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 16-19

“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, Susannah and Mia had finally reached the Dixie Pig, labor had begun in earnest to herald the imminent arrival of the Chap, aka Mordred Deschain, and Callahan and Jake are coming up somewhere behind.

Song of Susannah, 13th Stanza, “Hile Mia, Hile Mother,” Section 16

When Mia finally steps inside the Dixie Pig, it’s hard for her to see well. The electric flambeaux on the wall are like those she’s seen in Castle Discordia. She doubles in pain as her chap reacts to the  smell of roasting pork. Only, Susannah informs her, it is not pork at all.

Once the doors close behind her, she sees that she stands at the head of a long, narrow dining room. Beside the maître d’ stand, there is a sai of age sixty or so with white hair combed back from a lean and predatory face. His face looks intelligent enough, but he’s dressed like a used car salesman. And in the center of his forehead is a red hole through which blood flows and surges, but never spills.

At the tables in the dining room are about 75 people, men and women, also dressed garishly. A few, surrounded by blue auras, are wearing simpler clothes of jeans and white shirts, and Mia knows they are vampires. She also realizes the low men and women are, like the Wolves of the Calla, wearing masks.

The dining room is totally silent, but from somewhere beyond this room she can hear conversation, laughter, the sounds of people dining. A corpulent low couple look toward the back, where there’s a tapestry of knights and their ladies at a feast—the sounds are coming from behind that.

Mia’s starting to get creeped out, especially after realizing that there is dark red, fur-tufted skin underneath the masks of the low people. “Is that their skin?” she asks Susannah in horror, but Suse is pretty well beyond feeling the need to reassure the mommy-bitch at this point, although she does find enough compassion in her to feel sorry for Mia. Now that the time of no return has arrived, she realizes Mia embodies the meaning of ka-mai—one to whom ka offers hope, but no choice.

Richard Sayre, king of the used car salesmen in his bright yellow blazer, begins to applaud, and the others follow his example, shouting “Hile, Mia” and “Hile, Mother.”

Now another figure emerges from the shadows, neither vampire nor low man. It wears jeans and a white shirt like the vamps, but it has a bird’s head, covered in dark yellow feathers, and its hands have talons instead of fingers.

A gaggle of bugs with eyes on stalks scuttles from beneath a table, and she can hear them paying homage—“Hile, Mia; Hile, Mother”—in her mind.

What Constant Reader Learns: Ah….This is a Stephen King scene indeed. Fascinatingly, hauntingly gross! In the hand of another writer, the idea of these monstrosities wearing bad used-car-salesmen fashion could cross the barrier into silliness, but here it’s creepy.

It’s interesting how this scene plays out—almost as a drama of manners, with each new revelation of horror stepping out of the shadows to have its moment in the spotlight.

After being a cold, heartless Constant Reader through this whole book, I find myself, like Susannah, feeling a little sorry for Mia. Not so much what is happening to her but because she was so desperately blindsided.

And what’s a gross-out scene without some bugs with eyeballs on stalks? I believe we last saw some stalk-eyed spiders at the Way Station. And then, of course, there were my own favorites, the Lobstrosities. Dad-a-Chum.

 

Song of Susannah, 13th Stanza, “Hile Mia, Hile Mother,” Section 17

Sayre has hold of one of Mia’s hands, and the large woman in the lame dress has the other, and Mia has forgotten about Susannah, much less Detta. So Detta is able to come forward and grasp the woman’s mask. The woman shrieks, but Sayre seems to think it’s all great fun.

As the woman’s mask pulls away, Susannah is reminded of her and Mia’s palaver at the castle, when the sky ripped open. Only underneath this mask is the head of a huge mutant rat with teeth growing on the outside of its cheeks and white worms dangling from its nose.

Sayre urges Mia to come with him and then leans in close to look into her eyes and says, “Or is it you, Odetta? It is, isn’t it?” Detta, never one to stand in the shadows, confirms it by spitting in Sayre’s face. Everything goes quiet, and this time he isn’t laughing. He asks Mia how she could let this happen, and Detta gives him a mouthful of “mo-fo” trash talk.

Finally, Mia gets Detta under control and pushes her back. On her hands and knees, racked with pain, she begs Sayre to assure her she will be able to raise her chap, at least for a while. He think maybe he’ll consider it if she licks his ostrich-skin boots. Susannah tells Mia to keep her tongue in her mouth, but off she goes, licking away. Finally, Sayre says she’s licked enough bootie (sorry), and that it didn’t help her case any but did feel nice.

Mia passionately reminds Sayre that he had promised she would be able to raise her chap, that he would have the best of everything. “The best of everything” is the phrase he taunts back to her, asking, “Do you fill that particular bill?”

Sayre nods to his left and a low man with a bulldog face and a head of curly gray hair comes forward. He’s followed by another of the bird-things with a fierce brown hawk’s head protruding from the neck of its tee shirt. These two take hold of Mia, and in the back dogan of Mia’s mind, Susannah realizes her water has broken. Just before Bulldog Man and Hawk Man take her away, she hears Sayre telling Canary Man something about Jake and Callahan.

Before she’s dragged away, Mia looks more closely at the tapestry of the knights, and recognizes the banquet hall of Castle Concordia and Arthur Eld at the head of the table. But a ka-driven breeze from nowhere blows the tapestry aside long enough for her to see beyond it, to the private dining room where shrunken, evil mutants sit feasting. When Mia asks Susannah what they are, Susannah tells her it doesn’t matter. “You saw what matters didn’t you?” That would be the rotisserie in the middle of the table, upon whose spit turned a human baby, “browning and sizzling fragrant juices.”

