‘Dark Tower: The Drawing of The Three’ – I don’t fancy these characters living three doors down

<NO SPOILERS>

I can readily put a book down. In fact, I’ve thrown a few across the room for frustrating me so much.

Quickly, I gauge what a story has to offer and whether I’m going to like it. Often, the blurb is enough. Stories are just easy for me to dissect, I guess. And, I actually attribute my love of character-driven tales to this trait. For me, people open up just like books do and vice versa.

There wouldn’t be much story without a well-developed protagonist, after all. Even if you were telling a tale from the perspective of a rock, I bet you’d still naturally personify it. Thus, novels with stereotypical characters acting as mere plot devices lose my interest, fast.

I can readily put a book down. So, when I discovered the Dark Tower series, I almost believed my hands were glued to the spine.

If you crave the same depth of character from a novel, then I highly recommend reading ‘The Drawing of The Three’ of Stephen King’s ‘Dark Tower’ series. This book is the second in the series. I’ve reviewed the first instalment here: ‘The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger – Review’.

‘The Gunslinger’ was gripping, but ‘The Drawing of The Three’ felt within my grasp. Everything about it was incredibly realistic, which is particularly difficult for a science fiction/fantasy novel to achieve. And still, in parts, it felt like the book had ME by the spine. Control was inverted just like when Roland enters his hosts’ bodies. Momentarily, I became the characters with him and understood the characters through him. It was quite an interesting experience.

We left off in ‘The Gunslinger’ with little Jake foreshadowing what was to come in ‘The Drawing of The Three’. Before plunging into the abyss, he tells Roland:

“Go then – there are other worlds than these!”

And, he wasn’t lying.

In brief, this next chapter in Roland’s journey sees him stranded on a stretch of beach that appears to span forever. Here, he awaits ‘the drawing of the three’. Apparently, this beach is where he will uncover three integral characters, all of whom the Man in Black claims Roland must befriend if fate is to allow him to ever reach The Tower. Each new character is made available to him by means of a door: three, roomless doors pop up on the vacant beach and behind them sit the eyes of three very different people living in worlds entirely unfamiliar to Roland.

It’s hard to summarise this story as it’s kind of three in one; I’d have to give a lot away if I started delving into the plot. So, that’s why I’ve prefaced this review with more focus on character relations. Without spoiling anything, I’ll introduce their roles as ambiguously as I can.

The first new character that Roland meets is ‘The Prisoner’, Eddie Dean – a drug addict.

“A demon has infested him. The name of the demon is HEROIN.”

Roland enters Eddie’s New York-bound flight in 1987, where he discovers Eddie is in the middle of smuggling drugs to a very dangerous mob boss, Enrico Balazar. Roland ultimately helps him, for he is certain Eddie’s world must hold the medication that he needs to heal his wounds. Side note: the opening scene saw our strong, dynamic protagonist handicapped and fatally injured by odd ‘lobstrosities’ that worship the waves and come in with the tide at night – this was honestly one of the most exciting openings I’ve ever read.

Motives aside, the relationship that forms between Eddie and Roland throughout this whole escapade is oddly charming. Brotherly, really. For me, Eddie’s purpose appeared to be to coerce more narrative out of Roland. Eddie does a lot of the talking, but we find that this makes Roland think a lot more than he did in the previous book. Through deeper self-reflection, more of Roland is revealed. Like I said in my ‘Gunslinger’ review, we actually know very little about Roland, but I’m certain the point of the series is to work backwards by going ahead. I think the aim is to get to know him by following him on this journey.

Returning to Eddie as an individual, the more he talks about his past the worse I feel for him. I am deeply affected by Eddie and resent his brother, Henry, for leading him down this dark path. Eddie is a classic hard-shelled, soft-centered character, but the richness of his back story and the realness of his voice make him a multi-layered creation.

