Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Dark Tower, Book VI The Song of Susannah

The Dark Tower, Book VI
The Song of Susannah
By Stephen King

The Song of Susannah picks up right where The Wolves of the Calla ends. The battle against the wolves is fought and won. The mourning for the dead and the celebration of victory has commenced.

But for Roland and his ka-tet, no larger by one with the addition of Father Donald Callahan, there is no time for celebration. Susannah, now fully possessed by the mysterious Mia, Daughter of None, has gone Todash through the doorway and has taken its key, the orb known as Black 13 with her, effectively locking the door behind her.

A religious sect in Calla Bryn Sturgis known as The Manni, assure Roland they can employ their powers to open the door and send Roland and his crew to where they need to go. They have two different immediate goals in two different worlds that need to be accomplished in short order. First, they must rescue Susannah. Second, they must secure ownership of the vacant lot in New York City to save it from the Sombra Corporation who wants to acquire it and destroy the rose that grows there – a flower upon which all of the worlds exist.

Roland and his crew pass through the door and enter two different worlds. Roland and Eddie end up in Maine 1977 where Calvin Tower, the hoarder of rare books and his friend Aaron Deepneau are hiding from Enrico Balazar, New York gangster and agent of the Sombra Corporation. Their goal is to secure ownership of that lot.

Father Callahan and Jake Chambers, along with their billy bumbler, Oy, are transported to New York, 1999 to find and save Susannah.

The tale picks up the story of Susannah, kidnapped in her own body by Mia. She appears from no where in the middle of 2nd Ave. in New York where a dark, towering building has been erected on that vacant lot. Still, the magic exists. Susannah can feel it and hear its song.

While in New York, the black Susannah sprouts a pair of white legs. This does not go unobserved by a New York businesswoman who Mia immediately robs of her shoes. They travel to a nearby park to rest and Mia and Susannah (with Detta Walker listening intently) get acquainted.

Mia explains her nature and how she came to be with child. She is the demon with whom Roland engaged in coitus to save young Jake at the Way Station in The Gunslinger. Roland delivered his seed to her. She then became the male demon Susannah (with help from her Detta personality) screwed whilst Roland and Eddie acted as midwife in Jake's rebirth into Roland’s world. While her physical being does not show it, Susannah is the carrier of Roland’s child – a child whose birth may mean the end of existence for all of the worlds of the Dark Tower.

Susannah finds in the bag that contains Black 13, a small charm in the shape of a turtle. As we learned earlier, the Turtle is one of the guardians of the Beams that support the Dark Tower. Using this talisman, Susannah is able to charm a foreign diplomat out of cash and convince him to book them a room in a hotel. There, Mia must wait for a phone call from her benefactor, Richard Sayre, with whom she struck a deal.

Susannah agreed to become mortal in exchange for being allowed to have a child. Sayre, who may be Walter, aka Randall Flagg, is to call her and tell her where to go when the time comes for delivery. Sayre has promised her that she will be allowed to raise her “chap.” More than anything, Mia wants to have her baby.

To converse properly, Mia transports them to an ancient, abandoned castle known as Castle Discordia in a dead city once known as Fedic. It was here that Susannah first lived as a mortal and was on hand to watch as the populations succumbed to the Red Death. It is also the abode of the wolves who stole the children of Calla Bryn Sturgis. As Mia tells her tale, Susannah tries to convince her that she is being duped by Sayre and the Crimson King who only want the child and plan to dispose of Mia when the child is born. Mia, now stuck with the deal, refuses to listen.

As they talk, a phone rings, bringing them back to the hotel room. Susannah is imprisoned in Mia’s mind and listens as Sayre tells her she must report to a banquet hall known as the Dixie Pig on Lexington Ave. where she is to have her baby.

Roland and Eddie arrive in a small, Maine town and are immediately ambushed by Balazar’s goons. While inhabiting Susannah’s body, Mia was privy to all of their conversations and plans which she revealed to the agents of the Crimson King. Despite overwhelming odds, Eddie and Roland are able to shoot their way out of the situation and escape across a lake in boat, guided by a sympathetic local curious about the two men.

When they arrive at the man’s cabin, he immediately inquires if they are “walk-ins.” Walk-Ins are a new phenomena in Maine, dismissed by serious people but, like UFOs, witnessed by many. Strange people and beings arrive unannounced, seemingly out of nowhere in this part of Maine. Their benefactor tells them that many of the more superstitious ascribe this phenomena to the arrival of a young, up and coming writer of horror stories who has taken up residence in nearby Lovelle, Maine. This writer is none other than the author of ‘Salem’s Lot, Stephen King.

