“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 or preceding sections, join me by commenting here.
Last week, Eddie and Roland bade farewell to Calvin Tower and Aaron Deepneau, and headed for a visit with that no-name author Stephen King before trying to make their way back to Susannah.
Song of Susannah, 10th Stanza, “Susannah-Mio, Divided Girl of Mine,” Section 1
Walter Cronkite announces that JFK has been killed. “America’s last gunslinger is dead. O Discordia!”
What Constant Reader Learns: JFK is dead? When did that happen? I do remember Walter Cronkite vaguely.
Methinks that mahap this is going to be a discordant and perhaps mildly annoying stanza in the Song of Susannah.
Song of Susannah, 10th Stanza, “Susannah-Mio, Divided Girl of Mine,” Section 2
Mia leaves room 1919 of the Plaza-Park Hotel, “soon to be the Regal U.N. Plaza, a Sombra/North Central project, O Discordia.” Susannah is falling into a swoon and from there to “a savage dream filled with savage news.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Oh boy, I am missing Eddie and Roland and greedy old Calvin already. Where are Jake and Callahan? At least bring on Detta Walker. Have I mentioned I dislike poetry and lyrics in novels? Especially when they’re pretentiously vague?
Song of Susannah, 10th Stanza, “Susannah-Mio, Divided Girl of Mine,” Section 3
Susannah’s savage dream is filled with voices from the past, Chet Huntley on the news, mixed messages blending news from the distant past with words from Mid-World. She flashes back to Oxford, Mississippi, and the humiliation she suffered as Odetta Holmes. Voices recite those who have died, O Discordia.
In her dream as she sits in jail waiting on the bail bondsman, she hears footsteps approaching and hopes it is her bail. Instead, it’s Odetta Holmes in a pair of stolen shoes, and she’s Detta again. Odetta tells her, “No one can get you out of this but yourself, girl.” She also tells her to enjoy her legs while she can because she will lose them in an accident very soon. And her last words: “Go back to the Dogan, Susannah.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Did I mention I also don’t like reading hallucinations or extended dream sequences? So, yes, Susannah-Mio, pleeeeeeease go back to the Dogan.
Song of Susannah, 10th Stanza, “Susannah-Mio, Divided Girl of Mine,” Section 4
Susannah now hears the voice of David Brinkley reporting that Stephen King was struck and killed by a minivan while out walking. “Ah Discordia,” Brinkley says, “The world grows darker.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Ah, Discordia, an interesting development. In this version of the world, sai King did not recover from his mow-down. Which means in this version of the world, the Dark Tower saga would have never been finished and our characters would mayhap be trapped in the worlds they currently occupy.
Song of Susannah, 10th Stanza, “Susannah-Mio, Divided Girl of Mine,” Section 5
The Dreamworks Odetta points like a wraith to a bowl of blood and a dead, nonhuman baby, and repeats that only she can save herself. “The way of the gun is the way of damnation as well as salvation,” she intones. “In the end there is no difference.” When Susannah refuses to accept that, she’s told, in that case, Roland will die and the Dark Tower will fall.
Susannah decides she’s had about enough of this, so she manages to make herself “swoon” out of the jail cell. On her way out and toward the Mental Dogan of the Mind, she hears more death announcements: Alan Shepard, Lyndon Johnson. Richard Nixon. Elvis. Rock Hudson… “Roland of Gilead is dead, Eddie of New York is dead, the world is dead, the worlds, the Tower is falling, a trillion universes are merging, and all is Discordia, all is ruin, all is ended.”
What Constant Reader Learns. Grrr. Snarl. In other words, everything’s going to hell in a hand basket. I’m sort of wishing I could swoon myself into the next stanza.
If, in the end, there’s no difference between salvation and damnation, why bother to keep striving?