Much like how I felt about Jake in ‘The Gunslinger’, I was sure King was working his magic again and only allowing readers to sympathise with characters whom Roland himself deemed deserving. Roland, in many ways, approves of Eddie and sees much of the Gunslinger spirit in him. He also feels for Eddie; though, I wouldn’t call this feeling pity. Roland just understands and accepts the reasons why Eddie is as he is – deeply troubled.

Roland is the kind of character who allows people to have their past and uses it to better them. He expects others to strive for a more dignified and purposeful future and helps them achieve so. The notion of ‘ka’ guides him and he imprints this belief upon all of whom he takes under his wing. With Roland’s keen intuition at our disposal, we as readers are guided to the same level of comprehension. In fact, I felt improved as a reader from having experienced Roland and Eddie’s relationship. Their world’s and languages are so different yet they manage to find common ground, enough to survive together. Eddie’s world baffles Roland and Roland’s terrifies Eddie, but, in the end, they learn a lot from experiencing these alternate realities.

Eddie does not have a lot left to live for and coincidentally, Roland’s world offers him a fresh start and a real challenge. Eddie giving up his drug habit in order to help Roland indulge in his addiction, the Tower, may seem counterintuitive. However, I think Eddie will come out better than Roland when the story draws to a close. I think Roland appears all-knowing, but I’m sure the irony is that he’s just as lost as those he guides, if not more.

So far, I genuinely appreciate Eddie. He is stronger than he thinks and laid his past to rest in order to move on and grow as a person. Eddie is actually the most inspiring character I’ve encountered in this series, as of yet, and that’s why I love King. He manages to take really unappealing people and make them accessible.

I mean, even the side-characters in Eddie’s chapter are awfully textured. However, King entirely dictates who you will like and who you won’t. For instance, Balazar is horrible and successfully made me feel uneasy and appalled. His minions, although a few lines apiece, also have distinctive voices, but I wasn’t allowed to empathise with any of them. This just generally impressed me.

Every single character in this book feels different not only in voice but in mannerism and gesture. Far too many books fail to do this and have characters who sound exactly the same, or worse, sound just like the author. Stephen King is the master of character creation, introduction and development. There’s never a boring person in his books, even if they’d superficially appear so, should you personally pass them in the streets. His fearlessness when dissecting people, terrible people, is awe-inspiring. And, this truly became apparent to me when I encountered Detta.

The second (and a half) character who lurks behind door number two is ‘The Lady of Shadows’, Odetta and Detta. Originally born as gentle Odetta Holmes, due to a personality disorder caused by a notable head-trauma, the rather vulgar and volatile Detta Walker surfaces with every migraine.

“The perfect schizophrenic – if there was such a person – would be a man or woman not only unaware of his other persona(e), but one unaware that anything at all was amiss in his or her life.”

I really love both sides of this character because they bring something important to the Gunslinger’s quest. Well, we later find out that as one whole, as Susannah, they become necessary.

Odetta’s story, the life she is aware of, is tragic. As a rich black woman in 1964, New York, she has faced a lot of scrutiny and abuse. Nonetheless, she remains a strong and empowering activist – contrary to the self-sabotaging Detta. Unaware of Detta’s existence, Odetta fills in very prominent gaps in time and knowledge with fairly logical, ordinary stories. Whereas Detta uses the holes to dig up justifications for her nasty behaviour. She fabricates villainous schemes after convincing herself that her victims are plotting against her. Often, she tells herself how they must have physically abused or are now planning to hurt her and, thus, she lashes out. It’s clear when Odetta falls into the clutches of Detta as her thoughts become incoherent and abstract, and her language venomous and cruel.

Odetta and Detta’s back story is phenomenal. I LOVE the way King tells it. Again, he is unafraid to really delve into Detta’s animalistic sexuality and unapologetically makes a monster out of her. She is incredibly cold and merciless and determined to cause others pain, but only because of that twisted paranoia. I hated her but I kind of loved her all the same. She was honestly vile at some points but, again, I just considered that fantastic writing.

