When we left Roland Deschain and his Ka Tet (a group bound to a quest) it was both a fair and foul day. Fair it was as they had beaten the Wolves of the Calla, the robot creatures which had plagued the villages, stolen one of each set of twins, and returned “roont” brain eaten things to their parents. Foul it was because the fourth personality in Susannah Dean’s body, the mother that called herself Mia, had finally taken control of their shared physicality and stepped through one of those mystic, just hanging there in the air, doors that have been a feature of this saga since volume two. With her she took the malevolent Black 13 crystal which allows control of the doors.
We knew where she was going because some of the Ka Tet have been through that door already. It leads to one of the many New Yorks that exist in the multiverse connected to the Dark Tower. In fact, it leads to the primary Earth of the multiverse, where the influence of the Tower has been making itself felt on a certain writer of horror novels named Stephen King. We had a clue that something like this might happen in the last book when Pere Callahan found his own life’s story in a copy of Salem’s Lot, but we didn’t know how far it was going to go.
When Roland and Eddie Dean attempt to follow Susannah, they find themselves instead in New England, ambushed by crooks who are after the owner of the lot where grows the sacred rose which must be protected in order to save the worlds. The rose is somehow a manifestation on Earth of the power which binds all thing together.
They meet King, who is at that point in his life where he is drinking way too much and sampling some of the other substances his unexpected affluence can afford (see On Writing for details). Under hypnosis, King gives them certain information they need to carry on their quest, and he is given posthypnotic commands to clean up his life and get on with the Dark Tower books, for it appears that he is somehow channeling the events of their lives and the record is important to their future.
Meanwhile, Susannah and Mia reach enough of an understanding so that we are able to find out exactly what Mia is (not just another personality), what “the chap” is, who his father is, and what Mia thinks is supposed to become of her and him. The struggle between the two personalities is quite intense, and Susannah does win a few rounds, but the final battle goes to Mia, who has an appointment to give birth to her chap in the strange back rooms of the Dixie Pig Restaurant.
In the other meanwhile, young Jake and Pere Callahan manage to follow Susannah’s trail, retrieve Black 13, and put it somewhere where it will never bother anyone again (after September 11, 2001). Then they follow the trail to that strange restaurant, home of a portal between the worlds, and attempt to rescue Susannah.
The story ends, however, with the birth of the chap, one Mordred Deschain, son of Roland (and one other...)
But no, it doesn’t end there. The chapters of the novel have been verses in the Song of Susannah, each ending with a stanza and chorus of the “commula” style folk tune that Roland danced in Wolves of the Calla. This song ends with a coda, “Pages from a Writer’s Journal”, the journal of the Stephen King we met in this volume, who is similar, but not equal to fellow who wrote the book. The entries cover highlights of some twenty years, from July 27, 1977, about a decade before he would have met Roland and Eddie, to July 18, 1999, when he really got serious about finishing the saga.
One of the big differences between the two Kings is that this one’s journal ends with a death notice. In one world, at least, Brian Smith’s van managed to finish him off. That bleak bit of prose leaves us with a double cliffhanger at the end of the book.
He does manage to tie up all those loose ends by the end of book VII, which I have read by now, though I’ll wait until the mass market edition comes out to tell you about that.