So this is King’s giant fantasy magnum opus. As you can see by clicking his tag, I did not much like the first book. However, if you read comments (they’re not spoilery) you will see many people suggesting that I give the second one a try because it doesn’t have the stuff I disliked about The Gunslinger, which was that it had a one-note tone, was overly grimdark, and the characters didn’t feel like real people and were almost universally unlikable, and did have the qualities that I like about King (varied tone, good dialogue, likable and real-feeling characters, great set-piece scenes, contains horror elements but not primarily horror) in addition to what I see as flaws but also seem to go with his books that I like best (sprawling, needs editing, all over the place, story falls apart to some degree or another toward the end.)

Upon advice, I started the second Dark Tower book while my knee was being iced at PT and was instantly sucked in. King, like Dick Francis, is excellent for when you really want to read about people having a worse day than you are. I usually have to care about characters to care about their predicaments, but this opened with such a compelling situation that I cared anyway. And then Roland got way more human and likable, and other likable and human characters were introduced. I was hooked.

I liked it SO MUCH more than The Gunslinger. In fact, if you didn’t like The Gunslinger, but you do like the sort of thing I’m about to describe, I would definitely recommend at least starting the second book. (You could even start The Gunslinger, and if you hate it you could read the summary in the front of the second book and just move on to that. If you don’t like the second book any better, give up, you probably won’t like the series.)

The tone is almost a 180 from that of The Gunslinger (the tone is all over the place, but I tend to like that), and likable characters appear THANK GOD. What it does keep from the first book is the sense of epicness, the western archetypes, and the density of references to all sorts of stuff. It and the next book are exciting, funny, and I just adored them.

I loved the characters. I loved the many brilliant set-pieces, including one sequence which I would use in a class to teach the use of suspense in which characters have to do something difficult while under extreme pressure and handicapped, with very high stakes if they screw up – I don’t think I’ve ever read anything better along those lines. It was the written equivalent of the climactic stunts in the Mission Impossible movies, only much more narratively complex. And also demonstrating how humor can add to rather than subtract from suspense.

These are HARD books to discuss without spoilers, but I want people who haven’t read them to get a sense of why they might be worth reading unspoiled. So I will use a spoiler cut for the opening scenes of book two. Read it if you’re not willing to just take a chance on it, don’t if you’ll take my word that you might really enjoy it.

Rushthatspeaks described Book Two as “it feels to me like a very specific kind of seventies movie, usually containing Pacino and/or De Niro, if you put that in a blender with high fantasy and hit frappe.” Sholio called it a hurt-comfort extravaganza. Both descriptions are absolutely correct. Those are both things that I like very much, so it is unsurprising that I adored the book. The sequel leaves behind the seventies movie aspects, and is about a sort of found family traveling around a fantasyland and having AWESOME adventures of AWESOMENESS. The fourth book concludes the hanging plotline of book three, and appears to mostly be a flashback to Roland’s past.

I have not begun the flashback, so please do not spoil me for it or anything past the part where his flashback begins in comments. But you may comment on or spoil anything up to his flashback (that is, through the first few chapters of Wizard in Glass which conclude the “Blaine” storyline and is as far as I've read.)

This cut spoils about the first fifth of The Drawing of the Three. It has minimal spoilers for The Gunslinger - really just the premise.

Roland is a gunslinger traveling Mid-World, a dying crapsack post-apocalyptic world which may be our future world or may be an alternate universe version, is in search of the Tower, which is the linchpin of the universe. I assume he thinks reaching it may enable him to save his world, but I’m now realizing that he may not have explicitly said so. It’s his quest, anyway. He has a code of honor and is the last gunslinger… or so he thinks.

Book two opens with an amazing action sequence in which Roland finds himself on a beach battling “lobstrosities,” which are lobster monsters described in King’s best blend of horror and humor – they have a funny aspect which ends up making them more scary rather than less. Roland escapes, but at the cost of two fingers of his right hand and one toe. He is then still stranded on the beach, with no supplies and the lobstrosities still lurking, AND his wounds are getting badly infected. He soon realizes that he’s going to die of blood poisoning if he doesn’t get medicine, which is not remotely available except…

…that he finds a door that opens into another world. Our world, 1980s. Roland can see through the eyes of Eddie, a heroin addict on a plane with bags of cocaine duct taped to his chest. He’s delivering this because some drug lords are holding his brother hostage.

Roland quickly finds that he can read Eddie’s mind to some extent and speak to him telepathically. Eddie is boggled by this and his glimpses into Roland’s world. Both quickly realize that Roland is dying, but Eddie’s world has medicine that could save him. (Antibiotics, which Eddie figures the drug lord would have access too.) But because Roland’s a gunslinger and very perceptive, he realizes that a stewardess is on to Eddie and there is no way Eddie’s getting off the plane without getting busted.

