“There they stood, ranged along the hillsides, met
To view the last of me, a living frame
For one more picture! In a sheet of flame
I saw them and I knew them all.”
—Robert Browning, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came”
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 reluctantly made their way to John Cullum, knowing they needed to settle the matter of the vacant lot before leaving their current world to try and help Susannah and Jake.
The Dark Tower, Part One: The Little Red King; Chapter 4: Dan-Tete, Section 1
We shift back to Susannah now, with some backtracking to see the naked floating gunslingers from her POV.
First, however, she’s behaving like a gunslinger herself and counting her enemies—a total of eleven, a combination of low men, type three vampires, and muties. All but Nurse Rat-chet (heh) are armed. She decides the easiest one to disarm will be the doctor, Scowther, and the first one to take out will be the vampire with a light saber. She figures her best time—maybe only time—to move and “settle their hash” will be when they’re preoccupied with Mia’s baby.
As a fierce labor pain strikes Mia and Susannah, Suze feels the baby, or what’s left of its essence, flow from her to Mia and she has mixed feelings about it—relief that Mia is gone and yet sorrow as well. Mia grabs her wrist and says only one word, but Suze understands that it’s the fulfillment of Mia’s end of their bargain and a reminder of Susannah’s promise to help them escape if she can and kill both Mia and the baby if she can’t.
Susannah’s distracted at the sight of a naked Roland and Eddie floating near the ceiling, along with a lot of junk, including a car floor mat with “Ford” printed on it. She mouths Mia’s word, “chassit,” to Roland before he and Eddie disappear.
And then she hears Jake’s voice, but before he can finish a sentence, he’s cut off and Suze hears the rattle of gunfire—she thinks someone is shooting at Jake.
What Constant Reader Learns: Uh, yeah, Suze, I’d be distracted by that sight as well, I mean naked guys, old French fries, car mats…
The low man named Straw doesn’t have much control over his tongue, so he blabs that once the baby arrives “all the worlds change. When this one joins the Breakers in Thunderclap…” Is that why Suze is trying to reconnect with the voice from North Central Positronics in her “helmet”—to convey that info back to Mia and remind her of their true intentions? That exchange with the NCP woman and the fading connection wasn’t clear to me.
I do like the way sai-King is overlapping these sections from different points of view as our group is split into threes. Of course it’s also a slooooow-mutie way of telling a story.
The Dark Tower, Part One: The Little Red King; Chapter 4: Dan-Tete, Section 2
For the second consecutive chapter, Dr. Scowther is shouting “push push push.” But Susannah’s divorced from the pain now and is focusing on getting closer to Mia and to the gun. For the moment she’s still on Straw’s radar, however, and is beginning to doubt she’s going to get a chance at the gun.
As the baby starts crowning, finally everyone’s focused on the birth. Susannah’s yelling (mentally, I assume) at Mia not to listen to Sayre’s lies when he assures her she’ll have years and years with the baby, but Mia can’t hear her. Suze also is trying to reach Jake, but gets no answer from him, either.
And here comes the little god himself, as they all begin chanting—white skin and black hair and Roland’s blue eyes and more. The baby has a crimson mark on his left heel, fulfilling the prophecy. Finally, the baby cries, and Susannah thinks, “King of Kings he might be, or the destroyer of worlds, but he embarked upon life as had so many before him, squalling with outrage.”
Susannah misses her early chance to grab Scowther’s gun because she’s as enthralled by the baby as everyone else. But she does finally notice Mia’s face, and realizes she’s gone mad.
What Constant Reader Learns: GROSS! Ugh. Afterbirth, and a newborn with a full set of teeth and an oversized boner. Sai-King has reached a new level of grossiosity. I bow to his dark imagination.
I do like the phrase Mia uses on Sayre—“you poxy whoreson”—and fully intend to use it on someone at the day job today. I even have someone in mind. *Cue evil laughter*
The Dark Tower, Part One: The Little Red King; Chapter 4: Dan-Tete, Section 3
Susannah realizes the baby is her “dinh’s doom,” and that she should grab Scowther’s gun and kill it. But she’s frozen in place; she hadn’t anticipated her own fascination with the baby, or that Mia would go mad.
Just as the scene grows more surreal by the moment, with Mia sucking on Mordred’s bloody toe, here comes C3PO, uh, I mean a polite messenger robot, carrying a glass box that Scowther explains is an incubator in case they’d needed it. When Scowther turns, Susannah’s about to make her grab for the gun when the baby changes.
What Constant Reader Learns: It’s kind of strange to think the appearance of a seven-foot robot is the most normal thing about this entire scene. And I’m guessing that whatever the baby changes into, it won’t be a good thing.