Wheel-chair bound, after a horrific accident involving being pushed from a platform into an oncoming train, Odetta naturally hinders Roland’s plans, and Detta even more so. I enjoyed King’s used of the wheelchair and how he mixed it with the flailing, uncontrollable temper of Detta. I really felt the pain radiating from a dying Roland and a heroine withdrawal shaken Eddie, as they desperately tried to wheel her across the barren beach. It really felt never-ending but in the best way possible.

Eddie and Odetta develop a really touching relationship and it’s painful for him to watch her turn into the heinous Detta every few nights. Nonetheless, I love the softer side that she brings out in him and how he then applies this when dealing with Roland, also. Eddie becomes somewhat youthful again and whole, which is nice. He appears to find his purpose in looking after people, so really this situation suits him perfectly.

The over-arching story which connects all of these characters, including little Jake from the last book, genuinely blows my mind. Again, I won’t spoil the plot but it all ties together wonderfully in the end. For, through door number three is ‘The Pusher’, Jack Mort, a sociopathic killer whom Roland quickly finds he has no time nor patience for.

“When the gunslinger entered Eddie, Eddie had experienced a moment of nausea and he had had a sense of being watched.  With Detta, Roland had been forced to come forward immediately, like it or not. She hadn’t just sensed him; in a queer way it seemed that she had been waiting for him – him or another, more frequent, visitor.

“Jack Mort didn’t feel a thing. He was too intent on the boy.”

Remember how I said King is entirely in control of which characters you give the benefit of a doubt to? Yeah, well you will immediately despise of Jack Mort. I can’t say much of Mort without revealing the ending; he is like the four walls by which these three doors are connected. Basically, he plays a pivotal role in the lives of the characters you’ll meet, thus, naturally you’ll hate him as much as Roland does.

Now, the third card that the Man in Black drew in ‘The Gunslinger’ was Death. And, Mort isn’t exactly the third to join Roland’s party on this little expedition. But, I’ll say no more than this quote:

“Death was not for him; death was become him. The Prisoner, the Lady. Death was the third. He was suddenly filled with the certainty that he himself was the third.”

It’s honestly a crazy exciting ending and I definitely don’t want to ruin it, so I’ll leave things here, for now.

Honestly, I wasn’t deeply enamoured with ‘The Gunslinger’ from start to finish, but ‘The Drawing of The Three’ was continuously engaging for me. I thought it was incredibly clever and unique. The characters were probably the biggest selling point for me, as well as the setting, actually. I’ve seen a lot of people complain that the beach was too bland, but I found that it wisely contrasted the worlds we entered through the doors. It needed to be empty. The ‘lobstocities’ were the perfect touch; they kept the uneventful horizon slightly more appealing than the shore and, thus, pushed the gang onwards. Stephen King utilises every little thing that he mentions when storytelling – nothing is unintentional or wasted. This I love.

I just, generally, thought the amount that he covered and the depth he went into in this one novel was impressive. The overall plot hasn’t really progressed but we’ve been thoroughly introduced to those who will help Roland reach The Tower. And, for a novel that is basically a bunch of introductions, it’s incredibly compelling and I loved every page of it. I don’t know how else to praise this book; I just genuinely thought it was genius. It was vivid. It was thrilling. It was unsettling. But, it was insightful. And, it was probably one of the best Sci-fi/fantasy novels I’ve ever read.

I loved it so much that I’m giving it a generous 4.5 out of 5 dog-ears. This might seem a bit extreme to some, but, honestly, this book had everything I, personally, needed. I thought it was a masterpiece as well as an oddity. And, I like perfectly strange things.

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Thank you, again, Stephen King.

 

 

 

‘The Dog Who Dared to Dream’ – A bedtime story for adults

I rarely make it past the event horizon of a Waterstones bookshop – by the hand, I’m waltzed in. That might just be me getting high on the coffee fumes, though.

Often, I visit unintentionally and without any clear idea in mind. When this happens, I think the book chooses the wizard (sorry, my geek is showing). How I’m feeling directly affects the style of story that I pick. And, I feel a lot and very sporadically, so I have a strange, mixed collection.

