A Read of The Dark Tower

A Read of the Dark Tower: Constant Reader Tackles Song of Susannah, 13th Stanza, “Hile Mia, Hile, Mother,” Sections 1-15

“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, Jake and Callahan had stashed Black Thirteen in a rental locker beneath the twin towers of the World Trade Center, and tracked Susannah-Mia to the Dixie Pig.

Song of Susannah, 13th Stanza, “Hile Mia, Hile Mother,” Section 1

A downtown bus parked on the corner of Lexington and Sixty-first may have been due to ka or mere coincidence. If it had not been parked there, then Mia might never have noticed the man playing guitar. Whether due to ka or coincident, Mia stops to listen.

What Constant Reader Learns: Well, thanks to Jake and Callahan, we kind of already know what happens here, down to the song the man was singing. A bit anticlimactic, this.

Song of Susannah, 13th Stanza, “Hile Mia, Hile Mother,” Section 2

The cab driver, seeing the bus parked on the corner of Sixty-first and Lexington, asks Mia if she would mind getting out at Sixtieth instead. Mia is not sure how to respond, so she asks Susannah’s opinion. Susannah assures Mia that it will be fine. Mia’s question had called Susannah back from her version of the Dogan, where she had been desperately trying to get in touch with Eddie or even Roland, to no avail.

The Dogan of Susannah’s Mind is in serious disrepair now, and she’s paying for shutting down the birth process with her visualization skills. There are deep cracks in the floor, ceiling panels are falling down, many of the instrument panels have gone dark, and some are smoking. The needle on the Susannah-Mio dial is all the way into the red. The floor is vibrating and she can hear machinery screaming. Susannah knows she had shut down a very powerful process and now her body is paying the price—her body, not Mia’s.

Next, Mia wants to know how to pay the cab driver, and Susannah’s getting tired of Mia’s complete timidity in everything except the chap is involved. She threatens to stop helping her, but finally relents and helps her pick the right amount of money.

Susannah opens the cab door, only to hear the recorded voice of someone named Whoopi Goldberg, reminding her to take her bags. And that’s when she hears the guitarist. He’s playing a song she knows well. She’d sung it in Oxford, Mississippi, and she’d sung it in Calla Bryn Sturgis. The Dixie Pig lay only a block away, and she will then be in the domain of the Crimson King. She will likely die. So she might as well hear this song one last time.

What Constant Reader Learns: I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m always glad when Detta shows up to liven up these sections where nothing much is happening. I’ve never thought of myself as an “action” reader before this book, but consider what Susannah has done over the course of several hundred pages: checked into a hotel; had a couple of mental dogan visits; gone to the bathroom; gotten in a cab; spent a lot of time thinking about talking to Mia, with a few paragraphs of actual talking. I’m ready to rip this baby out of her and get on with it.

Okay, rant over. You can all take me to task for impatience, or perhaps it’s just that Susannah is my least-favorite member of the ka-tet and I keep hoping she’ll win me over.

Susannah’s revelation here is that Mia is getting stronger, and she’ll fight her later if it seems worthwhile or honorable. She’ll fight to save herself and her baby, but not Mia.

Song of Susannah, 13th Stanza, “Hile Mia, Hile Mother,” Section 3

The young man playing the guitar has set up shop on the sidewalk in front of a café, and he sits on a solid wooden cube almost identical to the one the right Reverend Harrigan uses to preach (can I hear an amen?). Mia holds out a bill to him and tells him that she will give it to him if he’ll play that song again—this time, all of the song. The young man playing the guitar sees that Mia is offering him a fifty dollar bill and tells her, “Lady, for fifty bucks I’d play every Ralph Stanley song I know…and I know quite a few of em.”

He begins playing the song again, and Susannah listens from her Dogan, riding a wave of memories. Mia, unprepared, gets swept along.