BUT, he also finds that he can take objects (also people) to and from their worlds. So all he needs to do is take Eddie’s coke, hold it for him until he gets past Customs, then return it so Eddie can deliver it, rescue his brother, and get Roland his antibiotics. Eddie just has to go into the plan bathroom, step into Roland’s world, give him the coke, and then Roland gives it back to him once he’s out of the airport.

Not so simple! The stewardess has already alerted the captain and the DEA. So Eddie is locked in the bathroom with DEA agents banging down the doors…. and the coke is TAPED to his chest. Roland has a knife, but his hand is useless; Eddie can’t cut easily himself. They are madly sawing at the tape with the dooor being broken down…

I want to pause here to admire the multiple ticking clocks and obstacles: Roland will be past saving if he can’t get the antibiotics within a day or so. Eddie’s brother will die if he’s late with the drugs. The tape is hard to get off and will leave marks. Roland’s hand is out of commission, Eddie’s is shaky. Roland is dying of infection, Eddie needs a fix, and the drug lords are suspicious. The DEA agents are about to break down the door. AND the lobstrosities are approaching on the beach that Roland is still stuck on, wounded and sick and unable to use his dominant hand, AND with an unknown number of his bullets ruined by sea water.

FUCKING AWESOMEST SCENE EVER WRITTEN. Except for the multiple, equally awesome scenes that are all over the next two books. I loved those two books (and the first few chapters of the fourth, which is all of the fourth I've read so no spoilers beyond that point) as much as anything I've ever read. It's not so much that it's perfect - it's not - it's that it contains so much that I happen to personally love. Those books just spoke to me, and I'm so glad to have something like that right now.

There are two more characters who show up in this book and become main characters and they are GREAT, but they are also hugely spoilery. You can discuss in comments, though. I will try to write more on them tomorrow.

Caveats: Book one is sexist. Book two is politically incorrect– I’m using that term deliberately because unlike book one, where the issues just seemed to be King’s unconscious issues, here he’s clearly thought about them, they make sense within the story, and they don’t involve sidelining the characters who are political minorities. The issues are there, but they may or may not offend you, depending on how much weight you place on context.

One of the main characters in the second two books is a black woman who has some spoilery things that on the one hand, are problematic to the max if described out of context, but there are in-story reasons that make sense. She is not sidelined by the men, and is badass and a great character, at least up to the point where I’ve read. (Though there are three male and one female protagonists, so not much interaction between women.)

The problem with explaining the issues is that they are hugely spoilery and if you can stand them, are also pretty cool to discover unspoiled. So, general warning and if you want to know, read the spoilers in comments here or in later posts I'll make. If you’re familiar with King, you can probably guess the general substance.

That being said, most of the main characters have a disability of some sort or another, and while they’re not done with total realism (for instance, the wrong label is used for a mental illness but it’s a mistake that a lot of writers made at that time) I generally liked how they worked within the story. King does not conveniently forget about them, ever. (Or yet, anyway.) He also clearly thought a lot about how the characters would deal with stuff given their disabilities – it’s a huge part of the story overall.

…and I will stop here or I will write all day. I will try to continue later, but again, feel free to discuss anything up to the flashback section of Wizard in Glass in comments.
sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)

From: [personal profile] sholio


The first few chapters of Drawing of the Three is one of the most engrossing book openings that I've ever read. Even on rereads, it still sucks me in; I'll start reading and the next thing I know, half the book is gone. It's a masterclass both in how to build suspense, and how to give the reader instant massive empathy for your characters, even if they really aren't terribly sympathetic people on the surface. I liked Roland more after a couple chapters of Drawing of the Three than I did in his ENTIRE solo book. And Eddie was pretty much insta-sympathy even though ... he's a drug dealer! And an addict! And he's really Not Doing A Good Thing Here. But you can't not feel for the guy, especially with the multiple race-against-the-clock things going on.

I also happen to have a huuuuuuge narrative kink for problem solving as a narrative trope; I think it's why I like wilderness survival stuff so much. Here is your problem, here are your assets: now solve! These books hit that kink in multiple areas (especially the ongoing issue of traveling through the post-apocalyptic wilderness with someone who has no legs; that's something I'm not sure if I've seen before) but the first half of Drawing of the Three REALLY nails it.