Readers, notoriously romantic, are far more promiscuous in this way.

Upon my most recent redirection over the threshold – tripped up by the Costa sign – I dug out £50 worth of book vouchers. YAAAASS! I’d been saving these for when the landing felt just right. This time, I hadn’t bumped into an old lady on my mad dash in (that happened), so I considered today the day.

I was in the zone and ready to spend. I had the ethereal Grimes chiming between my ears, two hours before work, a few books in mind and one or two chance cards still to play. So, I followed my emotional ear through the bookshelves and found something that just happened to strike a chord.

‘The Dog Who Dared to Dream’ by Sun-mi Hwang was an immediate shout. It looked very small, very plain, very quaint and not very important. It’s about life from the perspective of a dog. I saw it and thought ‘same’.

I wasn’t in the mood for reading anyone’s magnum opus, or the next fictional bible, and I was trying to remove myself from sequels for the time-being. A standalone, 167 pages was a decent sized slice of cake for now. Quality over quantity was my reasoning; sometimes big reads can be exhausting and ultimately disappointing.

Massive, complex and elaborate plots were also not on my agenda (for once). I needed something simple and void of ego. I didn’t want to be in analysis mode nor did I really want to be impressed. Pleasantly surprised was more of what I had in mind. I wanted to be eased into a story, to float through its plot points and to be returned, only mildly changed, to the sea. It just had to be pure and of good intention, heart-warming at most.

‘The Dog Who Dared to Dream’ was that tiny drop in the ocean for me, and I mean that as a compliment. Nothing about it was overwhelming or particularly revolutionary, but it definitely didn’t feel like a waste. Sun-mi Hwang never went on longer than she had to nor did she cut anything too short. Her story held its own and enchanted me with neutral colours. It was incredibly simplistic and morally straight. A sophisticated children’s book is how I’d put it.

Our main protagonist is Scraggly. She’s a mongrel pup, kind of the ugly duckling of the pack, and we follow her as she grows, learning all about this terrible world. Life feels fairly dull and dreary through little Scraggly’s eyes. However, more notably, it seems hopeful. Literally, nothing goes right for the pup or her owners, but something optimistic is continuously bursting from Scraggly’s actions.

It is a classic tale of dog meets man and the shared burden such a bond brings. Problems arise for both Grandpa Screecher and Scraggly, which are a direct effect of their relationship. Amidst the conflict, though, the story does cleverly highlight how similar Scraggly, as a dog, and to weary Grandpa Screecher, himself. The menacing old cat next-door said it best:

‘You dogs look down at the ground all day and can’t do anything about it. You can’t see the bigger picture.’

As dog is man’s best friend and dogs are often said to be a reflection of their owners, I considered this to be a statement about people too. There were never many direct insinuations about human character, only moments like this where you were expected to make the connection by yourself.

In fact, we only understand Grandpa through what Scraggly is around to hear and see. She is always aware when something is wrong, but she is never quite sure what. A few lines of dialogue between Scraggly and Screecher reveal how difficult Screecher’s life is: he has two estranged children that he’s desperate to reconnect with and, generally, wishes to rebuild family relations for the love of his grandson. This is the kind of life that he ironically goes on to impose upon Scraggly by separating her from her pups, over and over again. We, also, gauge that he and Grandma are fairly poor, which results in such bad decisions that deeply scar Scraggly.

It’s funny, the secrets that the humans confide in Scraggly are our only source of character building. In order to paint a picture of who everyone is and the kind of life they live, what Scraggly hears is key. I loved this and thought it was quite a unique approach. Although we only ever get snippets of what is really going on because Scraggly is just a dog, everything she gets to hear is entirely truthful and vivid. It’s surprisingly moving, in a roundabout way.