Song of Susannah, 10th Stanza, “Susannah-Mio, Divided Girl of Mine,” Section 6
Susannah opens her eyes and thankfully is back in the Dogan. Most of the TV screens are now not working, but one shows the nineteenth floor of the Plaza-Park Hotel and the view is moving toward the elevators, so she understands that she’s seeing through Mia’s eyes. Mia’s on her way to the Dixie Pig for a delivery, so to speak.
Susannah can see the dials she had earlier reset to slow down the onset of labor. The ones marked “Emotional Temp” and “Chap” are still where Susannah had reset them. The “Labor Force” dial is still at two, but the warning lights that had been amber when she last visited, are now red. The vibration of the machinery is growing increasingly heavy. The needle of the “Susannah-Mio” dial edges from yellow into red.
Susannah tries to adjust the dials, but can’t. Mia might not have been able to change the settings, but now that they are at her liking, she is able to lock them. From the overhead speakers comes the sound of Eddie’s garbled voice. She grabs the microphone and tries to tell him she is in 1999. Finally, his message comes through enough for her to get the gist of it: he wants her to stall for time, delay Mia as long as possible. And then she loses the signal.
On the screen, she sees Mia and remembers her earlier impression that Mia was shy—and that things in the lobby have changed a lot since they checked in.
What Constant Reader Learns: I do like hearing Eddie’s message come through, since it gives us a feel for the parallel time lines that are moving through the different “whens.” Or perhaps, after the last action-packed stanza, I’m just grasping at anything vaguely interesting. So far, in the first six sections, Susannah has watched Mia get in an elevator.
Song of Susannah, 10th Stanza, “Susannah-Mio, Divided Girl of Mine,” Section 7
Mia steps out of the elevator into the main lobby, takes one look around and attempts to get back on—but the doors have already closed. Mia asks Susannah what happened to the elevator, but Susannah isn’t inclined to help her.
Mia is on the verge of panic because the hotel lobby, unlike its quiet lull when they checked in, is now full of Japanese tourists, most with strange boxes hanging from their necks. A man thrusts a camera into Mia’s hands and gestures for her to take a photo of his family, but she freaks out, sets the camera on the floor, and flees into the gift shop.
Again, Mia asks Susannah for help and gets no response, and on some level she understands and probably wouldn’t help either if the tables were turned. Finally, Susannah says she’ll help her if she can get the truth.
Another tourist approaches and wants a picture made, so she flees the gift shop, freaks out at the people milling around the lobby, a jackhammer’s pounding outside—and Susannah asks if she wants to make a deal. When yet another tourist thrusts a camera at her, Mia agrees to talk if Susannah will find a place that’s quiet, so Susannah comes forward.
What Constant Reader Learns: Ah, nothing like a little cultural stereotyping to liven up a story that’s coasting in neutral.
Song of Susannah, 10th Stanza, “Susannah-Mio, Divided Girl of Mine,” Section 8
Susannah directs Mia into a women’s restroom, and into a stall. First, Susannah instructs herself, or Mia, to turn her bloodstained shirt inside-out to make it less noticeable. Or at least that’s what she tells Mia; really, she wants to see her legs.
Turning the shirt inside out hadn’t occurred to Mia, who’d been contemplating using the turtle to mesmerize the gift shop people into giving her a new one. She also keeps forgetting the name of the street she’s supposed to be going to—calling it Lexingworth instead of Lexington. She needs Susannah, in other words.
Susannah’s overly patient calm makes Mia nervous, and she’s afraid of Detta, who she knows is smiling. Demanding to know why, she’s told that it’s because she keeps forgetting the name of the street because, subconsciously, she doesn’t want to go to the Dixie Pig. Subconsciously, she knows those people are not going to help her. In fact, they might cut up her baby and feed it to the people there.
Finally, Mia pulls of the shirt and turns it inside out, which gives Susannah a chance to see her lower body. Now, instead of just the missing Odetta Holmes lower legs being white, the legs are white up to the upper thighs. Detta says Mia is stealing her body a bit at a time, and eventually she’ll be totally white. “Totally Mia.”