Eddie and Roland determine that they must visit sai King, for they have a sneaking suspicion that perhaps Father Callahan isn’t the only person who might be a contrivance of writer King’s fictional prose. But first, they must locate Mr. Tower and secure ownership of the Manhattan vacant lot.

Finding Tower proves to be easy since, despite Eddie’s strong admonition to him to remain secluded, he has not done so. He has spent his days going from antique store to flea market to acquire rare books. After much haranguing and arguing with Tower, they are finally able to convince him to hand over ownership of the lot. Deepneau, a retired lawyer, draws up the agreement and it is inked. The deal is done. Eddie and Roland set off for Lovell to find Stephen King and get some answers and to warn him that he himself might be in danger because his storytelling represents a threat to the Crimson King.

They arrive at the King residence and startle the young writer who, despite an imagination that has conjured many supernatural occurrences, can not wrap his brain around one actually happening to him. He does not know Eddie, but he knows Roland. King tells Roland that he is a character in a book he wrote in college, but gave up on because he thought the story was too big and grand for him to tell successfully.

Roland hypnotizes King, and tells him he will not remember their visit and to resume writing his tale of the Dark Tower. He also plants a few plot suggestions in the author’s head he hopes will help him in his quest. He tells King that, from now on, every tale he writes will somehow be linked to the Dark Tower.

Callahan, Jake, and Oy arrive in New York, 1977 at the same destination as Susannah. They are able to find her hotel room and secure the Black 13 so that its evil might not be used against the rose that now dwells in an indoor garden of newly erected obsidian edifice that was a vacant lot in 1977. They set out for the Dixie Pig to rescue Susannah.

Mia arrives at the Dixie Pig and finds many low level vampires and Low Men (and women) feasting there, celebrating the imminent birth of their deity’s agent and possible heir. Mia now knows that she is never to possess her child. Sayre is there to greet her and takes her back to a birthing room to prepare her for delivery. She releases Susannah’s mind and body and they separate. Mia is put into birthing stirrups and Susannah is secured to a bed nearby. The labor starts. Outside, Father Callahan and young Jake prepare to enter. This is where the sixth leg of King’s long saga ends.

However, King is not quite done with his book. He includes pages from his own (fictional) journal that describes events from his life (based on reality) as he prepared to write each new chapter of the Dark Tower series. We learn of his struggles with alcohol and drugs and we learn how Roland’s unfinished tale bedeviled him. At times, he fears and loathes it, unsure of his ability to finish it. When he finally starts to write, he finds that picking up the tale is like finding old friends. As King is pondering how to get the tale going again, years after the publication of Wizard and Glass, he meets with an unfortunate accident. The famous and most prolific horror writer of all time is hit and killed as he walked along a rural Maine highway.

King kicks his story into overdrive in The Song of Susannah. The two previous books, Wizard and Glass and The Wolves of the Calla, were independent tales that advanced the plot some, but also stood as stand alone stories. This book starts the headlong rush to the end. There are no subplots. Every action taken by the characters drives them closer to their final goal of entering the Dark Tower and Roland’s goal of reaching its top. Of all the books to date, this one is the fastest paced.

As I noted earlier, it might seem hackneyed and stilted to make the later part of his magnum opus autobiographical. It would certainly be easy to do it badly and exceptionally difficult to do well. King pulls it off grandly! When I read this book for the first time upon its publication in 2004, I was riveted by this part of the story. It became abundantly clear that the Dark Tower meant more to King than just another (albeit his longest) tale. The Dark Tower was his life’s work and as it was such a large part of his life, he felt he must become part of its life.

That King was dramatically affected by his near fatal accident there can be no doubt. It brought about a marked change in his writing. The taste of his own mortality made characters in forthcoming novels such as Lisey’s Story and Duma Key much frailer than his earlier heroes. The accident and its painful recovery were most evident in his screenplay for the television miniseries Kingdom Hospital.

One can not help but believe, after reading King’s writings on himself in the end of this book, that it was this brush with death that compelled him to finish the tale. As he notes, he was constantly bothered throughout his career of cranking out a bestselling novel once a year, by the unfinished business and unresolved plot of his overarching Dark Tower story. Starting with The Wolves of the Calla, King picked up Roland’s tale and did not stop writing until it was done.

It really isn’t possible to evaluate or rate this book standing alone because, more than any other segment of the story, this one is but a chapter in a longer tale. The Gunslinger was a mere introduction to Roland and his quest. The Drawing of the Three was a vehicle to introduce new characters and tell their stories. The Waste Lands set the stage for the quest. Wizard and Glass and The Wolves of the Calla advanced the quest little, but told their own stories. The Song of Susannah is but the first half of the final push. The final chapter of the tale is yet to be told in the final book in the series entitled, The Dark Tower. There, King will wrap up almost 40 years of storytelling.

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