If you own a dog, you’ll understand how accurate this is. To me, it highlighted how trusting the bond between human and dog is. It’s not just the puppy who loves unconditionally; even as a shitty human we fall hard. However, throughout the story, Grandpa Screecher repeatedly breaks this trust. In this case, he’s that shitty human, treating Scraggly as just another breeder dog to make money from. Nonetheless, his love for Scraggly is always evident. He never parts with her, even though he has many chances to. But, this could just be interpreted as selfishness. I do sometimes think keeping a pet can feel like so. This was an interesting thought to be left with.

There are many things that Scraggly just has to accept in life, and the same goes for Grandpa and Grandma. Scraggly is very hopeful and somewhat dreamy, so this is bitter kibble for her to swallow. Death is a huge theme throughout, and I think it’s actually used to unite every species that appears in this book. It is the one thing we all have in common, after all. Next-door’s cat is the realist to Scraggly’s idealist and provides some of the harder hitting lines.

‘This is what life is, you know. You say goodbye, they die, and life goes on. I know how it goes. I’ve never known a dog who lived with all her pups.’

This is where the sophistication in an otherwise child-like story comes from. It’s very dark but in a deeply intuitive way, quietly stirring familiar emotions. This isn’t a heavily descriptive book; the language is as simple as it gets. So, it’s charming how well Hwang conveys her message in a few simple words. She’s truly mastered the art of showing rather than telling. Something about this style of story-telling was effortless and, honestly, just pleasant.

It reminded me of a fairy-tale, or mythology, like folklore. The tone is distinctive. It had a clear direction and it didn’t waver. In fairness, the basic English could be excused as just a result of translation – ‘The Dog Who Dared to Dream’ was originally written in Korean. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I kind of inhaled the short sentences like a breath of fresh air.

I shed a single tear at the end. I didn’t expect to cry; I’d actually been quick to accept that the emotions I’d feel would be subtle. Yet, I was pleasantly surprised. I found it odd that such a predictable and simple ending hit me at all. It was very fitting ending, though. Heart-warming like I expected and so desperately needed.

Even though I said it was the kind of read that I could switch off during, I do think it’s the kind of book you could return to and uncover a lot of symbolism. I have a strong sense that the persimmon tree, which plays an integral role in the story, has some deeply rooted history in Korean culture. I think it was linked to the folklore involving it’s used to predict the severity of winter, something which directly and indirectly takes many lives in this story. I’m not sure, I’ll have to look into it, but it was a very present tree. The persimmon was practically a character in itself.

Anyway, overall, this was a pleasing and humbling read. I actually read ‘The Dog Who Dared to Dream’ in just under 4 hours – and I probably ate in between, or got distracted by Netflix, knowing me. There was a definite feeling of wholeness when it was over. The story was nice and rounded and just nice…it was just nice. I don’t know how else to explain it.

I’m going to apply my weird rating system now and give this book a, fitting, 3.5 dog-ears out of 5. It’s in my recommend pile. If you fancy a bedtime story in your old-age, ‘The Dog Who Dared to Dream’ is the perfect way to unwind and bring it back to basics.

dog-ear rating systerm
Thank you, Sun-mi Hwang!

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger’ – Review

<NO SPOILERS>

Initially published in 1982, The Gunslinger is the first of a seven-part Steven King series called ‘The Dark Tower series’. The opening line is memorable:

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

As readers, we tail this gunslinger – Roland Deschain, the last in a long line of his kind. Our protagonist appears to resemble a cowboy and the story begins with a very Western feel; however, it’s immediately clear that there exists an eerie edge to this world. Roland chases campfire remnants across a seemingly vacant desert/wasteland, after the man in black. This is mostly in vain, but captivated by the rolling horizon and the secrets it has to be hiding, he persists. Ultimately, the gunslinger is in pursuit of the curious Dark Tower, but for reasons we’re never entirely educated in. And, it’s clear that the man in black knows something of this ambiguous ‘Tower’, thus, Roland chases him for answers.

