BooksReviews/Commentary

Reading Dark Tower 6: Song of Susannah

The sixth “Dark Tower” book was an odd beast in that it directly connected to the prior book’s ending while its own ending provided cliffhangers that were resolved in the seventh “Dark Tower” book. Unlike the other books in the series, it was easy to envision King having written the final three books in the series as one long work in progress.

Most of the action took place in what was positioned as being ‘our’ world or the ‘real’ world, specifically in the cities of East Stoneham, Maine and New York City.

After the events in “Wolves of the Calla,” Susannah as her newly-emerged alternate personality Mia had snuck off on her own to give birth to her demon-child. The other members of the Roland’s party (his Ka-tet) split up to chase after her but the split party members ended up in different locations and timeframes.

Susannah had found a doorway in a cave that transported her to New York City in the year 1999 and she learned from her new alter-ego Mia that her unborn child had an untraditional combination of parents. While she was its mother, one of his half-fathers was the Crimson King and his other half-father was Roland. Roland’s seed had been captured and preserved during a past encounter with a woman whom he did not realize was a demon. The child that resulted from that contribution and Susannah’s encounter with the demon in “The Wastelands” was to be named Mordred. Mia would be in charge of raising it until the Crimson King came to claim him.

Susannah would find assistance in the birthing process via the vampire minions of the Crimson King at a restaurant named the Dixie Pig. Although the Dixie Pig was located in New York, it housed a doorway that allowed for access to a town named Fedic back within Roland’s world. A fair amount of her time near the end of the book involved her going into labor while at the Dixie Pig and in Fedic.

In contrast to Susannah, Roland and Eddie Dean ended up in the state of Maine circa 1977 via a transport mix-up. Their mission ended up involving the purchase of a vacant lot in New York City so that they could protect a rose on the property that had come up as being of importance in “The Wolves of the Calla.” The lot was owned by the financially failed bookstore owner Calvin Tower, a man who had first appeared in Jake’s world in “The Wastelands” and who later appeared in Father Callahan’s back-story. The rose continued to be portrayed as a secondary hub to the Dark Tower itself, a sort of proxy for the Dark Tower in ‘our’ universe.

Tower was in Maine at the time to hide from Jack Andolini, an operative of the drug lord Enrico Balazar. During a brief segment in “The Wolves of the Calla,” Eddie had used a cave doorway to help Tower avoid selling the vacant lot to Balazar’s men but Tower had since been on the run. Via some sort of connection to Mia across time and the universe, Balazar’s men were made aware of Roland and Eddie’s activities. Fortunately for the gunslingers, a local named John Cullum helped them to stay out of harm’s way and they were able to finally acquire the deed to the vacant lot from Tower.

The story then took an unexpected turn as Roland and Eddie learned that Stephen King’s home was nearby their location in Maine. They had recognized the author’s name from Father Callahan’s connection to the book “’Salem’s Lot” and the pair visited the author in what turned out to be a surreal encounter. King was shook up from by meeting Roland and Eddie with Roland eventually hypnotizing King to learn that he was some form of a medium for the Dark Tower. King was left with Roland’s implanted suggestion that he resume his work on the Dark Tower books, a pursuit that he had previously let be abandoned.

Owing to the same transportation mix-up that caused Roland and Eddie to land in Maine of 1977, Jake, Oy, and Father Callahan were the half of the ka-tet sent to New York in 1999. They set about to save Susannah from the threat of the Crimson King’s minions as well as likely dangers involving Mordred after his birth. Amid their travels, they tracked Susannah’s progress to a hotel room where they found the dark orb Black Thirteen. After resisting the orb’s effects, Jake and Father Callahan stashed it in a locker beneath the World Trade Center where it was presumed to have been buried or destroyed in the September 11, 2001 attacks on those buildings.

The book ended on a cliffhanger with Jake and Father Callahan having tracked Susannah to the Dixie Pig. Both characters were positioned to likely perish when they enter the building but a sign involving a turtle that Susannah had left for them offered a glimmer of hope. If she was able to overpower Mia and stay in some manner of control of herself, then Jake and Father Callahan might somehow rescue her and survive.

The coda to the story involving a breakdown of Stephen King’s career exploits from 1977 to 1999 was haunting and the odd decision to have King become a character in the story turned out to be rather inspired. The King-centric coda took the form of a journal and it covered many events familiar to his longtime fans. Jarringly though, it ended with his death on June 19, 1999. In the real world, that date was when King had been struck by a distracted mini-van driver and he actually survived the resulting injuries.

Unfortunately, the point involved in meeting the King character shined a spotlight onto one of this entry’s major shortcomings and that was the difficulty in following the ‘rules’ of transportation between different dimensions and places. The ‘real world’ was not truly the real world as we knew it but merely the real world from the perspective of the characters in the story. Or, were readers being told that they didn’t live in what was ultimately the ‘real world’ or perhaps the world was capable of being changed? These were interesting possibilities to consider but dangling threads that would not necessarily give much satisfaction to readers looking for explanations. Other aspects of travel involved the inability to make a repeat trip to a given time but that device was mostly in place for the threat of tension and not really an actively used mechanism.

King’s main preoccupation continued to be the characters and their grappling with unusual circumstances. This was not a bad preoccupation but the lack of clarity involving details within the story mechanics made this novel feel particularly rushed when compared to the prior works in this series.

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