Of The Three:
The Lady of Shadows,
Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad
In The Gunslinger, Sai King lays the groundwork for the sequel with a premonition of the future. “Three,” the speaking demon says in the ring of stones. “This is the number of your fate” (p. 149). Later the Man in Black reinforces this so-called sooth sayer’s claims by telling Roland he will draw three companions. The gunslinger seems to take this prophecy at face value, as I always have. Until now, that is.
Three is mystic. Three stands at the heart of your quest. Another number comes later. Now the number is three.– The Speaking Demon, The Gunslinger, p. 149
Since when do we trust anything the Man in Black says? Why does Roland trust him? Why does he trust the oracle? He knows to “never trust a junkie” but he doesn’t know not to trust a sex-crazed, demon? This trip to the tower (and this is the book I’ve read the most times), I finally see that the oracle’s prediction is what Eddie would call ‘bullshit’. Three is not the magic number of this book, and it isn’t nineteen either; the magic number of book two is, well, two.
Roland wears two guns; he loses two fingers; he separates his shells into two piles; there are two Dean brothers; two men stand true against Balazar’s men in the Leaning Tower. And that doesn’t even include the events of this past week’s reading, in which Sai King doubles down on this theme of duality.
Roland & Eddie
On the surface, the conceit of the Shuffle interlude is connected to the Gunslinger’s feeling of shuffling in and out of consciousness, visualized in his mind as the literal shuffling of the Man in Black’s tarot deck. But like many of the metaphors in this epic tale, it runs much deeper than surface level.
This period of time on the beach between the first door and the second, when Eddie and the gunslinger bring each other back from the brink of death—Eddie saving Roland by taking care of him, and Roland saving Eddie by giving him someone to take care of—is the emotional equivalent of shuffling a deck of cards.
Time had been destroyed for both of them. There was no time in hell, and each of them was in his own private hell: Roland the hell of the fever and infection, Eddie the hell of withdrawal.– The Drawing of the Three, p. 177
To shuffle a deck of cards you split it into two stacks, and then fan them together so they become fully integrated. The Dean brothers, living together their whole lives, were their own deck of cards. When Henry died, half of the cards disappeared and Eddie was suddenly incomplete—just like Roland has been for a long time—and over the course of several days, they combine their cards. Eddie learns about Roland and Roland learns about Eddie—they integrate—and in doing so they help each other become whole.
Just like the dichotomy of Ka, Eddie and Roland are two sides of the same coin, two halves of the same deck of cards (the only difference is someone forgot to take the jokers out of Eddie’s half). They are both gunslingers, both sick, both junkies. By the end of the Shuffle they have gone from being individual dying men to being a duo.
Odetta & Detta
Then Roland opens the second door and we are introduced to two characters who are the very definition of duality.
There is a lot to be written about the character(s) of Odetta Holmes & Detta Walker, and I’m not qualified to write about most of it. As a typical non-disabled white male, I don’t feel especially qualified to weigh in on the portrayal of this woman of color, who uses a wheelchair and lives with D.I.D. (I would however love to hear from those perspectives, so if you’re a WoC, or a person with disabilities, or someone who experiences Plurality, I’d love to hear from you).
With all that said, it needs to be acknowledged that the depiction of Detta is horribly offensive and dehumanized, and each time I read this book I find myself cringing my way through whole paragraphs—sometimes whole pages—at a time. This is no accident, King is being purposefully problematic here. He continually points it out in the text, commenting on how Detta “talked like a cartoon black woman.” (p. 244). The racist imagery here is an intentional creative choice.
“It wasn’t even the face of a human being.”
The Drawing of the Three, p. 244
Whether that choice is legitimate, and whether it justifies its own distasteful nature, are questions I have no right to answer. That’s a discussion for a separate post. Right now we are examining the theme of pairs, which is one of the reasons King writes Detta so politically incorrect.
Just like Roland and Eddie, Odetta and Detta are two halves of a card deck that, once shuffled properly, will become Susannah. But whereas Roland and Eddie are both a mixture of good cards and bad, Odetta’s half of the deck is all high cards and Detta’s are all low. They are meant to be true foils—each the complete opposite of the other—and so they must each exist on extreme ends of a spectrum. The result is one rich, dignified, peaceful and well-educated woman, so kind and loving she’s oblivious to reality, and another woman who is cheap, crass, hostile, and quite—as our future friend Gasher would—“Trig.”
Three’s A Crowd
To be fair to the Man in Black and the speaking demon, there will be a third door before this book is over. The number three is not entirely insignificant. After all, Roland had a toe bitten off along with his two fingers, making it three appendages total that he’s lost.
But we also know that Roland doesn’t draw Jack Mort into Mid-World, and he isn’t reunited with Jake until The Wastelands, so what is the third thing that Roland draws in this book? How do we get to The Drawing of the Three.
By shuffling, of course. By taking two halves of a deck of cards and putting them together to create a third thing. By taking the hardness of Roland and shuffling in the compassion of Eddie to create the beginnings of a new Ka-Tet. By taking the empathy and goodness of Odetta and shuffling in the dangerous wits of Detta to create a new gunslinger.
One Is The Loneliest Number
Unfortunately, the problem with drawing three when the magic number is two, is you’re always left with one left over, one odd man out. For every two gunslingers you find behind magic doors, you find one Jack Mort. For every two Dean brothers there’s one dead Dean sister. For every pair of fingers eaten by a lobstrosity, you lose one toe. And poor Roland, The Sailor is that toe.
Sure, he pairs off with Eddie for the twenty pages between doors, but already Eddie is starting to fall in love with Odetta, reshuffling his cards in with hers, leaving Roland once again incomplete, a third wheel. In the next book he’ll pair up with Jake, a father-son duo, but Jake quickly forms a bond with Oy and then Roland becomes the fifth wheel. He seems incapable of being part of a pair for very long (I mean just look at his love life).
”All dead but Roland. He was the last Gunslinger, going steadily on in a world that had grown stale and sterile and empty.” – p. The Drawing of the Three, p. 195
So the speaking demon lied. Three is not the number of his fate, and neither is two. The number of Roland’s fate is one. One, all alone for all eternity, always the toe, always the odd-man out, (at least until we give him a rest and all stopped reading these books, but I think we can all agree, that just ain’t gonna happen).