Mon
Jul 22 2013 10:00am

A Read of the Dark Tower: Constant Reader Tackles Song of Susannah, 6th Stanza, “The Castle Allure”

Dark Tower Song of Susannah Stephen King

“Go, then. There are other worlds than these.”

—Jake Chambers

Welcome to A Read of the Dark Tower series. Join me each week as I, Constant Reader, tackle the magnum opus of Stephen King’s career for the first time. If you want to discuss in general terms or talk about these first sections, join me by commenting here.

Last week, in 1999 NYC, Susannah and Mia checked into the hotel to have their palaver…and did a lot of talking about where and how to have their palaver. They did get Black Thirteen stashed safely away, however, and learn some of what the skolpadda, or scrimshaw turtle, could do.

Song of Susannah, 6th Stanza, “The Castle Allure,” Section 1

Susannah, trusting in wherever Mia is taking her, falls out of her body, only this time instead of landing in a mental dogan, she’s in the outdoors at night, legless again and in a crude cart.

Mia calls to her, and for the first time, Susannah sees her new alter (or possibly more than alter)—tall, attractive…and white. Susannah is astounded but is somewhat amused to think how outraged Detta Walker will be with this development.

The countryside around them is barren and forbidding, and in the distance, a crimson light waxes and wanes like a pulse, “an infection announcing itself to the sky.” Susannah is entranced by it, unable to look away at first, but then—using the mental control that allows her to visualize so deeply—she forces her gaze from it. “Heart of the rose,” she thinks, then changes it: “Forge of the King.”

With great effort, Susannah manages to roll the cart toward Mia, who is standing behind a squat stone pillar—one of many that Susannah knows, in her way of knowing, are called merlons. She wonders what world this is and how close it might be to the Dark Tower. She has a feeling it’s very close.

Mia is a font of information. They’re on the allure, wall-walk of the Castle on the Abyss, “once known as the Castle Discordia.” They are deep in End-World “near the place where your quest ends, for good or for ill.”

Susannah looks around at what she supposes must have been the courtyard of the castle and catches an aroma of ancient rot. Mia tells her to ask Roland about it, because he has dealt his fair share of death. “The guilt of worlds hangs around his neck like a rotting corpse.”

Yet he’s gone too far, Mia tells her, and Roland has drawn the eye of the great. And now she carries Roland’s doom in her belly.

Mia tells Susannah to ask her questions while she can, because when the telephone rings, all the talking is done. Susannah decides to start with an easy question, asking, “If this is the Castle on the Abyss, where is the Abyss?” Mia tells her that where they are was the inner keep. Beyond that was Fedic, which was deserted a thousand or more years ago.

Beyond the deserted village of Fedic is an outer wall, she says. And beyond the outer wall is a great crack in the earth filled with monsters that are plotting to escape.

Susannah’s next question is to ask the identity of the Chap’s demon father. Mia tells her the chap is the son of a great demon, but a HUMAN one, because the demons around the Tower are all sterile. The father, she says, is Roland himself, “although he lies rotten in his grave and knows it not.” Mia has decided to name the baby Mordred—a name she pulls from Susannah’s mind, because he will kill his father.

Susannah would like to say it ain’t so, but she can’t because she remembers the eyes of the in utero baby she’d seen in the Dogan—faded gunslinger blue eyes like Roland’s.

What Constant Reader Learns: Why Susannah would be “astounded” to see that Mia is white, I don’t understand. I mean, Mia’s legs and feet are white, which Susannah well knows, so why wouldn’t the rest of her be white?

Woo-hoo! We’re in Mordor and Mount Doom is glowing red in the distance.

Does the “King” know that Mia is having this palaver? Has he given his permission? Or is she going off-script while awaiting her phone call?

Clever that while this might indeed be a physical place called End-World, it’s also a place in Susannah’s mind—and just in case Mia didn’t entirely plant the place there, we’re told that Odetta took classes in medieval history, so she’s familiar with terms like keeps and merlons and banqueting halls.

Susannah is startled (and frightened) to hear that people in the village of Fedic all died from the Red Death. She wonders if it’s the same Red Death created by Edgar Allan Poe. (“And why not?” she thinks. “Hadn’t they already wandered into—and then back out of—L. Frank Baum’s Oz? What came next? The White Rabbit and the Red Queen?”) Oh, please, tell me no.

