A Read of The Dark Tower

A Read of the Dark Tower: Constant Reader Tackles Song of Susannah, 11th Stanza, “The Writer”

“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 or preceding sections, join me by commenting here.

Last week, Mia and Susannah were headed for a date with the Dixie Pig, and a street preacher named Harrigan heard the voice of God…or a gunslinger.

Song of Susannah, 11th Stanza, “The Writer,” Section 1

Eddie and Roland arrive in the town of Bridgton and almost immediately feel the rise in power around them. The world is crisper, “beyond reality,” Eddie thinks. Anti-todash.

Even Roland is fearful. After all these years of seeking the tower, he finds the idea of approaching the center of everything frightening. They think Stephen King might be the twin of the rose, perhaps.

Roland thinks something worse than reaching the Tower and finding the top room empty would be to find the room occupied by someone who was, as Eddie expresses it, not a God but feeble-minded and malicious.

As Eddie drives on, he thinks, “Just don’t strike me dead. I need to get back to my sweetheart, so please don’t strike me dead whoever or whatever you are.” Eddie admits aloud that he is scared, and Roland reaches over and grasps Eddie’s hand.

What Constant Reader Learns: I’m not sure how I feel about the kinder, gentler, or more fearful Roland.

Also not sure what to expect of this meeting between the characters and their author. Such a strange notion. Is sai King their creator? Or do they exist and he simply picks up their story as with a radio receiver and commits the stories to paper? Is the author of fiction a creator or a medium? Interesting idea.

 

Song of Susannah, 11th Stanza, “The Writer,” Section 2

They drive on a bit farther, and Eddie knows which unmarked road is the one they need, but first he has an idea. He’s been thinking about Moses Carver, the man who was Odetta Holmes’ godfather and in charge of the Holmes fortune—Susannah always insisted he was honest. Assuming that’s true, Eddie wonders if maybe they can find Carver and put him in charge of their business in this “real” world—the Holmes fortune should be huge by now, and Eddie’s also thinking about putting his knowledge of the future to work for them. Investing in Microsoft, for example. So Holmes Dental and Tet Corp. could be combined to make a rich-enough company to buy up Sombra Corp and North Central Positronics and prevent them from ever becoming powerful.

Even though he’s impatient to find Stephen King, Roland likes the idea of turning the purpose of these companies from the purpose of the Crimson King to their own.

And much, of course, depends on Stephen King. They agree he is real, and Roland wonders if he’s immortal. Probably not, but Eddie sums it up: Stephen King doesn’t have to be immortal; he just has to write the right stories, because some stories do live forever.

What Constant Reader Learns: Roland and Eddie do seem to rather easily have accepted the notion that they might only exist as someone else’s fictional creation. More so than Callahan. (And, excuse me, but what the heck happened to Callahan and Jake, anyway? We last saw them in, like, chapter one.) Maybe accept it too easily?

Eddie’s presence “back from the future,” it occurs to me, seems to debunk the “author as creator” theory because he has knowledge of a future that sai King doesn’t yet have. Unless it’s all a cosmic flashback or something. But if one accepts that this reality is the “real” reality….

 

Song of Susannah, 11th Stanza, “The Writer,” Section 3

The singing we’ve always associated with the rose gets louder as they approach the road to Stephen King’s house. Eddie first wonders how King manages to write with all the singing around him, but then decides that he’s the source of the singing.

What Constant Reader Learns: Roland has to stop before they reach the house and hurl. I guess that’s a natural reaction to drive to meet one’s maker in a borrowed sedan in New England.

 

Song of Susannah, 11th Stanza, “The Writer,” Section 4

They come to a ranch-style house, and Eddie’s surprised at how modest it is—although there are signs of some means, at least. There also are kids’ toys scattered around, which Eddie doesn’t much like because kids complicate things.

Eddie turns the car off and they hear the buzz of a large boat on the water behind the house. As they get out of the car, they hear a voice asking, “Tabby? That you?” From the right side of the house, they see the shadow of a man approaching, and Eddie’s filled with dread.

Stephen King appears around the corner of the house, stops dead when he sees Roland, looks terrified, does a 180, and runs. Roland takes chase.

