11.05.2012

King's Highway pt. 46: Song of Susannah (Dark Tower pt. 6)

Here we are at the penultimate stop on our Dark Tower tour... how far we've come and my how you've grown! I can see my house from here, and the people look like ants, and such. I'll dispense with the Trail Guide format (the Whom You'll Meet/ Trail Notes, etc.) from here on out; fare thee well, TGF, ye served us well.
Art by Darrell Anderson except where otherwise noted.

This likely says more about me than the novel itself, but I was just not into this one until Eddie and Roland showed up in Maine and everyone started shooting at one another. From that point on, with the exception of the fake-diary-excerpts at the end, I enjoyed it, but this was my least favorite book in the Dark Tower saga so far. 

Before I get into my problems with it, let's do an abridged overview-of-events for those who haven't read it. (For a more-unabridged account, here's the wiki, and here's the SFSite's.)

Daylight's a-wastin': The novel begins with a "beam-quake," i.e. another of the Beams has been broken. Better get a move-on, ka-mates!

Susannah / Mia: As we saw at the end of Wolves, Susannah/Mia steal away from the Calla after the fight, and they take Black Thirteen with them. They land in 1999 New York City, one increasingly under the sway of the Crimson King via graffiti, bad vibes, and the strange, cult-ish statements people make. (How this is any different than regular NYC I don't know, but hey, we're rolling.) Mia sprouts legs (!) when she is in possession of Susannah's body. Susannah discovers a "turtle" idol hidden in her gunna-sack which she uses to bewitch and bedazzle her way to a wad of cash and a hotel room. While in the room, she palavers with Mia, and we discover Mia is a demon-succubus with a long history (one of the creatures left on the proverbial shore once "the tide of Prim" receded). She was given human form by the Sombra Corporation/ Crimson King, to share Susannah's body and incubate the boy Mordred, whom, it is hoped/ prophesied, will destroy Roland. 

Oh, Mordred is not a demon's baby, by the way, but Roland's. This was accomplished by Roland shooting his seed into one demon in The Gunslinger and the demon's twinner shooting it back into Detta Holmes (i.e. Susannah Dean's inner-demon - confused yet???) in The Waste Lands.

Susannah/ Mia are brought to the Dixie Pig, a restaurant in NYC that lies on the other side of a one-way-dimensional-door in Fedic (i.e. the dogan in Thunderclap i.e. where the Calla-folken's children were "roont" in Wolves and where Mia gained her corporeal form) to deliver the baby.
Cover to the Polish edition, not sure who the artist is. (I like it, though)

Before she does, though, she leaves both Black Thirteen and the turtle for...

Jake, Oy, and Father Callahan: They arrive in '99 NYC and meet a manic street preacher (NOTE: not Richey Edwards) who tells them of a church that now stands around the Rose: "...there's a little garden growing in the sun which falls through the tall windows, a garden behind velvet ropes, and the sign says GIVEN BY THE TET CORPORATION IN HONOR OF THE BEAME FAMILY, AND IN MEMORY OF GILEAD." Encouraging!

They follow Susannah's back-trail to her hotel, where Jake finds a plastic key left for him in an envelope by none other than Stephen King. This gives them access to Susannah's room, where they retrieve Black Thirteen (stashing it in a storage locker in one of the World Trade Center towers) and the turtle. They then make their way to the Dixie Pig.

Meanwhile, Roland and Eddie make their way to late-1970s Maine. They are ambushed by Balthazar's thug Jack Andolini, (last seen bullying Calvin Tower in Wolves) whereupon they make the acquaintance of John Cullum. They then go to Stephen King's house. The sensation they experience around both the author and his domicile is similar to the sensation/song of the rose. All King wants to do is go and pick up his son Joe, but Roland hypnotizes the author and instructs him on the importance of writing/ finishing the Dark Tower stories. He then "suggests" King ever forget meeting them, which he does (but not before leaving a message to be delivered to Jake, as described above). Roland and Eddie go to meet with Calvin Tower and Aaron Deepneau (did I mention Deepneau last time? Any relation to Ed from Insomnia?) and get CT's agreement to sell the lot with the rose to their Tet Corporation.

