The Drawing of the Three
Stephen King, read by Frank Muller
Recorded Books, 2003
I had initially started reading The Drawing of the Three but jumped over to the audiobook version when I finally decided to bite the bullet and get a subscription over at Audible.com. The Drawing of the Three continues Roland’s quest toward the Dark Tower picking up more or less immediately after the events of The Gunslinger. As a historical note I should say that when I initially started reading the Dark Tower series I actually started with The Drawing of the Three (as it was what was on my parent’s bookshelf) and read it and The Waste Lands before ever going back and reading The Gunslinger. It marks one of the few, perhaps the only instance, where I read a series out of its proper order.
There is, to my ear at least, a marked stylistic difference between The Gunslinger and The Drawing of the Three. The second novel takes a slightly more straightforward approach than The Gunslinger dropping some of the more florid touches. In truth it could just be Roland’s more direct involvement with the modern world has influenced my thoughts on the matter. Of course that isn’t to say that the prose I loved so much in The Gunslinger is gone completely but given the introduction of characters and ideas foreign to Roland’s world it is no surprise that there is a shift in style.
That intrusion of the modern world into the world of Roland occurs through a series of freestanding doors Roland encounters on the beach. The drawing of the title refers first to the tarot reading performed by the Man in Black at the end of The Gunslinger which itself referred to the individuals who Roland must pull into his quest for the Dark Tower. Each of the doors is marked by the name of the tarot card drawn by the Man in Black. In just two books King has set up a fairly complex interrelationship within the series and has started seriously playing with the “other worlds” cryptically referred by Jake at the conclusion of the first volume.
The second volume really starts to draw connections to more of King’s works; most specifically the character of Randall Flagg. For those who don’t know Flagg is the antagonist in both The Stand and Eyes of the Dragon (the two leads of which are also mentioned here). The throw away mention of Flagg here does not even hint at the role he will play in the series nor the cold dread that the initials RF engenders in some of King’s most stringent readers. The world-hopping here and the links to King’s other works are the first real steps King takes in creating a cohesive world for his fiction; at least within the framework of a larger epic. The length of the novel, especially compared to The Gunslinger, and the slight tonal shift in a strange way divide the series a little. There is a air of the mythic to The Gunslinger. It is a novel that works extraordinarily well on its own and the avenue’s of the imagination its conclusion leaves open and available for readers are actually quite impressive and rather satisfying. That King decided, felt obligated, and was allowed by his publishers to continue the work is no small thing but it left this volume, and several of the following, with a somewhat frustrating sense of incompletelness. While The Gunslinger was a novel rooted in a tale of what once was and what might me The Drawing of the Three is a novel that speaks in a more definite tone that leaves you wondering rather than imagining where the story might go. There is a certain amount of loss there that by shining a light into the shadows of Roland’s future and past that King has taken something from us. It is a small thing, but something that definitely struck me while listening to this book though not on my initial read. I suppose it is a catch-22 that effects all quality imaginative fiction familiar to everyone who wondered what those numbers meant, what was in the hatch, or just what the Dharma Initiave was really all about. The answers are never as tantalizing as the mystery is enchanting.
What really makes the audiobook version The Drawing of the Three a treat is the narration of Frank Muller. Muller, who sadly passed in 2008, was one of the first narrator’s recruited by Recorded Books when it was founded in 1979. A classically trained and veteran stage actor Muller lends a certain amount of gravitas to the reading that few manage to bring to the table. His dialects are impeccable from Eddie’s Brooklyn accent, to Odetta’s southern lilt, to Detta’s “gutter patois” there is a never a moment where you doubt it is the character speaking rather than the actor. This is a prime example of a narrator who is a master of his craft, simply amazing work. In 2001 Muller was in a motorcycle accident and as a result suffered serious head trauma and was unable to work from that point on. As such Muller’s work can only be heard on this volume, The Waste Lands, and Wizard and Glass. If you are a fan of the series, think you might be a fan of the series, or just really love audiobooks I can’t really recommend giving The Drawing of the Three a listen (or try any of Muller’s other performances).
The Drawing of the Three is one my earliest experiences with Stephen King’s fiction and my first experience with the Dark Tower series. For me it will always mark the beginning of something special. It is a novel that despite its age holds up quite well. Roland’s land is a timeless one and his visits to a New York of various past decades serves as no real barrier for enjoyment. It isn’t a perfect novel by any means but that blend of nostalgia and its place at the beginning of one of the most creatively ambitious and fascinating series I’ve ever read makes a book that will always have a place on my shelf.