Song of Susannah:
Stanza 13.vi-End of Book
& The Dark Tower:
Part One, Chapter 1.i-1.vii
Well, here we are. The Dark Tower. The last book. When I started this blog on 9/19/20 (I’ll never forgive myself for not thinking to do this just one year earlier), this final stretch of the story seemed so distant. I remember going through The Gunslinger in those first weeks, thinking about it in relation to the end of this book and having a lot of good ideas for posts I wanted to write. Unfortunately, if I had written those posts back then, I would have gotten ahead of myself. In some cases I knew I didn’t remember the material well enough to write about it anyway. I waited until I reread the text before digging into it any deeper.
Now, that time has come. It’s almost August and as of this post, there’s less than eight weeks left before 9/19 rolls around again, completing one revolution around the sun for us and one revolution around the wheel of ka for Roland. It felt like it would never come, and then all of the sudden I was reading excerpts from the end of Stephen King’s diary, and realized I was about to finish the sixth book and start the seventh. Time is a face on the water, after all.
It really is true. When I launched this blog my daughter was four months old, a tiny gremlin, and now she is an actual person who can walk (kind of) and talk (kind of) and wave her hand (no “kind of” about that one, she kicks ass at it and I’m super proud).
In the spring of this year, my family and I decided to move to Barbados for six months. At the time six months seemed like such a long time, but we return to America next month and it seems like it’s gone by in a flash. In fact, King hits the nail on the head in that epistolary Coda when he writes: “Everybody sez it all goes by in the wink of an eye and you say yeah yeah yeah… and then it does.” (Song of Susannah P. 378)
Sometimes I look in the mirror and say, “You are a grandfather.” And the Steve in the mirror just laughs, because the idea is so ridiculous. The Steve in the mirror knows I’m still a college sophomore, going to classes and protesting the war in Viet Nam by day, drinking beer down at Pat’s Pizza with Flip Thompson and George McLeod by night.– Song of Susannah, p. 383
Song of Susannah has never been my favorite novel in the series, but that journal entry ending has always been one of my favorite moments. No matter how many times I read it, the seamless merging of fiction and reality—of storytelling and self-reflection—never fails to elicit chills. As a writer, the idea that your stories could literally come to life and that you could play a part in them is very appealing to me, and as I wrote last week: even though I know better, I want to believe that the magic is real, that these are real excerpts from real documents.
It speaks to King’s immense skill that he’s able to blur the line between real life and fantasy so well. It’s very difficult to discern what he is drawing from his actual past, and what he is making up to serve the story. We know that some of it—his reluctance to publish Pet Sematary, or the details of The Gunsligner’s release—is true. Other elements, like his spooky insistence that there is something supernatural about the way this story flows through him, are obvious dramatizations. But in between, along that blurry line, there are endless questions.
What details are real? Did Owen King really used to call “Publisher’s Weekly” Pudlishers Weakness? I would guess so, because why bother making up such an insignificant tidbit, but how can I know? Did Tabitha King really used to ask if the wind was blowing? We know she was concerned about his potentially fatal strolls, as covered in his non-fiction book, On Writing, but did she really say he was “safer when [he’s] with the gunslingers” (Song of Susannah p. 382)? And speaking of On WritingKing would have us believe that he got the idea for that title while writing in this journal just moments before he was hit by the van, but is that true? Do we even know if he kept a journal?
You know what? I’ve been thinking of going back to Roland’s story after all. As soon as I finish the book on writing.– Song of Susannah, p. 383
(On Writing would actually not be a bad title—it’s simple and to the point). But right now the sun is shining, the day is beautiful, and what I’m going to do is take a walk.
King masterfully uses this blurry space to make his story feel real and affect his audience, but I think he also uses it as an opportunity to reflect on, and even rewrite, who he used to be. In real life, if you Google “Stephen King sobriety” the Internet tells you that the first book he wrote after getting sober was Needful Things in 1991 (citing a 2006 interview he did for “The Paris Review”). But in this diary, King makes it seem as though that distinction belongs to The Waste Lands, which was released before Needful Things (only two months before, but it’s still an odd discrepancy).
The fictional King in the diary also seems to know he has a problem with drugs and alcohol long before getting sober. Obviously I don’t know the man personally, but compared to the oblivious addict he describes himself as in On Writing, the King writing these diary entries seems to be much more self-aware.
I’m not calling Stephen King a liar, and I’m not accusing him of trying to retcon his sobriety or anything like that, but just as he embellishes some aspects of the diary to serve the story, I think it’s fair to assume he has embellished some others to serve his sense of self. Who among us wouldn’t, if given the chance?
At the end of the day, how is King’s diary any different than Susannah visualizing her mental Dogan, using her imagination to alter her reality? How is it in any different than what Pere Callahan does at the beginning of The Dark Tower, whose own past and his newfound self-awareness give him the faith to his reality, using sheer will to turn a coked-up TV exec’s stolen Ruger into a weapon of God strong enough to repel Type One vampires.
Looking back on your past, as King did to write this Coda, comes with the pangs and regrets that are the result of hindsight. Yes, time is even more fleeting when we’re reminiscing because we make the same omissions that King does: we trim out the boring stuff that doesn’t serve the story. Our lives become condensed snippets, like the excerpts of King’s journal, a highlight reel that “goes by in the wink of an eye.”
Feel lost. What’s it all for, anyway? (What’s it all about, Alfie, ha-ha?) What, just a big scramble from the cradle to the grave? “The clearing at the end of the path”? Jesus, that’s grim.– Song of Susannah, p. 378
That tends to bum us out, because we don’t want the rest of our lives to pass by just as quickly. But those memories also empower us to change our reality, just like Susannah and Callahan, and just like King. By giving ourselves the blurry space to change just a little bit about who we used to be, I think it’s entirely possible to change who we are now.