The novel ends with a coda of "diary entries" by Stephen King that detail his struggles with the Dark Tower story (and his boozing) over the years. The last one is an unsettling obituary: Stephen King died on (naturally) June 19, 1999, from injuries sustained in his car accident. (I take this as clearly situating the King-from-this-book as from a-King-from-a-different-level-of-the-Tower.)

Let's Start with What I Enjoyed

- The shoot-em-up action and attendant smack-talk, as aforementioned, and John Cullum. We'll cover JC next-blog, though.

- Quick question is the Dixie Pig meant to be a twinner of some kind to the Dixie Boy?

"The survivors of the Dixie Boy are still survivors..." cue the AC/DC

 - Susannah's bits in the Fedic Dogan are cool. From Kev's review: "A clever device King (has previously employed) makes a reappearance here. In The Regulators, Audrey Wyler constructs a "safe space" in her mind - a specific happy memory of a place and time where she can go to escape the evil presence of Tak. Dreamcatcher utilizes this concept more specifically: Jonesy, possessed by Mr. Gray, builds a room of memories in his mind, locked against the alien invader."

Possibly the only thing this movie got across pretty well.

"As Jonesy uses this visualization technique in order to slow Mr. Gray's discovery of Duddits, Susannah builds a mental version of Jake's Dogan from Wolves of the Calla in order to take refuge from Mia and to slow the pain and persistence brought on by the baby they carry. Because each of these visualizations are unique in details and methodology, it never seems as if King is recycling concepts, instead adapting basic symbols to the needs of his stories. (Additionally, because both The Regulators and Dreamcatcher have connections to the larger Dark Tower story, it could be argued that details such as the Dogan are borrowed intentionally from these other books, and are meant to be recognized.)"

My copy was the mass-market paperback, so I'm only seeing these images for the first time online. Great stuff! The beaked chap is one of the Low Men, i.e. the Can-Toi.

- I like the placing of Black Thirteen in the WTC. Kev disagrees and refers to this bit in his review as lending an "uncomfortable verisimilitude" to the novel. How much more uncomfortable would he have been had it been World Trade Center 7 instead of one of the towers! Better tie-in to the Crimson King, that, for my conspiratorial money. 

- "Jake watched the Pere begin to speak, then subside into listening again with a small, bemused smile on his face. After a few moments, he hung up. "Answering machine!" he said. "They have a machine that takes guests' calls and then tapes messages! What a wonderful invention." (pg. 430)

- "(The Manni) might look like Quakers or Amish with their cloaks and beards... but so far as Jake knew, neither the Quakers nor the Amish had ever made a hobby of traveling to other worlds." (pg. 34)

YES, THIS IS WHAT WE'D HAVE THEE BELIEVE, ENGLISH!!
...and the world was filled with the unholy joy of Quaker/Amish cackling...

- For the most part, I like how King's cameo comes across. This could easily have been a series-exploding mistake, but it comes across both better than I expected and... well, touching. I didn't expect it to come off as poignant, but there's a sweetness/ regret to this passage (not to mention hope/ redemption) which ties in very well with the overall themes of the Dark Tower. So, potential charges of self-indulgence (or what have you) were effectively neutralized.

Consider, though... What if they'd gone to see a different author? Like HP Lovecraft? Or Robert Browning? (Maybe particularly Robert Browning, which would take the series to an interesting place, namely historical fiction.) Or even Peter Straub - would've been an interesting tie in with Bango Skank, as mentioned last blog. I mention only these three because I feel there are plausible connections, meta-wise, to the story. (Lovecraft: thinnies/ Todash; Robert Browning, well duh; and Peter Straub, King's buddy/ collaborator on Dark Tower material) It probably wouldn't have worked, but it's an intriguing idea.

- "the hideous drone like the singing of some apocalyptic idiot." (pg. 431) You can believe what you like, of course, but... 

I'd like to think King is referring to this dude from Creed. I can only imagine what this nonsense sounds like to ears reared on the Moon-Glows and the Beatles and the Platters. (The voice is stilled, by the way, by invoking the Power of the White/ In the Name of God. Make of this what you will.)