And then, to a rousing chorus of “Hile, Mother,” Mia is carried through the kitchen and, “ultimately, of course, there is a door.”

What Constant Reader Learns: Okay, the boot-licking was a tad over the top. I’m definitely feeling sorry for Mia now and, like Susannah, was telling her not to do it. I mean, can she really still hold out hope that these critters will let her have anything to do with the baby? Then again, she is ka-mai: hope but no options. Still, if it’s me and there are boots to be licked? Not happening.

Sounds like some serious genetic experimentation going wrong. Anyone here remember the old movie “Britannia Hospital”? There was this scene with a sheep…

 

Song of Susannah, 13th Stanza, “Hile Mia, Hile Mother,” Section 18

Susannah knows the kitchen of the Dixie Pig by the smell—not pork, but “long pork” as 18th-century pirates might call it. But she doesn’t get to look around much; Mia hijacks her for a quick palaver while they’re being carted away. Before she knows it, she’s back at the castle allure, sitting legless in a cart; this, she realizes, is Mia’s version of the Dogan of the Mind.

Mia has a favor to ask of Susannah—that if she gets a chance to escape with her chap, Susannah will help her take it, even if it’s only to go into todash darkness. Susannah doesn’t figure that’s going to happen, but she agrees. The other part of the deal—if there is no way for them to escape, she wants Susannah to kill them. If she agrees, Mia will free her from them if she can.

Finally, Mia realizes she’s been had, and asks Susannah if she thinks they mean to eat the baby. Susannah does not. And whether Susannah thinks she’ll be able to raise the baby at all. Susannah does not—maybe six months to nurse him, but probably not even that.

What Constant Reader Learns: Hey, I’m always up for learning new things. “Long Pork” wasn’t a term I’d heard before but it’s apparently a common term in cannibalistic circles. I’m obviously hanging out with the wrong crowd. But cannibal-types allegedly attest that roasted human flesh and roasted pork have similar tastes.

Uh-oh. Is an escape into todash darkness in the offing? In the last freaking chapter of the book? Is sai-King going to hit us with a cliffhanger again? *Bangs head against computer monitor*

Well now. I can’t quite see Susannah killing the chap, no matter what. So how this could work for her to kill Mia and yet not kill the chap, I’m not seeing quite yet. All of them falling through a door between worlds, now that I can see. Hm. Onward…

 

Song of Susannah, 13th Stanza, “Hile Mia, Hile Mother,” Section 19

Susannah comes out of her palaver, and she’s being carried with an entourage of low men and vampires—about ten in all. They stop at a door that reads “North Central Positronics, Ltd./New York/Fedic…Maximum Security…Verbal Entry Code Required.” The entry code is provided by Sayre in a guttural, incomprehensible language—but Mia assures Susannah she can repeat the word if she has to.

They enter a large room like an old hospital ward, filled will hundreds of beds—the place where the children are brought to extract what is needed for the Breakers. There’s only one bed occupied, and at the foot of it is a Rat Woman and a human-looking man Susannah decides is a doctor—only a doctor would be arrogant enough to rant at Sayre about hurrying things up.

With a jangle of todash chimes. Susannah goes sprawling on the floor, lower legs gone, and for the first time in forever she and Mia are literally separated. The men place them in adjacent beds, on which is lying a device that looks like “a cross between a hair dryer and a space helmet.” She thinks it has a “brain-sucking” look to it.

While Rat Nurse gets ready to deliver the chap, the doctor is grousing at the low men and Sayre, who finally has enough and tells him he’s going to be dinner for the stalk-eyed bugs as soon as they’re done—Susannah looks toward the door and sees it’s now covered in them.

When the baby begins crowning, Sayre says to Mia, “Be of good cheer and good hope, lady-sai. Some of your dreams may yet come true.” Susannah tries to tell her not to listen, but their contact has been broken now—at least until the hood is placed on her head.

A female voice inside the hood welcomes her to the world of North Central Positronics: “Stand by for the up-link.” Excruciating pain and a humming noise last only a few seconds, and then Mia has the other half of the hood on her head. Sayre explains that the physical link is needed to finish the birth. “It won’t be long now,” he tells her. “Then we can kill you…and eat you, of course. Nothing goes to waste at the Dixie Pig.”

Susannah’s determined not to scream as the pain begins again, singing “Maid of Constant Sorrow” in her head. Finally, she and Mia are mentally joined again, this time by the failing machinery of the Old People. The doctor tells everyone in the room to stay where they are until he says otherwise—after all, this child belongs to the Crimson King. Mia begins to protest, but the worst labor pain of all arrives, and Susannah feels the baby flowing into Mia; their connection is ending, and she’s both relieved and sorrowful, like a song.

“And on the wings of that song, Mordred Deschain, son of Roland (and one other, O can you say Discordia), comes into the world.”  

What Constant Reader Learns: Snarl. I knew this was coming. But—hah, sai-King—I don’t have to wait, for The Dark Tower is on my virtual shelf and awaits me at the swipe of a touchpad!

I have no idea what to expect. I wish I had some pithy, insightful thing to toss out, but I don’t. I want Mia to go away. I hope Susannah survives. I hope the chap survives because I find the idea of Roland changing nappies quite entertaining. But for now, I’m off to start the final book in our march to the Dark Tower.

A Word about the Coda: Interesting stuff, this. It helped dull my cries of agony over another cliffhanger ending, especially sai-King’s thoughts about how annoyed people got over the cliffhanger with Blaine the Pain and the riddle. In fact, this section, though not technically part of Song of Susannah, might have been my favorite part of the book, with its masterful blend of reflection, history, fiction, and how it all holds together.


And…that’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll begin our read the final book of the Dark Tower saga.

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