And besides having just about every narrative trope I love (found family, h/c, epic quest stuff, etc) these books are such an incredibly unique genre mashup. I just don't think I've ever read anything quite like them. Certainly not when they came out, and not even now, after a number of years of genre mashups becoming increasingly common -- weird west, wild-west fantasy, and wild west post-apocalyptic are definitely things, but nothing else is similar to these books, at least nothing I've run into. And aside from a few obvious genre influences, you never really get the idea that he's going for any specific thing -- most of the other genre mashups I've read were really obviously going for something in particular (steampunk fantasy murder mystery, or whatever) but these books just ... are. They're not trying to target a market niche. They're just King having fun with a bunch of genre tropes strung together into a post-apocalyptic Western quest fantasy.
sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)

From: [personal profile] sholio

... so last night I decided that I was gonna do it, I was gonna reread Drawing of the Three, only to discover that THAT is the book my husband is reading and, after it has been sitting on the nightstand for months, he took it to his parents' house with him. I probably have thousands of books in the house and THE EXACT ONE I want to read is the one that's missing. It figures.

I especially like the "Did-a-chuk?" voices of the lobstrosities and how their weird plaintiveness adds to their scariness and believability. It's so unexpected and strange and creepy.

Yeah ... this is something that King is especially good at, I think: the way he mixes incredibly concrete details into the creepy/awful and ends up with something that's too easy to relate to.

And also, his sheer persistence in the face of incredible odds, and how he takes the time to coach Eddie not just because Roland needs it, but because Eddie does too, and how much better Roland understands Eddie's psychology than Eddie understands Roland (and how bad, in an understated way, Roland feels for him about his brother.)

And his recognition of both Eddie and Susannah as gunslingers rather than thinking they're fuckups or useless burdens. That really made me like him.

The latter parts, especially! I don't remember the plot of The Gunslinger all that well now, aside from a general sense of post-apocalyptic grimdark, and he did get attached to Jake, but Jake's a kid and also the One Good Thing In Roland's World (so it almost feels narratively inevitable that Roland would get attached to him). But I think the thing about the way he relates to Eddie and Susannah that makes it so heartstring-tugging is that he really doesn't have any reason to like them, or relate to them, or want to help and support them -- they're adults who are absolute messes and are making his life markedly more complicated ... but he DOES. His empathy for them, even after all the miserable shit he's been through, makes him a whole lot more likable than when he's just this untouchable gunfighter revenge-questing his way across the world.

And how Susannah hates the harness and sometimes finds it easier to wriggle or crawl - which, again, I don't know how realistic that actually is, but it feels real given that she's been pushing her own wheelchair around for a lifetime and probably has unusually strong arms.

It definitely hit all the right notes for me -- both the fact that she really dislikes having to rely on Roland in that particular way, and that she can move around like she does without the chair. Side anecdote here: I don't think I've ever really talked much about my disability, and I'm really not disabled as an adult in any meaningful sense, but I've got a fragile-bone disorder called fibrous displasia, and as a teenager, there were a lot of times when it made it impossible for me to walk without crutches. At that time we were living in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, and the part of the cabin the family slept in was a loft that was accessible only by what I can best describe as a weird blend of stairs and ladder. There were three wide-apart steps nailed to the wall, and then a little ladder at the top of that. It was clearly unnavigable with crutches. It was hardly even navigable with legs! (I distinctly remember falling down that stupid thing on multiple occasions when I was a small child.) Anyway, even during the times when I couldn't put any weight on my left leg, I would climb it using primarily my arms, and then when I was upstairs would move around by scooting or holding onto things. So it makes perfect sense to me that she'd be able to get around that way, even under much more challenging conditions.

Anyway, I need to get my book back, so I can reread it!
Edited Date: 2016-07-15 12:06 am (UTC)
skygiants: Tory from Battlestar Galactica; text "I can't get no relief" (tory got shafted)

From: [personal profile] skygiants

So I read these books in 2005. In 2006 or so, my mom decided to read them. One day she called me up and said, without preliminaries, "WHY doesn't Susannah have legs?"

"Um?" said I.

"In the Dark Tower books! I just want to know, since she's already a woman and black and has multiple personality disorder, why does she ALSO not have legs?"

Since this was ten years ago I have no recollection of how I answered this at the time, and it almost certainly didn't involve the word 'intersectionality' because I didn't then really know how to use it. But "WHY DOESN'T SUSANNAH HAVE LEGS?" has stuck with me.

(That said, in discussing the upcoming film, my roommate brought up the fact that it's going to definitely going to significantly change some of the dynamics of subsequent films if Susannah is not the only black person in the room, and I was like "well, she is still the only woman on the team, and the only person in a wheelchair, and the only person with multiple personality disorder, so I am not worried TOO much about her not ALSO being the only black person in the room.")
torachan: (Default)

From: [personal profile] torachan

You're so lucky to be able to go directly into Wizard and Glass! I read the first three books in 9th grade and Wizard and Glass didn't come out until I was in my early 20s. D: That was one hell of a cliffhanger!
schneefink: River walking among trees, from "Safe" (Default)

From: [personal profile] schneefink

I never read the series, I stopped in the middle of the first book because I found it so boring.
The scene you described sounds pretty cool though. Is the summary at the beginning of book two all I need to know not to be terribly confused? Then I might just start there.