 - "In the Land of Memory, the time is always Now.
In the Kingdom of Ago, the clocks tick... but their hands never move.
There is an Unfound Door
(O lost)
and memory is the key that opens it...
(O Discordia!)"

As for the bits I did not enjoy

- Although ultimately there's no way of knowing whether they do or do not (i.e. I do not have access to King's private diaries to properly evaluate), the entries at the end don't seem like diary entries to me. Although Kev disagrees:

"...Writing is hard enough; writing oneself into a story without collapsing into self-indulgent drapery harder still. King has succeeded beyond my expectations, and while there will always be that contingent of fans wishing the series had instead turned up the action, hauled in the monsters, cranked out the supernatural evil forces of doom (etc., etc.), there is something fitting about this non-linear denouement, building to some fantastic conclusion even as it deconstructs its raison d'être, distilling the cultural reflections of a lifetime."

True enough, but they still don't quite work for me. It feels like what it is - King pretending to be King pretending to write in his diary, and not quite suspending-my-disbelief.

- This one doesn't work so well as a self-contained story. Unavoidable, perhaps, and ultimately-forgivable, as it's mainly a lead-in to the finale, but outside of meeting Stephen King, nothing really happens here. We get the whole Mia exposition and the nice bit about the rose, but I'll employ the Empire Strikes Back corollary here, i.e. a penultimate tale is under no obligation to just set up the last chapter: it can be the coolest of the series.

- Okay, so Susannah. Or, rather, Detta. In all fairness to the way King writes her dialogue, I have a problem with "accent-writing" in general. I find it unnecessary and distracting. Not just here but with Robert Burns or Irvine Welsh, and it was a consistent problem with me, growing up, with Chris Claremont's X-Men.
(Art by Paul Smith.) Allow me to draw your attention to the last panel, above: when we switch to someone's inner monologue/ thought captions, why is it the same? Do people "hear" themselves as anything-but-the-way-the-words-normally-sound/look? Would Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting represent his own speech in his head as paaahhk my caaaah, despite the fact that he'd, let's assume, never write it out that way? (Ben Affleck might - man, that guy's attempts at a Boston accent really unwind my clock.)

I'd be willing to concede that hey, maybe this is just something that rubs me the wrong way and move on, but... there's more. Here's an example of the sort of dialogue we get from Detta:

"I don't give a shit bout ka," she said, "and you bes be rememberin dat. You got problems, girl. Got a rug-monkey comin you don't know what it is. Got folks say they'll he'p you and you don't know what dey are. Shit, you doan even know what a telephone is or where to find one. Now we goan sit here, and you're goan tell me what happens next. We goan palaver, girl..."

I mean, I think this sort of "guff" served an arguable-point in Drawing of the Three, but to see it return here just makes me cringe. Usually I'm the last white-hetero-dude-English-major to make this kind of point, and usually I'm the first to take issue with the shortcuts-to-thinking that unfortunately replace much of any discussion among English majors / public-punditry with regards to race, gender, etc. when these things come up. The "walk into a room and count the number of non-white faces" thinking, which drives me up a wall. (By this way of thinking, the Royal Navy - in stopping the slave trade - was "diseased with privilege" by not having any non-white commanders at the time; context is obliterated, the baby drowns in bathwater, The Tower Falls...) I bring all this up not to be an insufferable wanker, but only to say: I'm usually pretty forgiving of this stuff. If it makes sense for a character to fly in the face of a political agenda, I say fly on; if the agenda forces a character's hand, on the other hand:


And it does make a certain amount of sense for Detta's character, so what is it? I don't know. But here, it really proved insurmountable to me. King's providing this dialogue (or the "yooo take-ah picktcha preese" bit from the Japanese tourists) just struck me as wrong-headed at worst and fatally-distracting at best.

Fair? Unfair? I truly don't know. But in the interest of "full disclosure," there it is.

Perhaps I've missed this in the online reviews I've read, but it just seems odd that no one's really discussed this much. Particularly in the climate described above; it's easy to walk away from an English degree, for example, knowing nothing about French Literature, Medieval Literature, Greek Tragedy, Persian poetry et al. but having a template for insufferable political correctness and a license-to-kill to employ-at-every-opportunity. Is this because, like the pre-teen sewer gangbang in It, it's something the sort of literary critics who normally gun for this stuff miss because they don't bother with King, or get to the end of his longer novels? Again, I don't know.

