“Go, then. There are other worlds than these.”
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, our ka-tet’s ability to go to the Door Way Cave and chase Susannah was delayed by what at first seemed an earthquake but proved to be a Beamquake, or a breaking of one of the beams supporting the Tower.
Song of Susannah, 2nd Stanza, “The Persistence of Magic,” Section 1
Despite any worries the gunslingers might have had, the Manni-folk gather the next morning at the town common. There are fewer of them than Henchick had said would show up, but enough to get the job done—if it could be done now that Black Thirteen had gone todash with Susannah.
They begin the long journey to the Doorway Cave. Henchick seems subdued, and continually stroked his long beard, which Callahan finally told Jake is the old man’s way of showing embarrassment that so few of his men had showed up. Then Callahan asks Jake if “his molly” is still alive. Before Jake could think, he almost answered sharply. But he stopped himself in time and Callahan noticed Henchick turning to look at them as if they had spoken in anger. Callahan wonders if everyone “in this damned story” has the touch except for him.
Jake scolds Callahan for trying to trick him. Callahan apologizes, but persists in asking. Jake tells him that he doesn’t want to talk about Susannah because he has the feeling that something is looking for her and it’s best if they don’t overhear them. When Callahan asks what might be looking for her, Jake touches the red kerchief Callahan wears around his neck and then he puts his hand over his left eye. Finally, Callahan gets it: the red eye, The Eye of the King.
What Jake had been about to say to Callahan is that Susannah is in terror. Very faint and very distant, Jake can hear her screaming. He hopes Eddie can’t.
What Constant Reader Learns: Obviously, Constant Reader is not up on Callahan-era slang. What the heck is a Molly? I thought it was old street slang for a prostitute, but why would Callahan refer to Susannah as a prostitute and ask Jake of all people? Perhaps I was wrong, I thought. A quick lookup on Google yielded a lot of info on the drug ecstasy and some blithering on about mules, which didn’t seem applicable. Finally, being the geekazoid that I am, who obviously has no life, I resorted to consulting the Oxford English Dictionary, which has four definitions for “molly”—a prostitute; a homosexual; a large basket for packing fruit or nuts; or a type of expansion plug to help secure a screw or bolt. So I guess the pregnant Susannah is now a large basket for packing nuts, since the chap is probably loony as a fruitcake.
There’s a two-wheeled wagon the Manni have brought along, pulled by “a pair of albino asses with freakishly long ears and fiery pink eyes.” I wish to see this, please.
Callahan is still in a semi-freakout state over the appearance of ‘Salem’s Lot, wondering if “everyone in this damned story” has the touch, and then reminding himself, “It’s not a story, it’s my life.” Or is it?
So, the Eye of Sauron is looking for Susannah, eh? Is the fact she went off-world the reason he can’t see her? Wouldn’t the presence of Black Thirteen draw him to her, or has she ditched/hidden it?
Screaming and terror can’t be good.
Song of Susannah, 2nd Stanza, “The Persistence of Magic,” Section 2
After riding for just over an hour, they finally reach the East Road where just 24 hours earlier, they had fought their battle with the wolves. But the bodies of the wolves are missing. Roland is about to ask Henchick what happened to them when he notices huge hills covered by uprooted corn plants where no hills had been the day before. So Ro realizes that the folken had spend their time after the battle dragging the wolves and their horses into piles to be burned.
Eddie spots Susannah’s battered wheelchair at the foot of the path where Jake, Benny Slightman and the Tavery twins had made their last dash to safety. Seeing it makes Eddie angry, which is not helped when Henchick tells him that anger is a useless emotion. The people put the wheelchair there to honor Susannah, and to honor him, Henchick says.
Jake is also having a tough time observing the battlefield where his friend had died the day before. While Benny’s body has been removed and the spilled blood covered, Jake can still see it in his head. Beside the spot where Benny had fallen, Jake finds one of the wolves’ death-ball things “sneetches” (Harry Potter model). He flings it with all his might toward one of the hills of wolves waiting to be burned.
The Manni form a ring around the battle site and Henchick prays to whatever his deity is, asking for safe passage to the cave, success in their endeavor and for no loss of life or sanity. He also asks that his god, or “Over,” enliven their plumb bobs and magnets and finally give them kraven—the persistence of magic.
Cantab leads four or five of the younger men to the fly the long-eared asses were pulling. Folding back the top, they reveal a number of large boxes. Jake guesses these are the plumb-bobs and magnets—really big ones. Much larger than the ones they wore around their necks. The boxes are covered with designs: stars, moons and odd geometric shapes.
Long wooden poles are unloaded from other wagons and used to carry the large boxes—or coffs, as the Manni called them. They start up the path. Jake gets choked up when they reach the place where Frank Tavery had gotten stuck, which led to the whole downfall of Benny. But Jake tells himself he’s a gunslinger now and has to do better. Gunslingers don’t cry.