From: [identity profile]

I'm glad you're enjoying the sequels more!

It's been long enough since I read these that I don't remember enough to make any specific comments, but I will say that I really liked the flashback portion of Wizard and Glass. It's basically a different genre entirely, but it's one that hits my particular sweet spot.

From: [identity profile]

I just started it and am enjoying it, though of course I already know it will end in TRAGEDY. I really like Susan.

From: [identity profile]

I should add that there are a few lines -- I think at the end of the third book -- which made me notice how good King can be at writing epic sentiments in simple language, instead of Ye Olde Tolkienese.
lokifan: black Converse against a black background (Default)

From: [personal profile] lokifan

YES. "Go then, there are other worlds than these" has stayed with me long after I forgot almost everything else about those books.

From: [identity profile]

One of my worries about the film adaptation is that they will probably be forced to change the Mafia shootout scene so that Eddie is not fighting naked, and I really do think that's-- I mean, that's where Roland flips over to really considering Eddie a brother-in-arms, and while I'm sure there are other ways a filmmaker could demonstrate that, the scene in the book is so badass and unusual. Well, the casting of Roland remains perfect beyond words, so I do have hope.

I still have the habit I picked up in high school, of reciting the Gunslinger's Litany before I have to do anything really terrifying. It doesn't matter that the concepts in it are metaphorical in my case and that some of the metaphors do not so much apply to me; that sucker works.

Book three will always be so important to me. There is nothing at all like that, elsewhere. I mean, the Luddites, and the Lovecraftian weirdness beneath the train tracks, and the riddles, and the way you come out of it with fucking ZZ Top stuck in your head. Imagine having to wait six years for the resolution of the Blaine plot.

I would love to know how the film is going to do Oy.

From: [identity profile]

Idris Elba really is perfect casting. I honestly can't think of anyone better. It'll affect Detta Walker a little, but she can just hate him for being a man.

I'm not sure how faithful the films will be to the books at all - I heard vaguely ominous sounding stuff about "inspired by" - so God knows what will actually be in them. I agree Eddie fighting naked and Roland's appreciation of that is wonderful - it's an OTT scene but that's very psychologically true. (You could shoot from the back and from the waist up - just enough to show what's happening without having it all hanging out.)

In fact, one of the interesting things about the second two books is that they feel 100% psychologically true even when they are not literally psychologically right at all - like, MPD is not schizophrenia and you cannot get it by being hit over the head with a brick - but once you learn more about Detta and Odetta, they actually do make a lot of sense and feel real in context. And that makes everything feel real.

The riddles, my God, I loved the riddles so much. I did guess that Eddie's "dead baby" joke was going to be the one, but it was such a perfectly done sequence. (I would have lost my mind waiting.) Blaine and Jake's essay and the creepy Charlie book were all so amazing. And Jake's vision of the rose.

The Gunslinger's litany is wonderful. It will stick in my mind, too. Absolutely, you shoot with your mind. You kill with your heart. I shall just take "father" as metaphoric for the source of your honor and knowledge, as opposed to my literal father who was obviously not that.

Oy would be CGI, I think.

Basically I just loved everything about those books. The company, which I hope stays together since they have such lovely chemistry. Roland coming back for Jake. Lugging around Susannah's wheelchair all the goddamn time, because she's a gunslinger and part of the ka-tet and she needs it, and that's all there is to it.

I don't know if you can comment on this without spoilers, but I was really surprised when the thinny turned out to NOT be the world of The Stand, but one universe-step away. Because The Stand is our universe, and we don't have that car. At least I think that's what was going on. But Jake and Eddie and Susannah all seem to be from our world - so is our world important, or just easier for King to use as a setting?
sovay: (Claude Rains)

From: [personal profile] sovay

One of my worries about the film adaptation is that they will probably be forced to change the Mafia shootout scene so that Eddie is not fighting naked, and I really do think that's-- I mean, that's where Roland flips over to really considering Eddie a brother-in-arms, and while I'm sure there are other ways a filmmaker could demonstrate that, the scene in the book is so badass and unusual.

David Cronenberg got away with a fight scene in Eastern Promises (2007) in which Viggo Mortensen was wearing his tattoos and some sweat and bathhouse steam and that was it, so I see no reason a director should need to put clothes on Eddie.

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