2016 is the year I decided I was actually going to finish reading the Dark Tower series. Since I hadn’t read this book in at least five years, a re-read was deemed necessary. And that was a good thing, because I had completely forgotten ALL of the events of this story, including the insertion of ‘Salem’s Lot character Father Callahan, who somehow managed to fall into Mid-World after his humiliation by the Vampire Barlow.
Immediately after encountering “Oz” in Topeka, Roland and his fellow travelers Jake, Susannah, Eddie, and Oy continue on the Path of the Beam, eventually realizing they’ve left a plague-ridden Kansas behind and re-entered Mid-World. Soon afterward, they are approached by the citizens of the farming community Calla Bryn Sturgis, who ask for their help in defeating marauders known as the Wolves. Said Wolves raid their community once a generation and kidnap roughly half of the children, returning them severely brain-damaged several weeks later. The people of Calla Bryn Sturgis want to put an end to the raids, and view the gunslingers as their only hope.
The gunslinger code to which our heroes have ascribed means not turning down such requests for assistance; thus they are honor-bound to take on this task, provided the majority of the town supports the endeavor and is willing to help themselves. The townspeople do, and the ka-tet begins its preparation for battle, while simultaneously hatching a plan to return to Jake’s New York and protect the Rose.
During all this, Roland and Eddie keep a weather eye on Susannah, who exhibits signs that she is not entirely herself. Susannah, while vaguely uneasy and at times on edge, is generally unaware that anything may be wrong. It is, however, and greatly. The demon she distracted with sex [edited to add: I had forgotten the circumstances of this “distraction”; in actuality, the demon raped Susannah, violently, brutally, and repeatedly] while her men “drew” Jake into this world (see The Waste Lands for that story) left Susannah pregnant; Susannah’s subconscious mind created another personality, Mia, to deal with the unwanted pregnancy. Mia is dangerous and unpredictable and fiercely protective of her “chap”, as she refers to her baby. Roland and Eddie fear she may disrupt, even ruin, their delicately-timed operation against the Wolves. And Mia’s is not the only betrayal they fear.
As Dark Tower installments go, this one initially seems like a distraction, a step off the Path of the Beam that in no way furthers the overall story or the quest for the Tower. On its surface, it’s a re-telling of nearly every Western ever written: the ordinary law-abiding folk just want to farm their land and live in peace, but the bad guys are intent on shooting up the town at every opportunity; let’s recruit the Lone Ranger to get rid of the bad guys and earn our eternal gratitude. (King acknowledges his debt to the Western in an afterword, so he is fully cognizant of his influences.)
But. But. This superficial interpretation does the story a disservice. There’s far more than a simple Little Town on the Prairie tale to discover here. With this novel, King appears to be setting up his end-game, with the introduction of the Wolves (who are far more and at the same time much less than we think); the repeated appearances of North Central Positronics technology; the side-trip describing Father Callahan’s journey to Mid-World, not to mention the mere existence of Callahan himself in Roland’s homeland; and the tension between Susannah, Mia, and the rest of the ka-tet.
If I have a quibble, it’s the same quibble I’ve had ever since Susannah was first introduced, and that is calling her a “schizophrenic”. Susannah does not have schizophrenia; she has a dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder). Back in the mid- to late-80s, when King originally wrote the character of Odetta/Detta Holmes, who became Susannah when her personalities merged, it’s possible he didn’t know the difference. The idea that schizophrenia means “split personality” is common, albeit incorrect. And since King started out with that interpretation, I guess he must follow it through in subsequent novels, if only for consistency’s sake. Still irks me.
This review was written for two reading challenges: Readers Imbibing Peril (affectionately known as R.I.P.) XI, hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings; and the Award Winning SF/Fantasy Challenge, hosted by Shaunesay at The Space Between. Click their respective badges to learn more about each.