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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Song of Susannah by Stephen King

Song of Susannah (The Dark Tower VI) by Stephen King. Hampton Falls, New Hampshire: Donald M. Grant, Publisher, Inc., 2004. Illustrations by Darrel Anderson. ISBN: 1-880418-59-2

This is the penultimate book in Steven King's celebrated Dark Tower series. In the previous volume, King began, in a small way, to turn literarily inward upon himself, introducing Donald Callahan, the ex-priest, a character from one of his earliest published novels, Salem's Lot, as a character in this story.

In the Song of Susannah, King goes much further. Roland of Gilead, the primary character of the entire Dark Tower series, and one of his companions, Eddie, a former New York city heroin junkie, travel to Maine, where they meet and interact with the much younger Stephen King, the author himself, back in the days before even the first volume of The Dark Tower has been completed or published, and Roland hypnotizes King, then gives him post-hypnotic instructions to finish writing the story that will become The Dark Tower.

This kind of circular, recursive storyline is possible because in the setting or world-view of The Dark Tower, there are many possible worlds, perhaps even all possible worlds exist somewhere, and given the right circumstances, doors between them can be created and traversed. One supposes that King could, if he wished, revisit all of his previous tales, since there is undoubtedly room in The Dark Tower multiversity of universes for all of these realities to exist.

Thus Roland and Eddie can travel through a door that puts them back into 1970's America when Stephen King hasn't yet even written the story that they are living out, and they can give King the metaphorical kick in the butt that gets him back to writing their story, that will allow them to come into being.

In a way, this reminds me of the later works of that great science fiction master, Robert Heinlein, who, in some of his last books attempts to synthesize his favorite characters all into one grand future utopia in which they all meet and live together forever. Unfortunately, Heinlein's attempts in this direction tended toward an insipid sentimentality that descended into bathos. This is certainly not the case with King's Dark Tower, at least not yet. It is only the self-circular aspects of King's story that reminded me of Heinlein.

This part of the story is more a sideline than the main storyline of Song of Susannah, however, as the title implies. The main plot is a kind of twisted Rosemary's Baby, with a devil child about to be born, the spawn of a demon mated to Roland himself, but carried to term by one of Susannah's alter egos in a kind of bizarre demonic possession. The book ends just as this tale reaches its horrible climax. Thankfully, the seventh and final volume is already in print, and the reader can quickly move on to the culminating and presumably climactic stages of the narrative. I have my library copy sitting here, waiting for me to find the time to launch in and finish this great imaginary epic once and for all.

As a coda to Song of Susannah, we have a series of excerpts from what purports to be King's personal journal, the first entry dating from 1977, shortly after the visit from his own characters, that memory now suppressed by post-hypnotic suggestion, with the author ready to dive back into the first Dark Tower novel. The journal entries span the decades up through 1999, elucidating the publishing history of the subsequent volumes of the series, with a final news clipping from June 20, 1999, announcing that King was killed the previous afternoon (!), struck by a van while walking near his summer home in Maine.

For those who are already fans or followers of Stephen King's The Dark Tower, no recommendation is needed. You've probably already read volume VI. For the rest of you, go try out volume I, The Gunslinger, and if you like it, maybe you'll catch up to the rest of us eventually.

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