Well, hell’s bells. *slaps self upside head* I can’t believe I didn’t consider the possibility that this would somehow be Roland’s chap. I mean, I remember commenting at the time that Roland’s little invisible demon sex with the Oracle would come back to bite him. And what’s the only other invisible demon sex we’ve encountered? Why, Susannah’s, of course. Well played, sai King, well played, damn it.

At some point, Susannah realizes that Mia, alternately shy and pushy, also is afraid. And that whether she realizes it or not, she’s brought Detta Walker out of retirement.

 

Song of Susannah, 6th Stanza, “The Castle Allure,” Section 2

Mia produces a bunch of grapes and a paper bag filled with pokeberries, much to Susannah’s surprise—but at least it beats frogs. Susannah’s kind of lost her appetite as she ponders the idea of having Roland’s child. So she wants to know how in the world it happened—because she knows it didn’t happen the usual way. “Tell me how it can be Roland’s,” she says. “And if you want me to believe anything you tell me, you better start by making me believe this.”

What Constant Reader Learns: Yeah, what she said. (Although, really, does Mia care whether or not Susannah believes her?)

 

Song of Susannah, 6th Stanza, “The Castle Allure,” Section 3

Mia’s explanation goes back to the Beams. There are six Beams that support the world, and they rose “from the Prim” by magic. When the magic left, men despaired and created machines to carry on the magical work of the Beams. Their faith failed them, and was replaced by rationalism, which ends only in death. And then the machines began to fail; the King’s Breakers are only speeding up the process of something that’s already happening because the machines are going mad.

Mia’s next revelation concerns Roland and his quest, which has become their quest. When Susannah asks if anything can prevent the fall of the Tower, Mia says not even Roland thinks that is possible—he only hopes to slow down the process at best, to satisfy his own curiosity at worst. Has he ever SAID he was going to save the Tower? Susannah thinks not. Mia says only a return of magic can save the Tower, and Roland doesn’t deal in magic but in lead.

Finally, Mia points out that for someone who was so all-fired anxious to hear about how Roland could be the Chap’s father, Susannah sure is lollygagging. (Okay, I might have put those words in her mouth.)

What Constant Reader Learns: When Susannah asks who made the beams, Mia does not know. Did God make the magic, or did the magic create God? After Mia rattles on about rationalism and deduction, sounding much like a college philosophy lecture, Susannah finally asks what that has to do with the Chap. Mia said something along the lines of “I dunno.” Wonder if sai King hadn’t figured that out yet, or if there’s a reason Mia can talk the talk but doesn’t understand it.

Susannah points out that if the Crimson King hastens the fall of the Tower, he will be killed as well. But Mia says the King has been promised his own kingdom where he would rule forever. Who made such a promise? Mia doesn’t know that, either.

 

Song of Susannah, 6th Stanza, “The Castle Allure,” Section 4

Finally, Mia tells her story. There are six Beams and twelve Guardians, one for each end of each Beam. There also are six “Demon Elementals,” one for each Beam, but twelve “Demon Aspects” because each of the elemental demons is both male and female.

So when Roland had invisible demon sex with what he thought was a succubus at the place of the Oracle, what Susannah calls “a run-of-the-mill demon sexpot,” then the demon “took the gunslinger’s seed as female, and gave it back to you as male.”

Now that Susannah knows all she needs to know, Mia’s ready to return to the hotel room. But Suse has one more question: Who is Mia, really? Is she a demon? Mia doesn’t give her a straight answer.

Finally, Susannah grows a pair and tells Mia she’s nothing but a “babysitter,” and that whoever’s running the show is not going to let her keep the Chap; they’ll get rid of Mia because they’ll want to get rid of Susannah. When Mia argues that “they” had promised she’d be able to raise the child, Susannah tries to undermine her confidence in “them.”

Susannah asks again: Who are you? And Mia says she doesn’t know.

Time for Detta Walker to come forward.

What Constant Reader Learns: Well, not to dwell on this invisible demon sex business, but I can’t help but wonder if, when Roland had invisible demon sex with the Oracle, sai King knew that it was a hermaphrodite that was, implausibly, going to impregnate the as-yet-unmet Odetta-Susannah-Detta-Mia at some point far into the future? Or if this just seemed a bizarrely interesting way to write oneself out of a corner?

 

Song of Susannah, 6th Stanza, “The Castle Allure,” Section 5

Detta (“Susannah’s other demon”) warns her that she has to think about the situation a bit more cause Mia can’t. She needs to think about how Mia seems to be pregnant and Susannah is not—is it more visualization? Or is it real?

Susannah thinks maybe once you get past the mothering instinct, there’s nothing left of Mia—she might not even exist.

