In the second volume of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, The Drawing of the Three (Grant, 1987), exposition continues. The Gunslinger finds himself on the shore of an immense ocean and encounters a series of doors or portals, each to a different year in New York City. Injured by an encounter with a “lobstrosity” which crawls out of the ocean, the Gunslinger must find medicine in New York that will heal the infection he suffers. He also encounters and, essentially, recruits two individuals who become his companions on his journey to the Dark Tower. He trains them to become gunslingers, a role to which they were already destined without knowing it.
King is a macro writer. In every scene, in every encounter and conversation between characters, he seems compelled to provide details, an overabundance of them. I admire his imagination and his ingenuity. What he does in his novels, especially in the Dark Tower series, the deeply imagined alternative world of the Gunslinger, its history and mythology, its geography and wildlife, is not something most writers could manage. What I find lacking at points is some sort of filtering mechanism, an editorial willingness to control and shape his narratives more than he does. Shape, for King, is the power and impulse of the narrative. It dictates its own form. In this second volume, he moves back and forth among three main characters and their individual histories and circumstances. He moves forward, episodically, from one portal to the next. Each passage through a portal brings us to a sequence of events that, drawn together into the general mass of the novel, move us forward.
I can’t help but think that beyond the acquisition of two companions for the Gunslinger’s journey, the second volume has been marking time, getting the various components of the series in place so that the narrative can move forward in the third volume.
Does what this second volume accomplishes justify its length?