As the story progresses, it becomes increasingly evident that this is no Western and the gunslinger is no cowboy. This novel, just like the desert, is speckled with a variety of unexpected oddities. Roland, occasionally, encounters a mysterious hut or an unnerving settlement and a variety of morally challenging dwellers. He often suspects that these are just fabrications of the man in black’s sorcery; regardless, he indulges.

However, even with all these early-on discoveries, it was a surprisingly slow read in the beginning. I’d say upon the introduction of Jake and the possibility of a multiverse, most readers will become fully invested in the journey. By the time they reach the mountains, it is impossible to put the book down. When the gunslinger finally catches up with the man in black, you will feel an acceleration of pace.

In terms of character, Jake, in particular, felt cleverly devised to tug on not only the heartstrings of readers but, also, on those of the deadpan gunslinger. He was the only character I cared for and became emotionally invested in, which mirrors Roland’s perception of events. There were other characters in the novel worthy of pity, but if Roland wasn’t feeling it then neither were you. This, I thought, was smart and skilfully executed.

Roland as a character is not fully developed in this novel, but that appears to be what the series intends to delve into. In The Gunslinger, we gain insight into his background and his lineage, but he appears only as a man with a one-track mind. Therefore, mostly, we just recognise his disconnect and accompanying drive. In fact, the way King gradually reveals parts of Roland to the reader emphasises Roland’s own lack of introspection. He’s a character that appears to bury most of his emotions, denying himself of nostalgia and basic reflection; in other words, he’s incredibly future and goal orientated. His mannerisms are noted to be that which make him an outstanding gunslinger, for not many can rationalise and accept their own brutality as well as he does.

The final chapter, part ‘5’ especially, really excited me. It was then that a true desire to read the second book was ignited. Here, the man in black has an evidently contrasting voice and outlook on life to that of Roland. His knowledge is existential in nature and transcends the boundaries within which this first novel is written. Doors are opened to big incomprehensible worlds, which the following books in the series seem set to explore. We are left with the feeling of great potential and we truly face oblivion with Roland – there is no way to predict what is coming next.

The only real criticism that I will give this book is that which I’ve seen other readers voice. Initially, I, like many, was not completely drawn in by the vague plot, rather by the strangeness of setting. However, once a few chapters in – when the plot fully formed – I was hooked. In the beginning, the book is quite hard to follow as King often throws in bits of unexplained lore. I reckon the next books expand upon most of this, but it was a little confusing in parts. Also, some might find the way the book jumps about from the past to the present disorientating, as Roland often recalls or retells the stories of his previous ventures. Personally, though, I was able to keep up with this.

Upon researching other readers’ opinions, this first novel is, apparently, the least liked of the series. I can understand why; it isn’t a flawless read. For some, it may also be unnerving in parts, but it is a Stephen King novel, after all. This personally appealed to me but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, so be warned. I must state, however, that it’s not at all a horror. In fact, in his foreword, King acknowledges influences such as The Lord of the Rings and Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Western trilogy. He deems this series his magnum opus and intended for it to be very different and much larger than anything else he had previously written. It definitely leans toward the fantasy and sci-fi genres much more than it does horror.

To end on a high, I have to rave about King’s staggering wordsmithery. His way with words kept me utterly enchanted. The images he painted in my mind were some of the clearest a book has ever shown me – particularly the more gruesome ones. I genuinely put the book down and applauded at one point. I’d say this was one of the main reasons that I kept reading. I couldn’t get enough of how each sentence created not just a picture, but a sensation that was often wrapped in emotion. It was awe-inspiring.

Characters, phrases, machines, magic, demons and philosophies that should feel out of place, instead create an aesthetically pleasing patchwork – a quilt comprised of different patterned slices of space-time fabric. King’s evocative imagery stitches each frame with threads of feeling; his words are very nearly interactive textures on the page. These peculiarities matched with great technical writing make for an engaging story.

Overall, a quotable, memorable, original, thought-provoking and influential read.

 

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I give this novel 4 dog-ears out of 5

Thank you, Mr. King.