The Dark Tower: Song of Susannah
by Stephen King
- Date Finished: July 29, 2012
- Genre: Fiction, Fantasy
- Year: 2004
- Project: n/a
- Reading List: Summer 2012
QuickLong thoughts upon finishing:
Upon finishing Song of Susannah this fine Sunday morning, I realized this is the book, for any Tower fan, where the obsession really gets rolling. This is where that “bigger picture” I spoke about with Wolves of the Calla start coming together in exciting ways and you are left just ITCHING to read the seventh – and final — book in the series. As Roland says, the end-game has begun and its time stop messing around, stop telling tales and get down to the business.
Song of Susannah is also where the structure of the Dark Tower universe takes shape and, not surprisingly, Stephen King is a part of it. When I first read this series, I remember thinking, “Oh SK. You’re putting yourself in this? Are you serious?” But then everything starts falling into place, you realize it’s not as cheesy as you initially thought, and upon realizing what Stephen King has outlined for us, all I could think was: “brilliant.”
You see, King has created the perfect little universe for himself and his work — lending it, in a sense, a mythical status. Here’s my conception of King’s Dark Tower universe so far:
- We have the universe. King is positing that our universe was created by an all-powerful force called Gan, and that it lays upon the back of a turtle. This is based on familiar legends.
- This universe is held up by both literal and figurative “beams,” six of which criss-cross and are held up at their nexus by a “Dark Tower” — which is both a symbol and a literal, black tower structure located at the center of the universe.
- This world is multi-dimensioned. There are multiple worlds — multiple whens and wheres — happening at the same time. Where are they happening? And how? They’re happening on “different levels of the Tower,” of which we’re led to believe is limitless. I imagine these multiple worlds like a deck of cards, stacked on top of one another.
- There are — to my understanding of all this — two “key worlds.” One of which is the where and when “we” exist: Planet Earth, 2012, sky is blue and true north points the right way. The other is Roland’s world; more on that later.
- And so what are the other worlds? Well, they all look exactly the same as ours, though a few things may be different: It’s not the Kansas City Royals, but the Kansas City Monarchs. Co-Op City is in Brooklyn, not the Bronx. A different dude is on the 20 dollar bill. Sometimes, the differences are big: On one level of the Tower, a deadly supervirus accidentally gets loose and kills 99.99 percent of the population by 1983. Oops. On some levels of the Tower, I think there are monsters.
- I understand these different worlds as the worlds of stories. This where you have the limitless possibilities and opportunities to find the stories that fill our bookshelves. This is, in effect, where stories happen.
- However, remember: this is also the universe of Stephen King. And so actually, these different worlds are the worlds of HIS stories. This is where his books come from. This is where his stories aren’t fiction; no, they’re REALLY happening.
- So, how does Stephen King know to write these stories? We’re told in Song of Susannah that King was “touched” by Gan at a young age in some way. And when he’s in his 20’s, he writes a story about a gunslinger named Roland and then puts it away. However, what King doesn’t (and never) realizes is that after being touched by Gan, his imagination isn’t his own anymore. It’s actually a doorway into these other worlds. When King thinks he’s making something up, he’s actually peeping into these other worlds, seeing what’s going on, and then writing it down. The pictures in his head are actually happening — somewhere and somewhen.
- Then, when he’s in his 20’s, he writes the first Dark Tower book: The Gunslinger. And it sort of freaks him out a bit, imagining or “looking into” Roland’s world. Because it feels different. Because Roland scares him. Because Roland isn’t a character that he can move around like a chess piece. No, Roland moves of his own accord. And when he’s writing Dark Tower books, King has no idea where he’s going half the time. He becomes almost entranced and the story simply flows out of him. And sometimes, he feels like the story is pushing back. Like, someone or something doesn’t want it written.
- Here’s an important note: Stephen King — and his books — only exist in ONE version of reality, one world. He only exists in our “key world.” This is important because it’s naturally pretty awkward when you meet your fictional character at the grocery store. Father Callahan from ‘Salem’s Lot is able to pass from his level of the Tower — where vampires exist and the events of ‘Salem’s Lot takes place — into Roland’s world. When they start messing around with the the key world and hear of a guy named Stephen King, the poor Father starts having an existential crisis. (“I’m a character in a book? But I’m real! This is my life!”)
- So what is Roland’s world? Here, I’m not 100 percent sure but I believe it may be some sort of “key world” as well. Roland’s world is completely different from the Stephen King world and the deck of cards he draws from to create his stories. The geography’s different, the history’s different, people are different. Is it OUR world billions of years in the future, after some nuclear war completely changed the game and re-started humanity? Perhaps. There are leftover of our world and ancient signs of technology, but were WE the “Old People?” I don’t think so. I think if we are the “Old People,” we were old when the Old People were around.
- One thing is certain, though: there are no mutiple versions of Roland’s world. What you see is what you get. Magic still exists and is working. Also, Roland’s world is the only one where the Dark Tower itself — as a physical entity — actually exists. In a way, Roland’s world physically mirrors the trouble happening with the Dark Tower. When the Dark Tower weakens, our world may experience a plague or major world war. But in Roland’s world, it’s like bits of the map are simply falling into ruin and disappearing into darkness. The world “moves on,” time moves quicker and you can’t go back and fix anything. Where did Roland’s world come from and why is it key alongside our own? That I don’t know. I don’t even think King knows.
Anyway … phew. That is the universe as I see it in the Dark Tower, and I think it’s fascinating because Stephen King has created a scenario where all of his books — all of the stories he’s ever written — “can” exist simultaneously. Of course, The Stand happened. It just happened on a different level of the Tower. Same thing with The Shining or It or Dreamcatcher. All the monsters really exist. It’s great because you can tie these seemingly disparate works together and say: hey here’s a look at the why/how of God, our universe, everything. It’s a brilliant master stroke.
Is the conceit a bit self-indulging? Of course. To imagine that one dude from Maine who writes about psycho clown monsters is the universe’s magical scribe — it’s a little ridiculous. And I’m sure Stephen King knows that. I’m betting he did all this to poke fun at himself, and laugh at those super-fans who really do think he’s at the center of the universe.
But does it make for all one hell of a good fantasy story? You bet your ass.