The Dark Tower, Part One: The Little Red King; Chapter 4: Dan-Tete, Section 4
The baby lights up in red, then goes black so that he’s “a lightless gnome, a negativy of the rosy baby that had escaped Mia’s womb.” Then it sprouts tumors that burst open in hairy legs, and suddenly we have a spider with a tiny baby head on its back. It continues to breastfeed, and after a moment of horror, mad Mia smiles and gushes about his beauty. And we’re told, “these were her last words.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Okay, I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry, O Dark Tower fans. But I have trouble with this scene. Remember in the Jeff Goldblum remake of The Fly, when there’s a tiny little Jeff Goldblum head on this big hairy fly? And it was so campy it was hard to take seriously? I can’t get that image out of my head, so the spider with the baby Mordred head is making me laugh, and I’m thinking that probably wasn’t the intention. But it’s okay, because I’m still grossed out enough at the previous scene to get past it.
I figure Mia’s about to be eaten by her spider baby but I can’t say as I’m sorry to see the last of her.
The Dark Tower, Part One: The Little Red King; Chapter 4: Dan-Tete, Section 5
Mia, her job for the Crimson King done, grows still and pale. Her face splits open, spilling out a stale-smelling white powder. This seems to please her spidery offspring, who chews what’s left of her breast and emits a “harsh, industrial sucking sound.” Suze knows it’s taking all the moisture that’s left in Mia’s shell of a body.
C3PO pops in, with his “ridiculously English voice,” and asks what they’d like done with the incubator. It’s this that finally breaks Susannah out of her trance, and she dives for Scowther’s pistol. She takes him out, then Straw, then the vampire with the light saber.
Susannah manages to roll off the bed and get away from the helmet, shoots Nurse Rat, and then manages to take out another couple of guys. Two of the low men run away. Meanwhile, C3PO is chattering: “I say, this is a bit confusing. Shall I retire? Perhaps I might return when matters have clarified somewhat.”
Suze shoots three more before the robot decides to chat with her, but she takes a page out of Eddie’s book and shoots out its electric blue eyes. Now, instead of chatter, she gets a bellowing “I have been blinded by gunfire.”
Sayre steps away from his hiding spot, hands up in surrender, and Suze shoots him twice—once for Mia and once for Callahan.
Finally, she turns to the spider baby, who’s sending her thoughts that she can’t kill him. Just as she’s about to shoot him, one of the low men who’d run away comes back and fires, grazing the side of her neck and causing her to clip off one of spidey’s eight legs but not kill it. “I’ll pay you back for that,” it screams. “My father and I, we’ll pay you back.” And then spider baby scuttles away.
Susannah trades Scowther’s pistol for another gun, and finally tells the robot to shut up. To her surprise, it does.
Again, Susannah tries to contact Jake and gets only a sound: wimeweh. It’s a word somehow familiar to her but she can’t place it. Her intuition, however, tells her that Jake’s hiding and trying to be quiet.
The robot starts whining about the incubator again, and Suze orders him to drop it. Then she orders Nigel, as he identifies himself, to pick her up—he’s quick to remind her that he’s blind, thanks to her. She wants him to take her to the door, but he informs her there are 595 currently operational doors (which adds up to nineteen, to chassit). So instead she asks him to take her through the door where she arrived earlier. Nigel points out that it’s not only a one-way door but it’s no longer functional; there is, however, a New York #9/Fedic door still working, so she asks him to take her to Door No. 9.
What Constant Reader Learns: How does Suze know what happened to Callahan? I don’t remember her seeing the events that were going on upstairs, but mayhap I’ve forgotten.
This was an odd little section. On the one hand, there’s the gross spider baby. Then the gunplay. And in the midst of it all, this comedic robot.
The Dark Tower, Part One: The Little Red King; Chapter 4: Dan-Tete, Section 6
Nigel carries Susannah through a maze of corridors, asking if his eyes can be replaced. Susannah’s feeling kind of sorry for him, but she doesn’t have the answer. They pass a few low men who appear to have committed suicide, and Suze figures they know the Crimson King is not going to be a happy camper or, as she thinks it, “Big Red Daddy was going to be mad…even if Mordred somehow found his way home.”
When she asks Nigel how many people are left in Fedic, he says “most have moved on. Very likely to the Derva.” But none of her password guesses is enough to unlock the information of what the Derva is.
Finally, the reach a rotunda with doors all around it, including #9. It has one final use before it no longer works and requires a verbal entry code.
What Constant Reader Learns: An interesting observation from Suze: “This was a world of twins and mirror images, and Susannah now understood more about what she’d seen than she really wanted to. Mordred too was a twin, a Jekyll-and-Hyde creature with two selves, and he—or it—had the faces of two fathers to remember.” Ah…that does present a dilemma for the young spider, I suppose.
The Dark Tower, Part One: The Little Red King; Chapter 4: Dan-Tete, Section 7
Nigel asks Susannah what she’d like to do, and she has him put her down. She leans against the wall next to Door No. 9 with her gun and settles in to wait. She tries to reach Jake again but gets no answer. She tells Nigel to go on his way—that she needs to wait for a friend.
What Constant Reader Learns: Another chance for Jake to be left behind, the equivalent of being dropped from a bridge. But I have doubts that Suze would ever leave him.
And…that’s it for this week! Next week—same time, same place—we’ll continue our read of the final book of the Dark Tower saga.