Callahan catches up to Jake and asks if he’s okay, a ploy for his real question: “What’s going to happen when we get up to that cave? If we can get up to that cave?” Jake doesn’t know the answer.
What Constant Reader Learns: It strikes me as odd that Jake is feeling bitter about the fact that Eddie might get Susannah back but he’ll never get his friend Benny back because “Death is forever.” I mean, seriously, of all people, Jake should know it isn’t. I mean, theoretically, he could go to another world where a Benny was an adult man writing western novels. Of course, that Benny probably wouldn’t know him, but still.
Eddie shows great restraint in not clocking Henchick one as he delivers his sermon on the uselessness of anger.
Callahan’s role in this book so far seems to be to ask dumb questions of the other characters so we, the readers, will be able to know what’s going on.
Song of Susannah, 2nd Stanza, “The Persistence of Magic,” Section 3
The path to the cave is in passable shape after the Beamquake. A lot of loose rock had shaken down on it making the going touch for the men having to carry the coffs. But the quake has also dislodged the large boulder nearly blocking the path.
The cave is still intact as well, though the mouth to the cave has a lot of debris in front of it. What Eddie finds most disturbing about the cave, though, is its silence. It “had been damnably chatty” on his previous visits.
Where was his brother, Henry? Henry should have been bitching about how Balazar’s gentlemen had killed him and it was all Eddie’s fault. Where was his Ma, who should have been agreeing with Henry (and in equally dolorous tones)? Where was Margaret Eisenhart, complaining to Henchick, her grandfather, about how she’d been branded forgetful and then abandoned?
Not only is the cave silent, but even the door looks “stupid” and “unimportant.”
An emotional Eddie turns to Henchick and says the magic is gone, that there is nothing behind that door “but stale air and fallen rock.” When he goes on to inform Henchick that he’s a fool, the old Manni takes that as a challenge. He asks two of his men to bring the “Branni coff,” and then tells Eddie to open it.
Inside the box is a plumb-bob on a chain, looking a lot like an old-fashioned child’s toy. It is perhaps 18 inches long, made of some yellowish wood, which appears greasy and is attached to a silver chain looped around a plug in the top of the box. Henchick tells Eddie to take the plumb-bob out of the box.
When Eddie lifts the chain and bob out of the box, he finds to his surprise that it is as light as a feather. He loops the chain around the back of his fingers and it begins swinging, and he feels a humming vibration through his body. The longer the plumb-bob swings, the wider its arcs, and the heavier it gets. Eventually, it seems to dim at the height of its arc, and through it Eddie can see a magnified view of the road beyond.
He also can see that if the swinging doesn’t stop, it’s going to pull him over the cliff, so he asks Henchick to stop it—which he does with a single word. Then Henchick wants to know if Eddie has anything else to say. “Yeah, cry your pardon!” Eddie says.
What Constant Reader Learns: Okay, I didn’t have to go to the OED to see what a plumb-bob was but, really, is this the best pendulum we can come up with?
Love this: “Eddie supposed it took a few years to become fully invested in the Manni brand of extravagant weirdness.” I’m going to use extravagant weirdness in conversation this week. And also perhaps the derisive name Henchick calls Eddie: “young snivelment.”
Guess all the magic’s not gone.
Song of Susannah, 2nd Stanza, “The Persistence of Magic,” Section 4
Henchick insists on a “dry run,” bringing six of the Manni into the cave and giving three of them bobs and three of them magnets. The Branni bob, he keeps for himself. They form a ring at the mouth of the cave and join hands, each holding a bob or mag at the clasping point. Eddie hears the humming again, like an over-amped stereo speaker.
The door seems to lose its dusty “unimportant” look. The hieroglyphs once again stand out crisply. The crystal doorknob glows, outlining the rose engraved there. Eddie is beginning to believe it will be possible to open the door again after all.
Then the voices from deep within the cave once again come alive, only this time in a roaring jumble instead of one at a time. Some are recognizable, some not. Suddenly, Henchick gives a sharp nod of his head, the men unclasp hands and the voices all stop in mid-sentence. The door immediately goes back to looking stupid.
Callahan asked about the voices (because it’s his role in this book). Henchick believes either the loss of Black Thirteen has caused the change, or the Beamquake has driven the cave insane.
Roland asks Henchick if he knows what caused the ground to shake early that morning. Henchick believes it was caused by a beam letting go, which reinforces Roland’s conclusion. “Our business grows more desperate,” Roland tells him. “I’d have an end to idle talk, if it does ya.”
Henchick doesn’t much like someone else telling him to move it along, but he finally agrees that Roland and the gunslingers have performed a great service for the Manni and they will return it now if they can. He tells Roland that they may open the door and find what they want or they could all end up dead. Is that okay with Roland?
Roland thinks for a minute, finally smiles and then twirls his left hand in the air twice: Let’s go.
What Constant Reader Learns: LOL. When Henchick wants to practice with the magic before tackling the door, Eddie is impatient. “He hated all this foreplay crap.” Well, yeah. The readers agree. And I’m with Roland. Let’s get on with this already!