Mia doesn’t seem to be able to hear this conversation word for word, but she does try to break it up and tells Susannah to get rid of “the nasty-talking one” because Detta frightens her. But no one shuts up Detta, and she points out that if Susannah can figure out how to use Mia, she could be a powerful ally—“ain’t hardly nothin’ in the world as pow’ful as a pissed-off Mommy.”

Anxious to get away from Detta, Mia says it’s time to go back, but Susannah’s thinking. She realizes Mia is part of her because she has access to all her memories, but Mia is also Other, because she knows about the demons and the Prim. She thinks maybe Mia is from the invisible world of lesser demons that lies below the Demon Elementals.

The thoughts are interrupted by the loud sound of a phone ringing, at which Mia Comes Forward and Susannah sees a rip in the world that Mia drags her through, the todash chimes ringing.

What Constant Reader Learns: There’s something perversely delicious about Detta Walker being the voice of reason in all this.

The “rip in the world” description was interesting, and for a second Susannah sees her legless self and Mia’s white self entwined on the bed in the hotel room—separate yet connected.

 

Song of Susannah, 6th Stanza, “The Castle Allure,” Section 6

As soon as they’re back in a single body, Susannah is shoved to the back and Mia takes charge. Mia picks up the phone and before the caller can speak, she asks, “Are you going to let me keep my baby? This bitch inside me says you’re not!”

There is a long pause, during which Susannah can feel Mia’s fear. Finally the caller speaks, identifying himself as Richard P. Sayre—a name Susannah recognizes, but from where? He asks Mia if she knows where to go, and Mia says the Dixie Pig. Susannah wants to speak up, but senses she’d best stay silent.

Sayre seems to know this, and asks, “Are you there, Odetta…you interfering bitch?”

He tells Mia exactly what she wants to hear—that of course she’ll be able to raise her Chap. Who else would do it? The King always keeps his promises. Sayre is laying it on so thick that Detta can’t stand it, so she leaps forward, “as quick and as nasty as a grease-burn,” and gets a very angry reaction from Sayre. He orders Mia to shut Detta up and get in control. She forces Susannah and Detta back.

Susannah knows who Mia is now—the lonely Oracle, maybe a lesser demon herself. But Sayre isn’t through with Susannah. He tells her that the Chap might not be able to fulfill his destiny of killing Roland because Roland will likely be dying in the next few minutes and—so sorry—but Eddie is already dead.

He tells her “they” knew where Roland and Eddie would end up and sent Balazar after them, and Susannah realizes the only way they could know would be if Mia shuffled through her memories and told them. She rushes forward, screaming at Mia.

What Constant Reader Learns: Richard Sayre quoting Muhammad Ali is just…weird. That was after Susannah’s time so she doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about. He also is quick to lose his temper with Mia, who is strangely cowed and subservient, as a lesser demon would be.

Which makes me think Sayre is either carelessly arrogant or not as smart as he thinks. Or just likes to hear himself talk and impress himself with his cleverness. All of which things could be a weakness to exploit, mayhap.

Susannah finally realizes why Richard Sayre’s name sounds familiar—it was from the end of Callahan’s story, in Detroit.

 

Song of Susannah, 6th Stanza, “The Castle Allure,” Section 7

Mia is unprepared for the ferocity of the new attack, especially after Detta and Susannah join energies. She drops the phone and staggers when Susannah slaps her (realizing she’s slapping herself), but eventually regains control. Susannah threatens that when she gets out of her mental prison, she’ll go back to the Dogan and disable all the switches.

By the time Mia gets back to the phone, Sayre has hung up. She makes sure the money and turtle are in her pocket, and gets ready to leave. Susannah’s still trying to appeal to her, reminding how she’d managed to delay the labor pains, trying to make her feel guilty about betraying Eddie, even telling her she’s damned.

“I don’t care,” Mia responds. “An eternity in Hell’s a fair price to pay for one look in my Chap’s face.”

And with that, Mia begins her journey to the Dixie Pig, “where terrible surgeons waited to deliver her of her equally terrible chap.”

What Constant Reader Learns: I can’t help but try to visualize this section as Susannah talks to herself, slaps herself, and even tries to choke herself. Talk about bizarre.

Okay, so bring on the Chap already. Or take us to Daddy. We need some action. However, we did get a lot of valuable information in this chapter, so the palaver was well worthwhile.


That’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll continue with our read of Dark Tower Book Six, Song of Susannah.

