The Drawing of the Three – The Dark Tower II (1987)
by Stephen King

Revisiting my adolescent interest in Stephen King, I find a curious parallel between my favorites of his novels and the ones he wrote while on drugs. Perhaps it was just the confluence of that period in his life with the specific time in my life when I was actively reading King, but it still seems odd to me that the barely coherent rambling of a cokehead should connect so completely to the rebellious mind of a 13-year-old.

Yet it makes sense, in a way. Stephen King is, to his core, a juvenile writer. His fascinations are juvenile. His heart is arrested in juvenilia. This isn't a bad thing, necessarily. He's written lots of good fiction with juvenile themes, characters, and imagery.

Throw cocaine into the mix, though, and what you get is self-indulgent bullshit, relentlessly rehashing his own adolescent obsessions. The Drawing of the Three appears to have been written at the height of the drug years, and it sucks.

King's Dark Tower series is held up by fans and even some critics as being his most enduring work, the one place in his bibliography where everything comes together right. Truly, these books traverse all of his major themes in an epic sweep, and they benefit from some of his tightest plotting and most suspenseful writing. The first volume is uncharasterictically great for King, free from the cloying indulgences of so much of his later stuff.

Sadly, it seems to be that King peaked as, yes, a juvenile. He wrote the first Dark Tower book at 19. The Drawing of the Three is not the work of a hungry unknown. It's the work of a best-selling author in bad need of intervention. And not just for the drugs.

This book is so utterly frustrating on every level … anyone captivated by the first book will want to find out what happens in the next episode. So much promise. But page after insipid page, Drawing of the Three seems to intentionally challenge the faithful reader as to just how much of King's diarrhea he or she is willing to slurp up.

It is suspenseful, yes, but mostly in the way that Elizabeth Smart's kidnapping was … to Elizabeth Smart. Enduring the book is an act of survival, not recreation.

In this one, King uses a neat time-travel device to bring Roland the Gunslinger to America of recent times, where he encounters the people he needs to fill out his posse and complete his quest to assail the Dark Tower. Roland finds magical doors through which to enter the minds of these characters (think Being John Malkovich) and brings them back to his world.

The first recruit is a drug addict named Eddie, and his narrative dominates the book. King uses so many cocaine metaphors in this storyline that it's impossible, in retrospect, to consider this as anything but an attempt to exorcise his own demons at the time. Roland's presence in Eddie's mind becomes something Eddie can't control, and it's as powerful as the drug addiction. So in case you missed the literal drug discussion, there's plenty of figurative layers for it to beat you over the head.

Eddie is written with all the subtlety of a comic-book sidekick, constantly cracking wise no matter how dangerous or horrifying the situation, and drawing from King's own childhood memories for life experience. It's such a cop-out to depict a supposed teenager of the 80s as being familiar with, like, B-movies from the 50s. King lazily crams his own memory into Eddie and avoids the need to actually develop the character. So, so lame.

Things get much worse when King introduces the second member of Roland's posse – Odetta Holmes, a schizophrenic black woman in a wheelchair. She alternates between a feisty, rambunctious, and violent personality and a sweet, insightful, and intelligent one – both insulting black-woman stereotypes, neither done believably or with any wisdom. Again, the "divided personality" theme comes out, and the reader is left to simply pray for daddy to stop using drugs so that he can write better books.

The most consistently irritating element is King's incorporation of Roland into modern America – this is pulled off less successfully than even the worst sci-fi time-travel story I've ever had the misfortune to read. Roland, a quick study, nevertheless fails to ascertain basic things such as the word "aspirin," which he mishears as "astin" and subsequently refers to as such for the remainder of the book, despite actually buying some aspirin at one point, the box of which would have corrected his error. It's annoying once, but becomes embarrassing to have Roland continue to make these small mistakes. King utilizes them as linguistic running gags to provide levity to the various situations, but the ultimate effect is just continuing to wipe his shit in the reader's face.

And I haven't even mentioned the lobster monsters – nicknamed "lobstrosities" – that follow the posse throughout their journey. Lobster monsters. Yeah.

The book hits its lowest point late in the book when King references The Terminator as a means of describing the robot-like affect and motion of a particular character. Your descriptive skills have bottomed out when you find yourself simply relying on your audience's familiarity with a mainstream movie instead of actually painting the picture yourself. "You know The Terminator?" King seems to ask. "Well, it was like that."

Needless to say, my intention to review the entire Dark Tower series has come to a grinding halt.

Review by Chocolate Stewart