Published on June 8, 2004, Song of Susannah is not the type of stand-alone horror novel that made Stephen King one of the world's bestselling authors. Instead, it is the sixth book of a seven-volume series titled "The Dark Tower." The series was completed over the course of more than thirty years; King wrote the first sentence of what would become the series' first volume, The Gunslinger, in 1972, and the final volume, itself titled The Dark Tower, was published on September 21, 2004. The series has its share of what readers have come to expect from King: page-turning suspense, horrifying evil in the form of both humans and monsters, gore, and often unpleasant fates for both good characters and bad.
But there are many other elements mixed in, including a J. R. R. Tolkien-style fantasy realm called Mid-World, where King presents large-scale battles, sorcery, and strange creatures like Oy, a kind of talking dog called a billy-bumbler. Also influential are 1960s spaghetti westerns starring Clint Eastwood, on whose "man with no name" King drew for the series' gunslinger hero, Roland Deschain. There are borrowings from science fiction, including robots and a thematic concern with the dehumanizing effects of modern technology. And there is realistic drama: one main character, Brooklyn-born Eddie Dean, must overcome heroin addiction.
All these styles and genres merge into an epic quest, pitting Roland against evil forces that would topple the Dark Tower and destroy the universe.
The chapters of Song of Susannah are called "Stanzas," reflecting a musical theme that recurs throughout the narrative.
Stanza 1: Beamquake
Song of Susannah picks up where the previous volume of "The Dark Tower" series, Wolves of the Calla, left off. The hero Roland Deschain and his followers—Eddie Dean, twelve-year-old Jake Chambers, and Catholic priest Donald Frank ("Pere") Callahan—are in the fantasy realm called Mid-World. They have just saved a town (or "calla") from an army of robot wolves. But they remain in a state of anxiety because one of their number, Eddie Dean's wife Susannah Dean, is pregnant in supernatural fashion with what they believe to be a cannibalistic monster and is no longer in Mid-World. She has gone through a magic portal, and entered New York City in the year 1999. The group confers with the Manni, town elders who possess magical powers, about the possibility of opening a portal to the other world; then Jake and Father Callahan could follow Susannah and try to stop her from bearing the child. Roland and Eddie would also cross over from Mid-World, but would enter at Maine in the year 1977. Their task would be to purchase a vacant lot in Manhattan owned by a book dealer named Calvin Tower before it is secured by their enemies. On this lot grows a rose essential to the preservation of the Dark Tower, which is the ultimate goal of Roland's quest.
The sinister-sounding Dark Tower is not evil, but rather serves as a linchpin for the entire universe, including Mid-World, In-World (where Roland originates), and all other worlds. If the Dark Tower falls, there will be nothing left but Discordia, or chaos. The Dark Tower will fall if the six beams that support it are broken. Beings called "breakers" are attempting to do just that, and after Roland gets the Manni to agree to help them cross over from Mid-World, one of the beams that supports the Dark Tower is broken. Mid-World is shaken; buildings collapse. The success of Roland's quest, already urgent, becomes absolutely crucial.
This chapter, and each one that follows, ends with a pair of rhyming, sing-song four-line verses, the first called a "stave" and the second a "response."
Stanza 2: The Persistence of Magic
Roland, Eddie Dean, Jake with his pet billy-bumbler Oy, and Father Callahan meet up with Henchick, head of the Manni, and forty men. The Manni will accompany them to the magic portal called the Unfound Door that lies in the Cave of Voices. Before they depart, Callahan wonders about his existence; he has discovered a book called 'Salem's Lot, by a man named Stephen King. This novel describes Callahan's life back in a small town in Maine fighting vampires.
On their way to the portal, Roland and company pass the place where they defeated the robot wolves. The wolves' bodies, they discover, have been removed from the battlefield by the townsfolk and piled up in preparation for an enormous funeral pyre. They also pass Susannah's empty wheelchair. (Susannah lost her legs in an earlier volume, when pushed in front of a subway by a villain named Jack Mort.)
The group climbs a path and arrives at the Cave of the Voices. They wonder whether enough magic remains in Mid-World to open the portal, and Henchick reassures them. An elaborate ritual ensues, with Jake swinging a magic "plumb-bob." The portal opens, and Jake and Callahan are whisked into New York City, 1999.
Stanza 3: Trudy and Mia
The chapter begins with Susannah's entry from Mid-World into New York in 1999, as witnessed by a passerby, Trudy Damascus, on June 19, between 1:18 and 1:19 in the afternoon. In that moment, Trudy turns from hardheaded skeptic absorbed in her work as an accountant into someone who, as she walks along Second Avenue, personally sees a woman appear out of thin air.
The woman she sees is African American; at first she has no legs, but then she grows legs which are, surprisingly, those of a white person. The white legs are a symptom of her being possessed by a (white) demoness named Mia. She carries a bowling bag. She has no shoes. She demands Trudy give her the shoes she carries and threatens her, telling her not to report to the police what she witnessed.
Still, Trudy reports what she saw to a disbelieving police officer, then returns to work. Later, she revisits the spot where Susannah appeared and hears a mysterious humming sound. This takes place near the vacant lot where the red rose grows—the rose that Roland must help to preserve. The lot is next to a skyscraper, 2 Hammarskjöld Plaza, which is also one form the Dark Tower takes in this world.
Stanza 4: Susannah's Dogan
Susannah recalls her recent past, the fight with the robot wolves, and Mia dragging her through the portal from Mid-World into New York. She now sits on a park bench talking with Mia, who is pregnant and shares her body. They both experience labor pains. Susannah looks at a newspaper and discovers the year: 1999. She recalls her distant past, in the 1960s, when she took part in the civil rights movement, and realizes many people she knew then are now likely dead.
Susannah Dean is actually three people, including Mia. The other two, both African American, are Odetta Holmes, a civil rights activist, and Detta Walker, a former prostitute. When the latter speaks the voice is harsh, profane, slangy, and aggressive.
The labor pains intensify. Mia tells Susannah she needs to delay the birth. Susannah retreats to her Dogan, a kind of imagined mental space full of dials and monitors that allow her to observe herself on screen. Turning one of these dials allows her to put the baby inside her to sleep. She uses a microphone to send a message to her husband, Eddie Dean, telling him where she is.
Susannah returns from the Dogan. Mia insists on helping her find a private space and a telephone. Susannah agrees.
Stanza 5: The Turtle
Mia and Susannah discuss whether they should return to Mid-World for a palaver, or a chat, to exchange information. Then Susannah has a vision of Eddie Dean and Callahan from before the battle with the robot wolves. They have the bowling bag she now carries, and they discover something hidden in the lining—a small ivory statue of a turtle. Back in New York, she removes this same turtle from the lining of the bowling bag.
This magic turtle allows Susannah to hypnotize and control an expensively dressed man named Mathiessen van Wyck, assistant to the Swedish ambassador for the United Nations. Susannah takes his cash and orders him to reserve a room for her at the Plaza Park Hotel, then commands him to forget everything.
Susannah goes to the hotel, which she discovers has recently been bought by North Central Positronics, a corporation run by the evil forces who wish to topple the Dark Tower. At the hotel, she uses the turtle to hypnotize a desk clerk, takes the elevator to room 1919, and puts her bowling bag in the room's safe. While waiting for Mia to receive her phone call, they agree to have their palaver.
Stanza 6: The Castle Allure
For their palaver, Mia...
(The entire section is 2973 words.)