, hiding her actions from the Blue Woman, who owned the plate. Detta remembers taking the plate to a place she knew as The Drawers, a “smoking, trash-littered hole in the earth where she had once seen a burning baby with plastic skin.” She remembers putting the plate on the ground, standing on the plate, and masturbating while wearing a party dress. And then the memory morphs into another about a round-faced, drunk frat boy, and being in a car with him outside a roadhouse while he barfed out the window and she masturbated then, too. And then the memory morphs to age 23, and she’s shoplifting a scarf at Macy’s, then getting herself off again as she rides home in a taxi.

What Constant Reader Learns: Well, I’m not sure yet whether it was Odetta or Detta who actually lost the legs, but it appeared to be a “subway incident.” Until then, Detta had only been conscious a few times.

For love of all that’s holy, Stephen King. First we have a one-sentence section. Now we have another one-sentence section, only the sentence is about twenty pages long. So Detta’s a stream-of-consciousness kind of girl, I guess, so I have to squelch the urge to write the rest of my comments on this chapter in one long sentence, but then why would I do unto others what you have done to me for the last ten pages or so since it drove me bonkers. So I won’t.

What the hell is Roland going to do with THIS piece of work called Detta/Odetta, I ask you?

 

The Drawing of the Three—The Lady of the Shadows, Chapter 1 (“Detta and Odetta”), Section 5

A bit of backstory here. Odetta had rebelled against her wealthy upbringing and social status as the first stirrings of social change began in the late 1950s. Nothing radical. Just things like taking public transportation so she wouldn’t be what the media called a “limousine liberal.”

What Constant Reader Learns: Odetta’s father died fairly recently—in 1962—THREE years after the subway incident, so now I’m thinking she’s in her mid-to-late twenties. And while Detta had been around a little before, it was the subway incident that cost Odetta “half her legs and half her mind.”

 

The Drawing of the Three—The Lady of the Shadows, Chapter 1 (“Detta and Odetta”), Section 6

More backstory. For Odetta, the civil rights struggle always seemed to come to the same phrase: I’m not movin’. She reflects on Rosa Parks’ refusal to move to the back of a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama, and that it’s easy for her to sing the protest songs when people like Rosa Parks took the stand and the risks. Odetta thinks she’d like to do something big like that, but knows she doesn’t have the courage.

What Constant Reader Learns: We learn more of Odetta’s backstory, how—like most kids—she’d never given much thought to her ancestors. “The Movement” made her more aware of her own history, but her father didn’t like to talk about his life—although we’re told Detta knows more than Odetta does.

The one time Odetta confronted her father about his unwillingness to tell her about his life before Wealth, he’d said: “I don’t talk about that part of my life, Odetta, or think about it. It would be pointless. The world has moved on since then.”

Roland, SK tells us, would have understood. So between this section, and the one on Detta, we’re seeing some bits of toughness or history in Odetta/Detta that might resonate with Roland. Can’t wait to see the meeting!

 

The Drawing of the Three—The Lady of the Shadows, Chapter 1 (“Detta and Odetta”), Section 7

We’re back on the beach with Ro and Eddie now. Roland looks through the door and sees that it’s Eddie’s world but he’s looking through the eyes of the Lady of the Shadows. Eddie, meanwhile, is freaking—still holding the gun, although his hand is trembling and he’s no longer pointing it.

A salesclerk addresses “Miss Walker”—so we’re apparently with Detta in a department store, paying cash for a white scarf with a blue edge (like the one she remembered shoplifting).

What Constant Reader Learns: We learn Eddie finds seeing through Odetta’s eyes a lot less disorienting than Roland does, because he’s accustomed to moving camera shots in movies and TV. So what Ro sees as a doorway, Eddie starts to think of as a movie screen. He recognizes New York, but an older version—and likens the sales clerk’s reaction to serving a black customer to watching “Sidney Steiger and Rod Poitier” in “In the Heat of the Night.”

So…what’s the point of Eddie transposing Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier’s names? Maybe just a schizo bit of humor from Eddie?

Odetta got out of the limo, but it’s Detta in the store?

And uh-oh, Eddie finally realizes the importance of this being New York—he can get heroin there. Only Roland stands in his way.

 

The Drawing of the Three—The Lady of the Shadows, Chapter 1 (“Detta and Odetta”), Section 8

Roland’s watching Eddie, letting him work out the situation for himself. Finally, Eddie hands Roland’s gun back to him. Eddie wonders what would have happened to the door if he’d shot Roland, and Ro figures it would have disappeared.

Eddie tells Roland he can go through by himself, but that if Roland needs to take his body through he should take Eddie with him. He doesn’t mean now, he says, but later, when the woman is alone. Roland refuses. Eddie reminds Ro that he saved his life at Balazar’s and he owes him, plus all he wants is to get a chicken dinner and a box of Dunkin Donuts.

Roland repeats no, but he’s distracted by the woman through the door, who’s moving oddly—too smoothly, and her point of view is too low. While Roland’s not paying attention, Eddie’s getting belligerant, wanting to know why Roland won’t let him go.

“Because you don’t want chicken,” Roland says. “You want to ‘fix.’”

“So what,” Eddie shrieks. He swears he’ll come back through the door with Roland, but Roland knows he can’t trust him. “Until after the Tower, at least, that part of your life is done,” he tells Eddie.

Eddie has tears in his eyes but is calm as he tells Roland they both know there will “be no after…If we don’t die on the way to your Tower we’ll sure as shit die when we get there so why are you lying to me?”

Next, Eddie threatens Roland with what’s a real possibility—once Roland’s mind goes inside the Lady, his helpless body is with Eddie, and Eddie can do whatever he wants to it. He could feed Roland to the lobstrosities, or just slit his throat.

Eddie and Roland reach a stalemate, but Roland is preoccupied by what’s going on through the door again—where Detta is apparently shoplifting some jewelry. Eddie sees it too, and he’s still screaming that he’s going to cut Roland’s throat when Ro disappears through the door. Through the door, he sees Detta’s hands stop, and he knows Roland is speaking to her. He grabs Roland’s knife and screams for Roland to watch as he brings the knife down to the throat of Ro’s inert body.

What Constant Reader Learns: Roland feels guilty when Eddie tells them he knows they’re not going to live through their Tower experience, but not enough to change his mind.

Roland fails to understand Eddie’s logic, that if he’s going to die anyway, and never be able to return to his own world, what difference does it make if he kills Roland or not. “There are great wonders ahead,” Roland tells him. “More than that, there is a quest to course upon, and a chance to redeem your honor…You could be a gunslinger. I needn’t be the last after all. It’s in you, Eddie. I see it. I feel it.”

Eddie doesn’t understand Roland’s logic, either. To him, Henry was a gunslinger in Vietnam and it ruined him. I’m not sure Eddie is too concerned with what Ro calls “redeeming his honor”—it might be a foreign concept to a rough-neighborhood kid from the 1980s. Then again, maybe he’ll “find himself” on this quest. Right now, though, Eddie can’t see it.

Roland is shocked to hear Eddie speak of Cuthbert, about whom he’s apparently talked in his sleep or during his fever. And when Eddie asks if the honor of people like Cuthbert got them any further, in the end, than Henry, Roland doesn’t answer.

Finally, after they see Detta shoplifting, Eddie laughs. “Well, you’re collecting quite a crew, Roland,” he says. “First you got your basic white junkie, and then you got your basic black shoplifter.”

I somehow doubt Roland’s going to let Eddie slit his throat—or that Eddie will really try. But we’ll find out next time.


That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll read Chapter 2 of “The Lady of the Shadows,” titled “Ringing the Changes.”

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