Thursday, April 30, 2015

Castle Rock Companion - The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah and VII: The Dark Tower

Song of Susannah

When you came right down to it, how did anyone know they weren’t a character in some writer’s story, or a transient thought in some bus-riding schmoe’s head, or a momentary mote in God’s eye?

Much like what happened when I finished reading The Waste Lands, the abrupt ending of Song of Susannah left me feeling like I had little to say on the matter at hand and more like it was just time to move on to the next book.  Regardless of length, Song of Susannah is really just a lot of set up for what comes in the final book.

It feels incomplete, having hit the ground running from when Susannah left at the end of the last book and finishing with us still waiting for the birth of the demon child she's carrying in her.  Leaving poor Jake, Oy, and Callahan outside The Dixie Pig in particular, about to enter a battle where the stakes are high and casualties likely is a cruel thing to do to anyone who can't get their hands on the next volume immediately.  A lot of Susannah's struggles with Mia, the demon who has inhabited her body and wants to raise the child, also feels like a lot of wasted effort and stretching for time so that Roland and Eddie can go have their story and not miss out on the big events that will occur in the next book.

And really Roland and Eddie's story of going to Calvin Tower and purchasing the lot also feels like it should have been done sometime before hand.  I really do love this series, but this second look is making it very apparent to me that King really should have taken some more time to map things out and figure out exactly how many books he needed to tell the tale.  I also wonder if too many other authors could get away with making these as incomplete as the individual novels feel.

An author inserting himself into his work is also a very difficult balance to get right.  More often than not, they can end up looking full of themselves.  Not satisfied to provide a Deus Ex Machina from their pen, they have to insert an image of themselves into the story as well.  Your mileage may vary, but personally I enjoy the rather self depreciating version of Stephen King who appears in The Dark Tower series.  I also feel like his appearance just makes sense, given the nature of the story and the various worlds our characters can go between, why not also show up in the "real world" as well?

The Dark Tower

 I’d have you see them like this; I’d have you see them very well. Will you? They are clustered around Suze’s Cruisin' Trike, embracing in the aftermath of their victory. I’d have you see them this way not because they have won a great battle—they know better than that, every one of them—but because now they are ka-tet for the last time. The story of their fellowship ends here, on this make-believe street and beneath this artificial sun; the rest of the tale will be short and brutal compared to all that’s gone before. Because when ka-tet breaks, the end always comes quickly.

Say sorry.

The final book is definitely epic in scale, and the stakes are high straight from the start.  Six characters who have appeared in previous volumes die, seven if you also count The Crimson King, who has at least been heavily discussed if never truly appeared before.  Being with these characters for as long as we have up to this point, it's a difficult read.  Again and again it's been stressed that Roland would have to give up nearly everyone and everything he loves to achieve his goal, but it's far more painful because by this point we have to lose them too.

One of those deaths was the most painful character death I've ever experienced.  The first time I read this book and I reached the point where Eddie was shot, all I could do was put the book down and sob.  Much like Susannah, it was a struggle for me to go on.  Eddie's journey from a strung out, insecure junkie to capable gunslinger with a chosen family who was much better to him than the one he had been born into meant a lot to me, and he is certainly my favorite King character, possibly one of my top favorite characters in all of fiction.  I couldn't bear to lose him.  And of course, when I did finally pick up the book again the next night, I had to weep all over again as Eddie lay slowly dying in bed, muttering things that didn't make sense.

This time around I was prepared for it, though I dreaded every moment leading up to it.  Strangely, while I also remembered Oy's death being painful, I completely forgot Jake died yet again.  I could joke and say this must be a different go 'round of Roland's journey than the last time I read it, but I'm guessing the reality is that Jake's death comes so soon after Eddie's that I was probably still reeling and just forgot all the details exactly.  It's a tender moment regardless, to see Roland bury the boy who for all intents and purposes was now his son.

One death I was disappointed in for very different reasons was that of Flagg/Walter.  As a character who has been built up for so long, not just in this series but also in The Stand and Eyes of the Dragon, he deserved a little more than to just suddenly be eaten by Mordred.  I suppose it's supposed to be one of those moments where we find out just how dangerous this new foe is, but the fact of the matter is he's not.  Mordred largely seems to exist to tie Roland to King Arthur and very little else. He's a perceived threat that ends up being nothing, who literally would have died in his own time if the characters had never interacted with him.  I would have greatly preferred to see a showdown between Walter and Roland around that point in the book instead.

Beyond that, I do enjoy the journey over all.  The end of the book is interesting, as it ends with Roland approaching the tower, followed straight to an epilogue where we see where Susannah has ended up.  I love that epilogue.  Some may say it's a bit cheesy or silly but the fact is that Susannah, Jake, and Eddie all deserve a happy ending after everything they've been through, and it's good to see that on at least one earth they can have something very close to it.

What I don't agree with is the beginning of the coda that follows the epilogue, where King begs you to stop reading.  He insists that the journey is everything, and that knowing what's inside the tower will only lead to disappointment.  But to me, seeing what's inside the tower is anything but disappointment.  In a story where we've seen infinite possible worlds and characters moving between them, it makes perfect sense that the top of the tower is truly nothing more than a reset button which sets Roland back to the beginning of his quest all over again.  Perhaps it's because I see life constantly moving in cycles, but I love the idea of Roland being forced to repeat his journey and hopefully learn something more each time.  Will he save Jake from falling at the beginning?  Would that prevent Mia possessing Susannah and giving birth to Mordred?  What else could change?  This is the best possible way to keep your readers guessing and wanting more.

It also largely suggests that any and all changes made in adaptations they do for the screen will mean that they are just a different cycle for Roland.  I just saw a recent blurb that said development for an adaptation is on yet again.  I'm not holding my breath at this point, but I do look forward to seeing whatever they come up with.  More than anything  I will probably be critical of casting choices.  At this point I'd prefer unknowns in nearly all the major roles.  If this series really lasts all the way until the end, then you need people who will inhabit these characters completely rather than you sitting there thinking about the actor behind them.  Though I do think it would be neat if they could get Joe Hill to play his dad in 1977.

Technically, I would still like to re-read Insomnia and the two books King co-wrote with Peter Straub, The Talisman and Black House as they all tie into the series, but at this point I feel like I need a break from King.  This series can take a lot out of you.

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