7 comments
Chris Nelly
1. Aeryl
I would say that King knew all along that Mordred was going to come into play, King Arthur references have been littered through this series from the start.

And you missed the big give away for what went wrong in Roland's world, but it's such a small throw away, it's easy to miss.

Mia tells Susannah that Roland's guns were made from Excalibur. THE Excalibur. Instead of returning it to the lake, ensuring a bit of magic remained in this world, instead it was melted down and turned into guns, KILLING MAGIC!!!

Reading that made me VERY glad I got into my reread last night, because I think that's the crucial moment in what happened to Roland's world.
Gentleman Farmer
2. Gentleman Farmer
@Aeryl1. Wow. That's an insightful analysis. I like that a lot. I had read that, noted it, but not connected it. I like how that makes sense.

I had thought the dying of the world started with Martyn (the serpent) entering the kingdom, the fall of Gabrielle, and the resultant murder and coverup by Roland's father, but while symbolically it works perhaps, it doesn't work as well from a chronological perspective.

Thanks!
Thomas Thatcher
3. StrongDreams
I don't believe King knew in 1978 that the oracle was anything more than a minor demon-spirit, bound to her stone circle since before recorded time. King Arthur etc. may have been retroactively inserted in the revised Gunslinger, but I don't think it was there from the beginning. (The overall story has changed in several significant ways over the years. Read the original Gunslinger some time if you can find a copy.)

@Aeryl,
The bit about Roland's guns being forged from Excalibur is revealed in the novels, but the bit about the creation of the guns being the reason for the decline of magic is news to me. Was that from the comics? (If so, I choose to remain dubious. I think the comics are Robin Furth's Dark Tower in the same way that the hobbit movies are Peter Jackson's The Hobbit/LoTR. Expansions that suffer the farther they get from the True Source.)
Chris Nelly
4. Aeryl
It's not a canon reveal, but it seems pretty common sense to me. When Mia talked about the death of the Prim in Section 3, that was one of the things she mentions. King Arthur was always a story about Christianity vs the older religions of Britain, but combine what we know about Excalibur from those stories, and how it was the focal point of the magic around Arthur, it makes sense that transforming that symbol into a gun, which represents the worst of rationality, would be the act that killed the Prim.

I don't remember if Eld was mentioned in The Gunslinger, but by Drawing the parallels were there. In addition, while The Gunslinger itself was a sparse story, King had a 100 page outline for almost everything that would happen in his Dark Tower series(it was intended from the start to be his LotR saga), so yes I believe the parallels with King Arthur and the potential of Roland's traitorous son were always intended.
Sydo Zandstra
5. Fiddler
I mean, I remember commenting at the time that Roland’s little invisible demon sex with the Oracle would come back to bite him. And what’s the only other invisible demon sex we’ve encountered? Why, Susannah’s, of course. Well played, sai King, well played, damn it.

I was waiting for you to come to this connection/realization, Suzanne. I find it one of the more interesting plot twists in the series. It's also the only plotline that carries through the whole series. (Please excuse me for that minor spoiler, but we are in the second to last book after all , and the chap hasn't even been born yet...)

While I agree with StrongDreams that King hadn't worked this plotline out yet in 1978, I do think he had it in mind when Susannah/Detta had her turn with the male aspect of the demon...

@Aeryl: that is an interesting observation!


But Sayre isn’t through with Susannah. He tells her that the Chap might not be able to fulfill his destiny of killing Roland because Roland will likely be dying in the next few minutes and—so sorry—but Eddie is already dead.

I couldn't help but picturing Richard Sayre to look like a Classic Villain after that little speech:



(Sorry if I ruined your DT experience ;-) )
Suzanne Johnson
6. Susannah Sandlin
I'm still beating myself over the head about not seeing the Baby Daddy plot twist coming. I mean, SK practically TOLD us!

As for what sai-King had decided and when, I don't have the perspective to form an opinion, as I've tried to avoid any analysis of the series in order to stay away from spoilers. Whether or not the turning of Excalibur into guns was intended by King to signal the decline of magic or not, I do think it's an insightful analysis. But the rise of science leading to a decline of magic/faith is an old, old philosophical debate and a worthy one to ponder whether it's actually tied into the King Arthur legends or not.
Gentleman Farmer
7. Narvi
@Aeryl

A 100-page draft which he then PROCEEDED TO LOSE.

I always found the writing of the Dark Tower to be an interesting example of how an author's priorities change over an entire lifetime. I don't think Sai King at thirty would have written exactly the same ending.

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