This dovetails into my next item of concern...

- If this isn't dealt with squarely, we King fans are really in for a backlash when these movies come out. 

Do a quick google-image-search for "Susannah Dean." You'll get some of the images from the Dark Tower series, but mainly, you get a lot of (I assume) "dream-casting" choices, chiefly among them Zoe Saldana. Unless I'm missing some Judi Dench-esque performance somewhere in her filmography, could she really pull off this role and make it believable?

With all due respect to Ms. Saldana. Actually, given some of the current backlash to her casting as Nina Simone, we'll likely not see this happen, anyway.

Now (he hastens to add)... a) what the hell do I know? I'll answer for you: not much, b) it's not like Hollywood-itself doesn't privilege audience-demographics/fan-favorites over rightness-for-the-part (and how), c) google-image-searching is not the same as reading a roll-call of producers' choices for the part, and d) hell, maybe Zoe (or Aisha Tyler, who also came up a lot in my google-image-search,) could pull off the part just fine. (I doubt it, though. I can't help thinking it's this type of thinking that gave the world Catwoman. 
To paraphrase those commercials about not setting-into-motion a chain of events that can be avoided... don't cast Halle Berry as Catwoman; make the switch to Direct TV/ proper-pre-production re Susannah Dean.)

What I'm getting at is, Susannah's a very complex character, and if anyone is going to bring her to the screen (particularly the Detta Holmes parts) it damn sure better not come across as "Shut yo dam mouf, foo!" or the entire series will unravel around this choice. I don't bring all this up to just be difficult; it makes me worry about the series' effective translation to the screen, something I very badly want to see and something I want to do well. King made that a lot more difficult than it already was, with this book.

- So, not only is Detta Holmes problematic enough, Sussanah is handicapped, and here we have another problem of Song of Susannah: that of her growing legs (and white legs at that! I mean, is King trying to make this extra-hard for me?) Having a disabled character (I can't keep up - is disabled the preferred term now? Google keeps correcting me, like Delbert Grady... Oh God why did I even get into this...) in your story - an adventure story, to boot - and having her a gunslinger is great. At least, it's not pandering or what not. But to fall into the much-reviled trope of magically-curing / providing some supernatural "out" for the character when convenient to the plot is just a poor decision, in my opinion. Or an unfortunate one, at any rate.

It really is amazing when you think about it,
i.e. how prevalent this trend/ trope is.
Or cripple, then cure them, for that matter.

Add it to the above, and yaaaarg. I just cringe at the idea of the backlash this could create in the wrong hands. (NOTE: I do not think the solution is to make sure the series is directed by a black disabled woman; that would be precisely the sort of shortcut-to-thinking described above.)

- Mia's white legs aren't really a problem (if the person the Crimson King creates for her is a white woman, than okay, it makes sense) but man, that whole pregnancy story is just way more convoluted than it has to be.

- And before I move on from this, if I never see or hear the word "chap" as a substitute for "my baby" again, it will be too soon.

Well, like I said, my least favorite of the series, but it does set things up nicely for...

NEXT:
The Final Chapter! (Art from here)

12 comments:

  1. The whole written-dialect thing is a weird topic, and I never can decide how I truly feel about it. My thing with King doing it is that I feel almost certain that he -- not literally, but close -- "hears" the voices of the characters in his head when he is writing them. And at a guess, I'd speculate that when he feels that it is important for his readers to hear them the same way, he slaps a "dialect" onto their dialogue.

    Ah doan know; mebbe it works a'ight, sometimes. Other'ns, not s'much.

    With the possible exception of "The Wind Through the Keyhole," this is my least favorite Tower novel, which is certainly not to say that I dislike it. I don't; I kinda love it. It definitely took me a few moments of heavy blinking to wrap my brain around the idea that he was doing it, REALLY doing it: writing himself into the story.

    And then, when the implications of it settled in, I hated it ... until they settled all the way to the bottom of my brain. Once they got there, I'd turned a complete 180, and decided I loved it.