What Constant Reader Learns: I can’t help but wonder what it would feel like to write a scene featuring one’s self? I almost did it. Almost had a couple of my characters, maybe DJ and Alex, pay a visit to my modest little house in Alabama, pulling in front in DJ’s red Pathfinder. But I figure Alex would shoot me. Which, now that I think about it, might be why Stephen King is running from Roland.

 

Song of Susannah, 11th Stanza, “The Writer,” Section 5

There is really nowhere for Stephen King to run. He actually runs into the lake until he rethinks that idea and stops. He and Roland look at each other. Stephen King puts his hands over his eyes and says, “You’re not here,” to which Roland tells him to see him well.

Roland drops to his knees and greets SK with, “Hile, Tale-Spinner,” and asks if he knows what they are. If they were real, sai King says, they’d be gunslingers and would be seeking the Dark Tower. But of course, he can’t be real because he only exists in Stephen King’s mind and in an unfinished manuscript that’s lying around somewhere.

Then sai King faints.

What Constant Reader Learns: Eddie decides that Stephen King and Roland look alike—not twins, but father and son. Which, of course, were that true, would cause me to greatly alter my mental picture of Roland. So I choose to ignore this as a bit of editor tomfoolery.

SK doesn’t know who Eddie is, so we’re visiting him at an early point in his career when he’d started writing The Gunslinger but hasn’t thought about him in years.

 

Song of Susannah, 11th Stanza, “The Writer,” Section 6

Eddie follows King into the master bedroom as King changes into dry clothes. Eddie’s feeling kind of left out that the author doesn’t know him. It means he hasn’t written him yet, so he isn’t safe.

Eddie has a question he desperately wants to ask King before they rejoin Roland for the real palaver. Has he heard of Co-op City and, if so, where is it? Why it’s in Brooklyn, King says. Quite the chatterbox, King also says he doesn’t much like Roland, which is partly why he quit writing the story. He’d had big plans for that story, but then he didn’t like Roland, plus he lost the outline he’d done.

What Constant Reader Learns: Again, if Stephen King doesn’t know Eddie, doesn’t that imply that the characters exist in another world and the author is more of a channeler of stories than a creator? A medium instead of a god? Although Eddie’s mistake about Co-Op City is King’s mistake. Hm….

 

Song of Susannah, 11th Stanza, “The Writer,” Section 7

While Eddie’s off talking to Stephen King, Roland’s figuring out how to make coffee. When they rejoin him, King says he’s not a coffee drinker—instead, he’ll have a beer. He drains half the can in one long pull.

At Roland’s inquiry about his wife and kids, King says Tabitha is visiting her parents in Bangor, picking up their daughter and accompied by their youngest son. King is due to pick up his son Joe shortly. When Eddie mentions ’Salem’s Lot, King drains the rest of his first beer and mentions he’d seen smoke on the other side of the lake and wonders if it has to do with Roland and Eddie. “He’s writing it, Roland,” Eddie says. “He knows.” King looks frightened.

After all, he points out, what usually follows “he knows too much” is “so we’ll have to kill him.” Roland assures him that killing him is the last thing they want to happen.

King thinks he’ll have another beer.

What Constant Reader Learns: Wonder if Tabitha King forbade him to write her and the kids directly into the story. LOL. I would have.

So, two guys show up at your house packing guns. You figure at least one of them is a character from a novel you never finished, which freaks you out enough to faint. But by the time you regain consciousness, you invite them in for a palaver. Drink a few beers. Tell them the name of your wife and kids….Uh, no. Of course I guess it was a kinder, gentler time but still…no.

 

Song of Susannah, 11th Stanza, “The Writer,” Section 8

Roland asks King to tell them the story as he wrote it. Eddie notices a dusty black shadow surrounding King. Sort of kind the edge of darkness he’s seen while they were todash, although Eddie doesn’t think it is the same darkness.

King says he’s not very good at telling stories—it’s why he writes them. He suggests maybe he can find the manuscript in his boxes of “busted” stories, and they can read while he goes to pick up his son. But he can tell them the opening line of the story, he tells him—it was perhaps the best opening line he’d ever written: “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

Is the man in black’s name Walter, Roland asks. Which freaks King out again, so he has some more beer and agrees to give them the “Reader’s Digest Condensed Version” of the story.