What Constant Reader Learns: The purple velvet interior of the street musician’s open guitar case is the same shade as the rug in sai King’s bedroom in Bridgton, I guess at the time of Eddie and Roland’s visit. A bizarre little bit of double authorial intrusion since Susannah couldn’t know this detail and because sai King in reality might or might not have had a rug that color. It should have been a crimson rug, mayhap.

Song of Susannah, 13th Stanza, “Hile Mia, Hile Mother,” Section 4

“In the land of Memory, the time is always Now.” The clocks tick, but the hands never move. There is an Unfound Door and memory is the key that opens it.

What Constant Reader Learns: Guess Mia’s getting swept through that previously unfound door. How will she react to Susannah’s trip to the Memory Motel? (In honor of sai King, a random Rolling Stones reference, say amen.)

Song of Susannah, 13th Stanza, “Hile Mia, Hile Mother,” Section 5

The young men’s names are Cheney, Goodman and Schwerner and they are murdered on June 19, 1964, by the swing of the White Sledgehammer.

What Constant Reader Learns: O Discordia! Since we’ll soon be approaching the 50th anniversary of “Mississippi Burning,” as the case became known, enjoy a bit of dated music!

Song of Susannah, 13th Stanza, “Hile Mia, Hile Mother,” Section 6

Susannah’s (or “Det’s”/Odetta’s) memory is from July 19, 1964, a month after the three voter registration workers went missing. They were all staying at the Blue Moon Motor Hotel on the “wrong” side of Oxford, Mississippi. Three days after the men disappeared, a meeting had been held where the local activists told the remaining three dozen or so white northerners that, in light of what happened, they were free to go back home. Some did leave, but Odetta Holmes and eighteen others stayed.

Sometimes at night, they all went out behind the hotel and sang—songs like “I Shall be Released,” “John Henry,” “Blowing in the Wind,” “Hesitation Blues” and I Ain’t Marching Anymore.” They sing in the Land of Memory and the Kingdom of Ago. Odetta remembers beginning, and being joined by others, as she sang, “I am a maid of constant sorrow…I’ve seen trouble all my days…I bid farewell…to old Ken-tucky…

What Constant Reader Learns: So, I trotted off to read the lyrics to “Man of Constant Sorrow,” trying to figure out why sai King would hone in on this particular song. Other than that it’s about sadness and loneliness and death and other cheery topics, I couldn’t find any direct link to the civil rights movement—except that it was recorded by some of the folk musicians of the time. Perhaps someone else can enlighten? Admittedly, my search was limited because—and I’m outing you publicly, Charter—of my suckaliciously slow but overpriced Internet connection.

Song of Susannah, 13th Stanza, “Hile Mia, Hile Mother,” Section 7

Mia is ushered through the Unfound Door into the Land of Memory to behind the Blue Moon Motor Hotel, and she hears…

What Constant Reader Learns: Sigh. Okay, here’s the deal. If we hadn’t already had the chapter where Callahan and Jake found the skoldpadda, and Jake hadn’t had the vision of Susannah and Mia listening to the guitar player sing “Man of Constant Sorrow,” and even told us that Mia was touched by the experience, I might be handling this chapter better as it inches along at the speed of Maturin after he’s ingested a bottle of opioids. Perhaps sai King will surprise me, and I’m guessing that Mia’s response to seeing this glimpse into Susannah’s past will pay dividends if and when we finally get inside the Dixie Pig. But for now, you can chastise me again.

Song of Susannah, 13th Stanza, “Hile Mia, Hile Mother,” Section 8

The floodgates of Susannah’s memories have opened and Mia hears as Susannah (Odetta then) sings her song, and she hears as others join in until they are all singing under the Mississippi moon, beside railroad tracks that lead to Longdale, where the bodies of the voter registration men will be found a couple of weeks later. Susannah’s memories allow Mia to see Odetta marching arm in arm and singing as they go through streets lined with hate-filled faces shouting racial insults. Mia sees the camaraderie in spite of their fear. Mia experiences the feeling that Odetta and her friends are doing something important that will change their country.

