To Don Grant, who's taken a chance on these novels, one by one.
The Drawing of the Three is the second volume of a long tale called The Dark Tower, a tale inspired by and to some degree dependent upon Robert Browning's narrative poem "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came" (which in its turn owes a debt to King Lear).
The first volume, The Gunslinger, tells how Roland, the last gunslinger of a world which has "moved on," finally catches up with the man in black ... a sorcerer he has chased for a very long time求just how long we do not yet know. The man in black turns out to be a fellow named Walter, who falsely claimed the friendship of Roland's father in those days before the world moved on.
Roland's goal is not this half-human creature but the Dark Tower ; the man in black求and, more specifically, what the man in black knows求 is his first step on his road to that mysterious place.
Who, exactly, is Roland? What was his world like before it "moved on?" What is the Tower, and why does he pursue it? We have only fragmentary answers. Roland is a gunslinger, a kind of knight, one of those charged with holding a world Roland remembers as being "filled with love and light" as it is; to keep it from moving on.
We know that Roland was forced to an early trial of manhood after discovering that his mother had become the mistress of Marten, a much greater sorcerer than Walter (who, unknown to Roland's father, is Marten's ally); we know Marten has planned Roland's discovery, expecting Roland to fail and to be "sent West"; we know that Roland triumphs in his test.
What else do we know? That the gunslinger's world is not completely unlike our own. Artifacts such as gasoline pumps and certain songs ("Hey Jude," for instance, or the bit of doggerel that begins "Beans, beans, the musical fruit ...") have survived; so have customs and rituals oddly like those from our own romanticized view of the American west.
And there is an umbilicus which somehow connects our world to the world of the gunslinger. At a way-station on a long-deserted coach-road in a great and sterile desert, Roland meets a boy named Jake who died in our world. A boy who was, in fact, pushed from a street-corner by the ubiquitous (and iniquitous) man in black. The last thing Jake, who was on his way to school with his book-bag in one hand and his lunch-box in the other, remembers of his world求our world求is being crushed beneath the wheels of a Cadillac ... and dying.
Before reaching the man in black, Jake dies again... this time because the gunslinger, faced with the second-most agonizing choice of his life, elects to sacrifice this symbolic son. Given a choice between the Tower and child, possibly between damnation and salvation, Roland chooses the Tower.
"Go, then," Jake tells him before plunging into the abyss. "There are other worlds than these."
The final confrontation between Roland and Walter occurs in a dusty golgotha of decaying bones. The dark man tells Roland's future with a deck of Tarot cards. These cards, showing a man called The Prisoner, a woman called The Lady of Shadows, and a darker shape that is simply Death ("but not for you, gunslinger," the man in black tells him), are prophecies which become the subject of this volume ... and Roland's second step on the long and difficult path to the Dark Tower.
The Gunslinger ends with Roland sitting upon the beach of the Western Sea , watching the sunset. The man in black is dead, the gunslinger's own future course unclear; The Drawing of the Three begins on that same beach, less than seven hours later.