Of The Three:
How Gull-ible Can You Be?
Last week, I explored the zoomorphism in The Gunslinger. In the desert setting of that first book, Roland is portrayed as a hawk, a deadly bird of prey. But in the first ten pages of The Drawing of the Three, his status as Apex is called into question (did-a-chick?) almost immediately, when his fingers are devoured by the lobstrosity.
In this week’s reading, Eddie sees another creature fall prey to the lobstrosities. Looking back through the magic door, he watches as “one of the horrors reached up, lightning quick, and snared a sea-bird which happened to swoop too close to the beach” (p. 96). Sai King begins this book by showing us that the gunslinger is no hawk, but merely a common gull. In fact, when Eddie spots Roland’s bombardier’s eyes behind his own in the mirror, the first thing he sees is a seagull reflected in them (p. 35).
”He removed the guns, swung the chambers out, and removed the useless shells. He threw them away. A bird settled on the bright gleam tossed back by one of them, picked it up in its beak, then dropped it and flew away.”– The Drawing of the Three, p. 15
The lobstrosity cripples Roland when it eats his fingers, but the bite is even more severe than that, and I’m not just referring to the infection that came with it. Over the course of these first hundred pages, the gunslinger has not only been physically maimed, he’s been psychologically wounded as well.
You Made Me Bleed My Own Blood…
Up until now, we have seen Roland escape Slow Mutants, overpower the will of a sex demon, survive the desert, and fend off a bloodthirsty mob of fifty-eight religious zealots in Tull. Not only does Roland face each threat without panic, but he never seems to endure more than a few scrapes, cuts or bruises. Nothing that can’t be patched up with a swatch of cloth and walked off.
“The gunslinger was bleeding from perhaps twenty different wounds, all of them shallow except for the cut across his calf. He bound it with a strip of shirt and then straightened and examined his kill.”– The Gunslinger, p. 72
While inhabiting the western atmosphere, Roland almost seemed to be invincible, as befits the man-with-no-name archetype he is modeled after. The Man in Black even goes so far as to tell Roland he’s immortal at the end of The Gunslinger (p. 230), a statement that we already know is—in a sense—the truth.
Unfortunately, Roland has become so accustomed to being at the top of his ecosystem’s food-chain, he gets cocky and lets his guard down enough to fall asleep on the beach. But Roland has never seen the ocean before, and knows nothing about what’s lurking in the surf. The beach is as foreign to him as the fuselage of Delta Flight 901, and almost as soon as he wakes up on the sand, he learns that he isn’t quite so invincible after all.
“He had never, in all his long strange time, been so fundamentally hurt,” King writes when Roland loses his fingers, “and it had all been so unexpected” (p. 9). The pain of his wounds must be incredible and the infection must be miserable but, knowing Roland, I would wager he’s more bothered by the sudden demonstration of how fragile and vulnerable he really is. I’d set my watch and warrant on it.
Nothing Extraordinary About A Seagull At The Sea
After his injury forces him to reckon with his mortality, the infection that takes hold afterward humbles him, revealing that there is no difference between Roland, he of Gilead, and a lowly junkie like Eddie. Despite their different backgrounds, experience, and social status, they each carry a monkey on their back (heroin on Eddie’s, the Tower on Roland’s) and they are both dying of the poison in their veins.
But it’s not just that Roland can be brought as low as the likes of Eddie. What really hurts is realizing that an addict like Eddie could actually have what it takes to rise as high as him. Upon entering The Prisoner’s mind, Roland quickly sees that “there was deep steel in Eddie Dean, junkie or no junkie” (p. 41). He might be in danger of becoming fat and slow like the other passengers (or “geese”) on the plane, or of going “baked turkey” like Henry soon will, but it’s clear that if he has the raw material required to be a gunslinger.
Roland has spent decades operating under the assumption that he is the last gunslinger. He has taken on the task of saving the Tower all by himself because he’s been led to believe he’s the only one capable of doing it. In his world, gunslingers are rare nobility, descended from Arthur Eld and transformed into hardened diamonds by the immense pressure of their rigorous training. But It turns out you don’t need Arthur Eld’s blood to be a gunslinger, and you don’t need to be from Gilead.
”Neither of the things that mattered were the man’s name. One was the weakness of the addiction. The other was the steel buried inside that weakness, like a good gun sinking in quicksand.”– The Drawing of the Three, p. 45
And we know it’s not a fluke, because Eddie is not the only other gunslinger Roland encounters on the plane. I’m talking of course about the story’s first female gunslinger: not Susannah, but Jane Dorning, the Delta flight attendant. Her part in this tale is small, but it’s clear from the short time we spend with her that, despite her career in the service industry, she is a gunslinger at her core.
Jane hears the voice of her “tough old battle-axe” of an instructor, the same way that Roland hears the voice of Cort. And just as Cort taught him to see more than he sees, Jane was trained to notice and remember possible threats, no matter how small. She might only be armed with a thermos instead of a huge .45, but in the short time we spend with her, she proves she has the same steel in her that Eddie has hidden within him. The two of them are proof that Roland is not quite as special as he thought he was.
I’m not saying that Roland’s skills aren’t singular, or that gunslingers are easy to find, I know they’re not growing off trees—Eddie and Jane are only two out of a whole flight full of “geese” after all—but they certainly seem to be more common than the first book would have us believe.
“The others were fat things, for the most part, and even those who looked reasonably fit also looked open, unguarded, their faces those of spoiled and cosseted children, the faces of men who would fight—eventually—but who would whine almost endlessly before they did…”The Drawing of the Three, p. 56
Roland’s cherished ancestry has been rendered obsolete, and his delusions of grandeur have been torn down (it’s hard to go on believing you’re the Chosen One when you suddenly find out there’s more than one of you). I believe these are the wounds that have done the most damage, that this sudden awareness of his own weakness and irrelevancy is more agonizing than any of the physical pain he feels, and I bet getting your fingers bitten off by a four-foot lobster hurts like hell.
Then again, if it weren’t for this painful exposure to such hard truths, mayhaps the Ka-Tet would never come together. Mayhaps Roland would not have been able to see the steel in Eddie, if he was not so badly hurt. Had he not been given such a harsh wakeup call by the lobstrosity, had he not been forced into a choice by the severity of his wounds, he might have chosen to never open the first door at all. He might never have met Eddie or Susannah, or been reunited with Jake. He might never have had another friend. From that perspective (and this book is about nothing if not perspective—Roland’s fingers being gobbled up was the best thing that ever could have happened to him.
Share Your Thoughts
So how can we learn from what happened to Roland this week? How can we find the wisdom to know when we are the gulls, but also have the confidence to be a hawk when the situation calls for it? And in this balancing act, how do we make sure we don’t become overly confident and accidentally swoop too low to the beach, where deadly horrors lie in wait with their endless questioning?
I’d love to get a discussion going, so feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below. Or join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit. Just remember to like, retweet and upvote the posts to help other Constant Readers find the blog. As always, long days and pleasant nights. Thanks for reading!