    They need to make the movies now, while Joe Hill is still young enough to play the role of "Stephen King." How trippy would that be?

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    1. That would be pretty cool, indeed!

      Otherwise, I hope they do some serious alteration to this one / Susannah's arc in general when they film this.

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    2. To be honest, I have a hard time imagining that the movies, when and if they happen, won't just totally deviate from the books at some point shortly after the ole tet defeats Blaine the Mono.

      In some ways, I'd be okay with that. I also think it would be cool for the movies, if they did end up following the books somewhat closely, to replace the character of "Stephen King" with, say, the screenwriter of the movies. Keep it medium-specific, in other words. It's a daffy idea, but is it really any daffier than the one in the novel?

      Meant to mention this earlier, by the way: I love Zoe Saldana, who is one of my many imaginary girlfriends, but I don't think she'd be right for Susannah at all. Even less so for Detta. I always picture Angela Bassett, who is too old by far at this point, but would have been perfect at one point in time. If I were casting it, though, I'd shoot for a relative unknown; it seems like the role would benefit from NOT being played by a star. Have her be a bit of a mystery, whereas with Eddie I'd prefer to see someone with a somewhat pre-defined screen presence.

      I also have the perfect pick for Gasher: Michael Kenneth Williams, Omar (and Chalky White) himself. Make it happen, Hollywood!

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    3. I think the only real choice to direct would be Stephen King himself. (With a clause that "Thunderstruck" by AC/DC must be used anytime Thunderclap is mentioned. I heard that pounding from a car at the crosswalk on my walk from the train this morning and I laughed to myself picturing the attack of the Wolves, scored that way.)

      Interesting re: switching in the screenwriter. But if King directed it (I'm only kidding about this, of course, but it actually works for this part), he could definitely be called out from behind the camera/on set.

      Unless - cast Joe Hill as the director and set it in he 1980s, on the set of Maximum Overdrive. The story would have to "bend" to accommodate Maximum Overdrive, naturally, but it can be done. You're welcome, Hollywood.

      Angela Bassett would have been a great choice for Susannah, once upon a time, good call. Now, yeah, an unknown would be better. I have no problems with the current favorites (for lack of a better term) with casting Roland or Eddie. Jake? Tougher call.

      Omar as Gasher... only if McNulty is The Man in Black.

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  2. This cycle - the best of all that he wrote the great King. As it is best expressed as rotten to the base of your American world, where consumption is put higher spirituality. He reveals ulcers society reveals chronic social diseases and soul inside out law-abiding average American shake out as many cobwebs and dirt of the most secret and dark corners of his soul, of which he has no clue. But in general, technocracy, lack of spirituality and the actual power of the Jewish oligarchs will lead to the collapse of your society, and as you pull for him all the rest. Monsters King within you. It's a pity you because unlike us, Russian, you did not know how to take a punch. Help you to God.

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    1. Ain't no spam like Neo-Nazi word salad spam - thanks for reading!

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    2. In Soviet Russia, punch take YOU.

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    3. Nice. My buddy and I have been texting various Yakov Smirnov jokes to each other lately. Self-invented, that is, just using the set-up. They're getting steadily more surreal. Yours would fit right in.

      He had one legitimately pretty good gag - probably many more than one, but one that I can remember. "When I come to this country, I needed to buy a couch. So I go into furniture store and the salesman says 'We stand behind this couch 100%.' I said 'This is why I leave Soviet Russia - all the people standing behind my couch, watching what I do.'"

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    4. He always cracked me up when I was a kid. Him and Gallagher. I don't have great taste in comedians.

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  3. As for the film adaptation - SERIAL ONLY !!! Otherwise spoil cycle!

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    Replies
    1. I wouldn't recommend visiting that commenter's profile, FYI...

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    2. I did not, but thanks for the heads-up! Other readers, take note.

      I had a bad feeling that wow, what if I called this guy's comment spam/Neo-Nazi-y and he was just guilty of a bad Babelfish translation or something? Like, what if his comment was something like "Thanks for writing this blog. I agree with your take on it. Song of Susannah is problematic on many levels. Take care" and it came out "word salad! Jewish oligarchs!" etc.

      But... I doubt it. Anyway!

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