She hears the words to the songs, experiences the memories in Susannah’s mind and begins to understand how living in fear makes every moment precious. Mia can see that each of them knows their time could come next, that any of them could end up buried in the dark Mississippi soil. Mia is overwhelmed by their love for each other and by the simplicity of what they believe.

What Constant Reader Learns: Ah, but in the long run, what will be the payoff of this sudden burst of feeling? I might have to induce labor on Susannah myself.

Song of Susannah, 13th Stanza, “Hile Mia, Hile Mother,” Section 9

As the young man playing the guitar begins the fourth verse, Susannah joins in singing. Timidly at first and then harmonizing.

What Constant Reader Learns: Let’s go the Dixie Pig! Can I get an ‘amen’?

Song of Susannah, 13th Stanza, “Hile Mia, Hile Mother,” Section 10

The guitar player stops playing after that verse and tells Susannah-Mia that he thought he was the only one who knew that particular verse. He starts to tell her that it is the way the Freedom Riders used to sing it, when Susannah interrupts, telling him that it was the voter registration folks who sang that particular verse. She tells him they were the ones who went to Oxford when those three boys were killed. The guitar player can name two of the men killed, but Susannah supplies the third name. He tells her that she talks as if she knew them, although she couldn’t possibly be old enough. Susannah figures she looks older than thirty—especially this night—and that the young man’s flattery may be due to the fifty dollars he just earned for playing that one song.

“My mother spent the summer of ’64 in Neshoba County,” she tells him, and the words “my mother” tear open Mia’s heart.

All this reminiscing is interrupted when an alarm in the Dogan begins going off, flooding their shared mind with noise and red light. Susannah turns in that direction, and Mia grabs her shoulder in a vise-like grip. But Susannah twists free and before Mia can grab her again, she is gone.

What Constant Reader Learns: Hot dog! Let’s put the song away, finally, and see what’s happening in the Dogan.

Song of Susannah, 13th Stanza, “Hile Mia, Hile Mother,” Section 11

Susannah’s Dogan is filled with red warning light. From the overhead speakers a horn beeps an audible warning. All but two of the TV screens have shorted out. One of the ones left shows the guitar player on the corner and the other shows the sleeping baby inside her. A very Blaine-like “Voice of the Dogan” begins blaring a warning that there is a system overload and without power reduction in section alpha, total system shutdown will occur in 40 seconds.

Susannah can not remember any section alpha from previous visits to the Dogan, but she is not surprised to now see a sign labeled just that. A panel near it erupts in a shower of sparks, setting the seat of the chair on fire. The Blaine-like voice now issues its 30-second warning.

Susannah wonders about the Emotion Temp dial and decides to leave that one alone for now. Instead, she chooses the one labeled Chap. She flips the switch from Asleep to Awake. At once, the chap’s blue eyes open and seem to stare into Susannah’s with curiosity. With mixed emotions, Susannah thinks, “Roland’s child,” and then “mine.” Not Mia’s—she’s nothing but a ka-mai, a fool of destiny.

Down to 25 seconds; waking the baby hasn’t helped. Next, Susannah reaches for the Labor Force control knob and turns it to eight—a lot easier turning it up instead of down. She feels better, so she decides to go from eight to ten, and the pain is excruciating. But the Blaine voice thanks her for her action, in his best John Wayne impersonation. Reminding herself that Blaine is only in her head doesn’t offer a lot of comfort.

Susannah has to fight against screaming again when she hears the warning voice tell her labor has commenced and begins singing “happy birthday,” this time in a bad Bob Dylan impersonation. Susannah visualizes a fire extinguisher on the wall behind her and when she turns, finds one there. She’s able to extinguish the Dogan fire, but the pain is intense.

Susannah makes her way across the Dogan floor, seizes the microphone and presses the toggle button. On one of the two TV screens still working, she sees that Mia is on the move, crossing Sixtieth toward the green awning with the cartoon pig.

Susannah shouts Eddie’s name into the microphone and then Roland’s. Just for good measure, she adds Jake and Pere Callahan to the mix. “We’ve reached the Dixie Pig and we’re going to have this damn baby. Come for us if you can, but be careful.”