Mia, once again fully dressed, sits down on the toilet and sees the message “BANGO SKANK AWAITS THE KING” scrawled on the stall door. Mia asks Susannah who Bango Skank is, but Susannah has no idea. Mia tries to thank Suse for her help, but Susannah only wants the truth. Detta pops in to let Mia know that Roland and Eddie not only survived the ambush but have killed the men who are chasing them, which makes Mia nervous—what if the Crimson King and his followers are not as powerful as she’d been led to believe?
Then Susannah speaks up again, telling Mia that there is one more reason why she helped her—the baby inside them is her baby too, and she doesn’t want it killed. Although she protests otherwise, a part of Mia knows this is true, and that Susannah might be right about Richard Sayre and his friends at the Dixie Pig.
Susannah keeps up the pressure, telling Mia that with Black Thirteen she can escape. Susannah knows this probably isn’t true—where could the Crimson King not follow? But she’s heeding Eddie’s advice to delay Mia as long as she can.
Mia tells Susannah that she will try to explain—that there are things even she does not know, but that she will tell her what she can. Before Susannah can get the words “thank you” out of her mouth, they are falling again—through the toilet, through the floor, into another world.
What Constant Reader Learns: So apparently the Chap isn’t the only deadline, since Susannah’s turning into Mia. Wonder if that transformation would be complete, body and mind, at the point the Chap is delivered.
Awesome. Where will we go this time?
Song of Susannah, 10th Stanza, “Susannah-Mio, Divided Girl of Mine,” Section 9
There is no castle at the end of the fall this time. Instead, where they end up looks like a place straight out of a western movie—or a cross between Mejis and Tull. There is a livery stable and a hotel, as well as at least five saloons—all unoccupied except for a few malfunctioning robots and a skeleton or two here and there. Walking beside Susannah is the beautiful young white woman with the swollen belly wearing a faded plaid dress that clearly shows her pregnancy.
Farther along, at the end of the town’s single street, is a castle wall so high and imposing that it blocks out most of the sky.
After some catty convo concerning whether Detta Walker will or will not show up at this palaver (Susannah says she has no control over Detta, which does seem to be true), Susannah begins to look around. There’s a train station telling us they’re in Fedic, but what interests her more is a broken doll and a grinning mask lying on the ground—a Wolf mask. “This is where they brought them,” Susannah says. “Where the Wolves brought the children they stole from Calla Bryn Surgis.” Not just from there, Mia says, pointing to a quanset-hut-like building—the place where the operations took place. There’s a sign: North Central Positronics Ltd., Fedic Headquarters, Arc 16 Experimental Station.”
Susannah asks if it’s another Dogan, to which Mia replies that it’s “the Dogan of all Dogans.” And, she notes, that as soon as the problems caused by Susannah and her friends have died down, the King will bring more children there. “The King’s work will go forward.”
Mia’s pretty blasé about all this, which ticks Susannah off since Mia’s claiming to be all about her child. So they argue about ka for a while, and how ka seems awfully convenient as a way to excuse the bad things in the world. All the time, though, Susannah’s aware of Eddie’s request to “burn up the day.”
Finally, Mia asks if Susannah wants to hear what she has to say or not, and she does. “Then let’s sit,” Mia says, “for my legs are sorely tired.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Instead of Discordia and the castle ruins, this time we’re in a sort of Mejis/Tull western town, so perhaps another mental Dogan created by Susannah, combined with Mia’s castle?
Maybe the children are the fuel for the Crimson King’s characters, with their purity of imagination, and the Dogan of all Dogans is sai-Crimson King’s own mind. The children who are “roont” are the ones that didn’t work out, so they’re sent back into the general mind of the universe and…oh, never mind.
I must apologetically admit I found most of this long, long section not to my liking with yet more long conversations about how they’re going to have a conversation…but then not actually having the conversation. Mayhaps in the next nine sections, they will actually say something.
And…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.