What Constant Reader Learns: Eddie finds himself listening to Stephen King talk and hears bits of Roland in his speech patterns, and maybe himself. It’s actually kind of cool that SK is either consciously or unconsciously picking up some Calla-speak as well.

 

Song of Susannah, 11th Stanza, “The Writer,” Section 9

Roland listens to King as if worlds depend on it, which they might well do. He tells the story of The Gunslinger, beginning with the race across the desert and ending with Roland awakening much older after his final palaver with the man in black and reaching the shores of the Western Sea.

King finds the most interesting thing in the story is that its events move in reverse, which Roland finds disturbing because, for him, the story was always moving forward.

Roland hangs his head when King gets to the part of the story where he lets Jake die, but SK tells him he shouldn’t—he, Stephen King, was the one who made that happen. But Roland isn’t so sure of that.

At that point, King says, he quit the story. It had gotten too big for him, and Roland had become a problem. He explains that when he began writing, Roland’s character was a version of director Sergio Leone’s Man with No Name—as a spaghetti western fan, Eddie recognizes this. But Roland’s character changed, King says. He got where he wasn’t sure if Roland was a hero or an antihero. And when Roland let Jake die, King didn’t want to keep writing his story.

Eddie points out that a few minutes earlier, King had told Roland that he was the one who made that happen. “I lied,” King said.

What Constant Reader Learns: Interesting that Roland had forgotten about Farmer Brown and Zoltan until SK reminds him. Zoltan was named after a folk singer King knew in college, and Tull was named after the band Jethro Tull. Eddie asks about ZZ Top, but of course King isn’t familiar with them because they’re not around yet.

Over the past few years, Constant Reader has learned firsthand that a strange phenomenon happens when an author gets immersed in the world of writing a novel. You’re cranking along in a zone. The words are flowing almost of their own volition. And then, lo and behold, a characters goes and does something that you hadn’t planned or expected. Like they have their own minds and lives. So this whole line of thinking appeals to me on that level; it’s fun to think about.

 

Song of Susannah, 11th Stanza, “The Writer,” Section 10

King tells Roland that he started to scare him, so he stopped writing the story, boxed it all up and moved on to other things. His life got better after he left Roland’s story behind.

No, Roland tells him. The reason he quit writing the story was because something in the story pushed back and he didn’t like it. After a bit of thought, King can’t deny that. He remembers having a feeling that he was entering a “no trespassing” zone.

Eddie’s watching the clock and tells Roland they need to let Stephen King pick up his kid. Really, he’s worried they need to find Susannah because as soon as the baby is born, the Crimson King has no use for her anymore.

Roland wants to wait, though. He knows he needs to ask questions to get at the truth of it, but isn’t sure what to ask. Eddie asks him a few little questions. No, the name “Blaine” means nothing to him. Nor “Lud” or “Beryl Evans” or “Henchick of the Manni.” When he mentions, Claudia y Inez Bachman, King laughs and explains about Richard Bachman and his imaginary family. But the “y” wasn’t part of her name. Eddie realizes without the “y,” her name has only eighteen letters, so that “y” was added to make it nineteen. But by whom?

So maybe Stephen King had created Roland, Jake, and Callahan, Eddie figures. But as King was moving Roland around like a chess piece, someone—the Crimson King—was moving Stephen King.

King is getting restless to get back to his family duties, but Roland starts his bullet hypnosis trick.

And then he asks THE question: Was it you who wrote The Dark Tower? King says adamantly, “no.” That he hasn’t written any of those stories; they just come to him and move through his fingers onto the page. It’s like he’s on a channel. “Or on a Beam?” Roland asks, to which sai King replies, “All things serve the Beam.”

What Constant Reader Learns. Ah, interesting. There’s a puppetmaster behind the puppetmaster. So does the Crimson King sit behind all writers and artists and see which of their creations fit his dark purpose? Or is there a good counterpart to the Crimson King who influenced sai King to write Roland in the first place, in order to offer up a way to save the Dark Tower against his red nemesis? A Gandalf the White, so to speak, to oppose the Crimson King.

Seems like Stephen King would catch onto the hypnosis trick as soon as Roland started rolling the bullet. But then I guess it would have been too weird when he muttered, “O Discordia.”