Susannah looks at the TV screen again and sees that Mia is now on the Dixie Pig side of the street, looking at the green awning. She can’t read the name of the place, most likely, but she will know it’s the right spot. She tells Eddie she loves him and then, “This is Susannah-Mio signing off. God be with you boys. God and ka.”

What Constant Reader Learns: Hm….so how did the skolpadda get in the gutter? I was expecting some subterfuge on Susannah’s part but if it happened we weren’t told.

Ha! I do like this line: “The hijacking mommy-bitch had reached her destination.”

Song of Susannah, 13th Stanza, “Hile Mia, Hile Mother,” Section 12

Mia is standing outside the Dixie Pig and her labor has commenced, but Susannah senses a difference in her right away. Mia’s mind is elsewhere—back with Odetta Holmes and the summer of ’64 in Mississippi. Mia tells Susannah that she agreed to mortality but that she missed most of what makes the short life worthwhile. There was grief and surprise in Mia’s thoughts. Mia lamented that there is no time for Susannah to show her now.

Susannah tells Mia to go somewhere else, to a hospital and they will have the baby together and perhaps raise it together. Mia replies that if she goes anywhere else, the baby will die and they will die with it—she has been cheated of everything but her chap and she is going to have him. Mia then reminds Susannah that she had spoken of her mother. Susannah tells Mia that she lied and that it was she who was in Oxford, that it was easier to lie than to explain time travel and different worlds. Mia asks to be shown the truth, for Susannah to let Mia see Susannah’s mother.

There was no time to debate the request. It was a matter of comply or don’t. Susannah decides to comply and says, “Look.”

What Constant Reader Learns: Yes! We’re on the move. I’ll even graciously indulge Susannah in a bit of memory time without bitching about it, since it could weaken Mia’s resolve further.

Song of Susannah, 13th Stanza, “Hile Mia, Hile Mother,” Section 13

Again, in the Land of Memory the time is always Now. Susannah finds the door, opens it and allows Mia to see a woman with gray eyes and her dark hair pulled back. This memory is of an October afternoon in 1946, and the woman sits in a shaft of sunlight and invites Odetta to come and sit with her and have gingerbread.

What Constant Reader Learns: So Mia, I suppose, is going to see what a real mother memory looks like. I’m trying to remember what we’ve known of Odetta’s mother but mostly her memories so far have been of her father.

Song of Susannah, 13th Stanza, “Hile Mia, Hile Mother,” Section 14

The image Mia sees is of a young girl coming home from school dressed in her school uniform. The mother, sitting at the table, is offering her child a piece of gingerbread fresh out of the oven. It is but one small moment of Susannah’s life, but it is enough to take Mia’s breath away, gives her an inkling of how rich motherhood could be if allowed to run its course uninterrupted. But even five years, or three, are better than none at all. Still, she can’t help but imagine a blue-eyed boy coming in from school, and her welcoming him home, telling him he looks good. “What have I done?” she thinks. “What else could I have done?”

What Constant Reader Learns: Which does bring up a good question. I guess she could have remained in limbo-land and not made the deal, but for her yearning for a child. But if faced with an infinity of emptiness, maybe one jumps at what at the time seems a better alternative. Question is, has she realized her mistake in time, or will she hesitate long enough to give Susannah an opening?

Song of Susannah, 13th Stanza, “Hile Mia, Hile Mother,” Section 15

With Mia in such emotional turmoil, Susannah seizes the chance to do something. As Mia stands at the foot of the steps leading into the Dixie Pig, Susannah reaches into the pocket of her jeans and wraps her fingers around the turtle, the skoldpadda. She tosses it behind her, into the gutter: “from her hand to the lap of ka.” Mia then climbs the three steps to the doors of the Dixie Pig.

What Constant Reader Learns: Ah. Gotcha. I’d thought Callahan and Jake were at the site of the street performer rather than being in front of the Dixie Pig.

And thus I decree: next week, something WILL happen.

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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