Song of Susannah, 2nd Stanza, “The Persistence of Magic,” Section 5
The coffs are set down carefully and their contents removed equally as carefully as the path leading to what the Manni called Kra Kammen—house of ghosts—is narrow.
Jake joins Eddie, Roland and Callahan just inside the mouth of the cave. There, Henchick places the older men of his group in a semicircle, then motions for the line of Manni waiting along the path to move up. He draws a figure explaining how they’ll form a semicircle around the door and Roland’s group will finish out the circle—except for Jake. Since he’s strong in the Touch, he’ll stand directly in front of the door and “Touch” it open.
The plan is to open the door twice—so that Eddie and Roland can go after Susannah, and then the others can go after Calvin Tower. Eddie has lost interest in Calvin Tower—he only wants to find Susannah. So the first time the door opens, he plans to rush through. “Everything else was secondary to that, including the tower.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Why, oh why, do we need to know that the Manni are allowed to cut their nails only once a year? Because it’s gross, that’s why.
It will be interesting to see our group splitting up and being in two, possibly three, places at once.
Song of Susannah, 2nd Stanza, “The Persistence of Magic,” Section 6
Henchick asks them who they want to send through the first time the door opens. Roland assumes that since Susannah was the last to use the door, the next ones to use it will go where she went. Roland isn’t wild about the idea of sending Eddie after Susannah, but then again, he’s almost sure Eddie wouldn’t obey him if he ordered him after Tower instead. Thus, Roland’s answer was that the first time the door opens, he and Eddie will go through. Henchick warns him that the door will close on its own and they better move fast when it opens.
Henchick suggests they leave their guns behind. Jake insists that he’s taking his Ruger since it came from the other side. Roland decides to take his along as well, hoping they will travel.
Then Eddie asks, “What about Oy, Jake?” It seemed to just then occur to Jake and all of them that Oy would have to be left behind and that they might very well never see him again. Jake says his goodbyes to Oy, and they both cry. Roland is reminded that while Jake is a gunslinger, true enough, he’s also still just a boy. Cantab the Manni will take Oy while Jake is gone.
Finally, it’s time. Henchick asks if they want to say a word of prayer first. Roland tells him that he prays to no god. Callahan offers a five-word prayer (“God, Thy hand, Thy will”), makes the sign of the cross, and says the holy words, “If we’re going, let’s go.”
Henchick steps up and touched the Unfound Door’s crystal knob. He speaks to Roland, saying, “I am Henchick of the Manni Kra Redpatn-a-Sturgis. We are far seers and far travelers. We are sailors on ka’s wind. Would thee travel on that wind? Thee and thine?”
Roland answers him, “Aye, to where it blows.”
Henchick loops the chain of the Branni Bob over the back of his hand. Roland immediately felt some power let loose in the cave. Henchick asked again, “How many calls would you make?”
Roland holds up the two fingers of his right hand and said, “Two, which is to say twim in Eld.”
And Henchick begins to chant.
What Constant Reader Learns: Aw, poor Jake. Benny was his friend, but Oy is even more so his friend. This was a really sad little scene, with poor little Oy crying himself.
Hm….all through this scene, Henchick keeps on grinning. I don’t trust this dude for some reason. Even Roland thinks the old Manni is not telling them something—either something he knows or something he suspects.
Song of Susannah, 2nd Stanza, “The Persistence of Magic,” Section 7
First, they all form their circle, with Jake in the middle facing the door. The plumb-bobs are out, the humming returns, the door comes to life again.
“Concentrate, boy,” Henchick tells Jake. So Jake imagines every kind of door he can—and those doors opening. But nothing happens. Henchick tells him to look for a hook to pull on, metaphysically speaking, and they keep trying.
Finally, Jake can feel the hook—it feels as if he’s being pulled apart. Oy darts forward, the door opens, Jake’s hand is torn from Roland’s…and Jake, Oy, and Callahan fly off to New York.
What Constant Reader Learns: Oops. Ka has plans of its own. Well, THIS has suddenly gotten interesting.
Song of Susannah, 2nd Stanza, “The Persistence of Magic,” Section 8
There is just time for Eddie to register that everything was going counter to the way he had wanted. He had seen and smelled New York for a brief instant. He had seen Jake and Callahan shoot through the door as if a bullet from a gun. And he had seen Oy tumbling through the door as well.
Eddie drops Cantab’s hand and makes a lunge for the open door. He is aware of an invisible hand that pushes him back and a voice that speaks, but not with words. And then the door slams shut.
Before Eddie can voice his fury, the door swings open again, this time to the smell of pine trees and the view of dazzling sunshine. Then Eddie is sucked into this brightness, and something collides with the side of his head.
“For one brief moment, he was brilliantly aware of his passage between the worlds. Then the gunfire. Then the killing.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Okey-dokey. What fresh hell is this, I ask?
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.