 

Song of Susannah, 11th Stanza, “The Writer,” Section 11

King is standing in a shaft of dusty afternoon sunlight, which makes the faint darkness around him clearer. Roland wants to know when King first saw him—not until today, King says.

Who he saw was Cuthbert, scattering bread beneath the gallows, and that he now realizes Cuthbert and Eddie are twins.

King recalls an event from his childhood, when he’d been sent to the barn as punishment for trying to run away. He and his brother were sawing wood, and the chickens in the barn were dead. He’s afraid that he’ll catch the avian flu that killed the birds, and he’ll die and come back as a vampire, and then he’d be a slave to the Crimson King, Lord of the Spiders.

Roland wants to chat with Eddie, so he sends King deeper into hypnosis. He thinks King was touched by the Crimson King as a child, but that somehow Cuthbert and Eddie won him back to the good side.

Back with King, Roland asks him how often the Lord of Discordia has tried to kill him—many times. But he’s not helpless. He’s possessed by Gan, or is Gan. Ka comes to him and he has to translate it, to let it flow through him, and it’s never satisfied. And when he was writing Roland’s story, he felt the eye of the Crimson King looking for him. When he put the story away, the eye went away.

He can’t stop, Roland tells him. He must finish the story—something King finds frightening. When should he start? When Roland loses his fingers to the lobstrosities, Ro says. No…when? When he hears “the song of the Turtle or the cry of the Bear,” Roland tells him. Then he should begin again, and they will try to protect him just as they will try to protect the rose. When the song of the Turtle grows faint, he can stop until he hears it again.

Finally, King says he will do as they say, but he’s also listening for Susannah’s song, and the baby will kill her if they don’t move quickly and if their ears aren’t sharp.

What Constant Reader Learns: So what’s with the telekinesis business? Stephen King lifts his hand at one point, and the toaster and waffle iron rise with it. A knife rises out of the dish drainer and flies across the room. Guess he’s channeling some power from the Beam.

Pretty funny when SK tells Roland things would’ve been simpler if the lobstrosities had just killed him.

So, the driver who almost killed SK in the accident was an agent of the Crimson King? And the reason there was such a lapse between books was because the song of the Turtle and the cry of the Bear had grown faint? Convenient, that.

Ha. Eddie suggests that while Roland had Stephen King under hypnosis, he should have told him to stop smoking and drinking.

After a few “Dad-a-Chums” and “Dad-a-Chees,” Stephen King tells them they must break Black Thirteen; that if it awakens, it will be the most dangerous thing in the universe and that, in some world, it’s already awakening.

 

Song of Susannah, 11th Stanza, “The Writer,” Section 12

When they were out by John Cullum’s borrowed car, Eddie asks Roland if he saw that black haze around King. Roland calls it “todana” and said they should be thankful it was still faint. Todana means “deathbag,” and means King has been marked. Ka marks everyone’s time, Roland tells Eddie, and there’s nothing they can do about it.

What Constant Reader Learns: Eddie’s concerned about SK’s health—after all, what if he dies before the Tower is saved? Haven’t I heard that concern about A Song of Ice and Fire? That Crimson King, he is a busy dude.

 

Song of Susannah, 11th Stanza, “The Writer,” Section 13

The tail lights of the old Ford had barely cleared the driveway when King awakens, refreshed from his nap. Before he gets up to go about his life, he goes blank and writes on a notepad: “Dad-a chum, dad-a-chee, not to worry, you’ve got the key.” He pauses and then adds, “Dad-a chud, dad-a-ched, see it Jake! The key is red!” He pauses again and then writes, “Dad-a-chum, dad-a-chee, give this boy a plastic key.” Then he balls up the sheet of paper and eats it.

As he turned onto Kansan Road and headed for town, his mind began to drift and he found himself thinking of the characters from that old story, The Dark Tower. Maybe he should bring back the character of Jake, and continue the story. It had been kind of fun.

What Constant Reader Learns: Well, was this whole encounter a game-changer? Not sure yet whether it really changes anything or just adds another layer of complexity. But it was surely interesting to come at from an author standpoint. I thought it would be annoying but mostly I found it funny, and thought sai King handled it deftly, with tongue planted firmly in cheek.


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.

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