Following Roland Deschain's confrontation with the man in black, the gunslinger descends from the Cyclopean Mountains to the Western Sea, where he is attacked by lobstrosities from the ocean. As his health wanes, he must travel the shoreline in search of three doors that will allow him access to Keystone Earth, from where he encounters people – including the drug-addict Eddie Dean, the schizophrenic Susannah Holmes, and the psychopathic Jack Mort – who are tied to his journey to the Dark Tower.
The book begins less than seven hours after the end of The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger after The Man in Black has described The Gunslinger's fate usingtarot cards. Roland wakes up on a beach, where he is suddenly attacked by a strange, lobster-like creature, which he dubs a "lobstrosity." He kills the creature but not before losing the index and middle finger of his right hand, and most of his right big toe; his untreated wounds soon become infected. Feverish and losing strength, Roland continues to trek north along the beach, where he eventually encounters three doors. Each door opens onto New York City at different periods in time (1987, 1964 and 1977, respectively) and, as Roland passes through these doors, he brings back the companions who will join him on his quest to the Dark Tower.
The first door (labeled "The Prisoner") brings Eddie Dean, a young heroinaddict who is in the process of smuggling cocaine into New York for the drug lord Enrico Balazar. Roland brings Eddie back through the door so he can hide the cocaine and get through a customs inspection, but the agents become suspicious and subject him to a lengthy interrogation and surveillance. Balazar learns of these events and kidnaps Eddie's heavily addicted, older brother Henry in order to force Eddie to deliver the drugs. After Henry dies from an accidental heroin overdose given by Balazar's men, Roland and Eddie go through the door and kill them. Eddie decides to throw his lot in with Roland, although with deep misgivings that he occasionally gives vent to in the form of angry outbursts.
The second door (labeled "The Lady of Shadows") reveals Odetta Holmes, a black woman who is active in the civil rights movement. She is wealthy and missing her legs below the knees after being pushed in front of a subway train. Odetta is completely unaware that she has an alternate personality, a violent, predatory woman named Detta Walker. Roland and Eddie are forced to contend with both of these personalities when Roland forcibly abducts Odetta's body into their world, with Detta suppressing Odetta during most of their travels. After Roland enters the third door, Detta captures Eddie and uses him as bait for the lobstrosities, hoping to force Roland to come back and return her to her own world.
Instead of revealing a new companion, the third door (labeled "The Pusher") brings a new adversary to Roland: Jack Mort, asociopath who takes sadistic pleasure in injuring and killing random strangers — and the man responsible for the head trauma that created Odetta Holmes's alternate personality, the loss of Odetta/Detta's legs, and the death of Jake Chambers. Roland arrives in Jack's body just as he is about to push Jake into traffic (the event that leads to Jake's appearance in The Gunslinger), and stops him from doing so. Under Roland's control, Jack acquires medicine and ammunition that Roland needs to survive, then jumps in front of the same subway that hit Odetta/Detta years earlier. Roland returns to his world just before impact, having made sure that Odetta/Detta sees Jack's death in order to force the two personalities to confront each other. They merge into a third, stronger personality, Susannah Dean, and she stops the lobstrosities from trying to eat Eddie.
As the group travels away from the beach, Eddie - having broken his drug addiction after a painful withdrawal - begins to fall in love with Susannah. Both owe their lives to Roland, but he is acutely aware that he may eventually need to sacrifice them to reach the Tower.
The cover artwork for the edition published by DoubleDay featured four people: Roland of Gilead, Eddie Dean, Detta/Odetta Holmes and a fourth person, an unidentified female.
|The Dark Tower series|
|Novels||I (a-b-c-d-e; f) • II • III • IV • IVS • V • VI • VII|
|Short stories||"Low Men in Yellow Coats" • "The Little Sisters of Eluria"|
|Related works||`Salem's Lot • The Stand • The Eyes of the Dragon • Insomnia|
|Comics||#1-7 • #8-12 • #13-18 • #19 • #20-25 • #26-30|
#31-35 • #36-37 • #38-42 • #43-47 • #48-52
#53-57 • #58-59 • #60 • #61-65 • #66-70
|Characters||Roland Deschain • Jake Chambers • Eddie Dean|
Susannah Holmes • Donald Callahan • Walter o'Dim